Sunday gleanings 1/9/2022

Popular Christianity

How tragic it is that so much of the popular version of Christianity preaches a secularized message. It keeps God isolated, but popping in from time to time. It has lost the sense of the permeation of matter by divine Grace, the sacramental vision of reality; it insists that the Eucharist is just bread and wine, baptism is just a bath, and the world operates independently of God. It preaches a moralism of being “good,” leading only to obsession with guilt, and then, when that becomes too much, to shamelessness. It preaches that our salvation is acquired by a simple confession, and that it consists of going to “heaven” instead of going to “hell”—not a life lived in cooperation with divine grace…

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

Not what it’s for

I believe in evangelism, but it is not a means of cultural engagement at all.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Epiphany and Theophany

The incorrigible habit in western media of mis-identifying Othodox Theophany as Epiphany is an annual irritant.

I do not know how East and West diverged on the observance of January 6, but they are not the same Christian Feast under different names. Such is the "depth" of religion journalism in the U.S. that a common date and the conceptual similarity of the two names throws journalists off every time.

What is common about them is that both celebrate the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. But:

In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus Christ’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles …

Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God ….

Wikipedia thus gets us in the ballpark. But its initial description of Theophany falls pretty far short of the fullness. Fortunately, it gets much closer further into the article.

Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked [the first of – (Tipsy)] two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor). Thus the holy day is considered to be a Trinitarian feast.

(Emphasis added)

Here’s the hymn of the feast:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
and called Thee His beloved Son;
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself//
and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

We sing it five times in the festal liturgy, just in case one’s mind wanders (which probably isn’t the real reason).

I’m a partisan (and a gentile, no less), but I think the first open manifestation of the Holy Trinity is a weightier matter than gentile kings visiting the Christ Child.

And I know it’s not the same thing.

Where is God when you need Him?

In the wake of the tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean in 2007, major newspapers in America (and elsewhere) asked the question, “Where is God?” Tragedy reminds us of God’s apparent absence, but our cries of abandonment seem empty in light of the demands we make for God’s absence at most other times and places.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

The most thoroughly atheist culture in history?

Has Western society become the most thoroughly atheist in history?

[Augusto] Del Noce’s real genius was his prophetic insight into the rise of Western irreligion. He saw that Marxism “won” the war of ideas, even as it collapsed as a theory, by establishing the economic dimension of man as humanity’s defining reality. For Del Noce, the West “defeated” Marxism not by reaffirming biblical morality or Christian anthropology but by quietly shedding both. Western countries won by outproducing Marxist systems on their own terms, with material results—superior science, superior technology, more and better consumer goods. The dark side of technology, Del Noce argued, is a passion for “total revolution”—permanent revolution against the past doing business as innovation. The byproducts of its success have been religious agnosticism, sexual liberation and radical secularism. By the time of his death, Del Noce viewed much of Western society, despite its Christian residue, as the most thoroughly atheist in history, a feat achieved not by persecuting God, but by ignoring and rendering him irrelevant.

Francis X. Maier, ‌How Marxism ‘Won’ the War of Ideas.

(Serving suggestion: Read my first item again.)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

A.D.D., but organized after the fact

There’s no single theme today, just as there usually isn’t. But I took the scattered stuff and sorted it.

Politics

Josh Hawley’s voodoo

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley unveiled a proposal last week that he believes will “solve” the current supply chain crisis by requiring companies manufacture “over 50 percent of the value” of certain goods in the United States, but Eric Boehm of Reason argues it would make today’s shortfalls permanent. “One must assume that if the lights in his home went out due to a storm, Hawley would respond by declaring electricity to be a mistake and demanding that the government require homes to be lit with candles and gas lamps,” Boehm jests in response to Hawley’s plan. “After all, what is the electrical grid but a complicated supply chain that leaves Americans woefully dependent on production and distribution systems (power plants, substations, and lines) that they do not fully control? Better to produce your own lighting, right? If that means you have to live without television or the internet, well, those are just the trade-offs required to achieve self-sufficiency.”

The Morning Dispatch 11/1/21.

I commented on this column very briefly already, as well as separately registering my opinion on Josh Hawley (“braying populist(ish) ass”), its author.

S.B. 8

For anti-abortion activists, Texas’s recent law, Senate Bill 8, must have seemed like magic—a way to stop abortion immediately, without the grind of constitutional litigation and its attendant legal fees.

Mary Ziegler, ‌The Anti-abortion Movement Will Win Even If It Loses

You should actually ask a few anti-abortion activists outside of Texas, Professor Ziegler, instead of speculating.

Whistling (an amusing little ditty) in the dark

White and suburban kids in Virginia are now saved from CRT and Sharia and Bigfoot and Unicorns.

Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali, Tweeting about Glenn Youngkin’s election win. Yascha Mounk, more open to reality, says “It is impossible to win elections by telling voters that their concerns are imaginary”.

I was irritated when Christopher Rufo started agitpropping that anything he didn’t like was Critical Race Theory:

“We have successfully frozen their brand—‘critical race theory’—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,” [Rufo] wrote.

Jelani Cobb, ‌The Man Behind Critical Race Theory

But I’m becoming equally irritated at Democrats’ insouciant and sometime dishonest Motte and Bailey denial that there’s anything there at all. There is, as Mounk outlines:

[A]cross the nation, many teachers have, over the past years, begun to adopt a pedagogical program that owes its inspiration to ideas that are very fashionable on the academic left, and that go well beyond telling students about America’s copious historical sins.

In some elementary and middle schools, students are now being asked to place themselves on a scale of privilege based on such attributes as their skin color. History lessons in some high schools teach that racism is not just a persistent reality but the defining feature of America. And some school systems have even embraced ideas that spread pernicious prejudices about nonwhite people, as when a presentation to principals of New York City public schools denounced virtues such as “perfectionism” or the “worship of the written word” as elements of “white-supremacy culture.”

Maybe that’s nut-picking, but I’m irritated at the Democrats because my former party, the GOP, still kisses Donald Trump’s a**, and is not fit to govern in its present state. (Youngkin has pledged to ban CRT, a pledge he’ll either ignore or botch in the execution — see next item, for instance.) But “govern” the GOP will, starting in January 2023, if Democrats don’t wise up — and the Left end of its base resists all wisdom.

