Sunday select

The loss of Christendom

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. Hauerwas is one of a handful of Protestants who can still stir my Orthodox soul.

Evangelicals who by some accounts (see below) are grieving their loss of political power should take heart at this, too. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Make a virtue of necessity.

Futile persuasion

… you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community.

David French, Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations

The great Evangelical collapse

Why

This is something I never thought I’d say. According to this landscape report, there are more Americans who are white mainline protestants (16%) than there are Americans who are white evangelicals (14%).

What accounts for this? There is no new big influx into the mainline churches. Most of their gain seems to be coming from those who had left the mainline community for the evangelical community years ago, but who are simply returning to the church of their upbringing.

The decline of white evangelicals seems mostly to result from the larger changing demographics of America. This is obvious. There is an irreversible change from a white majority to a plurality of ethnicities in the country. This is happening no matter what one thinks about immigration or voting policies.

But there is another factor that has contributed to the decline. When Dean Kelly wrote his book in 1972, the evangelical community was focussed upon concrete “Biblical lifestyle issues.” Since then, the focus has broadened to involvement in political, partisan issues and the “culture wars” — the very sort of involvement that Kelly had blamed for mainline decline 50 years before.

Now it seems that the chickens have come home to roost. The Pew report of 2019 observed that it was just because of explicit political partisanship that many young adults are leaving the evangelical community, most likely landing squarely in the “unaffiliated” category.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias, the cost of partisanship

Wherefore

In addition to shrinking as a share of the population, white evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the United States, with a median age of 56. “It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”

… white evangelicals probably aren’t wrong to fear that their children are getting away from them. As their numbers have shrunk and as they’ve grown more at odds with younger Americans, said Jones, “that has led to this bigger sense of being under attack, a kind of visceral defensive posture, that we saw President Trump really leveraging.”

I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.

Michelle Goldberg, ‌The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It

I wouldn’t bet too much on Goldberg’s construal of QAnon, but she may have gotten into it (for professional reasons only) more deeply than I.

Hymns, east and west

As I approached the Orthodox Church almost 25 year ago, I was astonished at how different it was in “feel” from anything I’d previously encountered. Timothy (Now Bishop Kallistos) Ware provides a glimpse:

Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of the great Latin hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530 – 609), Pange lingua, which hails the Cross as an emblem of victory: Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, Sing the ending of the fray; Now above the Cross, our trophy, Sound the loud triumphal lay: Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, As a victim won the day. They feel equally at home in that other hymn by Fortunatus, Vexilla regis: Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old: Among the nations God, said he, Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree. But Orthodox feel less happy about compositions of the later Middle Ages such as Stabat Mater: For His people’s sins, in anguish, There she saw the victim languish, Bleed in torments, bleed and die: Saw the Lord’s anointed taken; Saw her Child in death forsaken; Heard His last expiring cry.

The Orthodox Church

Expounding that glimpse is above my pay grade, but I’m pretty confident that it reflects a non-Anselmian view of atonement by us Orthodox (which is also a reason why most Protestant writers on religion leave me cold).


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.

UPDATE: A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.

Backwater news and commentary

A strange story out of Israel.

Michael Elkohen, born Elk, has been holding forth for a decade or so as an Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi in Israel, all the while intending to lead Jews to his conception of Christianity.

He apparently was a fairly persuasive humbug, as he had many followers and was entrusted with circumcisions, copying Talmud scrolls and such. (On the other hand, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copland and Joel Osteen have plenty of followers, implausible though they be. Go figure and caveat emptor.)

Persuasive Elk/Elkohen has, however, been pretty persuasively unmasked, though he denies the accusations — sort of (He says something along the lines of "Yeah, I was doing that but I repented.") If you read the stories, though, I think you’ll discern that they’ve nailed him. Here are three very overlapping accounts:

  1. NJ ‘orthodox rabbi’ accused of double life as missionary in Israel
  2. EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, the Christian missionary who went undercover in Jerusalem as an Orthodox rabbi
  3. ‘Good Jewish boy’ or chief ‘infiltrator’? NJ man spent years as fake rabbi in Israel, groups say

So much for the basic story. Here’s what fascinates me, though: Elk/Elkohen may not be unequivocally fake, even if the exposés are true.

Michael Elk came from the marriage of a non-observant Methodist and a non-observant Mennonite. (Rod Dreher wrote of his own youth something very like this, which my memory dishes up: "We didn’t go to church much, and the church we didn’t go to was Methodist.") Elk "got religion" around age 17 and went off to an evangelical college. By the time he graduated, he was living as a Messianic Jew and claiming that both of his parents were Jewish.

