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Gotcha #fail

The Washington Post plays “Gotcha!” for the benefit of its more cynical readers in Why many religious liberty groups are silent about the Supreme Court’s decision on Trump’s travel ban, the premise being that the travel ban and Masterpiece Cakeshop are so obviously analogous that it’s hypocritical not to oppose Trump on the travel ban as they opposed Colorado on Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Assuming the analogy for sake of argument (although I’m not certain what the common nexus is supposed to be), the Post nevertheless did an injustice to Becket Fund:

The religious liberty groups that did not initiate any statements on the travel ban ruling included Becket … Becket responded to the Post’s question about its silence by noting the brief it filed in the case, which was neutral on the allegation of discrimination and took no side as to whether Muslims were targeted. Becket’s brief focused on its criticism of the legal strategy of those challenging the travel ban.

“Neutral on the allegation of discrimination” is technically true, but what Becket’s brief argued was that:

each lower court that has held for the plaintiffs on the constitutional issue has used the wrong Religion Clause and the wrong legal test to root out claimed religious targeting. The courts have used the Establishment Clause (which aims to prevent government involvement in religion) rather than the Free Exercise Clause (which protects religious individuals and groups from burdens on their religious beliefs and exercise) … To date, none of the lower courts in cases challenging the Proclamation or its predecessor Executive Orders has been asked to analyze the question of religious targeting under the clause of the Constitution that most naturally prevents it: the Free Exercise Clause.

Becket then laid out in 7-point detail how to analyze the ban under the Free Exercise Clause, which is considerably more than just carping about the challengers’ legal strategy and lower courts taking the bait:

  1. Does the law facially target religion?
  2. Does the law, in its general operation, result in a religious gerrymander?
  3. Does the law fail to apply analogous secular conduct?
  4. Does the law give the government open-ended discretion to make individualized exemptions?
  5. Has the law been selectively enforced?
  6. Does the law’s historical background show that the lawmaker’s purpose was to discriminate based on religion?
  7. Does the law discriminate between religions?

I’m proud of Becket, which I support, and which as usual did a principled, high-quality job.

It even strikes me that the Free Exercise Clause argument was more favorable to the challengers than an Establishment Clause argument, as two of the dissenting justices noted suspiciously uneven enforcement.

* * * * *

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

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

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Re-ordering desire

“How has your experience as an LGBT+ person been a unique source of blessing in your life?,” she asked. The responses may humble you.

Okay, that click-baity paragraph (hyperlink deleted) is an artifact of when I thought this would be a Micro.blog entry, whereas it turned out more fitting for here.

“She” is Bridget Eileen, author of the blog “Meditations of a Traveling Nun.” She’s Evangelical, but the responses she got, recounted in God’s Unique Blessings in the LGBT+ Experience of Christians are notably ecumenical, focusing on improved interpersonal relationships and friendships.

Catholic Eve Tushnet writes what could be a fitting synthesis:

We’re constantly being told that same-sex sexual desire is disordered, which I accept, as I accept all that is taught by Holy Mother Church. But when people … try to tell you how to order your desires, they always try to get you to keep the expression of desire the same, but change the object. This is the “become straight” option, if “option” is the word I want. There is another way for desire to become ordered: same object, different expression. People who long for same-sex love and intimacy should maybe be encouraged to learn how to do that, since it is good, and holy, and beautiful.

* * * * *

I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

I first tasted actual worship in the Orthodox Church, in the Divine Liturgy. Prior to that heart-opening experience, my time in the churches of my youth felt more like attending a classroom accompanied by hymns. I suppose it was a matter of emphasis; whereas the other traditions limited their scope to, say, the renewing of the mind, as in thinking better thoughts, orthodox Services attend to the renewing of the nous, scouring clean that “intellective aptitude of the heart“ – as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware described it – and reconnecting the sin-severed constituents of the human person.

Poet Scott Cairns in Praxis, Volume 17, Issue 3, hyperlink added.