Opposing perspectives on the Holocaust?!

The most notorious example of this came two weeks ago in Southlake, Texas, when a school administrator told teachers that, if they include a “book on the Holocaust” in their syllabi, then they also have to include one with “opposing perspectives.”

David French

This is what happens when populist bulls decide to visit the Left-illiberal china shop, passing vague laws against divisive and hateful ideologies in public schools.

Counting all the chickens in one medium egg

Is it a “done deal” that the GOP regains control of House and Senate in 2022? Not so fast, buddy!

Candidates matter. Youngkin became the candidate after a nominating convention for state party diehards used ranked-choice balloting to pick among seven contenders. And they did it this way on purpose to ensure that “a crazy” didn’t tank their chances of winning the race. Jonah is more in favor of cigar smoke-filled back rooms with party bosses than I am—the big difference, I think, being how many times our butts would be touched if we were ever invited into such a room. But clearly picking an electable candidate is important. And a political party willing to give serious thought to what process is most likely to yield the most electable candidate is going to have an advantage in midterm elections. 

Which is all to say, no, I don’t think Virginia is proof that the Senate and House will flip. It’s quite likely that the House does, in my view. But I think the primaries for these Senate seats are going to dictate a lot about what it means to have a winnable race for either party.

Sarah Isgur (emphasis added).

The folks on the Dispatch podcast the day after the elections were even more explicit: had the GOP not used a ranked-choice vote at its convention, its nominee would have been State Sen. Amanda Chase, “Trump in heels,” and it’s much less likely they’d have won.

I’m with Jonah on returning to smoke-filled rooms — both parties — and if the voters don’t like it they can abandon the parties or start new, more “democratic” ones. Well, maybe I’m being impetuous, but it’s not the first time I’ve thought of how different things would be if candidates were chosen for electability rather than for how violently they’ll trigger the other guys. Both parties, I think, are likelier to elect extremists in primaries than to select them with party professionals.

(I sort of miss the military draft, too, but that’s for another day’s installment of “Times When Young Tipsy Was Naïve.”)

Of court the Grey Lady says “Republicans pounce.” What else would she say?

There it was, just as media critics parody:

Republicans Pounce …

More specifically, “Republicans Pounce on Schools as a Wedge Issue to Unite the Party.” (Caveat: The Times tends to change its headlines to create the impression of fresh content, but that was the headline at 6:30 am EDT November 4.)

In the Times thinking, I guess, there’s never a fair issue that simply works to the advantage of Republicans because Democrats are firmly tied to an unpopular approach.

The subheadline was

Rallying around what it calls “parental rights,” the party is pushing to build on its victories this week by stoking white resentment and tapping into broader anger at the education system.

On “parental rights,” the Democrats have it right legally. If you send your kids to public school, you don’t get to reach in and custom-tailor their education. Your key parental right is to not send them to public schools in the first place.

On “white resentment,” that’s right up there with “Republicans pounce.” But “along with Glenn Youngkin, Virginians elected Winsome Sears, a black woman, as lieutenant governor and Jason Miyares, a Cuban American, as attorney general.

Not politics (or not really politics, anyway)

The Second American Republic

[E]ven before the passage of [the] Reconstruction amendments — indeed, as a kind of precondition for them — Lincoln fatally injured the Constitution of 1787. He consciously and repeatedly violated core elements of that Constitution as they had been understood by nearly all Americans of the time, himself included.

Through those acts of destruction, Lincoln effectively broke the Constitution of 1787, paving the way for something very different to replace it. What began as a messy, pragmatic compromise necessary to hold the young country together was reborn as an aspirational blueprint for a nation based on the principle of equal liberty for all.

Noah Feldman, Lincoln Broke Our Constitution. Then He Remade It.

Some whip-smart conservative decades ago noted that Lincoln ushered in our Second Republic. He also claimed that FDR brought our Third Republic.

His main point, I think, was that we should stop flattering ourselves about being the world’s longest-lived stable democracy. We’re really just uncommonly good at putting liptick onto, and keeping blood out of, some of our revolutions.

“Higher” education

They have built colleges on an equal scale, only to see them turned into playgrounds for grown-up children or centers of vocationalism and professionalism. Finally, they have seen pragmatists, as if in peculiar spite against the very idea of hierarchy, endeavoring to turn classes into democratic forums, where the teacher is only a moderator, and no one offends by presuming to speak with superior knowledge.

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

Sending everyone to college hasn’t given everyone a college education. That can’t be done. It’s given everyone what used to be a high school education. A very, very expensive high school education.

J Budziszewski

Reaching a political dead end

Only an open semiotic system can clear space for us to affirm life. Only open trade will bring peace. Only open borders will bring saving diversity. Only open minds can stop the return of Auschwitz. There is simply no other way. When intelligent, educated, and responsible people talk this way, we know that we’ve reached a dead end.

R.R. Reno, Return of the Strong Gods. I have come to distrust Reno because of his Trumpist and populist conversion, but I try to read across a wide spectrum of opinion, and this hyperbole is provocative.

Genocide of the Tomboys

One mom spoke about how having to fight the culture at her middle-school daughter’s school, on behalf of her daughter. Her daughter is a tomboy, and the culture at school is aggressively pro-trans. She thanks God that her daughter is a solid and committed Christian, and wants nothing to do with that. The mom said that she has worked hard to help her daughter understand that there’s nothing wrong with being a tomboy, and that it doesn’t mean she is a transgendered male.

Rod Dreher

More about his weekend with an unusual Evangelical group — one that “gets” the Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies:

“This isn’t a typical Evangelical service,” the guy sitting next to me said. I repeated that to someone else at the church, who said, “Yeah, if you went to a megachurch, you’d hate it. It’s basically 45 minutes of concert followed by a TED talk about how God wants you to be happy.”

Our Father, Who Art in the White House …

National governments are widely assumed to be responsible for and capable of providing those things which former generations thought only God could provide—freedom from fear, hunger, disease and want—in a word: “happiness.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. (Gosh I quote him a lot!)

Catechesis failure

Though my identity as unequivocally Evangelical is more than 40 years in my past, I still watch, and am aghast at my credulity for ever accepting unquestioningly that we Evangelicals were true and countercultural Christians.