> Elk’s path to Judaism appears to have begun around the time of his graduation. By that time, he was in a serious relationship with Crystal Tracy, whom he had met at Eastern University. > > At the time, she told the JC, Elk was attending a ‘Messianic synagogue’ (for Jews who follow Jesus) called Beth Yeshua, in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. > > He also worshipped at a charismatic evangelical church called Vineyard. Yet he was dressing like an Orthodox Jew, always wearing a white shirt, black trousers and kippah.

(EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, the Christian missionary who went undercover in Jerusalem as an Orthodox rabbi)

He convinced Ms. Terry that he’d discovered her Jewish ancestry, too, so they could be married — in a wedding with some Jewish accoutrements. He apparently did something similar with his second wife, after Ms. Terry woke up and dumped him (he’d lost a job over accusations of flim-flammery with the time clock). Then off he went to Israel with wife two, where they were fruitful, and multiplied, and filled the earth with five little Elkohens.

So what I thought was going to be the story of a very bright guy who had undergone extensive spy-like training starts to look like a story of a guy who got deluded fairly young and stayed deluded for the long haul — perhaps even up until now. It’s no less interesting a story for that, but press coverage seems to favor the humbug theory even while reporting the tidbits that make me suspect delusion. (Some of the Israel-based stories don’t seem very conversant with the countless Protestant groups around. One referred to the simple cross on the tombstone of Elk’s father as a "crucifix.")

Arguing against the delusion theory, though, is a 2011 MorningStar Ministries TV appearance:

> In the interview, he openly praised Jesus and prayed together with other Christian devotees. The Jews, he said, needed to be “stirred to jealousy” until they followed Christ.

(Id.) But overall, I get the impression that he was a Christian Judaizer, syncretistically blending Jewish ritual with Christian doctrine. (That’s why I suggest that he’s not unequivocally fake.) Or as one of the stories put it, perhaps not knowing that there are Christian Judaizers:

> The idea of these messianic groups is to blur distinctions in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist the Christian message.

(NJ ‘orthodox rabbi’ accused of double life as missionary in Israel)

A version of such distinction-blurring was repudiated at the very first Council of the Christian Church, in Jerusalem, where the Church held that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised, as a substantial party of Jewish Christians argued they must be. Later, Paul harshly and thoroughly warned the Galatians about such Judaizing in the Epistle to the Galatians, chapters 3 and 4.

Moreover, MorningStar Ministries, allegedly his sponsoring missionary agency, bears a distinctive mark of dispensational premillennialism, a second heresy but one that tends to go along with evangelical Judaizing:

> As time went on, Ms Tracy said, Elk became more and more committed to the group. Elk considered going to their ministry school, she said, and was “very, very devoted” to their teachings. > > “He carried on with MorningStar after the divorce,” she recalled. “They are very much about converting the Jews to bring on the end times. I heard this all the time.”

(EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, above)

So sincere or not, a conscious deceiver or a deluded heretic, "Rabbi" Michael Elkohen deserves adherence neither by Jews nor Gentile Christians who recognize heresies.

And he reportedly is not the only covert Christian Missionary working in Israel.

Restless Natives In Judeo-Christendom

> [A]dministrators made it clear to me that members of certain religious groups were overrepresented on campus. This was why the college wanted to get rid of chaplaincy programs. I suddenly realized what was at stake in the move from the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, or Thomas Chatterton Williams, for example, to the antiracism of Ibram Kendi or Robin DiAngelo. Telling me that the “number one priority of the college is antiracism,” my supervisor in Student Life explained:   > >> And because of the colleges’ commitment to antiracism and equity the question finally becomes, Is chaplaincy sustainable? Our Jewish community has the support of its alumni donor. How do we manage that? And Roman Catholic students and others interested in Catholicism can apply for grants from an endowed fund for Roman Catholic Studies. And in order to be antiracist we have to have equal resources for Hindu students, Muslim students, Buddhist students, or we need to do away with Spiritual Life groups all together. > > My supervisor was echoing Ibram X. Kendi, who writes, “If discrimination is creating equity then it is antiracist.” Inequity, in this case, means any difference between ethnic groups that isn’t reflected in the racial demographics of the United States. How does this relate to religion? I didn’t think that it did. But here this administrator decided that because Jews, being a tiny percentage of the US population are overrepresented in higher education generally, and at the college where I worked in particular, antiracism in this instance required that the number of Jewish students be reduced. Moreover, because there were 60 students at Shabbat and only a handful of Muslim students on campus, the Jewish group should not exist.

