Organized Chaos

 

L’affaire Reno

My friend Damon Linker has posted a column that denounces me as a toady for Randian libertarianism. But Linker’s reasoning (which is widespread these days) fails to recognize the distinction between killing and letting die. A woman choosing an abortion and the doctor performing it directly intend the death of the child, and they adopt lethal means to realize that intention. The same is true for euthanasia, when the doctor intends and causes the death of the ill or suffering person. As the literature in medical ethics makes clear, killing is very different from refraining from heroic interventions to save a life.

In the Catholic tradition of medical ethics, heroic efforts to save lives must meet two tests. They must have a good probability of success, and they must not be excessively burdensome. In my estimation, we have embarked on a society-wide, heroic effort that fails not just the second test, but the first as well.

At the present moment, we are compelling millions of hourly wage earners to give up their livelihoods. And we are on a trajectory that may have unknown political, social, and spiritual costs. Where will our political system end up? I’m anguished by the fear that so many feel, most unnecessarily.

This is not an argument against the present “shelter in place” policies. Perhaps they are the wisest course of action. But it is not morally serious to suggest that our present policies are obligatory—and that if one dissents, one is a moral monster.

R.R. Reno (emphasis added)

The more I read, the more I think Linker was right. Reno’s treatment of heroic efforts is shockingly superficial — mere hand-waving.


Rod Dreher, like many of my friends, has adopted the view that pro-life Christians are obligated to preserve life at any cost. This requires one to hold, as a matter of principle, that physical death is the greatest evil, since preventing death is the highest good. No ancient philosophers held such a view. Nor did the Old Testament prophets. Jesus certainly didn’t.

R.R. Reno, who has no answer for his critics and thus is reduced to lying about them.

Rod is not impeccable, but this simply wasn’t and isn’t his position.

In his own rejoinder to Reno, Dreher pointedly skewers Reno:

Look at what’s happening to New York City’s hospitals now, and try to maintain with a straight face that being told you can’t have a small dinner party amounts to the state making geldings of magazine editors. It’s just perverse.

But he still calls Reno a friend and professes fondness for contrarians.


When the facts get in the way of the narrative, print the narrative.

Alan Jacobs, criticizing, not exhorting.


Some will protest that there won’t be hundreds of thousands of deaths, and anyone who says so is a fear-monger. My hope too is that the death toll will be relatively low, but if so, it will only be because we listened to the so-called “fear-mongers” or because we got incredibly lucky. The vast majority of the epidemiological data points to a grim scenario in the absence of dramatic intervention. To be sure, models are sometimes wrong and experts are not omniscient, but we rarely hesitate to cut our beach vacations short when a major hurricane—something far less predictable than an epidemic curve—is on its way, so it’s hard to see the rational ground for blithely ignoring the threats of this other force of nature—infinitesimally smaller, perhaps, but far more deadly.

Traditionally, Christians have taught that the sixth commandment imposes on us not merely an obligation not to kill but to do whatever we reasonably can to preserve life: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others…” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 135)

Among … non-negotiables, it seems to me, should be honor and respect for the aged. Utilitarianism says that these people have the least time left to live anyway, so they are the most expendable. The Judeo-Christian heritage says that the aged are priceless repositories of wisdom, that they gave us life and wealth and left us forever in their debt, that they demand our honor and respect. They do not deserve to die alone at home or in an overflowing hospital hallway, gasping for breath.

At the root of our protest that “the cure is worse than the disease,” I suspect, is a fear that our own way of life may have to change. Comforts that we once took for granted might turn out to be luxuries. Luxuries that we once aspired to may have to be shelved for another decade or two. Freedoms that we thought were our birthright, we will be forced to realize, were in fact simply the lucky blessing of having been born at the right time. For every generation in human history before those now living, “the economy” lived in a state of constant fragility, subject to forces of nature large and small. Epidemics and quarantines were facts of life. The freedom to live under your own vine and fig tree without interference was an eschatological hope rather than a political given.

Bradford Littlejohn, “No Wealth but Life”: Moral Reasoning in a Pandemic at Mere Orthodoxy (which, be it remembered, is Reformed, not Orthodox; that’s why he cites Westminster).

I’m very glad for that last paragraph, which gives voice to something I’ve been thinking. Yeah, it’s fairly easy for me to think that way, which is part of why I hadn’t said it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it with a wave of the hand or a derisive snort.

This is the best thing I’ve read yet about some of the rash, performative “faith” or “hard-headedness” I’ve been seeing.

Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2269, interjected by me because Reno is conspicuously Roman Catholic.


Coronavirus

Trump is not making an argument that the DPA would be counterproductive. Tonight on Hannity, Trump said that he doesn’t believe there’s a need for all those ventilators!

Rod Dreher

And Donald “No Quid Pro Quo” Trump demands a quid pro quo for saving, e.g., New Yorkers’ lives.


To be sacrilegious requires some recognition of what is actually sacred — a type of knowledge Trump has never displayed. To him, choosing Easter must have been like selecting Independence Day or Arbor Day or Groundhog Day — a useful date on which to hang a ploy.

… At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period. Trump is not only proposing a celebration of the Resurrection that would fill graves. He is implying that one way to “own the libs” is by further exposing the elderly to a cruel illness. He is urging his “pro-life” followers to increase their tolerance for death.

