Tasty tidbits

An unexpected take on Afghanistan

As for the Afghans, they assuredly suffered in the war, but they suffered more under Taliban rule. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution figures that the war may have cost 400,000 Afghan lives over the past 20 years, but he guesstimates that U.S. activities there saved a million or more lives, a significant net positive.

Consider: Infant mortality dropped by half during the U.S. operation. Life expectancy improved by six years. Electricity consumption, a key quality of life indicator, increased by a factor of 10. Years in school increased by at least three years for men and four for women. University graduates rose from under 31,000 to almost 200,000. (Those and other indicators are available at the Brookings Afghanistan index.)

Those are a lot of lives saved and improved. Even at their most monstrous, the Taliban cannot roll back all the gains of the past 20 years. In fact, back in power, they would find a different country than the one they left: one with a substantial Western-educated elite and a population that has known peace and progress. “That’s what’s going to challenge the Taliban or anyone who comes in to take over leadership,” Shuja Rabbani, an Afghan expatriate and son of a former president, told me. “They’re going to have a very different kind of fight to put up.”

All of that is before reckoning the Big Payoff, which is not what you see but what you don’t see: For 20 years, there has been no major attack on the U.S. homeland.

For all of those reasons, I am resolutely agnostic on Biden’s withdrawal decision. Anyone who thinks the answer is obvious hasn’t thought seriously about it ….

Jonathan Rauch, The Afghanistan War Was a (Partial) Success‌

Okay, I guess.

Machen’s convincing case

This paragraph provided a possible key to a perennial frustration:

Christianity and Liberalism was widely read, and not just by religious conservatives. Indeed, several influential secular commentators wrote that Machen had made a convincing case. Walter Lippmann called the book “the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy.” The Nation and The New Republic published essays arguing that the fundamentalists had logic on their side when they invited the modernists to leave their denominations, for if the modernists contradicted the traditional creeds, then it would be only gentlemanly for them to withdraw and found churches of their own. “Fundamentalism,” the editor of The Nation wrote, “is undoubtedly in the main stream of Christian tradition while modernism represents a religious revolution as far-reaching as the Protestant Reformation.” These secular intellectuals had, it seemed, become so detached from religion that they imagined seventeenth-century reasoning normative for the church. Yet such was their prestige that many liberal Protestants feared that the logic of the fundamentalist position had prevailed.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Kindle location 2183)

I complain that secular people and mainstream media read the Bible through a fundamentalist lens before rejecting it contemptuously as absurd, or wicked, or something. That problem — the eclipse of historic Christian hermeneutics by novel Anglo-American hermeneutics — may be a century old, and may have arisen because J. Gresham Machen wrote such a very persuasive defense of fundamentalism as then understood.

I note that Christianity and Liberalism is still in print, including free PDF downloads. I’d read it but I’m expecting an emergency phone call, if you know what I mean.

History rhymes

Respectability, however, did not suit him. True to his country roots (which he shared with Lyndon Johnson) he had what an acolyte called “a barnyard vernacular,” a coruscating wit, and a need to dominate every other man in the room. He called making converts “hanging hides on a barn door.”

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Kindle location 2711)

Sounds like narcissist Mark Driscoll, late of the late Mars Hill Church in Seattle, but it’s actually narcissist J. Frank Norris, pastor of First Baptist Church Fort Worth a century or so ago.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (Had to throw in some French since, sigh, I just cancelled a September-October trip to Paris due to the continuing Covid saga.)

Orthodox laity vs. Catholic theology students

I decided to ask people at the picnic whether it made any difference that Jesus rose from the dead. I began with my eighteen-year-old niece and my seventy-year-old mother. Neither had any theological education. I questioned each independently: “Does the Resurrection of Jesus make any difference?”

“Yes,” they both answered immediately.

“Why?” I asked. I remained silent as each of them struggled to articulate a response. But eventually they both arrived at the same correct answer. My niece said that the Resurrection of Christ restored the relationship between us and God, and my mother said that it opened up heaven to us. I was impressed. Every Orthodox Christian of whom I have asked this question has also given me a similar response.

This only fueled my curiosity: Why did these ordinary Orthodox Christians know the theological significance of the Resurrection of Christ—and believe it mattered—when my graduate school theology classmates seemingly did not?

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

Prophecy

Forth-telling

“Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who CAN be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of window and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything,” – C.S. Lewis, in his 1945 novel That Hideous Strength.

Foretelling

The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.” “Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.” “But they don’t mean anything.” “They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.” “But they’re . . . they’re told by an idiot.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


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.