Anna Keating, The Problem with “Western” Religions on Campus – The Hedgehog Review

Contemptuous Familiarity with a Counterfeit

> I found a Christianity that had retained its ancient heart—a faith with living saints and a central ritual of deep and inexplicable power. I found a faith that, unlike the one I had seen as a boy, was not a dusty moral template but a mystical path, an ancient and rooted thing, pointing to a world in which the divine is not absent but everywhere present, moving in the mountains and the waters. The story I had heard a thousand times turned out to be a story I had never heard at all.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Cross and the Machine

I appreciate that Kingsnorth is open about his conversion, but also that he’s wise enough not to be argumentative about it ("None of this is rationally explicable, and there is no point in arguing with me about it. There is no point in my arguing with myself about it: I gave up after a while."). That’s better than how I did it.

The Averted Gaze

I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Operation Varsity Blues and would summarize it as timorous.

Wealthy clients of Rick Singer spent in the high six-figures or more to get their failsons and boopsies into elite schools, making it likelier that they would graduate from merely "wealthy" to "upper-class," just one step down from fully "elite" (see Aaron M. Renn, Rediscovering E. Digby Baltzell’s Sociology of Elites (American Affairs Journal).

But that’s only part of the story. Liberal ameliorative legislation like Title IX and the ADA set the stage for some of Singer’s trickery (while not actually creating "legal loopholes").

> The water polo angle may give the scandal a WASPy flavor but that’s a red herring … > > In fact, if the water polo angle signifies anything, it’s the crucial importance of liberal policies in making Singer’s schemes possible. The reason schools have so many recruitment slots in boutique sports like women’s crew is Title IX, which forced colleges to equalize spending on men’s and women’s athletics. “Institutions with football programs can have upwards of 100 men on those teams,” Unacceptable explains. “To maintain equitable opportunity, they may have built really, really big women’s rowing programs.” > > The biggest silent revolution in education today is the proliferation of diagnosed disabilities among affluent students. In the last ten years, elite parents discovered that getting their kid labeled with ADHD or anxiety allows them to request special accommodations on tests, like extra time or a private room. Singer encouraged clients to get bogus diagnoses so he could channel their kids to special testing sites and put his designated proctor in the room with them to correct their answers. > > Students with special accommodations used to have asterisks next to their SAT scores when the College Board sent them out. In 2003, those asterisks were removed — not because wealthy parents flexed their influence, but because of a civil rights lawsuit brought by a disability advocacy group. Eliminating the “scarlet asterisk” would protect disabled students from discrimination, they said. Instead it enabled canny operators like Singer to commit fraud on a large scale.

Helen Andrews, Operation Varsity Blues: Elite Anxiety, Not Elite Privilege.

> Because of Title IX gender equity rules, colleges are far more likely to have a women’s crew team than a men’s squad. Athletic departments use women’s crew teams to balance out male sports like football and wrestling. Unlike men’s rowing, women’s crew is an official NCAA sport with a sanctioned championship. Women’s Division I rowing teams are allowed to hand out the equivalent of 20 full scholarships, more than any other women’s sport.

For an edge in Ivy League admissions, grab an oar and row – Chicago Tribune

See also Hal Berghel, A Critical Look at the 2019 College Admissions Scandal

Reporting on bad behavior by rich celebrities is easy, but for me, the untold parts of the story, the parts too hot to handle, include (1) the insidious corruption of education by sports and (2) the insidious corruptibility of ameliorative legislation.

Is the Sum of Evangelical Parachurch Ministries Called "Christendom"?

I’m not exactly sour on David French, but I read him ever more critically when he (currently a Calvinist with a meandering background) addresses Christian matters. Most recently, How American Christendom Weakens American Christianity seems both formulaic and confused:

  • He provincially conflates Evangelical "parachurch" ministries with "Christendom" even though the ministries he names neither sought nor gained sway over governments. (See below.)
  • He poisons the well by insinuating that doctrinally orthodox, spiritually lukewarm institutions are in it for the money.
  • He implies that lukewarm orthodox Christians ("Christendom") were a problem to be solved rather than an inevitability.

There’s probably more.

I fully appreciate that the sexual abuses of Ravi Zacharias and Kanakuk Kamp have been much on French’s mind, but to address them as a problem of "Christendom" reads like a brainstorm he had but should have abandoned as far too facile. It seems, though, that French had this "evangelical parachurch ministries as Christendom" brainstorm a few years ago and clings to it still:

> The Evangelical analogue to the state religious establishments of years past — the “Christendom” that all-too-often redefined the faith as a kind of cultural and legal conformity, a rote adherence to external religious dictates — is the creation of a series of extraordinarily wealthy, powerful, and influential institutions that not only reach and influence Americans by the tens of millions, but also shape the course and conduct of the domestic and foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the history of the world.