This represents a different kind of sickness — a moral sickness that took hold in Trump long ago. His immediate, selfish interest is the cause — the only cause — to which he has dedicated his life.

Michael Gerson. Gerson, a Protestant (for so I consider Anglicans), does not share a very Orthodox view of Easter, but this is mostly very solid.


I guess one of the reasons I’m so furious about Donald Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic (and it’s still bungled; many who get tested don’t get timely test results, like both Ross Douthat and Peggy Noonan) is that I first learned of the virus from Rod Dreher morre than two months ago and he had the gist of its rapid spread and mortality rates, which both bode pandemic.

Rod freakin’ Dreher, of Baton Rouge, LA. Blogger and author on social matters, not scientific. But the Trump administration couldn’t figure out that we needed to get ready?!

This is not Fauci’s faullt. It’s not the fault of our “intelligence community” in their national security work.

It’s pig-headed Donald Trump’s fault, and history will not judge him kindly.


This particular plague hits us at exactly the spots where we are weakest and exposes exactly those ills we had lazily come to tolerate. We’re already a divided nation, and the plague makes us distance from one another. We define ourselves too much by our careers, and the plague threatens to sweep them away. We’re a morally inarticulate culture, and now the fundamental moral questions apply.

In this way the plague demands that we address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. The plague brings forth our creativity. It’s during economic and social depressions that the great organizations of the future are spawned.

David Brooks


Eight days in I entered the living hell of attempting to find my results through websites and patient portals. I downloaded unnavigable apps, was pressed for passwords I’d not been given, followed dead-end prompts. The whole system is built to winnow out the weak, to make you stop bothering them. This is what it’s like, in a robot voice: “How to get out of the forest: There will be trees. If you aren’t rescued in three to seven days, please try screaming into the void.”

Peggy Noonan, who still doesn’t have her March 17 coronavirus test results. Her fever, though, seems to have broken after 21 days.


One reason many people are deeply skeptical of climate change is that a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway. And often, the stuff they want to do in the name of fighting climate change has nothing to do with climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s original proposal for a Green New Deal includes trillions in funding for Medicare for All but nothing for nuclear power. The former would do zilch to reduce CO2 emissions; the latter would do a lot.

During the debate over the economic-rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instances of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

If you want to persuade normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously, too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a sure-fire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

Jonah Goldberg


Mistaken identities

Katherine Stewart apparently has decided that the term “evangelical” should be usd indiscriminately, as “fundamentalist” has been used for decades. Most of the people she names in The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, insofar as I recognized them or tracked them down, are dubious candidates for the Evangelical label. They’re Presbyterians, Reformed, Charismatic, Seventh Day Adventist — not unequivocally evangelical.

It’s not my fight to fight. Evangelicals can mount their own defense if and as they like. But if they say “these guys aren’t ours,” I’ll be inclined to believe them.


Max Boot angrily left the GOP during the Trump era, and it’s easy for me to understand why he did. He’s taken a lot of shots at the party since then.

But today’s column takes a counterproductive shot at “the ‘pro-life’ movement” which, in Boot’s evil eye, is too willing to sacrifice born lives to the virus to spare the economy.

There’s just one problem: few of the examples he cites are plausibly from the pro-life movement. They are conservative officials, pundits, celebrities and provocateurs:

  • Ann Coulter
  • Laura Ingraham
  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
  • Brit Hume
  • Dennis Prager
  • Glenn Beck
  • R.R. Reno
  • The Federalist

Of that list, I think Reno and probably Prager have been reliably pro-life, though franky I so rarely read Prager that I’m not sure.

The others have used abortion as a wedge issue, and to secure an important part of the Republican base, but they have never exhibited the seamless-web tendencies of actual movement pro-lifers.

Instead of preaching to the liberal choir, Boot should have said “Dear Movement Pro-Lifers: Look at the creeps you’ve idolized and elected. Care to reconsider your knee-jerk fealty to the GOP?”


Inessentials  & Miscellany

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich has decreed that priests may not perform emergency baptisms without permission, despite the fact that canon law gives every Catholic—even a layman—the right to baptize in case of emergency.

Because of coronavirus, my wife and I baptized our infant son with only the godparents and the clergyman present. The parish at which it would have been logical to baptize him turned us away. But another said it would accommodate us. Hand sanitizer had been placed at the entrance. We refrained from shaking the cleric’s hand. The only audience for the ceremony was a man at the far end of the church, kneeling alone in a pew. I was grateful that the church showed concern for us physically. And more grateful still that it did not abandon us spiritually.

Matthew Schmitz


We have to learn to love our crooked neighbors, with our crooked hearts. What else is there?

Rod Dreher

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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.

Same God?

Hang on here. I purposefully meander a bit today, which is a fitting way of sharing a little epiphany I had while reading un-Christmassy stuff (Thomas S. Kuhn and Ian Hacking, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition) on Christmas Eve.

Do we, however, really need to describe what separates Galileo from Aristotle, or Lavoisier from Priestley, as a transformation of vision? Did these men really see different things when looking at the same sorts of objects? Is there any legitimate sense in which we can say that they pursued their research in different worlds? Those questions can no longer be postponed, for there is obviously another and far more usual way to describe all of the historical examples outlined above. Many readers will surely want to say that what changes with a paradigm is only the scientist’s interpretation of observations that themselves are fixed once and for all by the nature of the environment and of the perceptual apparatus. On this view, Priestley and Lavoisier both saw oxygen, but they interpreted their observations differently; Aristotle and Galileo both saw pendulums, but they differed in their interpretations of what they both had seen.