That Donald Trump with his crudities and cruelties could ever be a mad crowd favorite of evangelicals is just mind-boggling. How could that happen?

The best monocausal explanation I’ve seen is catechesis failure:

“What we’re seeing is massive discipleship failure caused by massive catechesis failure,” James Ernest, the vice president and editor in chief at Eerdmans, a publisher of religious books, told me. Ernest was one of several figures I spoke with who pointed to catechism, the process of instructing and informing people through teaching, as the source of the problem. “The evangelical Church in the U.S. over the last five decades has failed to form its adherents into disciples. So there is a great hollowness. All that was needed to cause the implosion that we have seen was a sufficiently provocative stimulus. And that stimulus came.”

“Culture catechizes,” Alan Jacobs, a distinguished professor of humanities in the honors program at Baylor University, told me. Culture teaches us what matters and what views we should take about what matters. Our current political culture, Jacobs argued, has multiple technologies and platforms for catechizing—television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, and podcasts among them. People who want to be connected to their political tribe—the people they think are like them, the people they think are on their side—subject themselves to its catechesis all day long, every single day, hour after hour after hour.

On the flip side, many churches aren’t interested in catechesis at all. They focus instead on entertainment, because entertainment is what keeps people in their seats and coins in the offering plate. But as Jacobs points out, even those pastors who really are committed to catechesis get to spend, on average, less than an hour a week teaching their people. Sermons are short. Only some churchgoers attend adult-education classes, and even fewer attend Bible study and small groups. Cable news, however, is always on. “So if people are getting one kind of catechesis for half an hour per week,” Jacobs asked, “and another for dozens of hours per week, which one do you think will win out?”

Peter Wehner, ‌The Schism in the Evangelical Church

That’s not perfectly satisfying since I don’t know whether or why Evangelicals watch more television (or more FOX and OAN) than other religious groups, but it feels like it’s on the right track.

(And I’ve become fairly sure that Evangelicals would be in the vanguard of falling for Antichrist.)

Republican Justices revive a cottage industry

A cottage industry has revived in the law schools: re-writing Roe v. Wade to prove how the Constitution really does require abortion essentially on demand. ‘Roe’ Was an Originalist Reading of the Constitution – The Atlantic. If you’re interested in wagering that the upcoming Dobbs case out of Mississippi (abortion banned after 15 weeks) has nothing to do with it, let me know. I’m not opposed to easy money.

(I acknowledge that Planned Parenthood v. Casey has replaced Roe as our controlling abortion precedent — but it’s no better-reasoned.)

New atheists

The new atheists’ texts are manifestoes, buoyantly coarse and intentionally simplistic, meant to fortify true unbelievers in their unbelief…

David Bently Hart, The Experience of God


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Potpourri 10/11/21

Meaning is a necessity

> There are aspects of the human condition that can be explored through art, that must be explored through art, that are not conducive to stories about superheroes, wizards, cyborgs, monsters, or similar. And, in those cases where such themes are explored with genre tropes, they are generally unattractive to (some would say inappropriate for) children. And so adults should look beyond art intended for children, in order to deepen their understanding of life and the world and grapple with what it means to live a mortal life in a universe without meaning. > > … > > In life we have both cookies and kimchi, both lemonade and whiskey. There are, in other words, acquired tastes as well as obvious ones, and the former are some of the best stuff in life. This, again, does not in any way dismiss the pleasures associated with cookies and lemonade. The point is merely that very few people only consume cookies and lemonade, but far too many never access any movies or shows or books that deal in the bleaker, harder, subtler, quieter parts of life. > > Now the common rejoinder is to say “do both!” And indeed – watch both, read both. I can’t complain about that. But the entire point is that people aren’t watching both. Do you know how many people consume literally nothing but superheroes, sci-fi, zombies, video games, and so on? Very, very many. And how could there not be? Any sense that we should feel embarrassed to remain fixated on art for children in existence that once existed – and I have never been convinced that it ever did – has long since been utterly obliterated in our current moment, a time when art populism manages to both be utterly commercially and critically dominant and yet cast as a perpetual underdog. Precisely because they need to be acquired, acquired tastes have a higher barrier to entry than others, and so their embrace by the public will always be more tenuous. But there are treasures there. Think of how much is lost for so many when there is no social pressure at all to try new things, new types of things. > > It is no coincidence that we are all living in the digital world alongside a cadre of angry, embittered, activist nerds who rage out endlessly about all of the perceived slights against them. After all, there culture has told them to never leave their fantasies behind, so how can we be surprised that they react violently to the difference between those fantasies and their reality? …

Freddie DeBoer, ‌the Second Part of Life.

I do not agree with atheist Freddie that the universe is meaningless — or that humans actually can live humanly as if it were. Even atheists desire and quietly ferret out at least tacit and private meaning.

> [F]or human beings, meaning is not just a luxury. It is a necessity.

Historian Wilfred McClay, ‌Has America Lost Its Story?

Cramped narratives

> "A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large." The ideological narratives that are popular now offer just this kind of terribly cramped sense. They account for all the facts within a very small circumference, one typically marked out by the chatter of the extremely online, but they exclude much that is required for healthy, sane judgment: local particulars, affection for neighbors, and good humor, to name a few.

Jeffrey Bilbro, Staying Sane in a Mad Time (Front Porch Republic) quoting G.K. Chesterton.

Meyer Lansky vindicated!

> In the 1940s, organized crime kingpin Meyer Lansky boasted that his casino-based empire was “going to be bigger than U.S. Steel.” His prediction has been wildly surpassed. In 2014, U.S. Steel had revenue of $17.5 billion and employed 42,000 people. Indian casinos alone employed 400,000. In one recent year, gambling took in $72 billion in the United States; movie tickets, $9.5 billion; theme parks, $10.3 billion, cable TV, $51 billion. Gambling is bigger than any other form of recreation and entertainment in the country.

Helen Andrews, ‌Casino Capitalism, Literally

What troubled Michael Goldhaber

> When you have attention, you have power, and some people will try and succeed in getting huge amounts of attention, and they would not use it in equal or positive ways.