Tighten up, now

I would like to call attention to the Religion News Service report that was posted with this headline: “Employees quit American Bible Society over sex and marriage rules.” The overture is quite strong:

(RNS) — One of the oldest nonprofit organizations dedicated to distributing Bibles around the world will soon require all employees to adhere to orthodox Christian beliefs and heed a conservative code of sexual ethics.

Employees are resigning in protest of the new policy, which will effectively prohibit sexually active LGBT people and couples in cohabitating relationships from working for the American Bible Society. But the organization stands by it as a measure intended to bring “unity and clarity.”

The key word in that lede is “orthodox,” with a small “o.” It would have been possible, I guess, to have used phrases such as “ancient Christian beliefs” or even “traditional Christian beliefs.” Both would have been accurate in terms of history. In this context, the use of “conservative” is fine, since there are “liberal” churches that have modernized their doctrines on these subjects.

However, strange things start happening soon after that strong, factual opening, Note, for example, the end of this paragraph:

The American Bible Society, founded 202 years ago to publish, distribute and translate the Bible, presented its “Affirmation of Biblical Community” to employees in December. It requires employees to “refrain from sexual contact outside the marriage covenant,” which it defined as man and wife.

Now, let’s be clear. It is accurate to state that the American Bible Society document defines “marriage covenant” in this manner. However, the implication is that there is something unique or controversial about that doctrine – as opposed to it being a restatement of 2,000 years of basic Christian moral theology

It is … crucial to note why the American Bible Society, and many other religious groups, are putting these kinds of doctrinal specifics into print. They aren’t doing this because they want to do so, they are taking this step because of emerging legal realities.

The roots of these decisions can be found in recent government actions and court decisions (think HHS mandates) requiring religious nonprofits to be much more specific about the doctrines that define their voluntary associations. In other words, there are now solid legal reasons for being more candid, as a defense strategy when being sued by those who oppose these doctrines.This story isn’t going away. So be careful out there.

(Terry Mattingly, emphasis added)

Let me put this another way: When organizations like the American Bible Society find that an employee is cohabiting or sexually active with members of the same sex, if they dismiss or otherwise discipline them, they don’t want the employee, sincerely or disingenuously, claiming that they had no idea that doing so violated a general rule that employees are to conduct their lives outside of work “consistently with Biblical morality” or some such general, umbrella standard.

There’s nothing new about this. For twenty centuries now, the Church has defined its teachings more rigorously when some sort of challenge arose to what previously had been, if not universally understood, at least not openly defied and disputed. From Arian heresy through iconoclastic heresy, that’s the background of the Ecumenical Councils of the undivided church.

The only thing that’s changed, it seems to me, is that tens of thousands of denominations and parachurch groups are going to have to do this one-by-one now, the clear and visible unity of the church having been blurred and obscured beyond possibility of an ecumenical council that all would recognize as binding.

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Progressive clobber passages

A Facebook exchange a few years ago produced a minor epiphany.

I observed that my Facebook friend, a high school classmate at an Evangelical boarding school (who now has expressly apostasized and gone kind of New Agey and knee-jerk Left), was credulous about some leftish things, but that we both were products of the sixties. “We are so much reverse mirror images” I wrote. He replied:

I don’t consider myself to be a Christian, but I do think the philosophy [Jesus] preached is a good one. You know, peace, love and helping your fellow man. Also protest the actions of the money-changers. The Republicans who claim to be Christians have no use for that kind of nonsense. Democrats, at least, are more inclined to think in those terms.

The epiphany was that the phenomenon, which I’ve long noted, of non-Christians, or progressive Christians, trying to shame conservative Christians with cherry-picked Bible passages (“Judge not” is the Progressives’ equivalent of John 3:16) or supposed themes. The exegetical skill displayed in wielding these progressive clobber passages is distinctly inferior to that of the people who, in the obvious counterpart, oppose sodomy with their “clobber passages.”

In the present instance, “peace, love and helping your fellow man” is (to avoid my own proof-texting) at best a debatable summary of Jesus’ “philosophy,” and I distinctly recall that where the money-changers had set up business was crucial to Christ’s decisive action.