Three from today

Schrodinger’s victims

For the moment, at least, Jews are Schrodinger’s victims; they may or may not be deserving of sympathy, depending on who’s doing the victimizing. When a group of tiki torch-wielding white nationalists chant “Jews will not replace us!,” the condemnation is swift. But replace the tiki torch with a Palestinian flag, and call the Jews “settler colonialists,” and the equivocations roll in: Maybe that guy who threw a firebomb at a group of innocent people on the street in New York was punching up, actually?

April Powers naively believed that American Jews should get the same full-throated defense as any other minority group in the wake of a vicious attack, without ambivalence, caveats and whataboutism. That belief cost her the security of a job.

… This is America, guys.

Kat Rosenfield, April Powers Condemned Jew-Hate. Then She Lost Her Job. (guest-written at Common Sense with Bari Weiss)

De mortuis nil nisi bonum

For decades and decades my view of the Episcopal Church in the United States has been “unfaithfully liberal.” And having started in the essentially fundamentalist wing of Evangelicalism, I was baffled at how a Real Christian®️ could stay in such a Church. (I felt much the same way about the unfaithfulness of some other denominations, but the Episcopal Church had the additional strike of descent from a bastard child of Henry VIII.)

Well, at least as to the Episcopal Church, I’ve figured out over the last five years or so why a believing orthodox Christian might decamp to, or stay in, that Church: worship. You know, the kind of stuff that’s addressed to God or to reposed saints rather than to oneself or one’s friends in the pew. I starved for such worship in Evangelical and Calvinist Churches, with sporadic respite (a great hymn accidentally replacing a praise song, for instance).

But a mid-sized Episcopal Church probably conducts its liturgies and other services more punctiliously than the Roman Catholic Churches in its city. And they are worshipful, or at least not a distraction from worship. The heterodoxy outside formal services was too big an ask for me, but it hasn’t been for others.

And now, The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near (Religion in Public). I will, somewhat, miss it.

“That’s not a thing”

The retiring Rep. Kevin Brady—the top Republican on the House Ways & Means Committee—pointed to some of these concerns in a tweet on Friday. “MORE TROUBLING SIGNS: June jobs report,” it reads. “Long-term unemployment worsened. Unemployment for ALL MINORITIES & LESS EDUCATED worsened. Construction jobs shrank. Labor-force rate: still poor.”

But Tony Fratto—a top Treasury Department and White House official in the George W. Bush administration—argued naysayers were straining a little too hard to criticize the report: “I know it’s fun to find the dark clouds behind every silver lining, but there’s no such thing as a bad jobs report that adds 850k jobs. That’s not a thing.”

The Morning Dispatch: A Strong June Jobs Report – by The Dispatch Staff – The Morning Dispatch


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.

Visual content for a change

From this week’s Economist.

Love how they go with “birthing people” and “pregnant persons” but then just call it the MOMMIES Act. https://t.co/OIvNXqHNcX— Robert Tracinski (@Tracinski) May 6, 2021

Don’t miss the people who responded by pretending to not understand his point.


One reason why we spend so much time thinking and talking about elites is that we often hope and pray that a better elite can bring significant, rapid change—to yank the right out of its current malaise sooner rather than later. At present, however, there is no obvious path for speedy, top-down change. There simply isn’t an active market for the necessary message.

David French, Make No Mistake: The GOP Has a Grassroots Problem.

If you follow this blog, you likely have noticed a lot of content from the Dispatch (including essentially anything I quote from David French). Although I’m starting to figure out that David’s entertainment tastes are, um, not at all like mine, I think the Dispatch is doing a very good job at delivering on what they say they’re about, and is worth the price for any non-destitute conservative (or liberal who wants to avoid captivity to a bubble).


The Soviet occupiers subdued religious hierarchies, he said, making sure that the senior leaders — bishops and such — were collaborators. Bishop Istvan remarked that what he sees happening in liberalizing Protestant churches in the West reminds him of this process. The idea, he explained, is that they have been colonized by utopian idealists who believe they have found the truth. Said the bishop, “The Bolsheviks imposed this in a harsh, brutal way, but in the Western countries today, it is happening in a soft way.”

… The bishop went on to say that every society needs an enemy in mind. After the end of the Cold War, the West lacked for an obvious enemy. Now, he said, the elites have decided that the enemy is traditional Christians.

“It’s not a Cold War, but a Cold Civil War, happening in the US, in Germany, everywhere,” he said.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher

I suspect, based on my observations of how societies behave, that the Bishop is right: every society needs an enemy in mind. Even if he’s not,

  1. It gives us an idea why Viktor Orban demonizes George Soros; and
  2. It should make us reflect on why we demonize Putin, Orban and others.