I’m unconvinced that the Evangelical institutions are as powerful and influential as French thinks. I’m even less convinced that they’re a plausible analogy to "Christendom" as traditionally understood.

But I’ve lamented that when Americans hear "Christian" they probably think of Evangelicals, or perhaps Roman Catholics in a few instances, and that neither tradition remotely represents me. So maybe those Evangelical institutions have a bigger "Christendom-like" footprint than I’m appreciating.

Tidbits

A local grade school principal challenged her students to collect 1000 cereal boxes in a week, promising that if they did, she’d let them duct-tape her to the wall. They did and she did.

In completely unrelated news, schoolchildren reportedly have problems with disrespecting their teachers and administrators.


> "Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient," he explains. "There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."

Bill Gates, quoted in In Search of the Real Bill Gates – TIME, 1/13/1997.

I must be aiming somewhere other than where Bill Gates is aiming, because I consider church indispensible.


> Doyle has 43,000 Twitter followers, a fan base 20 times smaller than that of the Sarcastic Mars Rover parody account.

How Substack Soap Operas Change the Media Business – The Atlantic

Comparative measures of smallness, fewness and such are a usage I’ll never consider proper.


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.

Explaining myself

I posted last night some clippings from commentary on the U.S. Presidential debate of September 29, after almost four weeks’ absence and talk of ending the blog.

Problem 1 is that Wordpess, my platform, has been making “improvements” again. I’ve generally used its native editor, and they’ve replaced it with a monstrosity called a “block editor,” which is perfectly indecipherable. It wasn’t worth the effort to learn it since it’s a patently absurd way of writing essay-like things for people to read. [UPDDATE: As I subsequently tried to find a lighter graphic theme than War Correspondence had affected, it appeared that WordPress, or bloggery in general, is focused on commerce, photomontage, and other non-essay activities.] 

Problem 2 is not really a problem at all: even at my advanced age (500 dog years), I’m learning new tricks far more rewarding that mastering a stupid editor, such as not wallowing so much in news and commentary. This was made possible by spiritual adjustments which are best summarized by the advice of Fr. Stephen Freeman (for years, and especially here) and the late Fr. Thomas Hopcko. I’ve said for years that my epitaph should be “Darn! Just when I almost had it figured all out!” — a pathetic joke for a Christian, but an accurate reflection of how I was living. This annus horribilus has been a good one for taking stock of things and changing them as needed, and I can finally consider a better epitaph because that old one doesn’t fit any more.

If you think that’s too much information or a digression, it’s not: It means I’ve had less to say because I’m less “well-informed” and less in need of “venting” about things.

There may be more, but the third factor, the one facilitating my return to blogging, is the realization that I need not use WordPress’s stupid editor. I’ve acquired MarsEdit, on which I composed last night’s blog and am composing this one. It’s worth learning for me.

So I have the blogging tools I need but less to vent about. For that reason, I’ll almost certainly not return to daily blogging, and the conceit of warring against the deathworks already is feeling stale. I may return to the Tipsy Teetotaler name and a brighter graphic theme.

Finally, I commend to you Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not by Lies, which I got on the Tuesday release date and finished yesterday — a relatively ferocious pace for me (facilitated by not wasting time on ephemeral news — see, it all connects). I think Dreher is fundamentally right about the future for cultural conservatives, but I’m partial to a Christian (Lutheran) reviewer who suggested that we may be heading for more open and literal warfare between Social Justice Warriors on the Left and “Traditionalst” atavists on the Alt-Right, with sane Christians mostly suffering collateral damage rather than being the targets of the SJWs.

* * * * *

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

and

You shall love your crooked neighbour

“With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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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.

Anytown Ecumenical High

It’s been a while since I blogged, but I found an old draft, never completed, and dusted it off.

Back in my Calvinist days, and when I had a child of school-age, I thought how wonderful it would be for there to be an ecumenical Christian high school in town as we had some hesitancy about sending our son to a Catholic High School (particularly since the local Catholic High School had a reputation for binge drinking with parental connivance).

Even apart from the existence of that Catholic High School, I had no idea how impossible or unacceptably minimalist the Christian standards of such a high school would be if it attempted to take in every Christian tradition (with or without Roman Catholicism). Even excluding merely cultural Christians, there’s not much in common.