It’s odd that the Bible still has such purchase even for those who try to reject it — at least those of my generation, who knew a little about it. I suppose I’m such a malcontent that I’ll complain when kids are too illiterate even to misuse the Bible.

Neither Nor

Neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, I nevertheless pay a lot of attention to both, because they are where the culturally significant religious action is in my homeland.

Likewise, I pay attention to doings in the Republican and Democrat parties. The sicknesses of those parties is also part of the sickness of my homeland. Politically, I’m not as settled in my American Solidarity Party affiliation as I am in Orthodoxy religiously.

I never was a partisan activist for either party, though I considered myself a Republican until January 20, 2005. GOP insanities bother me more than Democrat insanities because I never hoped for much from the Democrats (though it earlier seemed an inversion of the characteristic party tendencies when Democrats became the party of war on the defenseless unborn while Republicans nominally rose to their defense; I now recognize that the Democrat “party of the ordinary man” is dead).

I think Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter, still considers herself Republican, and she, too, focuses more on GOP shortcomings. If you can get through the paywall, her April 13 Wall Street Journal column will reward you:

Mr. Trump came from the chaos, he didn’t cause it. He just makes it worse each day by adding his own special incoherence … He happened after 20 years of carelessness and the rise of the enraged intersectional left. He … can’t capitalize on this moment—he can’t help what is formless to find form—because he’s not a serious man.

Republicans will have to figure it out on their own. After they lose the House, they will have time!

Here’s what they should do: They should start to think not like economists but like artists.

The thing about artists is that they try to see the real shape of things. They don’t get lost in factoids and facets of problems, they try to see the thing whole. They try to capture reality. They’re creative, intuitive; they make leaps, study human nature …

If an artist of Reagan’s era were looking around America in 2018, what would she or he see? Marvels, miracles and wonders. A church the other day noted on Twitter that all of us now download data from a cloud onto tablets, like Moses.

But think what would startle the artist unhappily. She or he would see broad swaths of the American middle and working class addicted and lethargic …

A Reagan-era artist would be shocked by our culture, by its knuckle dragging nihilism … The artist would be shocked that “the American dream” has been transmuted from something aspirational and lighted by an egalitarian spirit to something weirdly flat—a house, a car, possessions—and weirdly abstract.

And think twice about your saviors. Those NeverTrump folks trying to take back authority within the party—having apparently decided recently not to start a third one—are the very people who made the current mess. They bought into open-borders ideology. They cooked up Iraq. They allied with big donors. They invented Sarah Palin, who as much as anyone ushered in the age of Trump. They detached the Republican Party from the people.

I also listened to a fascinating podcast last night on a late drive back from a meeting in Indianapolis.

Historian Michael Doran from the Hudson Institute traces The Theological Roots of Foreign Policy, American foreign policy in particular. He starts with Andrew Jackson and traces the “Jacksonian tendency” through the manufacture of dispensational premillenialism with its Zionist obsessions, William Jennings Bryan, Harry Truman and to Donald Trump (in a party jump that’s part of our ongoing realignment — my comment, not his).

Then he traces the competing “progressivist tendency” from mainline missionaries (who substituted imperialist-tinged foreign aid for the mandate to preach, baptize, and teach the Christian faith) through its descendants — John D. Rockefeller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, William Sloan Coffin and others less familiar and memorable to me because they’s not my religious kin as are the Jacksonians.

If you’re looking for a satisfactory wrap-up, it’s not here. Once again, I’m neither-nor.

UPDATE: Doran’s article appears in print, close to verbatim from his speech so far as I can tell. By June 1, it should be free.

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Evangelicalism at its best

Evangelicalism is a motley mess greatly varied. A substantial proportion having beslimed themselves by worship of 45, a few others soldier on as serious thinkers.

The lads (I can say that: they’re young, terribly young, in comparison to me) at Mere Orthodoxy and the related Mere Fidelity podcast are, for my money, among Evangelicalism’s finest.