(Page 120, Kindle edition)

These sorts of questions could be extended to other areas, which was why Stanley Fish so insistently schooled Nico Perrino, on one So to Speak podcast:

[Stanley]: Do you believe in the distinction between faith on the one hand and reason or empirical investigation on the other?

Nico: Yes.

Stanley: Yes, I thought you would.

Nico: Of course, I do. So, I’ve fallen into your trap.

Stanley: Because I don’t. I taught a course yesterday on Inherit the Wind. It’s a movie about the Scopes Trial in the early part of the 20th century.

Nico: Yeah, Scopes Trial.

Stanley: That’s a movie produced and directed by Stanley Kramer who is a stalwart First Amendment liberal. The entire dramatic rhetoric of the movie depends on the distinction between faith on the one hand and reason, especially reason associated with scientific experiments, on the other hand. That distinction doesn’t hold up for a second. That distinction doesn’t hold up. What’s you’re dealing with in science as opposed to let’s say orthodox Christianity or something else are two different faiths.

Two different kinds of faiths undergirded by radically opposed assumptions and presuppositions. But it’s presupposition and assumptions which are generating the evidence and facts on both sides. Again, you have – I can tell and say this with all the generosity – you are deeply mired in the basic assumptions and presuppositions of classical liberalism. Anything else that is brought to you, anything that is brought to you by some kind of retrograde sinner like me sounds outlandish and obviously perverse.

Nico: No, not necessarily. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you.

Stanley: Good point.

Nico: But, you know, we’re at the corner of what? 5th and 12th Avenue. Are you telling me it’s not a fact that we’re at the corner of 5th and 12th Avenue?

Stanley: Oh, come on. Come on. Look, have you ever read The Structure of Scientific Revolution?

Nico: I have not.

Stanley: Okay. Do you know what it is?

Nico: No.

Stanley: Okay. It’s a book that is probably the most influential book in the social sciences and humanities for the past 75 years. That’s not an understatement. That is not an overstatement. Kuhn, his project, is the history of science as his title suggests. What he does is challenge the picture that I’ve already referred to where he says that science is not an activity in which one generation because of using its powers of observation and experiment adds to the details of the description of nature that was begun by previous generations.

What he’s saying is that scientific knowledge is not cumulative in the way that the usual picture of science suggests. Instead, scientific knowledge, that is the establishment of scientific fact, depends on what he calls paradigms. What’s a paradigm? A paradigm is the set of in place assumptions and authorized methodologies that govern and are in fact the content of scientific investigation at any moment. Paradigms rather than any direct confrontation between the observer and the world. Paradigms are what produces evidence and interpretations.

Finally, interpretations that are persuasive and successful for a while until that paradigm, for reasons that he details, is dislodged by another. When that happens, when the paradigm within which scientific observers work Kuhn says changes. One might say without exaggeration that without the world in which the scientific practitioner works has itself changed.

Nico: See, I don’t buy it though because there are things that scientist do maybe through this paradigm that produce a tangible result that only come as a result of. Changing the paradigm won’t change the result.

Stanley: Tangible result is itself along with other talismanic phrases like that – tangible result will be recognized as one depending on what pragmatic point of view you are situated. What Kuhn would say, he’s not the only one and I’m not the only one, is that any conclusion that you might reach and be confident in is not supported by some correspondents between your methodological, descriptive protocol and the world. Rather it’s produced by the paradigm within which you are ensconced and of which you are in some sense an extension.

I really urge to read this book because he considers – he’s not debunking science. He’s not debunking scientific achievement. He’s just giving a different picture of it which challenges what he thinks of as the over simplified picture, again, of a world out there waiting to be correctly described. We, as rational observers, having the task to describe it.

Having now read a bit more than half of Kuhn, I understand what Stanley was saying, and I’m less inclined to agree with with Nico.

Anyway, one extension of the “paradigm” (or “gestalt,” as Kuhn so often has it) is the continually vexed question of “whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” which I have visited several times in the past (here, here, and even here in passing).

My paradigm, which led me to say “of course they do“ is monotheism strictly and literally speaking: There is only one God, howsoever He may be misunderstood. Those who say they do not worship the same God strike me as tacitly embracing henotheism, usually with some vehement tribal pride thrown in about the superiority of our God.

But in fairness, the paradigm of the “different God” folks is perhaps doctrine, and “common parlance” rather than strict and literal monotheism. A sufficiently different understanding of God (as the Islamic understanding differs from the orthodox Christian) is, figuratively, “another God,” much as scientists after a gestalt shift are figuratively in “a different world,” according to Kuhn (and Fish?).

Further, my paradigm is apparently flexible. I sometimes ruminate on how the “loving God” I met in bedtime Bible stories as a child, and in childhood Sunday School, got displaced by an “angry God,” prickly, even furious, at how our screwups besmirch His dignity, as if He were a feudal lord. They do indeed feel like different Gods. (I found the loving God again, once and for all, in Orthodox Christianity, but that story is too tangential today.)