“We are not good survivors of Communism,” said Bishop Istvan, of his generation. “If you read the Book of Exodus, you will see that it took forty years of wandering in the desert for the Israelites to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Many of them wanted to go back to Egypt, where they were slaves, but at least they could have a few material things guaranteed for them. I feel like my generation has been told by God that we can’t enter the Promised Land.

“But I ask myself,” he continued, “which Promised Land should I want to enter? Should it be the West? The problem is, there is no fruit there. There is no milk, there is no honey.”

That resonated deeply with me, this point of Bishop Istvan’s. Something similar has been front to mind for me since I first arrived here three weeks ago. There is something about putting distance between oneself and America, and looking at America from a non-woke country, that highlights the true insanity of what’s happening in our nation.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher, quoting Istvan Szábo.


“Believing that everything will be better if only we gather more information,” blogger Michael Sacasas recently wrote, “commits us to endless searching and casting about, to one more swipe of the screen in the hope that the elusive bit of data, which will make everything clear, will suddenly present itself.” …

… There is nothing of real import happening in the world for which Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow is the best source of information.

Joseph M. Keegin, Be Not Afraid


In the old Dark Ages, it was impossible to persuade the feudal chiefs that it was more worth while to grow medicinal herbs in a small garden than to lay waste the province of an empire; that it was better to decorate the corner of a manuscript with gold-leaf than to heap up treasuries and wear crowns of gold. These men were men of action; they were hustlers; they were full of vim and pep and snap and zip. In other words, they were deaf and blind and partly mad, and rather like American millionaires. And because they were men of action, and men of the moment, all that they did has vanished from the earth like a vapour; and nothing remains out of all that period but the little pictures and the little gardens made by the pottering little monks.

G.K. Chesterton, The New Dark Ages

Three shorts

Our society has attached a meaning to greatness that is not as far away from Hitler’s as it would like to believe, despite our cant about democracy and freedom. Our idols today are economic conquest, unending ‘growth’ built on turning all life into ‘resources’ for human consumption, scientism disguised as objective inquiry, manic forward-motion, and the same old quest for perfectability.

We in the West invented this thing called ‘modernity’, and then we took it out into the world, whether the world wanted it or not. Once we called this process ‘the white man’s burden’ and exported it with dreadnoughts. Now we call it ‘development’ and export it via the World Bank. But – and here is the point so often missed, especially by the ‘progressives’ currently leading the charge in the culture wars – before we could eat the world, we first had to eat ourselves. Or rather: our states, our elites, our ideologues and power-mongers, had to dispossess their own people before they could venture out to dispossess others. We were the prototype; the guinea pigs in a giant global experiment. Now we find ourselves rootless, rudderless, unmoored in a great sea of chaos; angry, confused, shouting at the world and each other. We have made of our world a nihil. We are both perpetrators and victims of a Great Unsettling.

[P]eople don’t tend to talk much about their ‘identity’ unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, the more you have lost. Once an entire country is talking about nothing else, that’s a pretty good sign that the Machine has sprayed the roots of its people with Roundup and ploughed the remains into the field.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Great Unsettling (The Abbey of Misrule)


[T]he most remarkable thing about Great Hearts’ college-admissions culture is its lack of emphasis on elite universities. Kathryn LeTrent, a drama and poetry teacher at Glendale Prep, reflects: “We ask our students to reflect and write on the connection between virtue and happiness. If we emphasized that they needed to attend an elite college, that would be very hypocritical.”

Max Eden, Great Hearts Academies Charter School Network Gets Results


Nobody is going to cancel a Christian for his or her traditional beliefs and practices regarding luxury, avarice, gluttony, or any of the other so-called “deadly sins”. But resist the world’s view on lust, and you find yourself in a world of trouble.

… [T]he fundamental materialism of our consumerist, hedonistic society is profoundly anti-Christian. This challenge to fidelity would exist even if the Sexual Revolution had never happened.

The ugly truth is that far too many of us conservatives — Christian and otherwise — are not really conservatives, but anti-liberals.

Rod Dreher, What’s The Source Of The Church’s Problems

I enjoy David French quite a lot on legal analysis, but the more he writes about religion, the more I recognize a gulf between his version of Calvinism and Orthodox Christianity. Rod Dreher apparently noticed something like that, too.

If I were to summarize, I’d make up a quote and put it in French’s mouth: "Original sin! Total depravity! Now what’s your question?"