For example, last year some “complementarian” Evangelicals brought forth the Nashville Statement under the auspices of the The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. At the time, I was forced to confront the oddness of the claim that the matters of sexuality discussed therein were “at the core of the Christian faith,” or words to that effect. (That concept did not come directly from the Statement, so far as I can recall, but from discussion surrounding it.)

“At the core” seemed not quite right, yet not quite wrong, either.

It must have felt the same to the Mere Orthodoxy lads because they brought forth a podcast on the topic of Orthodoxy and Sexual Ethics last September, which I audited for the first time Wednesday afternoon. It was quite good and clarified my impression the we lack the vocabulary for the importance of topics like sexuality to the Christian faith.

Some of my take-aways:

  • When someone like James K.A. Smith approaches this subject, in close proximity to the Nashville Statement, the context of the questions and answers matters a great deal.
  • If anything fits the Vincentian Canon, the kinds of propositions about sexuality affirmed by the Nashville Statement do (at least most of them). They are not adiaphora.
  • There were Christians who supported slavery, and had a hermeneutic to back them up. Was opposition to slavery therefore not a “core tenet”?
  • “Entailed by orthodoxy” does not mean “entailed by the creeds.” Orthodoxy is more capacious than the creeds.
  • The “arc” and anthropology of Christianity makes sexuality if not core, then entailed by the core.
  • “Part of the Catholicity of the Church” is an alternate formulation of “core.”

I was also reminded of some of the calculations that go into individual decisions to subscribe or not subscribe something like the Nashville Statement:

  • One’s own tradition may have already spoken on the topic to an extent that makes signing another statement superfluous.
  • Some of the featured signers of the Nashville Statement are heretical in their view of the Holy Trinity. Is this Statement so clearly right, timely and groundbreaking as to make subscription morally obligatory despite such disreputable company?
  • Subscription of a Statement under the auspices of the complementarian CBMW associates one with views one may not hold, and the tacit buttressing of those broader views is part of the context of a decision to sign or not to sign. Is this Statement so clearly right, timely and groundbreaking as to make subscription morally obligatory despite the aid and comfort it gives a disputed view of proper gender relations in Christianity?
  • Oddly, the Englishmen on the Mere Fidelity podcast had signed while the Americans had not. I think the Americans were more aware of the preceding questions of context.

Of course, it’s also the case that the Nashville Statement had nothing to say about the scandalous rates of divorce among self-identified Evangelicals. Could it be that “speaking the truth in love” is something one does only to gay Christians? (Then it’s not the least courageous, by criteria of C.S. Lewis.)

It absolutely is not the case that I’d still choose Evangelicalism were Evangelicals all like these Mere Orthodoxy lads. The reasons why are beyond my scope today. But I respect those youngsters very much, and occasionally put a few shekels where my mouth is.

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Optimism, pessimism, hope

I too alternate between pessimism and optimism. In my view, though, we should ignore and disregard both of these moods.

We don’t know what will happen. God knows. All that matters is hope. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, neither powers, nor principalities, nor technological paradigms, nor renegade theologians, nor disorders in the Church.We are not generals, but soldiers. God is the general. We think we have to see the battlefield as He sees it. We don’t.

(J. Budziszewski)

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Feminization of Christianity?

I’ve been aware of, and tacitly agreed with, the theory that Christianity has been “feminized,” and that the feminization is the source of declining attendance, particularly among men.

Rod Dreher reprised the theme Tuesday. Read it all if you’re unfamiliar with the theory, which this more or less encapsulates:

We live in a society with a female religion and a male religion: Christianity, of various sorts, for women and non-masculine men; and masculinity, especially in the forms of competition and violence that culminate in war, for men.

(Leon Podles via Rod Dreher) In fact, I’d probably have said that everyone who has looked at the question knew that the feminization theory is true.