Here’s a playful stab at the statement of beliefs:

  1. Human life began better than it is now. Human disobedience is what made things worse. Go ask your respective clergy whether “better” and “worse” are predominately moral, mortal, ontological or something else.
  2. There followed maybe four millennia, maybe more. A people called Jews emerged and were called God’s chosen people. Go ask your respective clergy what continuing relevance they have, if any, to the Christian story.
  3. There was a man, who also was God, named Jesus, who came from the Jews to fix our problem. Go ask your respective clergy how His coming had something to do with saving us from our problem.
  4. Jesus’ mother was a virgin. Go ask your respective clergy whether she remained a virgin or whether that would be creepy and subversive of the sexiness we so dearly love.
  5. Without having sinned or committed any capital offense, Jesus nevertheless was crucified some 2000 years ago. We all agree that this was very important, but we can’t entirely agree why. Go ask your respective clergy what Jesus’ crucifixion has to do with saving us from our problem.
  6. Early Sunday after His Crucifixion, this Jesus came back to life, not just a little but totally.We all agree that this was very important. It foreshadows that we won’t stay dead forever, at least if we’re Christians. Go ask your respective clergy whether, beyond that foreshadowing, that just proved Jesus really was God or whether it had something more to do with saving us from our problem.
  7. 40 days later, Jesus left us in something called Ascension in churches that care about things like that. Go ask your respective clergy whether that’s important in saving us from our problem. Extra credit: Ask your clergy why you don’t commemorate it if it’s important but you don’t commemorate it.
  8. After he went away, somebody sent something or someone called the Holy Spirit. Go ask your respective clergy whether it was God the Father from whom He/it proceeded or whether it was from both from the Father and the Son.
  9. While we’re on this Father and Son and Holy Spirit business, go ask your respective clergy to explain the Trinity to you. Watch this video first and you can have fun playing “Name That Heresy” with most clergy.
  10. After that the Church grew. Go ask your respective clergy whether it grew on the basis of the Old Testament, the teaching of the Apostles (written and oral), the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament  that hadn’t been written yet, none of the above, all of the above, or what?
  11. The early Church worshiped rather formally as did the Jews of the Synagogue. Or they sat around on the floor, strumming harps and spontaneously bursting into choruses like Kum-Ba-Ya or “Our God is an Awesome God” in Aeolian mode and Aramaic language. Go ask your respective clergy how the early church worshiped.
  12. The Church had and has somewhere between one and seven or more ordinances, sacraments, mysteries, or whatever you call them. Go ask your respective clergy how many, what you call them, why that particular number.
  13. The Church soon had or didn’t have Bishops and a structure that extended beyond individual congregations. Go ask your respective clergy how the early Church was governed.
  14. One becomes a “Christian” (an encomium) by asking Jesus into his or her heart. Or one becomes a “Christian” (a fact that has little or nothing to do with being nice and middle class or even acting like a Christian) by baptism. Yeah, go ask your Clergy. Sheesh!
  15. Around the time of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century, God dropped the ball, the Church got seduced by secular power, and nothing more good happened until Martin Luther. Or there were always true Christians, who basically were Baptists, but history and fake Christians have suppressed that fact. Or the Church was one and not corrupt until the Bishop of Rome started putting on airs and eventually tore the Church. Or the Church was one and not corrupt until the other four Patriarchs decided to rebel against the Pope in Rome, who everybody knew was the penultimate boss of the whole Church (second only to Christ, whose vicar the Pope was), and thus those rebellious Patriarchs eventually tore the Church. Or something. Go ask your respective clergy.
  16. Someday, Jesus is coming back one or more times. Go ask your respective clergy why He’s coming back and whether He’s coming back once, twice, or multiple times, and whether any of those will be a secret (except for the tantalizingly suspicious disappearance of every Fundamental, King-James-Bible-Believing Baptist in the world).

I think you’ve got the idea by now. And I haven’t even touched on what the school’s sports teams pious nickname would be, whether and what Christian symbols would be allowed, or other thorny issues.

Jesus’ desire that we all may be one is not faring all that well. Go ask your pastor how it can possibly be God’s will that His Church fall into such cacophony.

Or maybe the Church is faring just fine, but “we” is narrower than everybody who says “Jesus” with a little fervor.

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

This (sigh!) is as good as it gets

I’ve been waiting for decades for the orthodox to rout the progressives in a denominational split — which amounts to waiting for the progressives to overplay their hand just once.