Likewise, a “progressive Christian” profession that Matthew 25 is the “heart of the Gospel” arises from a different hermeneutic than mine and, I suspect, is a convenient way of making Christ’s incarnate deity an optional doctrine and doing away with “the scandal of the Cross.” In their paradigm/gestalt, Matthew 25 being the heart of the Gospel is almost axiomatic, and the stupendous paradox we celebrated yesterday is at best tangential, likelier credulous or even incomprehensible. They and I are divided by our nominally common (“Christian”) faith. (It also makes Christian sexual morality, which rivals the Cross for scandal-giving these days, optional.)

And then there are the Jews. I and they, too, worship different Gods if you want to be very figurative about it, though their non-Trinitarian God is pre-Christian rather than anti-Christian. I wonder, though, how many of the “Muslims-worship-a-different-God” folks even think about the Jews when blasting the Muslims?

So what? So can we, on this second day of Christmas (indeed, on all days) be less hasty with expressions that needlessly divide us with intimations that The Other believes as he believes because he’s pure evil rather than out of a very different, good faith, perspective?

That doesn’t mean we all unequivocally worship the same God, for God’s sake, but might our divisions can produce yearning instead of angry denunciations?

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Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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.

Job’s Comforters

I’ve never recoiled from Job’s Comforters. At least they were “there for him” after a fashion, right?

Maybe I’m on the Autism Spectrum, or haven’t shaken off the last of my “former delusion,” repudiated when I entered Orthodoxy.

But the promised blessings and cursings in Deuteronomy were not sui generis in the Old Testament henotheistic millieu. That gods reward their followers and punish deviants was hardly an outrageous or (if I may wax anachronistic) Pharisaical worldview before Christ.

Some of the Psalms presented a more equivocal view, and we’ve learned from the highest of authorities, through pericopes like the man born blind, that into each life some rain must fall.

But the lessons that grief is not the time for theodicy, and that “I’m so sorry” is generally the best thing we can say when we’re tempted to something more “pious,” are not learned and remembered easily.

I’ve even heard dubieties coming from the mouths of the putatively grieving, trying to comfort their comforters. I’m thinking especially of a Calvinist father whose young adult son wrapped his car around a tree while home on leave. “We prayed that God would keep him from apostasy, and this apparently was the answer.”

That seemed very pious at the time. Now it seems reptilian. Another of his children did apostatize, and wrote a kiss-and-tell book about growing up in that household. I couldn’t bear to read it, but it sounded all too plausible from the reviews.

I guess Job wouldn’t have been much of a story if three guys showed up and just kept saying “we’re so sorry, Job.”

And we can always be grateful for Bildad the Shuhite as the punchline for “Who’s the shorted man in the Bible?”

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

The PCA and The Nashville Statement

[The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)] endorsing the Nashville Statement was an odd move. The Statement itself is a jumble. It purports to be a broad account of Christian teachings on sexuality, but has nothing to say about divorce, contraception, or biomedical tech, and says very little about procreation as an essential good in Christian marriage. This makes the statement lopsided in its teachings about sexuality in ways that are evangelistically disastrous where the [Tim Keller and Reformed University Fellowship] wing of the PCA tends to be most active.

… The right … needs to recognize that what they confuse for progressive drift is usually the more banal work of finding ways to present the faith to people with minimal knowledge of Christianity, or with some deep hostility to orthodoxy …

Contrary to some hyperbolic claims, there is no serious movement in the PCA to reject historic teachings about sexuality. Those who dissented on Nashville did not do so because they are progressive on sexual ethics, but because of the procedural and pastoral issues cited above—as well as the lopsidedness of the statement itself.

Jake Meador

Apart from garbling a little denominational history (the PCA did not exist in the late 60s when the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy was issued — but then neither did Jake), Jake nails this.

I read the Nashville Statement and many reactions to it when it was issued (I clipped 20 items on the topic), and it was both sloppy (e.g., what’s the “homosexual self-conception” Christians should not adopt?) and lopsided (what about the sexual sins and dubious practices of heterosexuals? [Crickets.])

I often object to “whataboutism” as a rhetorical ploy to defend the indefensible, but the Preamble of the Nashville Statement does indeed promise “a broad account of Christian teachings on sexuality,” whereas the Statement is negative only on homosexuality, with flaws both rhetorical and pastoral, and without coming anywhere near stepping on any heterosexual toes about un-natural practices that have been adopted wholesale and uncritically.

People should not feel compelled to endorse sloppy and lopsided statements to prove their orthodoxy.

[This post is not categorized “lifework” or “deathwork,” just to prove that I maintain some sense of proportion. But had I waded in on the topics about which the Nashville Statement is silent, the “deathwork” category probably would have been invoked.]

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

“I am a man of European ancestry ….”

I wondered whether John Earnest really was a white nationalist, white supremacist or one of those weird birds, so I Duck-Duck Go’ed for his actual letter explaining his actions.

Because it has been put under the ban of respectable society, I got it from an execrable anti-semitic website. The Daily Stormer was in the search results, too.

You’re welcome.

I have now reviewed it. It is disgusting.

You’re welcome again. (If that’s all you wanted to know, you can stop now, and I’m trigger-warning you that I’ve got a few actual quotations below.)

