The Catholic Integralist/Liberal Revanchist straddle

 

From Jake Meador’s long and helpful article, Indexing Political Theologies: Six Christianity and Culture Strategies:

[L]et’s consider the six most common strategies that Christians seem to be embracing. They are:

  • Catholic Integralism
  • Post-Liberal Protestantism
  • Post-Liberal Retreatists
  • Radical Anabaptists
  • Liberal Protestantism
  • Liberal Revanchists

I also want to note that I have ordered them in a particular way. The first four approaches are all variations that reject modern liberalism. The first two approaches, Catholic Integralism and Post-Liberal Protestantism, retain a fairly robust idea of civil society and the polis while the third and fourth strategies, Post-Liberal Retreatism and Radical Anabaptist, would offer a similarly stinging critique of liberalism but are much less hopeful about the possibility of reinvigorating civil society and are often even skeptical as to whether such a work is necessary or desirable, although that is a contested point within these groups.

The fifth group, the Liberal Protestants, are the first of the two groups that are much more at peace with modern liberalism. What separates them from the Post-Liberal Protestants is that they are more hopeful about the possibility of a just society existing within our current social order. What separates them from the sixth group is that they are also quite skeptical of any sort of “God-and-country nationalism” or other similar rhetoric from the religious right. Finally, the sixth group, the Liberal Revanchists, are those who see the American experiment as being compatible with a just society but who think that we need to take back large swathes of society in order to achieve such a goal. On the evangelical side of things, this is the old Religious Right plus many Trump-supporting evangelicals. Amongst Catholics, this is the John Courtney Murray wing of American Catholicism.

One reason I have made this option sixth and placed Catholic Integralism first is that the current editor of First Things, Dr. R. R. Reno, strikes me as someone straddling the line between the first and sixth options in a “so far left he’s almost right” sort of way. He also seems to be a transitional figure in the history of First Things. Richard John Neuhaus, the founding editor of the magazine, clearly belongs to the sixth school. Younger editors like Matthew Schmitz and Elliot Milco (himself a founder of The Josias) are clearly part of the first school. So Reno is a major figure here both because he seems to represent a transition chronologically and because he seems to be the only prominent Catholic thinker in the US right now trying to blend some of the Integralist insights with the more pro-American ethos of writers like his predecessor Neuhaus as well as George Weigel.

I added the emphasis to show why I thought Reno’s recent salvo was really a big deal. It seems to me that Reno no longer has one foot planted in Liberal Revanchism. Whether that foot is suspended in mid-air, or planted in Catholic Integralism (or somewhere else) remains, as they say, to be seen,

* * * * *

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

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Running a white flag up the pole?

James K.A. Smith published a challenge to the recent use of “orthodox Christian” in polemics. He did so in a blog he describes as “my space for ‘thinking out loud,’ an arena for practice at writing quickly and off-the-cuff.” Comments are not an option, and I had no immediate response to his challenge anyway.

But I’m now ready to respond to this sort of thing:

Historically, the measure of “orthodox” Christianity has been conciliar; that is, orthodoxy was rooted in, and measured by, the ecumenical councils and creeds of the church (Nicea, Chalcedon) which were understood to have distilled the grammar of “right belief” (ortho, doxa) in the Scriptures.  As such, orthodoxy centers around the nature of God (Triune), the Incarnation, the means of our salvation, the church, and the life to come.  The markers of orthodoxy are tied to the affirmations of, say, the Nicene Creed: the creatorhood of God; the divine/human nature of the Incarnate Son; the virgin birth; the historicity of Jesus’ life and death; the affirmation of his bodily resurrection and ascension; the hope of the second coming; the triune affirmation of Father, Son, and Spirit; the affirmation of “one holy catholic and apostolic church”; one baptism; and the hope of our own bodily resurrection.

Contrast this with most invocations of “orthodox Christianity” today. In some contexts, the use of the word “orthodox” seems to have nothing to do with these historic markers of Christian faith.  Indeed, in many cases “orthodox Christianity” means only one thing: a particular view of sexuality and marriage ….

You probably can imagine where the off-the-cuff comments go from there. Smith allows that the “particular view of sexuality and marriage” is “traditional,” but not orthodox, properly speaking.