So I won’t accused of monomania for thinking that this describes Donald Trump, I acknowledge that it was stated as a general principle in the article that introduced me to the powerful concept of the "attention economy": Charlie Warzel, Michael Goldhaber, the Cassandra of the Internet Age (The New York Times). It’s one of the most illumining articles I’ve read this year, and one that I plan to review regularly until I stop getting anything new from it.

I still think it fits Trump to a gold-plated "T", but that’s not surprising, is it?

More:

> In June 2006, when Facebook was still months from launching its News Feed, Mr. Goldhaber predicted the grueling personal effects of a life mediated by technologies that feed on our attention and reward those best able to command it. “In an attention economy, one is never not on, at least when one is awake, since one is nearly always paying, getting or seeking attention.”

Fetishists

These days, when a pundit writes about politics, instead of simply stating his opinion, he feels obliged to start off with various polling numbers on what people think about it.

We are innumerate, yet we fetishize "science" that corroborates, however weakly, what we see. And most polls are very weak corroboration indeed.

Powerful fanatics compelling lies

> David Chappelle’s The Closer is, in fact, a humanely brilliant indictment of elite culture at this moment in time: a brutal exposure of its identitarian monomania, its denial of reality, and its ruthless tactics of personal and public destruction. It marks a real moment: a punching up against the powerful, especially those who pretend they aren’t. > > … > > The debate … is about whether a tiny group of fanatics, empowered by every major cultural institution, can compel or emotionally blackmail other people into saying things that are not true.

Andrew Sullivan, David Chappelle is Right, Isn’t He? (hyperlink added).

Yes, Virginia, we’re still at war. Of course we are.

Justice Kavanaugh asks a telling question:

> “Is the United States still engaged in hostilities for purposes of the AUMF against al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations?” The AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) is the 2001 congressional resolution that served as the basis for the war in Afghanistan and for continuing U.S. military operations and detention of enemy combatants. > > Yes, [Biden’s acting solicitor, Brian] Fletcher conceded, “that is the government’s position.” And it is the position the Biden administration holds, he elaborated, “notwithstanding withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.” Whatever the White House may say about the end of the forever war, the Justice Department has represented to the Supreme Court that “we continue to be engaged in hostilities with al-Qaeda and therefore that detention under law of war remains proper.”

Andrew C. McCarthy, ‌Kavanaugh Question Reveals Biden Administration Dishonesty on Ending Forever War

What’s self-evident in education?

> Educators take nothing to be self evident; trainers take everything to be so.

Elizabeth Corey and Jeffrey Polet, Indoctrination Sessions Have No Place in the Academy. By "indoctrination," they mean "[this, that, and the other] training" of most sorts.

After reading and writing this, I found that one person, Chloé Valdary, has a relatively attractive approach to antiracism training.

Good riddance, ideologue

> I think there’s an image that a lot of Republicans have, both in politics and they sort of represent a sober and judicious way of looking at the world, and we are the adults in the room. > > And it’s more about a culture than it is an ideology. > > The original Republican conservative movement, I thought, was going to go back and look at the Constitution, when Jefferson said it won’t work if you pile up everybody in the cities because they will be subject to mass hysteria. Or de Tocqueville, and you look at certain ideas, I thought that’s what we were.

Victor Davis Hanson, interviewed by Tucker Carlson, on ‌Why I Left National Review.

I’m not a big fan of National Review. I even let my subscription lapse, but recently renewed because I was being denied access to any full article (I think online publications consciously do that to recently-lapsed subscribers.) They have a few authors I like well enough to make it worth, what, $0.77 per week?

But when VDH complains that "it’s more about a culture than it is an ideology," I’m with NRO. I’ve had it with ideology. I’ve had it with "No True Conservative would willingly live in a big city" or "you’re ignoring Tocqueville."

As far as I’m concerned, conservatism is epistemically humble and therefore more cultural than ideological.

But the VDH approach is common enough, as are innumerable others, that the name "conservative" has become virtually useless.

Goodness, gracious!

> “Can’t anybody here play this game?” comes to mind when I read about Congress and the debt ceiling hassle and the Republicans’ aversion to talking about climate change even as the reality of it is rather clear and auto manufacturers are planning for electric car production, but Republicans are satisfied with a policy of denial. This is not intelligent but they believe it’s a winning strategy. Goodness gracious. Who are these people? What game are we playing?

Garrison Keillor, ‌A few beams of light on our current situation

Thoughtcrime in America

> You may disagree with parents like me who do not want our children indoctrinated with Critical Race Theory, masked during recess, or told that their biological sex is is not real. But in a free society, we don’t call the feds to police our fellow Americans because we don’t share their politics.

Maud Maron, ‌Why Are Moms Like Me Being Called Domestic Terrorists?

The other side

I detested and still detest Donald Trump. But I’m not positive I’ve counterbalanced against his unhinged narcissism (and all its corrolaries) the Democrats’ 2016 and following dirty tricks. This Holman Jenkins column helps.

National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty, responding to nonsense from formerly-respected Roger Kimball, sounds off, too:

> Nearly everything Kimball says about the ongoing resistance to Trump is true. It was meretricious, hysterical, and dangerous. Even before Trump won the election, I predicted the unprecedented subterfuge that would probably be aimed at him if he won the presidency. We saw the deep state as it really is: an ongoing class warfare against the democratic peoples and their representatives whose disruptions provide accountability. No one has to coordinate 50 former intelligence agents to issue a statement denouncing the New York Post’s Hunter Biden scoop as probable Russian disinformation, justifying suppression of the story just days before the election. The deep-staters know how to do it. > > … > > We can all throw Trump the biggest pity party in history about the subterfuge he faced within the executive branch. He didn’t have the guts to clean house and make the government employees do their jobs. In other words, he didn’t do the job he was elected to do. For a president to take control of the executive branch, he must  hire people he can trust to run one of the largest organizations on earth. Trump couldn’t or wouldn’t. Every account of the Trump White House’s operation tells us that Trump trusted and respected no one who didn’t have the last name Trump or Kushner. What his actions leading up to January 6 show us is that he didn’t respect his followers, either.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, ‌January 6 Was No Hoax, Trump Abused Supporters’ Trust

Like Dougherty, I refuse to valorize either toxic narcissist Donald Trump or the "meretricious, hysterical, and dangerous" resistance. (I confess that I was slow to recognize the latter, so dangerous did I consider the former.)