The usual progressive ploy is to plead for dialog — again and again for as long as it takes to wear down the orthodox — then to give false assurances of pluralism once their heresy or immorality is grudgingly afforded the status of an option, then to crush the orthodox when they gain power. Or as Neuhaus’s Law puts it, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

It looks like the United Methodist split over homosexuality and same-sex marriage is as close as we’re going to get to an orthodox rout, and even there the progressives are keeping the denomination name (which may prove a blessing in the long run):

This week, a group of church leaders announced a plan for the dissolution of the worldwide church that would allow conservative congregations and conferences to leave the main body and join a new conservative denomination. Under the proposal, the UMC would give the new denomination $25 million and allow departing congregations to keep their property, and departing clergy, their pensions.

(Law & Religion Forum) Keeping property and pensions, and getting a farewell gift to boot, is a smashing victory — relatively speaking.

God bless the Africans, who forced the progressives (a majority in North America) to sue for “peace.” My great-grandchildren may someday need to be evangelized by missionaries from the global south.

* * *

I must also issue a caveat at this point, because the dominant media falsely make disputes like this a matter of good guys versus wicked homophobes.

David French provides an easy way to do so:

The true fracturing point between [progressive and orthodox] churches is over the authority and interpretation of scripture. The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause … [T]here is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.

Thus, at heart, the disagreement between the [orthodox and progressive] isn’t over issues—even hot-button cultural and political issues—but rather over theology. Indeed, the very first clause of the United Methodist Church’s nine-page separation plan states that church members “have fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice.” …

I’m not for a moment going to pretend that there aren’t homophobes and bigots in [orthodox Christianity]. I’ve encountered more than a few people who turn a blind eye to or rationalize and excuse all manner of heterosexual sin while scorning their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors. But for the thoughtful and faithful dissenters on both sides of the theological aisle, sexuality is the side issue. Differences over scriptural authority and biblical theology represent the central dispute.

Orthodox Christian sexual ethics have absolutely nothing to do with animus against gays and lesbians. In fact, there should be zero animus against any person of any sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead, the orthodox Christian sexual ethic—which reserves sex for the marriage between a man and a woman—rests on a sincere conviction that it is not only directly commanded by God through scripture, it’s also best for human flourishing, and it is symbolic of the sacred relationship between Christ and His Church.

And then caveats to the caveat:

French is an Evangelical, which characteristically (and in French’s case) involves a fair amount of parochialism and ecclesiological cluelessness. So I have modified his over-simplified contrast between Evangelicals and Mainstream Protestants to refer to orthodox and progressive more broadly.

Second, for Catholics and capital-O Orthodox, the scriptural teaching on sexuality is important but not all-important, because each Church’s tradition is consistent about the meaning of sexuality. Were I still Protestant, however, I would stand with the lower-o orthodox, because the case that scripture is unclear is dishonest. Here’s an admission against interest to that effect:

I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says… . [However] we must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture… and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.

(Pro-gay Roman Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson)

That will have to suffice, for everything eventually connect to everything else, and I don’t have an eternity to qualify and ramify.

* * * * *

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.

Taking the easy way out

Soren Kierkegaard … [in]n a series of essays compiled as an Attack on Christendom, … makes a characteristically striking claim. He observes that the greatest danger to Christianity is, in fact, Christendom. This is the state-mandated and organized form of belief that parrots the spiritual dimensions of Christian teaching but is thoroughly dependent on the application of legal and social force to demand compliance. In this context, many people came to regard Christianity in thoroughly human terms …

… In many ways, it was far better to see Christendom shrunk down to a few genuine believers than to see it ballooned and enforced into a parody of itself. It was designed, in his famous phrase, to “make the way [to Christianity] easier” when, in fact, the genuinely faithful must always make the way harder. And this is where I think French demonstrates far more understanding than Ahmari. Despite the latter’s ridicule, French’s efforts to change people’s mind by appealing to the individual’s need for spiritual fulfillment is hard. It involves understanding each person as a unique being whose relationship to what is of “highest concern” is mediated by a huge number of complex factors. Ahmari embracing a post-modern conservative like Trump as an answer to Christian decline is actually quite easy. It involves abandoning what makes Christianity challenging, namely the demand to always approach any conflict with love and patience. It instead looks to state authority to resolve the problem of secularism. Abandoning what makes Christianity challenging in order to win the culture war and enjoy “the spoils” means abandoning Christianity.

My purpose in writing this was to defend French against the claim that he is somehow adopting a softer or easier position than those of his rivals.

Matt McManus, Why Christians Should Oppose Sohrab Ahmari (emphasis added)

McManus, by the way, is an apostate who at least hasn’t forgotten selected parts of the faith he now substantially rejects.

* * * * *

I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72/73:15-17, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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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).