(Inspired by this misfire).


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Pathos, Ethos, Logos

A [large] group of [Evangelicals] opposed to the current social justice turn in the church created a document called the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel to stake out their position. This was a classic attempt to debate substance. It contains a number of specific affirmations and denials based on the signers’ interpretations of scripture …

[T]hey attempted to find common ground, but ultimately rejected today’s social justice movement. The key is that this statement was a list of substantive affirmations and denials that represented a form of logical argument.

[S]omebody asked Tim Keller about the statement during the Q&A period of a conference he was speaking at. A video of his response (which has subsequently been removed due to a copyright claim) was posted. Here’s what he said:

It’s not so much what [the statement] says, but what it does. It’s trying to marginalize people talking about race and justice, it’s trying to say, “You’re really not biblical” and it’s not fair in that sense … If somebody tried to go down [the statement] with me, “Will you agree with this, will you agree with this,” I would say, “You’re looking at the level of what it says and not the level of what it’s doing." I do think what it’s trying to do is it’s trying to say, “Don’t make this emphasis, don’t worry about the poor, don’t worry about the injustice.” That’s really what it’s saying.

This was an off-the-cuff response to a question and probably did not reflect a fully considered and thought-out position on the matter. It was also not officially taped and was captured by cell phone. However, after the video caused a small controversy, he could have issued a clarifying statement. He did not and to the best of my knowledge has never done so, allowing his statement to stand as his take.

Aaron Renn, If You’re Debating Substance, You’ve Already Lost (emphasis added)

I could have lost a lot less time losing arguments over my life, or at least saved the time it took to lose them, had I not utterly disregarded pathos and ethos in favor of logos.

I always considered pathos– and ethos-heavy arguments a form of cheating. Aristotle apparently did not. I just might possibly have gotten this one wrong, right?

By the time the ink has dried on this, figuratively speaking, I probably will have forgotten the important lesson Aaron Renn carried from Aristotle. But as I’m no longer arguing publicly and passionately, it doesn’t much matter.


Jesse Singal is a card-carrying progressive who, lucky for us, has a very good crap-detector for progressive quackery. A progressive has heightened ethos when critiquing any progressive phenomenon, which by explains why conservatives love guys like him and, by analogy, Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas.

But calling "Bullshit!" in a way conservatives like will get a progressive falsely labeled reactionary by other progressives, and so it is with Singal.

Social Science Is Hard: Resume Audit Studies Edition is not really calling Bullshit, but pointing out the difficulties of social science, using an example from studies that purport to show racism in the U.S. I won’t try to summarize it, but it will be misrepresented as a denial that racism is real rather than affirming the elusiveness of proof.

I suspect that Singal’s problem is akin to mine: his logos is fine, but he refuses resort to pathos, and his ethos — what he’s (allegedly) doing (aid and comfort to the enemy), not what he’s saying — make his substantive points categorically impermissible.

Damn shame. He’s perceptive. I’ve learned a lot from him.


We invaded shortly after the 9/11 attacks with two limited goals in mind: decapitating Al Qaeda (including capturing or killing Osama bin Laden) and toppling the Taliban government that had allowed the group to use the country as a launching pad for terrorism targeting the United States. The second goal was accomplished very quickly. The first took far longer — nearly a decade — because bin Laden escaped into the mountains and managed to elude capture in Pakistan. But this goal, too, was finally achieved in May 2011.

While the hunt for bin Laden dragged on, the American military took on numerous additional goals. Before we knew it, we were committed to transforming Afghanistan into a functional, stable democracy with a military and police force capable of standing up to and fighting back against the Taliban’s unceasing efforts to exert and expand control over parts of the country. This aim also required fighting corruption. And providing education for girls and opportunities for women. And working to grow the economy. And fighting the drug trade.

In the process, Afghanistan became an American vassal state … American withdrawal is highly likely to result in a reversal of all the goals that have been added to the mission over the years.

That, in effect, is what Biden was saying in his speech on Wednesday officially announcing the intent to withdraw all troops from the country (aside from a limited number of soldiers left behind to secure the American embassy in Kabul) by the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in September. The message was that we succeeded in achieving our original goals years ago, we’ve failed to achieve the additional ones, there’s no realistic path to changing this outcome, and so it’s time for America to come home and stop trying to do the impossible.

Damon Linker, When the Taliban takes Kabul

Linker had another fine column recently, too, but since I don’t have to write about 45 any more, I shan’t.


Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns has written an extremely timely five-part critique of the Biden administration’s "infrastructure" bill, the American Jobs Plan. It is not a partisan hit job; the Republicans (had they gotten beyond "Infrastructure Week" being a sardonic joke) would have made the same sorts of mistakes because those mistakes are now an American tradition.

The gist is that we haven’t figured out the wisdom of stopping digging because the hole we’ve dug ourselves is plenty deep enough already.

  1. The American Jobs Plan Will Make Our Infrastructure Crisis Worse
  2. The Half-Truth on Infrastructure at the Heart of the American Jobs Plan
  3. When it Comes to Infrastructure, the American Jobs Plan is Business as Usual
  4. The American Jobs Plan Delays Necessary Infrastructure Reform
  5. How Local Leaders Should Adapt to the American Jobs Plan]([The American Jobs Plan Delays Necessary Infrastructure Reform)

It’s a longish read. If you haven’t paid any attention to our infrastructure folly in the past, and you don’t want to snort and dismiss it, it will be a longer read (to grasp his blindingly obvious points that so few have been making).


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.

Sunday Potpourri

The Jericho March … co-founders are essentially unknown in the organized Christian world. Robert Weaver, an evangelical Oklahoma insurance salesman, was nominated by Trump to lead the Indian Health Service but withdrew after The Wall Street Journal reported that he misrepresented his qualifications. Arina Grossu, who is Catholic, recently worked as a contract communications adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. (Weaver and Grossu declined to comment.) Still, they will have far more influence in shaping the reputation of Christianity for the outside world than many denominational giants: They helped stage a stunning effort to circumvent the 2020 election, all in the name of their faith.

Emma Green, Storming the Capitol for God and Trump.

“Essentially unknown in the organized Christian world” is what I thought about Paula White and most of the “evangelical” leaders who gathered with Trump for photo ops in the Oval Office, laying hands on him as if anointing a King or Prophet.

I’ve been away from Evangelicalism for a while, though, and I don’t how big a tent “Evangelical” is these days — or what new celebrities have replaced the celebrities of my youth. (Yes, “celebrity” is my deliberate choice.)


Evangelical Christianity, which once played a central role in legitimizing democracy in the early days of the American experiment through its fusion with classical republican values, may now play a central role in the unraveling of America through its unholy union with modern conspiracy theory.

And, like [Milton William] Cooper [who inspired Timothy McVeigh], Trump, in the words of [David] Kilcullen, has played less the role of the Pied Piper, calling his followers hither and thither at whim with his flute, than the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, summing dark forces from the abyss that he has no clue how to control. Now we wait to see if someone will play McVeigh to Trump’s Cooper.

… [H]istorian John Fea has noted that “The U.S. Senators who objected to the Electoral College results,” including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, “were almost all evangelicals.” Though a number of notable evangelicals such as David French, Ed Stetzer and Russell Moore have challenged the unfounded claims of electoral fraud in a timely and persistent manner, others such as Franklin Graham have condemned the violence of the Capitol siege without challenging the false allegations about the election, which Kilcullen identifies as the key motive for the crowds who precipitated the violence in the first place.

Todd Thompson, A Homegrown Christian Insurgency – Mere Orthodoxy


[I]t’s difficult to define exactly what Christian nationalism is. To the extent one can create an academic definition, it’s hard to improve on the one Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd cites in a recent Gospel Coalition essay. He quotes Matthew McCullough’s description of Christian nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.”

[But e]xplicit “patriot churches” are still thin on the ground.

Thus, I agree with Kidd. “Actual Christian nationalism,” he says, “is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance.” He provides an interesting example:

“I recently saw a yard sign that read “Make Faith Great Again: Trump 2020.” I wondered, How can re-electing Donald Trump make “faith” great again? What faith? When did it stop being great? No coherent answers would be forthcoming to such questions, but that’s the point. The sign speaks to a person’s ethnic, religious, and cultural identity in ways easier to notice than to explain.”

Now let’s ask a challenging question—why do we see this nationalism more in white conservative Protestant Christianity than in any other strain of American Christianity, including the Black Protestant church or the Catholic church?

I’d argue it’s because that for more than two centuries, the United States of America was quite likely the best place in the world to live if you were a white theologically conservative Protestant. No, it wasn’t a perfect place. But it was the best place. Our freedom, our prosperity and (ultimately) our power were unmatched anywhere else.

As a practical matter, our culture slippers fit so darn well that it grew all too easy to see ourselves as “in” and “of” the United States of America.

Black Christians could not feel such comfort … And while theologically conservative Catholics and Protestants now often lock arms in the modern American culture war, that would have been unthinkable in the days when anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments stalked the land.