Reality Check

> (Here’s a fun tip for you all: if you have the power to get someone fired or otherwise ruin their life you are not a powerless, marginalized Other.)

Freddie DeBoer

Freddie’s ability to see through cant is why I pay to read his Substack posts. A couple of others I apparently prepaid (for a year) have become annoying noise (I’ve told my computer to put them more or less out of sight.)

Another Substack

> If you come here to take in my slant on the world, wherever that leads, you’re in the right place. If you come here to watch me own the libs, you’ll probably be disappointed. I’ll rent them on occasion, as the spirit moves. Yet I’m a firm believer that if you only find the other guy’s side to be full of con artists, chiselers, and demagogues, you’re not paying close enough attention to your own.

Matt Labash, introducing his new Substack, Slack Tide.

I’m not familiar with Labash, but I’m told he’s really good.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Some thoughts 5/1/21

What the wrath of God looks like

I was nurtured on stories as a child that contrasted Christ’s “non-judging” (“Jesus, meek and mild”) with Christ the coming Judge (at His dread Second Coming). I was told that His second coming would be very unlike His first. There was a sense that Jesus, meek and mild, was something of a pretender, revealing His true and eternal character only later as the avenging Judge.

This, of course, is both distortion and heresy. The judgment of God is revealed in Holy Week. The crucified Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God. There is no further revelation to be made known, no unveiling of a wrath to come. The crucified Christ is what the wrath of God looks like.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Bridegroom and Judgment

Why Jordan Peterson thrives

Contempt for the “working class” by North America’s “liberal educated elite,” is a major reason for his popularity, he says. “There aren’t very many people with an encouraging voice,”[Jordan] Peterson says. “Most of the things you read by intellectuals—not all, but it’s a failing of intellectuals—most of it is criticism. Look what you’re doing to the planet. What a detestable bunch of wretches you are, with your rapacious structures and your endless appetite and your desire for power. . . . Look at what your ambition has done to the planet. How dare you!”

Mr. Peterson doesn’t directly challenge the substance of these dreary criticisms. Rather he protests that they’re unnatural and unhealthy. “The proper attitude toward young people is encouragement,” he says—“their ambitions, their strivings, their desire to be competent, their deep wish for a trustworthy guiding hand. I think our culture is so cynical that it’s impossible, especially for the established intellectual chattering critics, to even imagine that encouragement is possible.”

When I ask what he thinks is driving the effort to destroy him and others who hold heterodox views, he diagnoses his persecutors as though they’re exactly the sort of young people who wander into his lectures or buy his books looking for structure and purpose. His admirers and his fiercest detractors are, in his mind, not so different from each other.

Barton Swaim, The Man They Couldn’t Cancel

From an essay on atheism with lots of insights:

I can’t tell you how often … commenters on liberal blogs would preface a denunciation of Richard Dawkins by reassuring everyone that they themselves were agnostic or otherwise unaffiliated. “Of course Christianity isn’t literally true,” they would always say before excoriating arrogant atheists. What they never seemed to understand is that the “of course” was a more grievous insult to sincere Christians than Christopher Hitchens could ever come up with. What the atheists felt they needed to prove, the anti-atheists simply assumed away. They took as given that traditionally religious claims about the world were so ridiculous that they could dismiss them with a footnote. The difference is stark. Angry atheists think religion is wrong. Anti-angry atheist liberals think religion is not even wrong.

Since I begin writing about this topic – that is, since the very beginning, as the first thing I wrote online that more than a dozen people read was about being a certain kind of atheist – I have been known by religious people as a nice atheist, a respectful atheist. I am never sure how to feel about this condition. I still define my orientation the same way: that to come to atheism honestly and constructively you must come to it in loss and pain. You don’t accept atheism, when it is genuine. You surrender to it. Either way, I am an atheist. I think all metaphysical claims of religious are false. I think religion on balance has been a detriment to human life and human flourishing. And I think the gradual attrition of believers into nonbelievers, through apathy and distraction more than anything else, would be good for the world.

Freddie deBoer, ‌What Became of Atheism, Part One

"I think all metaphysical claims of religious are false" is a sentence that may be worth my returning to some day, as the metaphysical content deBoer describes elsewhere in his essay is not true of all religion, and not (very) true of Orthodox Christianity. If I were being flippant, I could say "well, I don’t believe in that God, either."

Stake in the ground: Two sexes

Here’s what the science says: there are only two human sexes. That’s because there are only two types of gamete (the sex cells — egg and sperm). Humans (like all mammals) can develop along one of two pathways: towards making eggs (female) and towards making sperm (male). If anyone ever finds a third sex it would be a discovery on a par with finding a new continent — with a guaranteed Nobel prize. Until you see those headlines, you can rest assured there are exactly two sexes.

Biological sex exists and it matters — most obviously because the existence of the human race depends on it. You can’t make a human baby without a male and a female — yet the sex-denialists hardly ever mention reproduction. Which is odd since that’s precisely why sex exists.

Nathan Williams, Sex deniers are the new flat earthers

How our press covers Hungary

“You are sitting next to the Fifth Avenue of Budapest,” he said, referring to nearby Andrassy Avenue. “The only people Western journalists ever seem to talk to live within a two-mile radius of this street.”

Later, as I was headed home from work, I thought about how someone could stand on Andrassy holding a sign saying, “Viktor Orban, Go To Hell,” and nothing would happen to them. What do you think would happen to someone standing on the corner of Fifth and 45th in Manhattan, holding up a sign saying, “Black Lives Matter Sucks,” or “Homosexuality Is A Sin”? …

But remember your catechism: countries like Hungary are the real illiberal democracies.

Rod Dreher

Surprise Orthodox Anglicans

There has been talk in my neck of the internet about Prince Philip having reconnected with his Orthodox Christian roots, and here’s a sign, which I’m surprised hadn’t surfaced earlier, that he had:

There was one clear sign of this complex heritage during the funeral. Prince Philip had requested that, just before his body was lowered into the Royal Vault, the choir sing the famous Kiev setting of the Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed.

"Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints: where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing but life everlasting," the singers chanted. "Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of man: and we are mortal formed from the dust of the earth. … All we go down to the dust; and weeping o’er the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."