To build anew

I haven’t been closely following the story of the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral fire for reasons at least partly alluded to in my more casual blog:

There’s so much chaos and tourism associated with Notre Dame that my experience of it last May was pretty underwhelming …

[M]y favorite Paris Church is my surprise discovery: St. Julien le Pauvre, a Hobbit-Sized Church of great antiquity that also warms the cockles of my heart because it’s Byzantine rite. My next trip to Paris (if God grants me another after the other places I want to see) will find me there Sunday morning.

But people I do follow, either in column or blog, seem to think there’s something symbolic, even highly symbolic, about the fire, and its timing on Monday of 2019’s (Western) Holy Week. Of those, the best* so far seems to be that of Ross Douthat, datelined Monday but discovered by me only today.

Douthat had been writing a column about Emeritus (is that correct?) Pope Benedict XVI’s recent letter (encyclical?) when he learned of the fire. (My parenthetical questions reflect some of Douthat’s theme.)

Excerpt:

The problem of Catholic narratives that can’t find synthesis, of “liberal” and “conservative” takes that feed angrily off one another, of popes and former popes as symbols grasped by partisans, is not the problem of the sex abuse crisis. It is simply the problem of Roman Catholicism in this age — an age in which the church mirrors the polarization of Western culture, rather than offering an integrated alternative.

… I am … doubtful that anything so simple as a conservative “victory” will return the church to cathedral-raising vigor and make it feel, to outsiders, like something more than a museum whose docents all seem to hate one another …

The cathedral will be rebuilt; the cross and altar and much of the interior survived. But all preservation is provisional. The real challenge for Catholics, in this age of general post-Christian cultural exhaustion, is to look at what our ancestors did and imagine what it would mean to do that again, to build anew, to leave something behind that could stand a thousand years and still have men and women singing “Salve Regina” outside its cruciform walls, as Parisians did tonight while Notre-Dame burned.

What is the synthesis that could make that possible? What lies beyond the stalemates and scandal and anger of our strange two-pope era?

Ross Douthat, From the Ashes of Notre-Dame.

That’s not just a Catholic question. It’s a question for all of Western Christendom, and I suspect for Eastern Christendom as well (the resurgence of which in nations like the Georgian Republic, which I’ll be visiting in a month, may be tenuous).

Might even the Great Schism be healed in a new synthesis? Or must we await our eventual evangelization by the global South, where Christianity, writ large, is thriving?

(* Easily the worst was that of our President. They can retire that trophy.)

* * * * *

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).

A stable dystopia

A dystopia is not a place that is threatened by genuine chaos — quite the opposite. It’s a moral horror because it actually stabilizes around evil things. The thing that was horrifying about Brave New World or 1984 was precisely that there could be no real challenge to an evil system. Indeed, most of the people living in those worlds do not see anything wrong with them, and accept them — compounding the horror further.

… I’m tempted to think that an ideology this blind to reality cannot succeed. But I’m chastened by the example of societies that are built on pretty terrible foundations that are nonetheless stable. China and North Korea both come to mind.

… [A]s an opponent of progressivism the Trump movement has utterly failed, in my opinion. Progressivism shows no signs of abating or losing steam …

I think the real, most urgent task is to understand what has changed, fundamentally, about the society we live in. Call it a post-industrial capitalist society — I can’t think of anything better. I think we’re only starting to find out what such a society really looks like. We still need to achieve a factual understanding of how this kind of society works, and to develop a really rigorous theory of whether or not it can be stable. I don’t see that anyone has achieved this yet. That’s the discussion I want to have. Then we can actually talk about how to prepare for, or exploit, its crisis tendencies.

Reader Jones (via Rod Dreher)

I’m not as sure as is Reader Jones that we’re becoming a stable progressive dystopia. (The preceding sentence is understated.)

But I think the label “post-industrial capitalist society” is fairly apt, inasmuch as capitalism-as-we’ve-known-it has dissolved civil-society-as-we’ve-known-it. And I find it arresting to think that our current polarized major party bases might resolve to some sort of stable dystopia, presumably with one side or the other zestfully suppressed.

Finally, I see little prospect that the resolution will be anything I would recognize as conservative or Christian.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here, but a bit here as well. Both 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).

Europe, Political Parties

1

Some European luminaries have signed a letter calling all to defense of Europe against the destroyers. The Guardian printed it and linked commentary with caricatures of Jarosław Kaczyński and Viktor Orbán, the destroyers. Alan Jacobs reminds the luminaries that “The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith.”