But it’s not seductive. If I took in upon myself to watch a notorious porn flick in order to comment on it, I probably would feel at least a slight rise in my Levis at some point, but I found nothing remotely attractive about this letter except one reference to our sham currency.

With all the things wrong in this country, it’s astonishing that he picked, with that one currency exception (and to blame the Jews for sham currency seems sub-simplistic to me), nothing but straw men and delusional complaints to blame on the Jews.

Yes, he is not just an antisemite, but also a white nationalist, white supremacist or one of those weird birds. You don’t need to deconstruct it or listen for dog-whistles. It’s text, not subtext, starting off with his account of his God-blessed European bloodlines: “I am a man of European ancestry ….” (Well, la-de-freakin’-la to that.)

He claims not to be categorically opposed to groups other than Jews, though in his utopia, the races are segregated (“Do they actively hate my race? Yes, I hate them. Are they in my nation but do not hate my race? I do not hate them, but they aren’t staying. Are they out of my nation and do not hate my race? Fine by me.” Emphasis added.).

He is categorically opposed to Jews for the same paranoid, stark-raving reasons as those who rail against “white privilege.” I’m going to quote his most proximately toxic dogma here here.

Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race. They act as a unit, and every Jew plays his part to enslave the other races around him—whether consciously or subconsciously.

(Sorry to beslime you, but I warned you.) I repeat: “the same paranoid, stark-raving reasons as those who rail against ‘white privilege.’” European genocide is a “systemic” feature/bug of Jewishness in his eyes — and I would wager a very substantial amount that he’s not alone in this core dogma — just as racism is systemic to whiteness. Q.E.D.

As he goes along in his explanatory letter, he gets progressively torqued up, scatalogical, and what passes for playful (apparently) on playgrounds like 4-Chan and 8-Chan.

Is he a Christian? Michael Brown, a messianic Jew, has a litmus test of philosemitism, so he says “No.”

I say “He’s got the Calvinist words down pretty well, but I’m not sure the music is in him.” I’ll leave it to his fellow-Calvinists to argue in excruciating detail why “I’m saved anyway, so I’m gonna kill some perfidious Jews” does not compute even within their baptized version of kismet.

But I’ve got benchmarks other than philosemitism:

  • Earnest complains of “race mixing” though the Apostle Paul notes the abolition of racial distinctions in Christ.
  • He calls the stoning of Stephen ” heart-wrenching and rage-inducing,” though Stephen forgave.
  • He refers darkly to obscure sins of Jews that “will never be forgiven,” though the prototype Christian prayer cautions us to forgive or else. (“I will never forgive [X]” is a terrifying self-sentencing to eternal death, it seems to me.)
  • His evasion on “loving my enemies” is a preposterous question-begging tap dance.

He inserts a bunch of “lightning round” question, including:

“Who inspires you?”
Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Adolf Hitler, Robert Bowers, Brenton Tarrant, Ludwig van Beethoven, Moon Man, and Pink Guy.

And he avers that he is not insane, though his testimony seems — gosh, I dunno — suspect.

Overall, I think publishing his letter would be a blow to anti-semitism (and to Calvinism), but I’m not Julian Freakin’ Assange, so if you want more than my 40,000 foot overview with very limited quotes, you’ll have to do your own search.

Κúριε δλεηθωμεν!

UPDATE: Veteran religion reporter Joe Carter identifies Earnest’s segregationism as “kinism,” a 2004 (or so) coinage:

The anti-kinist theonomist John Reasnor says:

At its core, kinism is the belief that God specially ordained “races” and that he intends for us to preserve that division to one degree or another. Kinism believes that God ethically and specially ordained the nations and “races.” In short, kinism is a doctrinal conviction of anti-miscegenation. All positions commonly held by kinists flow from this key kinist doctrine.

The term “kinism,” as a self-applied label, appears to have arisen around 2004 to be a “third way” for Christians between racism and anti-racism. Several kinist websites sprung up in the mid-2000s, and their ideas spread quite rapidly as they engaged and fought with Reformed bloggers.

The term—which comes from the word “kin,” such as “kith and kin”—may be of relatively recent vintage, but the beliefs and principles of kinism are ancient. As one kinist website claims, “The same continuum of concept has alternately been called familism, tribal theocracy, theonomic nationalism, or simply, traditional Christianity.” Kinists are obsessed with preserving the “European race” and their twisted form of Calvinism against those who would threaten it—usually African Americans or Jews.

This all comes as news to me, as I left Calvinism roughly seven before this term was coined and this debate joined. But I have no reason to doubt it.

Carter also makes an interesting observation:

Kinism in some form has been a problem within Reformed circles, particularly in Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist churches, since the Civil War. Even as our movement has denounced racism we’ve always seemed to attract racialists—from neo-Confederates to Reconstructionists**—who want to apply an intellectual veneer to their heretical views. But we’re seeing a resurgence in kinist ideology, and it’s far more prevalent than many of us want to admit.

** To understand the connection between kinism and theonomy, see Rushdoony on “Hybridization”: From Genetic Separation to Racial Separation.