Terry Mattingly, Wish for the ‘Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed’ — A Hint at Prince Philip’s Complex Faith History

Note, too, this:

Prince Charles also has frequented Mount Athos. One Athonite monk told The Guardian newspaper that there is "no question" that Charles is "Orthodox in his heart. Sadly, he is very constrained by his position." The Prince of Wales has maintained ties to the Vatopedi Monastery and, like his father, to the Friends of Mount Athos.

Id.

Western civilization

The older I get, and the more I learn about history, the more convinced I am that Western civilization committed suicide with World War I. The rubble is still bouncing from that unparalleled catastrophe.

Rod Dreher

Contrariness

The function that herbivores play, for example, in stimulating biomass accumulation is both powerful and real. Chickens have historically converted kitchen scraps into eggs. Pigs have historically scavenged domestic waste products as varied as whey, offal, forest mast, and spoiled grain. That a large percentage of landfilled material is animal-edible food waste should strike us as criminal. Rather than showering landfill administrators with greenie awards for injecting pipes into the anaerobic swill to collect biogas, we should be cycling all that edible waste through chickens and pigs so that it never goes to the landfill in the first place.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal


Food safety is completely subjective. I don’t think for a minute that most of what’s in the supermarket is safe. But it’s been deemed safe because it only kills you slowly. While thousands of people die due to unnatural food and nutrient-deprived food, the food police go after a cottage-industry cheesemaker because two people got diarrhea.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Why I (sorta) miss the New York Times

Chauvin Was Convicted. Something Is Still Very Wrong reminds me that I not only miss much of what Ross Douthat and David Brooks write these days by dropping the New York Times, but I also miss Elizabeth Bruenig (and Frank Bruni).

It’s tough when an institution is the pinnacle of professional ambition in a field yet has become boycottably corrupt.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

A banquet of tasty morsels

No man or woman is an island, and no one should aspire to be one, either. That, at the core, is the claim of illiberalism, post-liberalism, or any of the other names given to the movement that pushes back against individualism as an ideal. The liberalism of Locke, deeply woven into American culture and political philosophy, takes the individual as the basic unit of society, while an illiberal view looks to traditions, family, and other institutions whose demands define who we are.

It always confuses me that illiberalism is taken as a belligerent ideology – both by its detractors and some of its proponents – as though it were rooted in strength and prepared to wield that power against others. It is con temporary liberalism that begins from an anthropology of independence, and presumes a strength and self-ownership we do not in fact possess.

A world that holds up independence as the ideal offers us two rival duties: to obscure our dependence and to be resentful of it. No woman can lightly assent to the illusion of autonomy. Because a baby is alien to the world of self-ownership, every woman’s citizenship in that imaginary republic is tenuous. A world of autonomous individuals can’t acknowledge both woman and child simultaneously. The sheer amount of work it takes to stifle fertility, put eggs on ice, or pump milk for a baby not welcome outside the home makes it clear that there is something untruthful and sharp-clawed at loose in the world.

Fear and hatred of weakness and dependence wound the dependent most obviously, but are poison to all, even the people who are strong at present. Without repeated reminders that the broken are beloved, how can we remember who God is?

Our physical weakness is a training ground for our struggles with moral weakness. There is no physical infirmity we can endure that is more humiliating than our susceptibility to sin. The elderly woman with tremors that leave her unable to lift her cup to her lip is not, in the final sense, weaker than any vigorous young man who finds he must echo Paul and admit, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19).

To give an honest accounting of ourselves, we must begin with our weakness and fragility. We cannot structure our politics or our society to serve a totally independent, autonomous person who never has and never will exist. Repeating that lie will leave us bereft: first, of sympathy from our friends when our physical weakness breaks the implicit promise that no one can keep, and second, of hope, when our moral weakness should lead us, like the prodigal, to rush back into the arms of the Father who remains faithful. Our present politics can only be challenged by an illiberalism that cherishes the weak and centers its policies on their needs and dignity.

Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dependence: Toward an Illiberalism of the Weak, Plough Quarterly.

I admire the heck of of Leah and expect to read her with pleasure until the day I die.


[I]t is her “Declaration of Conscience” speech for which [Margaret Chase Smith] is best remembered. It was 1950 and she was increasingly disturbed by Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist crusade. In February he’d made his speech in Wheeling, W.Va., charging communists had infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels. He claimed to have 205 names of known communists; in later statements he put the number at 57 and 81.

The base of the party found his opposition to the communist swamp in Washington electrifying. His wildness and disrespect for norms was seen as proof of authenticity: He’s one of us and fighting for us.

Smith was anticommunist enough that Nikita Khrushchev later described her as “blinded by savage hatred,” and she was certain communism would ultimately fail. But you don’t defeat it with lies.

She always listened closely when McCarthy spoke. Once he said he was holding in his hand “a “photostatic copy” of the names of communists. She asked to see it. It proved nothing. Her misgiving increased.

She didn’t want to move against him. She was new to the Senate; he was popular in Maine. She waited for her colleagues. They said nothing.

Finally she’d had enough. On June 1, 1950, she became the first Republican to speak out. On the way to the chamber Joe McCarthy suddenly appeared. “Margaret,” he said, “you look very serious. Are you going to make a speech?”

“Yes,” she said, “and you will not like it.”

When history hands you a McCarthy—reckless, heedlessly manipulating his followers—be a Margaret Chase Smith. If your McCarthy is saying a whole national election was rigged, an entire system corrupted, you’d recognize such baseless charges damage democracy itself. You wouldn’t let election officials be smeared. You’d stand against a growing hysteria in the base.

You’d likely pay some price. But years later you’d still be admired for who you were when it counted so much.

Peggy Noonan, Who’ll Be 2020’s Margaret Chase Smith?

I also admire the heck out of Peggy Noonan, but we’re too close to contemporaries for me to expect her writing to outlive me.


I don’t know if I was oblivious, or just too avoidant of National Review during his tenure there, or if being there forced him to write things he didn’t entirely believe, but I am rediscovering Jonah Goldberg since his co-founding of The Dispatch. This excerpting captures the full gist of what I think is a powerful argument:

You aren’t a conservative if you believe in conspiracy theories.