My own response is two-fold:

First, the use of “orthodox” that Smith complains of is not inappropriate.

Smith’s conception of orthodoxy is unduly narrow. On this, he “had me going for a minute” because of my love of the creed and its importance.

But the Creed is not a comprehensive expression of orthodoxy, and was never meant to be. It (as tweaked at Chalcedon) was first and foremost a repudiation of fourth-century Christological heresies. It is silent on things that were not at serious issue.

But the view of sexuality and marriage in question is “orthodox” because it is within the scope of the Vincentian Canon, that “all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywherealways, by all.” (I cringe when I hear someone say things like sexual morality is “at the heart of the faith,” but that’s a different matter.)

I do thank Smith, however, for giving me at least this one opportunity to feel smarter than him about something, to-wit: the purpose of the Creed, and indeed of the Councils in general.

Second, the people who thus use “orthodox Christianity” are onto something important even if the questioned use of “orthodoxy” were inappropriate or inadvisable. That something is far more important that Smith’s derision allows:

So when people are said to suffer for their “orthodox” beliefs, or when we are told that “orthodox” Christians will be hounded from public life and persecuted in their professions, a closer reading shows that it is not their beliefs in the Trinity, Incarnation, Virgin Birth, or Resurrection that occasion these problems, but rather their beliefs about morality, and sexual morality in particular.  There don’t seem to be any bakers refusing to bake cakes for atheists,* and I’ve yet to hear of Silicon Valley CEOs being fired because they affirm the Incarnation of the Son or the resurrection of the dead.

The important thing they’re onto, that Smith misses or pretends to miss, is related to why Donald Trump is President today.

Smith’s derision suggests that so long as “orthodox Christians” can worship and believe as they wish within their four walls, everything is copacetic. I’m sniffing at least the beginning of a sequel to “keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” and more than a whiff of the cribbed locution “freedom of worship” rather than “free exercise of religion.”

Evangelical voters (and some other religious) knew that the Democrats, at the top levels including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, have taken the unhistoric and subversive “freedom of worship” tack, and opposition to that was a significant factor in electing the non-Democrat narcissist adolescent currently holding forth at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So even if “orthodox Christian” is inappropriate, something along the lines of “robustly and actively Christian” is surely appropriate — robust and active Christians not being willing to confine their faith to one hour per week and the four walls of a church building.

* * * * *

So why do I think it’s worth responding to Smith?

Last September, “Richard Swinburne, emeritus professor of philosophy at Oxford University, author of many highly influential books, and among the most eminent of contemporary Christian thinkers,” gave a mild keynote address defending traditional “Christian Moral Teaching on Sex, Family and Life,” to a midwest meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. That stirred up ugly and even scatalogical controversy because Christian philosophers are wavering before the Zeitgeist.

Philosopher James K.A. Smith’s employer, Calvin College, highly values its reputation for a very strong philosophy department — a reputation recognized not just in Evangelical/Calvinist subculture, but throughout academic philosophy.

But standing up for robustly and actively Christian sexual morality, the morality held ubique, semper et ab omnibus, is becoming worse than unfashionable. It may leave all the cool philosophers saying you’re ugly and your mom dresses you funny, or even stealing your accreditations out of your lunch box as you gape helplessly:

The expansion of the scope of Title IX legislation by the Obama administration makes colleges that hold to traditional Christian moral positions on homosexuality and transgenderism vulnerable to loss of government funding and to damaging legal actions. We might add the related matter of accreditation: Failure to conform to Title IX will be punished with notations and probable loss of accreditation. Perhaps even more deadly than these threats is the role of the NCAA, as schools that are not “friendly” to LGBTQI students will find that they are unable to compete in sporting events. Sadly, while the choice between sport and one’s faith should not merit a second thought, I expect that this will be the point at which many colleges crack.

How Christian colleges respond to all this will be critical. The desire expressed by some to dialogue with their opponents on this matter is not a good sign. At worst, it represents the cynical prelude to capitulation: “We listened, we heard, we changed.” …

I do not trust Calvin College, which I respect, to stand firm. I do not trust Wheaton College, which I have loved, to stand firm. I do not trust any Evangelical college to stand firm, including Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (on the fundamentalist end of the Evangelical spectrum) inasmuch as Jerry Falwell Jr. has shown himself a man of poor judgment and flexible moral standards in his Bromance with Donald Trump.