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Mene, mene tekel upharsin

In a short piece on the conservative Reformed blog The Aquila Report, Dan Winiarski reports from a meeting of All One Body, an activist lobby within the Christian Reformed Church in North America (Dutch Calvinists) that is trying to convince the conservative denomination to affirm homosexuality and transgenderism …

The meeting’s leaders advised those gathered on strategies to undermine and replace the church’s biblically orthodox stance. Excerpt:

… one of the board members of A1B gave the audience a piece of advice: Do not use Scripture to convince your fellow CRC members of the beauty of full inclusion. Instead, rely on personal stories. “Everyone has a story,” she said. “We can argue back and forth all day about Scripture, but we’re never going to win that way. Nobody can argue with your story.”

Another member of the panel shared the focal point of this “personal story” strategy. He said it is all about convincing people, through stories about real people who have embraced the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender lifestyle, that such people bear healthier fruit than those who are non-inclusive. Whereas the panel referred to “the old teachings of the church” as “toxic,” A1B wants the CRC as a whole to accept the new teachings of full-inclusion, yielding good fruit.

… [T]he A1B activists understand well that in our bourgeois society, well being, wealth, and conformity to middle-class norms — and above all, avoiding suffering — are the marks of the church. It’s a false church, one that has turned from the Holy Spirit to the Zeitgeist, but this is how many ecclesial communities roll in post-Christian America.

In the early 1990s, when I was considering converting from non-practicing Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to Catholicism, I went through a period when I tried to reconcile sexual liberty with the Christian faith … It was so clear to me from the very beginning of our courtship that the three years (four, if you count our courtship) that I lived chastely, out of obedience, had been a period of profound purification and maturation. I did not know what was happening to me when I was in the middle of it. I just trudged onward … The thing is, the ascetic desert also prepared me for living within marriage …

These are harder stories to tell in our culture, because they are so countercultural. But we orthodox Christians had better get good at telling them. The other side is good at “narrative theology,” and they have the mass media on their side. Our culture, even the culture within many of our churches, presents the faith as an electric blanket, when in fact it is the Cross (said Flannery O’Connor). Nobody wants to hear that today, but it’s the truth — a truth that saves lives, both here and in eternity.

Rod Dreher, emphasis added.

The Aquila Report is worth reading beyond Dreher’s excerpts because the innovators have a second strategy, beyond storytelling, and that is the “judicial option””

… the panel revealed their preference for a strategy of using “judicial” rulings similar to the way the secular activists won their case at the United States Supreme Court with Obergefell.

A1B’s plan to transform the CRC will proceed as follows. They will identify a current CRC pastor who is sympathetic to their cause, who is willing to perform a homosexual “wedding” ceremony. Or taking another route, they will find a CRC congregation that is willing to elect an elder or deacon who is openly and proudly living in a homosexual partnership. Inevitably, this will cause a firestorm of protest in the CRC. Complaints will be filed. Debate will ensue. The Banner will publish articles both for and against. The great brouhaha will eventually make its way to Synod.

And the hope on the part of A1B is that Synodical delegates will embrace the path of least resistance and rule in favor of the pastor, or the church, or the office bearer. Synod might decide, as it has done with other controversial topics, that the LGBTQ+ question is a matter for each local church council to decide. Or, if the personal story of the individual involved is especially powerful, Synod may embrace empathy as the path toward inclusion. Perhaps a desire to prove the CRC’s relevancy credentials will convince Synod to “get with the times.”

Whatever reasoning Synod uses, the panel members representing A1B were in agreement (and the audience was too) that the “judicial” plan presented their best path to victory.

I’ve seen that strategy at work in many other denominations. The dissident pastor, after all, will have a touching story to tell of how s/he came in good faith to transvalue values, so it would be mean to do anything orthodox in response.

The Christian Reformed Church was my Church for nearly two decades before I entered Orthodoxy. After I left, a member came to me addled about what Orthodoxy was but thinking I’d be a sympathetic ear for his private religious opinions—which were decidedly sub-Christian. He’s still there as has served as an officer in the Church.

The heated debates of my years in the CRC all resolved in favor of the innovators. I have no doubt, barring divine intervention (which I do not expect; mene mene tekel upharsin), that they’ll win again.

The CRC’s professed adherence to Scripture Alone (sola scriptura) is delusional. As Dreher says:

[I]n our bourgeois society, well being, wealth, and conformity to middle-class norms — and above all, avoiding suffering — are the marks of the church.

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Course correction

UPDATE, 9/6/19: A story very recently in the news reminded me to come back to review
Band-aids for boo-boos, my most definitive thoughts on homosexuality and Christian faith. In the process I discovered that I had also written what follows.

I add this update for the sole purpose of saying that what follows is embarrasingly rambling. If you stumble upon it at this late date, you might just want to skip to the embedded video near the end, which I viewed again and still heartily endorse. If you choose to wade through the rest to get there, thank you in advance for your patience at my stammering efforts to describe what was going on in my head 13 months ago.

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It was more recent than I recalled that I, inspired by a minor epiphany, felt competent at last to write something about homosexuality beyond that same-sex attraction is a spiritual affliction and that acting on it is sin.

Here’s a link to what I wrote.

I stand by the substance, with a couple of expansions and one update.

First, the locution “same-sex attraction” was probably coming into disfavor when I wrote. Now, it is derided (among those whose testimonies I trust) as “Christianese,” opaque to the world, and to be shunned in favor of “being gay.” I’m still digesting that argument and unready to change just yet, but neither is it a hill I’m willing to die on.