[T]he incompatibility of conservatism with conspiracy theories is … fundamental. One of the central tenets of conservatism is the idea that society is too complex to be easily controlled by a despot or even cadres of well-intentioned social engineers and bureaucrats, or what Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, dubbed “sophisters, calculators and economists.”

The “sophisters, calculators and economists” had real power. They had the power to make laws, and to order police and armies to enforce them.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that conspirators—globalists, the deep state, lizard people or, as QAnon would have you believe, blood-drinking pedophiles—can pull off whatever they want in total secrecy and with no formal power?

Here’s a simple fact: The more you know about how government actually works, the less likely you are to believe anyone is actually in control. The idea that secret cabals could blow up the World Trade Center or steal the election, with the active participation of hundreds or thousands of conspirators, is beyond laughable when you consider that passing a budget is often beyond the capabilities of those “in charge.”

One of Buckley’s top priorities in fashioning modern American conservatism was that it be a worldview grounded in realism. Conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in anything beyond the vaporous phantasms of paranoia. They can certainly be “right-wing.” But conservative they’re not.

Jonah Goldberg, Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism


There was no chance in the world that in the autumn of 2001, I would have seen the towers fall and thought, ah-ha! this was a sign to us that we should behold the evil capacities inside ourselves, and repent. Would anybody?

Rod Dreher, Why Does God Show Us Evil?

Yes, some would. I know because I did. Then in January 2005, I repudiated the GOP when Dubya did an anti-repentance, declaring as President of the World’s Savior-Nation that we were going to eradicate tyranny from the world.

That others did not see this was the source of my now-consistent belief that the self-willed blindness of our land leaves us past the point of no return: that nothing will bring us to repentance, and that nothing good will come of our hubris. (The 2016 Presidential Election was another warning we refused to heed.)

The only open question is how our decadence will play out. For instance, who foresaw a pandemic playing out as this one has? (Some foresaw pandemic, and warned of it, and prepared plans that Trump seemingly ignored, but did they foresee the economic shut-down, the isolation, the acedia?)


I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates is, I believe, an atheist. I have never understood where atheists find bedrock on which to build their ethics. But I’m glad most do find it. The world would be a grimmer place if they didn’t.


We long ago gave up the wish to have things that were adequate or even excellent; we have preferred instead to have things that were up-to-date.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on “doing us good” according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These salespeople are now with most of us, apparently, even in our dreams.

The first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But, then, this is also the first duty of everybody else.

Wendell Berry again.


As Nietzsche put it, “no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.”

My Journey from Born Again Christian to the Church of Woke—And Halfway Back Again – Quillette

This tickled me because “owning yourself” (a/k/a “self-own”) is the eventuality of following Nitezsche’s advice.


The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike—it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.

T.S. Eliot, via The Crack In The Tea-Cup

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Perverse rejoicing

With a provenance like the Wall Street Journal’s “Houses of Worship” opinion series and a title like Thank God, American Churches Are Dying, you’d be justified in expecting a mix of self-conscious perversity and unhealthy, un-reflective antecedent bias.

You’d be right.

It’s true that denomination-based churches—Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic—have been on a downward slope for years. But nondenominational evangelical churches are growing in number, from 54,000 in 1998 to 84,000 in 2012 …

Fresh churches replacing and created from old ones, armed with modern ideas to attract and tend to a new generation of believers …

… The leaders … generally focus on creating churches that cater to specific needs. There is a church exclusively for employees of Disney World. Spanish-language services are more popular than ever. “House churches,” composed of neighbors meeting for informal services—usually in living rooms—are on the rise as well. Popular Christian leaders like Francis Chan, a former megachurch pastor who now advocates house churches, offer free training for this model.

Those with denominational affinity will be sad to see a certain kind of church fall away. But the success of new models shows significant groups of people looking for ways to live faithfully, albeit in a less structured way. Could this really signify a religious awakening?

Ericka Andersen.

Wow:

  • “Nondenominational evangelical[s]” (but she repeat herself)
  • “armed with modern ideas” and
  • “cater[ing] to specific needs;”even
  • a church that excludes you based on who employs you.

Yet the cockles of my heart remain ice-cold. I must be some kind of monster. All I can think of is the one holy catholic and apostolic church, and the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints without any license to pander, negotiate over it, or erect barriers around it.

I will not deny a certain je ne sais pas, a certain frisson, at the closure of some churches. And God works in mysterious ways, about which circuitousness I can be awfully dense.

But if this is truly God’s work, it surely is to use these curated, Disneyfied simulacra to prepare postmoderns for the real thing.*

I fear, though, that it’s not God’s work at all. There’s another who sometimes appears as an angel of light, and who does his best work these days with counterfeits more than with frank apostasy.

(* The article’s reference to “House Churches” doesn’t trigger quite so strong a gag reflex. Those might prove to be Benedict-Option necessity in coming darkness here, as they have elsewhere in the world.)

* * * * *

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

(Jude 3)

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Religious tribalism

As a prefatory matter, I have long believed that one’s guiding philosophy is functionally religious. That has ramifications beyond what follows, but those are for another day. For now, think of it as “atheist Stephen Hawking had a religion of sorts.” It’s the sort of thing “scientism” was coined for.

In an episode of “The Briefing,” yesterday Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary reflected on the death of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. You can read a full transcript of the eight minute segment on Hawking using the link above.

Here is how the episode was summarized on Mohler’s Facebook page, which I think is broadly representative of what Dr. Mohler said on the show:

We believe that Stephen Hawking and all of his brilliance was simply evidence of the fact that he was a human being made in God’s image but a human being who died without God. That’s the great tragedy but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries.

Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something significant about the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the secular worldview can provide no argument for why the life of Stephen Hawking was ever significant nor your life nor my life. Only the biblical worldview can answer that question and it does profoundly answer that question.

The thing that struck me when a friend showed the post to me is this: If you swapped “Oppenheimer” for “Hawking” and, on the Facebook post, changed the name and photo from Mohler to Francis Schaeffer you could show the entire post to someone, say that Schaeffer wrote it on the occasion of Oppenheimer’s death in 1967 and… it’d be believable.

I love Schaeffer so I don’t mean that purely as criticism of Dr. Mohler. If we must talk like an evangelical from the 1960s, Schaeffer is a very good one to choose. And yet when you read that take on Hawking’s death, the tedium of it still comes across.