What is Christian nationalism? It’s a deep emotional attachment to a particular and exclusive culture, a skewed version of history, and a false sense of “marked superiority” that must and will fade away.

What is Christian patriotism? To echo C.S. Lewis and George Washington, it’s a love of home and place and neighbor that does its best to fulfill the vision of peace and justice articulated by the prophet Micah so many long years ago—“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”

David French, Discerning the Difference Between Christian Nationalism and Christian Patriotism


I’m a graduate in Medieval Studies, and when I try to explain some myths about it, people look at me as if I was insane. The Enlightenment propaganda is so strong, that telling the truth about Medieval era sounds like a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory. And this is a serious problem. Many school textbooks, media, etc. promote most of these myths, which are inherently biased and dangerous, because they distort the truth.

The Enlightenment historiography is still the most successful propaganda ever made; it refused to die, because the [anti-Christian] sentiment which these thinkers had promoted seems to be popular ever since. Demonizing the Other is the best way to begin a fight, because it gives you the feeling of the moral superiority. In our case, this has been done by distorting and misinterpreting historical facts, and inventing myths and false villains and heroes. This genius propaganda has affected and influenced most of us, therefore it’s not surprising how our imagination has been constructed. For example, when we think or talk about [the] historical horrors, the vast majority will think of the those ‘dark’ Middle Ages. Ironically, we rarely realize that the most morbid and inhumane crimes were committed during the Enlightenment and Modern era. Concentration camps, gulag, genocides, eugenics, racism, reign of terror, totalitarianism, etc. The aforementioned catastrophes are a result of the ideology which promoted the cult of progress, reason and science, which ended becoming the cult of irrationality, regress and crimes. But of course, rarely will we hear that being denounced, because we still live in that era, where one of the most criminal and bloody act of history [the French Revolution] is presented as ‘glorious’ and ‘good’.

The Enlightenment way of thinking may have ‘freed’ people from believing in religion or God, but at the very moment when this philosophy rose, ideologies were born. So, today, many don’t believe in religion because they consider it dogmatic, but unconsciously and even dogmatically believe and follow ideologies as Enlightenment.

Albert Bikaj, via The Neomedievalist. H/T Rod Dreher


Once upon a time there was a couple whose names were Oskar and Auguste. They had a little girl whom they named Johanna Maria Magdalena. Everyone called her “Magda” for short. She lived in a world that was soon awhirl with exciting possibilities, opportunities, and temptations. People looking at her said that she was to be envied as she rose to prominence, money, influence, and fame, riding an intoxicating wave that took her ever higher. Those able to see somewhat into the mystery and murk of the human heart knew that far from ascending ever higher, she was in fact sinking ever lower. Down and down she went spiritually into ever more dangerous, mad, and suffocating places, but only God could see the true tragedy of her descent. In the glittering world in which she lived and moved, she shone. Everyone knew her name. Everyone knew who Magda Goebbels was, the unofficial First Lady of the Third Reich, wife to Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the powerful Minister of Propaganda.

It quickly became apparent to her that it was all over. She would never again live in the world she had come to love. The world that was fast approaching would be a world without a triumphant National Socialism, a world in which swastika flags would not hang from every balcony, a world without Hitler, and for her, a world without hope. She could not bear the thought of her and her six young children emerging from the bunker to live in that world. She could not endure living a world without Hitler. Though urged to leave the bunker and allow her children to be smuggled safely out of Berlin, she refused. In a final letter to her adult son from a previous marriage, she wrote, “Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvellous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and National Socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow.”

Her will did not waver: on May 1, 1945 she had her six children drugged with morphine and then murdered with cyanide, and then took her own life. When the Russian soldiers finally breached the bunker, they found only her charred corpse in the Chancellery garden with that of her husband, and down below, the limp corpses of their six children, dressed in their nightclothes, with ribbons still tied in the girls’ hair.

Let us be clear about the lesson to be learned from this tragedy. The question to be asked is not “How should Magda be punished for her evil?” but rather, “What in the world can be done with Magda?” Magda Goebbels found the possibility of a life without Hitler and National Socialism too painful to bear. Living in that post-Hitler world was for her literally a fate worse than death. Life in that world would be agony, a ceaseless turmoil of tears and searing pain. That was why she murdered her children and took her own life.