And I do not trust James K.A. Smith to stand firm.

I think he knows the context and purpose of the creeds better than he’s letting on. I think he knows that the sexual standards he’s backing away from are “orthodox” in a non-trivial and unequivocal sense.

If not, I hope he reads this. The Comments are moderated, but on.

I can only hope that this really was an off-the-cuff quickie, but I fear it’s a white flag running up the pole, looking for folks to salute it.

I can only pray that many Roman Catholic educational institutions and our few Orthodox institutions will stand firm, even at the cost of accreditation.

UPDATE: After a good night’s sleep, I re-read Smith’s off-the-cuff challenge, word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase, and I now think I was too gentle, giving him too much benefit of the doubt.

UPDATE 2: I’m glad I’m not the only one who has registered and objected to Smith’s trial balloon. Had I been, it’s unlikely I ever would have noticed it, since I don’t follow the blog where it appeared (though I first encountered it somewhere other than a blog praising or objecting to it). Anyway

* * * * *

* “There don’t seem to be any bakers refusing to bake cakes for atheists” is inapposite to the facts of actual cases where Christian bakers have refused not to serve “homosexuals” but to use their creative skills to help celebrate “same-sex weddings.”

* * * * *

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Trump in Warsaw

It sounds as if the President’s speechwriters gave him some very lofty things to say in Poland. I almost laughed out loud, derisively, at the thought of Donald Trump as the defender of what’s noble in the western tradition.

I wish I could credit him with believing — even understanding while uttering hypocritically — any of the better things he said. But I can’t.

If he follows through, he will enhance my faith in miracles.

* * * * *

I had every intention of leaving Trump’s Warsaw comment there, with nothing more said. But something bizarre has happened:

The shocking thing here is that this is controversial at all. It shows how decadent we’ve become.

Let’s sample some of the left-liberal freakout, shall we?

Here’s Peter Beinart in The Atlantic:

In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too.

… The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.

More Beinart:

The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech—perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime—was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year.

Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony. A direct line connects Trump’s assault on Barack Obama’s citizenship to his speech in Poland. In Trump and Bannon’s view, America is at its core Western: meaning white and Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian). The implication is that anyone in the United States who is not white and Christian may not truly be American but rather than an imposter and a threat.

Poland is largely ethnically homogeneous. So when a Polish president says that being Western is the essence of the nation’s identity, he’s mostly defining Poland in opposition to the nations to its east and south. America is racially, ethnically, and religious diverse. So when Trump says being Western is the essence of America’s identity, he’s in part defining America in opposition to some of its own people. He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.

Let’s move on. Here’s a tweet by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie:

Here’s James Fallows on the Warsaw speech:

Has Donald Trump ever heard of Leni Riefenstahl?

These are collected by Rod Dreher, who detests Trump about as much as I do. I don’t recall much about Peter Beinart and nothing at all about Jamelle Bouie, but this kind of crap from James Fallows is bitterly disappointing. No, it’s worse than that: it’s unhinged. The real paranoiacs in this story are the deranged eisegetes.

I can’t give Trump credit for playing the media like a violin this time because I don’t think he intended anything provocative. He neither intended nor uttered anything racist or white nationalist, and the grievance-mongers aren’t likely to persuade me otherwise.

Dreher explains pretty well why Trump’s themes are legitimate and timely while David Frum and Ross Douthat explain what really was jarring about the speech (articulating what I had only intuited).

Douthat:

One key to understanding Trump, always, is that he appeals to people by attacking the decadence that he himself also embodies.

— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) July 7, 2017

Frum:

As presidential speeches go, Trump’s address in Warsaw was fair. Ish. If you forget who is speaking and what that person has been saying and doing since Inauguration Day—since the opening of his campaign in 2015—and really through his career.

But if you remember those things, the speech jolted you to attention again and again.

[T]he most troubling thing about the speech was the falsehood at its core; the problem is not with the speech, but with the speaker. The values Trump spoke for in Warsaw are values that he has put at risk every day of his presidency—and that he will continue to put to risk every day thereafter. Trump’s not wrong to perceive a threat to the Euro-Atlantic from the south and east. But the most recent and most dramatic manifestation of that threat was the Russian intervention in the U.S. election to install Donald Trump as president. The threat from outside is magnified by this threat from within—and it is that truth that makes a mockery of every word President Trump spoke in Warsaw.