Earlier this week I got coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Like me, he grew up in an abusive fundamentalist church which left him with plenty of baggage to work through over a number of years. As we talked, the conversation turned to the work of Jordan Peterson and to a debate that my friend had seen in which Peterson and William Lane Craig, the renowned Christian apologist, argued over the possibility of meaning in human life. I said to my friend that several Christian friends of mine watched the debate and were far more impressed by Peterson than they were Craig. My friend nodded. “Peterson doesn’t care about winning,” he said. “Craig wanted to a win a debate. Peterson wanted to pursue truth.”

If there is a defining problem with a certain brand of reformed evangelicalism, it is that we care more about winning—winning debates, winning political campaigns, winning institutional battles—than we do about simply pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful.

(Jake Meador, The Tedium of Worldview Analysis at Mere Orthodoxy)

* * * * *

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Tell me about the God you don’t believe in

[W]hat all the atheists, new and old, have in common is a mistaken notion of God, for to a person they construe God as one being among many, an item within the nexus of conditioned things. The roots of this misconception are deep and tangled, stretching back to antiquity, but I would put a good deal of the blame for the present form of the problem on the transition from an analogical to a univocal conception of being, on display in Duns Scotus and especially William of Occam … [I]f, as Scotus and Occam would have it, being is a univocal term, then God and creatures can be considered under the same ontological rubric, and they do indeed belong to an identical genus. This means, in consequence, that God, though he might be described as infinite, is one being among many, an individual alongside other individuals. Occam would state the principle with admirable economy of expression: Praeter illas partes absolutas nulla res est (“Outside of these absolute parts, there is nothing real”).

I realize that this might seem the very definition of medieval hairsplitting, but a great deal hinges on this point. On the analogical reading, all of finite reality participates in the fullness of the actus essendi of God, and hence God and creation cannot be construed as rivals, since they don’t compete for space, as it were, on the same ontological grid. But on the univocal reading, God and creation are competitive, and a zero-sum game does obtain. The Reformers were massively shaped by the nominalist view that came up from Occam, and they therefore inherited this competitive understanding of God’s relationship to the world, which is evident in so much of their speculation concerning justification, grace, and providence. If God is to get all of the glory, the world has to be emptied of glory; if grace is to be fully honored, nature has to be denigrated; if salvation is all God’s work, cooperation with grace has to be denied. When this notion of God became widespread in Europe after the Reformation, it provoked a powerful counter-reaction, which one can see in almost all of the major philosophical figures of early modernity. The threatening God must be explained away (as in Spinoza), fundamentally identified with human consciousness (as in Hegel), internalized as the ground of the will (as in Kant), or shunted off to the sidelines (as in most forms of Deism). In time, the God of late medieval nominalism is ushered off the stage by an impatient atheism that sees him (quite correctly) as a menace to human flourishing. Thus, Feuerbach can say, “Das Nein zu Gott ist das Ja zum Menschen,” and every atheist since has followed him. Jean-Paul Sartre, in the twentieth century, captured the exasperation with the competitive God in a syllogism: “If God exists, I cannot be free; but I am free; therefore, God does not exist.” And Christopher Hitchens has restated the Feuerbach view, observing that believing in God is like accepting permanent citizenship in a cosmic version of North Korea.

I find in my work of evangelization that the competitive God still haunts the imaginations of most people today, especially the young, and this is certainly one reason why the New Atheists have found such a receptive audience. We who would evangelize simply have to become better theologians, that is to say, articulators of the truth about who God is. I would suggest that the best biblical image for God is the burning bush—on fire, but not consumed—which appeared to Moses. The closer the true God comes to a creature, the more radiant and beautiful that creature becomes. It is not destroyed, nor is it obligated to give way; rather, it becomes the very best version of itself. This is not just fine poetry; it is accurate metaphysics. We can find this truth in the narratives concerning David, Saul, and Samuel, wherein God definitively acts, but not interruptively. Rather, he works precisely through the ordinary dynamics of psychology and politics. Nowhere is the God of the burning bush more fully on display than in the Incarnation, that event by which God becomes a creature without ceasing to be God or undermining the integrity of the creature he becomes … “Fully divine and fully human” is intelligible only within a metaphysical framework of non-competition. Feuerbach felt obligated to say no to the Occamist God, but St. Irenaeus, who had the biblical idea of God in his bones, could say, “Gloria Dei homo vivens.”

(Robert Barron, Evangelizing the Nones, emphasis added)

I had to decide what to emphasize, if anything, and this all seemed too rich not to highlight key points.

I finally decided that the most key point was the vehement and colorful push-back against the “competitive god”—the god who, if infinite, makes any shared ontological grid awfully crowded—elicited from atheists who found such a God intolerable … and the contrasting truth about God and humanity.

An apologetics conversation-starter I’ve come to appreciate since becoming Orthodox seems highly relevant: “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. It’s not unlikely that I don’t believe in him either.”

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

From my Twitter feed

I’m strongly inclined to agree with Shapiro on that.

By analogy, I am pretty confident it’s possible for a couple to, say, marry before one of them is through college, practice contraception to allow that one the best chance to finish college on time, and not buy into the culture of death by so doing. But if Rome is right on this (which I often wonder), they’re still doing a bad thing, and they’re probably creating cognitive dissonance should they wish later to criticize “the contraceptive mentality.”

A society that decides that contraception should make every child Planned® is a different story.

* * *

I think he’s burned that bridge, but I am regularly amazed at people’s credulity and partisan flip-flopping.

* * *

Let me translate:

One thing the Roy Moore reaction proves: Rod Dreher is totally correct in his Benedict Option book to place no hope for Christian conservatives in the old Religious Right.

He’s got that right. If they’re not uniformly corrupt, politically and morally compromised, the old Religious Right is too full of metastatic corruption and compromise to even hold out hope for them.

* * *

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Thursday, 11/9/17

  1. The voice of the Mother of God
  2. What’s “conservative”?
  3. Remedial Civics for The Donald
  4. I’ll believe in Trumpism when …
  5. Being the better Trump
  6. Is diversity overrated?
  7. Soft Targets
  8. My Opioid Adventure
  9. Excess of Enthusiasm
  10. How very American: Ketosis without ascesis

Continue reading “Thursday, 11/9/17”