Fast forward from this tumultuous age to the shining world of the age to come. What in that world can be done with Magda? In that world also there will be no Hitler, and the “glorious idea” that was ruined in 1945 along with “everything beautiful and marvellous” that she had known in her life will find no place there either. Instead, everywhere the Jew from Nazareth will reign supreme, and His face will illumine that world to its furthest corner. Magda would regard that world as an accursed place, for Hitler and the “glorious idea” of National Socialism will not simply be hated. For her it will be worse than that: as age succeeds sunlit age, Hitler and National Socialism will be utterly forgotten, left behind, like a disease which had long ago found its cure.

… [I]f Magda could not endure living in a post-Hitler world, if she would have found that world too painful to bear and a fate worse than death, how would she regard living in the sunlit world of the age to come? Such an existence would be for her worse than a fate worse than death. If a post-Hitler world would be too agonizing to endure, what would her pain be in this world?

This is where the pains of hell find their source. God did not create a subterranean torture chamber to punish the lost for their sins. The pain suffered by Magda Goebbels in that age will not come from the hands of Jesus, but from the heart of Magda.

Fr. Lawrence Farley.

Note, too — apart from the argument between orthodox Christians and universalists — the personal implications of this: I can pray The Sinner’s Prayer and then declare my eternal security, but if I then live like the devil, presuming on that supposed eternal security, I can end up shriveled, turned in on myself, wanting what I’ve taught myself to want no matter what, and … outside of heaven by my own choice.

There was too much of that in my life. That realization was a key in my decision to turn my back on Calvinism and enter Holy Orthodoxy.


Nothing here is sinister
because nothing is at stake.
Everything is null and void
of depth, of resonance,
not real but celluloid.

From Vijay Seshadri, “City of Grief”


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Church and State, but not Church/State

Where religion and politics meet

David French is not happy with his co-religionists, who he provincially calls “the Church”:

… core biblical values are contingent, but support for Donald Trump is not …

We’re way, way past concerns for the church’s “public witness.” We’re way past concerns over whether the “reputation” of the church will survive this wave of insanity. There is no other way to say this. A significant movement of American Christians—encouraged by the president himself—is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic.

It’s clear now that when many of those people declared Trump to be “God’s anointed” they did not mean that his presidency was “instituted by God” in the same manner as other governing authorities, as described in Romans 13. (By conventional Christian reasoning, Joe Biden’s upcoming presidency is also instituted by God.)

No, they believe that Trump had a special purpose and a special calling, and that this election defeat is nothing less than a manifestation of a Satanic effort to disrupt God’s plan for this nation. They were not “holding their nose” to support him. They were deeply, spiritually, and personally invested in his political success.

We know that mainstream American Christian leaders can unite to condemn secular and progressive movements and ideas they find biblically problematic. For example, late last month the presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries united to declare that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”

As I’ve written, critical race theory has its uses and its flaws, but I wonder—how many critical race theorists are in conservative Christian pews? But how many more election conspiracy theorists and Christian nationalists are sitting right there, including in my own denomination, fervently believing lies and fervently praying for actions and outcomes that are fundamentally unjust?

Simply put, there should be at least as much concern about injustice and sin from the religious right as from the secular left.

David French, The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism

French’s column (along with Damon Linker’s gimlet-eyed identification of Trump as “demonic”) has me musing about whether Donald Trump qualifies for the title “AntiChrist” according to the standards of those who obsess over identifying AntiChrist.

And French’s labeling of Christianish Trumpists as part of “the church” reinforces my skepticism about Evangelical ecclesiology (French is Evangelical or at least Evangelical-adjacent; I think he’d choose the former) — about the possibility of Christ’s Church being so expansive as to take in delusional political freaks whose main interest in Christ seems to be His political utility.

Sigh! It’s none of my business to stake out the boundaries of the Church, but I can understand the reflex “if this is Christianity, I want no part of it.” I wish I could say “this is not, in any sense, Christianity,” but I can’t. I can (and do below) say something else that’s just as decisive for me.


Evangelicalism has figured out how to avoid the numerical decline besetting many religions: become so identified with Republican politics that people whose Lord and Savior is the GOP will self-identify as “Evangelical,” albeit without darkening the doors of church. For instance,

for 2008, 2012, and 2016 low attending evangelicals all start in basically the same spot – 35–40% conservative. But look at the solid pink line representing the data from 2019. Nearly half of self-identified evangelicals who never go to church identified as conservative (a jump of basically ten points).

the most religiously devout evangelical in 2019 is a bit less likely to be conservative than a devout evangelical from 2008.

Ryan P. Burge, So, Why is Evangelicalism Not Declining? Because Non-Attenders Are Taking On the Label (Religion in Public).

Burge, by the way, is becoming huge in social scientific scrutiny of American religion.