Maybe this is analogous to the trick bag the Left thought Trump was in on immigration (the one President, in all of American history, forbidden to limit immigration is Donald J. Trump because he promised to do so in terms connected to the religion of Islam): the one person forbidden to defend Western Civilization is Donald J. Trump because we know it’s racist dog-whistles when he does it.

Back to Dreher, who says what I was starting to feel:

If you tell people that to love and to want to defend the culture of the West is a racist act, then they will cease to care about your judgment on the matter, because you are requiring them to hate themselves as an act of virtue. In that regard, Jamelle Bouie’s sentiment here is a much greater gift to the racist alt-right than anything Donald Trump said in Warsaw.

I mean, really, how ignorant and provincial do you have to be, Messrs. Beinart and Bouie, to hear Trump’s speech and think of it as a #MAGA version of a Nuremberg Rally Address? Is the degree of self-hatred of the West required to be a virtuous, woke person such that you cannot tell the difference between Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and the Horst Wessel Song? Do they really think Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (all of which is available on YouTube, starting here) is a plummy version of Triumph of the Will? If standing against this kind of liberal insanity means I have to stand with Donald Trump, well, okay, I’ll stand with Donald Trump. I won’t like it, but at least Donald Trump doesn’t hate his own civilization.

It is necessary to criticize ourselves constructively, for the sake of growing in virtue.But that is not what these people are doing. By anathematizing any and all who cherish the culture and history of the West, they will ultimately force conservatives to embrace Reaction as the only bastion of resistance to their nihilistic crusade. But they don’t see it anymore than the Social Justice Warriors grasp that their militant illiberalism is calling up and equal and opposite reaction from the people they have demonized.

“Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” Trump asked. Maybe he was thinking about Islamic terrorists. I’m thinking about the educated barbarians who cannot create a living culture, only live off the last vestiges of one they inherited, even as they scatter salt in its fallow fields. Donald Trump may be the enemy of culture in many respects, but he is in no way as potent an enemy as these mad evangelists for the Anti-Culture.

But then here comes respectable commenters on the left, like Bouie, Beinart, and Fallows, yammering about fascism, Leni Riefenstahl, and racist dog whistles, and you realize that whether he meant to or not, Trump’s speech was clarifying. I don’t think Donald Trump could write ten meaningful sentences explaining why the West matters, but that’s beside the point. The point is, when talking about the worth and the defense of Western civilization makes you into Hitler McGoebbelsface in the eyes of liberal commentators, then you suddenly see the situation in starker relief.

(Emphasis added)

Finally, I really want to share Dreher’s beautiful response to the “‘Western civ’ is white nationalist and racist” crap:

Broadly speaking, what we call the West are the countries and peoples formed by the meeting of Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Hebrew religion. There’s a great deal of diversity within the West, but religion, ideas, art, literature, and geography set it apart from other civilizations …

Go to Istanbul. Turks are heirs to a great civilization; you have to look no further than the religious architecture of the city to know that. But you also would never mistake Istanbul for a city of the West. So what?

Every descendant of Africa and Asia who lives in the West and broadly affirms the values that shaped Western civilization is a Westerner. Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters are as much sons of the West as J.S. Bach and Ludwig von Beethoven. I wrote a book about how reading a poem written by a 14th century Tuscan, Dante Alighieri, utterly changed my life. I have no Italian blood in me at all, but I am part of Dante’s civilization in a way that I simply am not part of the civilization that produced, say, the Analects of Confucius. If not for my mind having been shaped by the Christian narrative, and by Greco-Roman narratives, the poem would not have meant at much to me. Again: so what? This is normal human experience the world over. The civilization shaped by Islam have broad diversity too, but they all share a core belief and experience that binds them.

Thank God that the deracinated, de-Christianized EU elite plan to integrate Turkey into the European Union did not work. And if I were a Turk, I would thank Allah for preserving my Islamic country from that fate too. Elites in both countries wish to deny the religious basis of their respective cultures, and pretend that we’re all a bunch of universalists. We’re not, and never will be.

* * * * *

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.