Second, I would double-down on my skepticism about orientation change, if only because I’ve learned that there are a lot of people still selling and buying that snake oil. I wouldn’t bet my life against orientation change, but I’d bet a lot.

I now think that some of the “ex-gay” gurus are conscious frauds — fraudulent in the same way that guys like Benny Hinn are fraudulent. (Others may be letting others’ expectations of holiness determine what they’ll profess to have attained. And there are many other possibilities from this crooked timber of humanity, from which so few straight things are made.)

Third, I feel a need to say that almost everything positive I write about gay Christians is about those committed to celibacy — “Side B” in the argot of these Christians themselves. I have never encountered anything I thought a credible argument for the Christian licitness of gay sex (and if I did, it would have a well-nigh insurmountable hill to climb — 2000 years of Christian teaching — to convince me.

Finally, the update. Back then I wrote:

I’m not sure why they might feel a need to be publicly open and transparent about the sexual particulars of their sickness (versus open with a select few for purposes of support); I feel no need to be publicly open and transparent about the temptations I’m not going to name here.

That was literally true when written: I wasn’t sure. But I actually meant “when they talk about it so much, it starts creeping me out.”

I now have a better idea why they may need to talk about it so much, and why I need to listen (yes, and maybe push back some times) more patiently than I was ready for a few years ago. (I’m not going to try putting the reasons in words because I have something better than that. Stay tuned.)

But I’ve also had some other little epiphanies, converging, whence this current offering.

For one thing, I’ve always sensed the force of this apocryphal Martin Luther quote:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him.

It is clear to me that the world and the devil at this moment (and for the last 50 years or so of accumulated moments) are attacking in the area of sexuality:

Conservative Christians are fond of using this [Luther] quote to insist that we must stand up for the truth of the historic Christian sexual ethic even as it is being attacked in contemporary Western cultures, and that to fail to do so is to fail to be orthodox, faithful, biblical. And, in a mainline Protestant church like the one I belong to, I feel the force of this. These days it can seem easy to preach Christ in every way but the way that He challenges progressive sexual mores.

(Wesley Hill) That is a partial answer to why I have read a lot, thought a lot and written a lot about these issues, and naming that motivation was an epiphany of sorts, though a very minor one. Before that, I had been reflexively “trimming.”

A bigger epiphany is expressed, but not exhausted, by a continuation of Wesley Hill’s comment on the Luther quote:

And yet “the world” that “Luther” mentions in that quote is not always the world of progressive secularism/liberalism. Sometimes “the world” attacks the truth of Christ on the second point that Fr. White mentions — by tempting Christians to demean, disdain, ignore, overburden, or otherwise harm LGBTQ people. “The world” and “the devil” can manifest themselves in so-called “progressivism,” yes—and they can manifest themselves just as easily whenever a Christian heaps shame on LGBTQ people (“There’s something more askew in your life than there is in that of heterosexuals,” is what a pastor once told me), or offers a quick solution to their complex dilemmas (“Just get married!” is literally the advice I saw from a conservative Christian last week, as if I haven’t ever considered that possibility), or caricatures their sex lives (“Gay culture is inherently promiscuous”), or damages their faith (“If you want healing from same-sex attraction, it is available, and you have only to say yes,” I have been promised by Christians numerous times), or in any number of other ways attacks their dignity. If you are in a so-called conservative church and you are loudly proclaiming the truth about homosexuality at every point but at the point where that truth insists on the worth and lovability of LGBTQ people — if you are binding up heavy burdens on them and not lifting a finger to help (cf. Matthew 23:4) — then you are not proclaiming Christian truth, no matter how much you may seize the high ground and claim otherwise.

Several converging articles, podcasts, YouTubes and such drove that home to me as never before, and several of them centered on the recently-completed Revoice18 conference, a gathering of celibate gay Christians under the umbrella of SpiritualFriendship, in a conservative Calvinist (PCA) Church in St. Louis.

Some of what I read, heard or saw critiqued or defended the whole idea of celibate gay Christians, with the criticisms tending to niggle over the adjective “gay.” It came from self-styled Calvinists (“Reformed”) and certifiable Southern Baptists. Their critiques were well familiar to the conferees, to the point of murmurs of approval at refutations. I’ll not try to summarize it because although I was in that critics’ general camp by instinct a few years ago, I’m moving away from it now by conviction.

Another epiphany was confirmation that my intuition, which I had barely dared to utter aloud, was true: a lot of people who think themselves “transgender” are dealing with unresolved conflict over homosexual urges. I no longer need to intuit about that, or worry that I’m naïvely grabbing a third rail that will kill me. Many teenagers who think they’re trangender ultimately desist from that, but they’re generally homosexual at that point. Others who went far into “transitioning” and then de-transitioned report the same drive.

Apparently, life as a homosexual person can be so humiliating and frightening that a non-trivial number of people respond by attempting to become the sex appropriate to their erotic urges. I guess I’ve led too sheltered a life. (I’m resisting a temptation to digress here; let me just summarize that I’m still not sure that public accommodations laws are efficiacious at relieving unaffected humiliation and fright.)