I left frank Evangelicalism in my late 20s over the issue of dispensationalism, which I perceived as so pervasive as to almost define Evangelicalism. (I left basically as soon as I discovered that my skepticism about dispensationalist prophecy porn — “Rapture crap” — was shared by others, serious Calvinists, who were not compromising with unbelief.)

At age 49, I was Orthodox, no longer Calvinist, and thus not even “Evangelical-adjacent.”

So I cannot begin to persuade Evangelical Trumpists to repent their folly.

So why do I rail against them as if I could change their minds?

Partly because I persist in the increasingly-implausible instinct that some of them are sane and sincere. But probably a bigger part is performative: I want the world to know that I am not an Evangelical, that Evangelicalsm is well out of the historic Christian mainstream (in its prophecy obsession, yes, but more in its rejection of liturgy and sacrament), and that disgust with Evangelicalism (and Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse, for that matter) does not necessitate rejection of Christianity or adoption of some sort of me-and-Jesus-who-needs-Church delusion.

I other words, when all else fails, consider Orthodoxy. If there’s no Orthodox Church nearby, that’s curable in many cases.


I include this from Evangelical-leaning Anglican Alan Jacobs because he identifies an ascendant Evangelical vice:

There is no infallible means for discerning when a religious believer has been spoken to, directly and personally, by God. However, there is a reliable way to disconfirm such a claim. When a person demands that other people immediately accept that he has been spoken to by God, and treats with insult and contempt those who do not acknowledge his claim to unique revelation, then we can be sure that no genuine message has been received, and that the voice echoing in that person’s mind is not that of God but that of his own ego.

Alan Jacobs again, testing the spirits.

I suspect this has to do with Saturday’s “Jericho Marches,” which started with some guy who claimed that God told him to do it. I don’t recall whether he claimed that God told him that all Real Christians® must join him.


Evangelicals aren’t the only ones mucking about in political matters.

With America facing a bitterly divisive election, Episcopal Church leaders did what they do in tense times — they held a National Cathedral service rallying the Washington, D.C., establishment.

This online “Holding onto Hope” service featured a Sikh filmmaker, a female rabbi from Chicago, the Islamic Society of North America’s former interfaith relations director, the female presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a Jesuit priest known for promoting LGBTQ tolerance and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Our ideals, values, principles and dreams of beloved community matter,” said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the church’s first African-American leader. “They matter to our life as a nation and as a world. Our values matter!”

This was the kind of rite – think National Public Radio at prayer – a church can offer when its history includes 11 U.S. presidents and countless legislators and judges from coast to coast.

Continuing its recent trends, “relevance” isn’t working for the ECUSA much better in 2020 than in other recent decades — witness the title Terrifying statistics from 2019 offer another Groundhog Day jolt for Episcopalians — GetReligion

Law and politics, straight up

When conservatives defend their fight to overturn the election as an answer to the way Democrats reacted to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, they are correct in the sense that most of their arguments and proposed tactics have antecedents on the liberal side …

The difference, though, is that the right’s fantasy has been embraced from the start by a Republican president (Hillary Clinton was a follower rather than a leader in calling Trump “illegitimate”), and it has penetrated much faster and further into the apparatus of Republican politics. In January 2017, only a handful of Democratic backbenchers objected to Congress’s certification of Trump’s election. But you can find the name of the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, on a brief supporting the ridiculous Texas lawsuit.

The Texas lawsuit didn’t torch any city blocks, but all those congressional signatures on the amicus brief did make it feel like something more than just another meme. The crucial question it raises is whether people can be fed on fantasies forever — or whether once enough politicians have endorsed dreampolitik, the pressure to make the dream into reality will inexorably build.

Ross Douthat, The Texas Lawsuit and the Age of Dreampolitik


On Saturday, a federal district court judge in Wisconsin issued an opinion explaining why, on the merits, Texas’s substantive arguments were without merit. And, as occurred on the Supreme Court, a judge appointed by President Trump, Brett Ludwig, ruled against him.

Some Trump supporters are inclined to suggest the campaign’s court losses are the result of progressive judicial activism or #Resistance judging. This is nonsense. Dozens of election suits have been filed, and dozens of judges of all political stripes and judicial philosophies have ruled against the claims put forward by the Trump campaign and its allies. In this case, the opinion was written by a judge appointed by President Trump in September. Trump and his allies claim they want their legal claims heard by judges who will apply the law. They have been.

Jonathan Adler, Another Court Loss for Trump Campaign in Wisconsin


Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

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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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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?

* * * * *

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)

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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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