I’ll take “The Faith is Europe” as a bit of heart-warming Christian European hyperbole, but I choke on “Europe is the Faith” as prima facie heretical. That Hillaire Belloc, John Senior and Alan Jacobs can affirm it with a straight face suggests that I get off my high horse and try to apprehend why the latter is a proposition to be entertained by serious people. I am acquiring a copy of Europe and the Faith.

Be it acknowledged that the luminaries are speaking in more-or-less good faith, invoking what happened in the 1930s (and 40s by implication).

But be it also acknowledged that the “destroyers” just might be bona fide, too, as the EU could not be bothered to acknowledge Europe’s Christian roots in its 2004 Constitution, is allowing a flood (I don’t think that’s too strong) of third-world, disproportionately non-Christian migrants and refugees to settle, and believes in gigantism over subsidiarity, let alone orthodox Christianity. My sympathies are on their side, but with fear and trembling.

Perils to the Left, perils to the Right. I chose my new blog subtitle, “Chronicling the death of the West,” because it so often seems that’s what I’m doing.

2

Like one of the surprising number of atheists who unreservedly (wistfully?) recognize the social utility of religion, I recognize the social utility of political parties, though I cannot believe in any of them sufficiently to throw myself into partisan activism. That includes my party of preference, the American Solidarity Party; a fortiori, the two major parties.

* * * * *

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Clips and comments, 1/22/19

1

From time immemorial, people have buried the dead. Sometimes, they even risked their lives to carry out this most basic duty. In times of persecution, for example, Christians put themselves in great danger to recover the bodies of martyrs so that they might receive the holy rites of Christian burial.

The Old Testament recounts the story of the elder Tobias, who, while exiled to Nineveh, observed the Hebrew Law by burying the dead against the wishes of King Sennacherib.

The body is sacred and must be treated with all due dignity and respect. It has always been that way. No one needed to explain why the dead must be buried—until our time.

Thus primed for a Catholic author, John Horvat II, to call on his church to repent of allowing cremation, I instead got standard-issue tongue-clucking about the Washington legislature, which is prepared to allow insult to reposed humans by a different pagan-tinged means than the cremation the Catholic Church now allows:

[I]t is hard not to be shocked by a bill now before the Washington State Legislature with a good chance of passage. Lawmakers are working toward allowing a new process called “recomposition,” by which human beings would be turned into compost.

Human composting is not just a practical alternative to burial. It is an eco-religious act. Its advocates openly promote it as an expression of social justice and ecological fervor. It fits into a pantheistic worldview where everything is reduced to matter in constant transformation.

The process of human composting consists of putting shrouded unembalmed human remains in a revolving cylinder with wood chips, alfalfa and other organic matter to hasten decomposition. After a month, the body is reduced to a cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil that can be used for planting trees to benefit the Earth.

The comments to this article features some (presumably Catholic) readers arguing over the relative environmental benefits of cremation versus composting (the author at least focused on the right thing), which tells me that the Catholic Church has already been utterly routed in the battle for human dignity after death.

2

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

From (the late) Mary Oliver, When Death Comes (H/T Christopher Benson)

3

I began reading John Senior’s The Death of Christian Culture anticipating delight and insight.

Those haven’t been absent, but neither has bitter disappointment:

The only way to bring Christianity to the Bantu or the British, however, is to bring them clothes, chairs, bread, wine, and Latin. Belloc was exactly right in his famous epigram: “Europe is the faith; the faith is Europe“ … The church has grown in a particular way and has always brought its habits with it, so that wherever it has gone it has been a European thing—stretched, adapted, but essentially a European thing.

(Page 19) I do not believe this, and don’t even think that an observant Roman Catholic should believe it. If Senior is not taking Belloc out of context, I’m disappointed in both.

This was first published in 1978, not 150 years ago, when it might have been forgivable for “a man of his times.” They read like the words of a man who mistook mere cantakerous atavism for fidelity.

His great-grandchildren will see Christian African missionaries in Europe (if it’s not too Islamicized in Europe to allow it), and they won’t be bringing tea, crumpets or chairs.

4

Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Coming Test Acts Will Challenge Religious Freedom, predicts that government is turning against orthodox faiths and will “threaten[] employment and restrict[] the political action of those dissenters who c[an] not endorse the established opinions of the state. And the pressure they bring to bear will be a major test of faith for Christians themselves.”

I may be wrong in thinking this fairly remote, but I am right to observe that concentrated corporate power is doing the same thing on its own, without laws to compel them or to impede them.

I’ve said for years that I oppose big corporate power as well as big government power, but at the moment I fear it far more.

* * * * *

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