It’s even bad in the Church (bracketing the question of whether it’s even worse):

  • “It was easier for me, as a convert from atheism, to trust that God loved me, than for a gay kid who grew up in the church. Shouldn’t that shock us?” (Eve Tushnet).
  • For many celibate gay Christians, there’s a feeling of being “harassed by our Churches, and seen as utter fools by the world,” to paraphrase Johanna Finegan.
  • Part of that harassment is a pernicious persistence of belief in reparative therapy, converting gay Christians into straight Christians, consonant with the metanarrative that gays are broken heterosexuals.
  • If the Church harasses, beats up, distrusts and otherwise abuses someone, it can break them, and they may not find their way home again.

Don’t we need at least to think harder about what to do to make it less humiliating and frightening in the Church which, after all, is chock full of sundry sinners with manifold temptations?

Yet another epiphany that still boggles my mind (though that epiphany has been around a while; it’s not new) is that these pictures are not “gay.” They depict an easy and un-selfconscious friendship that we’ve lost in the U.S., perhaps throughout the West.

That says more about us than about these guys. There is so much more that could be said, but someone else will need to do it or you’ll have to wait until I’m ready. As they say, “I. Just. Can’t. Even.”

The folks at the Revoice conference are trying to recover something like such friendships, while their critics are echoing Sigmund Freud in sexualizing the very idea. “Flee! Run as far and fast as you can!” is the gist of it, and what comes across is “learn to live life without any emotional intimacy, because the opposite sex doesn’t have time for you and you might get a rise in your Levis if you attempt same-sex friendship.”

Excuse me as I have a little reverie about our Lord’s excoriation those who lay on burdens heavy to bear.

Call all that an epic (or at least self-indulgent) introduction.

I had imagined writing a blog that went into some detail about what I’ve learned. But I don’t think anything I could write would top the 43 minute, 17 second pre-conference Revoice18 talk of Johanna Finegan.

A man at her church, concerned about her upcoming attendance and presentation at Revoice18 said “It sounds like these people think it’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t act on it.” She responded “Well, yes. What’s the alternative? Not getting out of bed in the morning?”

Just so.

There’s some refinement needed about what it means to “not act on it,” but I’ll step aside now:

This in particular (38:15) challenges me:

“Maybe we can see it as a gift to the world — a beautiful, confounding witness … We declare that something is more valuable than the sex and the romantic love we naturally long for. We declare that genuine Christianity changes and shapes your whole life … We declare that Jesus Christ is sublimely and absolutely worthy and worth it. And maybe we can see it as a gift to the Church. Our lives could be illustrations of what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus that can help our straight brothers and sisters. Our lives can depict what it’s like to follow God, we know not where ….

Some of what the Spiritual Friendship/Revoice18 people are saying, and what I’m now inclined to believe, probably has a “sell-by date.” Remember that I’m a “trimmer.” Maybe — heck, almost certainly — we risk overcorrection, but correct we must, in what another blogger calls “the present cultural moment.”

So it seems to me.

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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The circular express

When I was a Calvinist, I took comfort that the elect would persevere, and attain salvation. This is the “P” in the TULIP acrostic for the five points of Calvinism: Perseverance of the Saints, frequently dumbed down to “Eternal Security.”

Of course, there was the pesky little problem of apparent saints who openly and spectacularly apostatized. To those instances, one could respond either:

  1. “They’re still saved because you can’t lose your salvation.” That answer, with its dubious consistency, tended to antinomianism (which meant was much beloved by testosterone-crazed adolescent Calvinist boys — I am not making that up).
  2. “They never were elect in the first place, of course.” That answer tends to collapse the whole airtight Calvinist edifice. It collapses into uncertainty and circularity about whether the seemingly-elect truly are elect, including the person trying to parse the possibilities.

“Some ‘security’! If I’m saved, I’ll always be saved, but damned if I know whether I’m saved! Thanks for nuthin’!”

That tiptoe into an edge of Calvinism is preface to today’s debates between affirmation-seeking transgenderism activists and sober clinicians who want to avoid hasty surgical and hormonal interventions in adolescent bodies and minds — interventions that will make it hard for an adolescent with transgender ideations to “desist,” as many do, reverting to feeling comfortable in their own skin (and sex).

Or maybe many don’t. Maybe the desisters were false positives.

Oh, dear!

Desistance has been at the center of the transgender advocates’ fight to have transgender identity publicly accepted as an urgent medical condition. At the same time, these same advocates have pressured clinicians to remove the stigma of its psychiatric diagnosis in order to create a social acceptance of the idea that “gender” is truly biological and that “sex” is a social construct. Stunningly anti-scientific rhetoric like this is taking as its hostage the bodies and lives of children in order to prove the point that children are “born transgender.” This assertion is a self-fulfilling prophecy involving a domino effect of parents and clinicians who are effectively engaging in Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP).

Transgender discourse advances the notion of the “true transgender” by accepting all the signs of gender non-conformity as unmistakable signs of being transgender—at least until they cease. Then, suddenly, people like Tannehill dismiss the child’s gender non-conformity, claiming that these trans-identifying children were never really transgender in the first place.

Julia Vigo, The ​Myth of the “Desistance Myth” (italics added)

So, there it is:

  1. If you’re transgender/elect, you won’t desist/apostatize.
  2. If you desist/apostatize, you weren’t truly transgender/elect.

“Any questions about the urgent necessity of immediate surgical and hormonal interventions in trans teens? … Yes, you, the hater/heretic in the back row. What’s your stupid, phony question?”

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The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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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)

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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.