I should know better. One of Rod’s regular readers now has taken issue with this theory in her own blog (which I discovered because of her interactions with Rod in his blog’s comments):

Where I disagree is with the rest of the post, because it follows a pattern of thought that I’ve seen before. The pattern goes roughly like this:

1. In some bright age of the past, Christianity was for Real Men. Real Men who did all the hard, heroic, sacrificial things of life also brought that ethos with them to worship, and their manly, masculine churches reflected their understanding that men had a job to do when it came to the struggles (a word Rod uses throughout his post) of life.

2. Then, gradually, everything changed. Women were allowed to help out with more and more things at church, and worship started becoming unduly feminine. Men were pushed out by all the Female Stuff happening at worship.

3. Thus, fixing worship means making it masculine again. Churches that figure out how to appeal to manly men in their masculinity will thrive, while churches that fail to do this will end up with women “bishops” in silly hats trying to run things via estrogen-fueled services set to “Jesus is My Boyfriend” music.

The people who think this way seem to forget that even in the early days of the Church Christianity was mocked as a religion for women and slaves; they also forget the long time in American history when Protestants looked at Catholicism (and possibly Orthodoxy as well) with the celibate priesthood, the long, lace-trimmed vestments, the highly ornate and decorated churches, and saw–well, they didn’t accuse Catholicism of being too manly, that’s for sure.

Now, I thought about what I wanted to say for a long time today (too long) and a commenter over on Rod’s blog beat me to it. Since I don’t know her personally, I’ll paraphrase: why do so many men use “female” and “feminine” as synonyms for moral failings? What’s wrong with the church isn’t that it has been feminized; what’s wrong is that it has been infantilized.

She’s right, this commenter, and profoundly so. When liturgy is dumbed down, it isn’t done because the people in charge (in the Catholic Church’s case, male priests and bishops and cardinals, etc.) somehow have suddenly decided to make things more appealing to women. It’s done in an effort, however misguided, to reach the spiritual infants of both sexes who may be present in the congregation.

(Erin Manning)

I’m inclined to agree with Manning (and Antonia, the unnamed Dreher commenter) at least that “feminization” is not a very helpful label.

In fact, though I’m loathe to back off saying a true thing just because someone charges that it’s “hurtful” or “demeaning,” Antonia got my respectful attention with this:

I’m kind of tired of femininity being equated with moral failings. Talk about Gnostic!
For instance, narcissism is not feminine. Venus may have a mirror, but perhaps you should recall where the word narcissism comes from? In classical mythology, Narcissus was a MAN, obsessed with his own image in a pond. Point is, most moral failings are not masculine or feminine, nor are the moral virtues. Courage was a quality of ALL martyrs, St. Lucy as well as St. Stephen.

If “bridal mysticism” is a problem, then is Holy Scripture a problem? Last I read, “bride of Christ” is a biblical term for the Church.

C.S. Lewis, a man with a very masculine view of Christianity, said that we are all feminine in relation to God. On the other hand, Caryll Houselander, one of the most feminine of Catholic writers, often speaks in terms of spiritual warfare.

MTD [Moralistic Therapeutic Deism] is not the feminization of religion – it is the infantilization of religion.

(Emphasis added) During this Orthodox Holy Week, with “Bridegroom Matins” served nightly Sunday through Tuesday (some traditions do more) in a famously man-friendly Church, I can’t agree that Christ as “bridegroom,” the Church as “bride,” has any inherent problems. Such problems as it has seemingly come from bad cultural constructions of masculine and feminine.

There are a lot of sane people on the internet, and sometimes they change my thinking on what “everyone knows.”

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

St. Patrick’s Confession

Because there is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be, than God the Father unbegotten,
Without beginning, from whom is all beginning,
The Lord of the universe, as we have been taught;
And His Son Jesus Christ,
Whom we declare to have always been with the Father,
Spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father
Before the beginning of the world, before all beginning;
And by Him are made all things visible and invisible.
He was made man,
And, having defeated death, was received into heaven by the Father;
And He hath given Him all power over all names in heaven, on earth, and under the earth,
And every tongue shall confess to Him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God,
In whom we believe, and whose advent we expect soon to be,
Judge of the living and the dead, who will render to every man according to his deeds;
And He has poured forth upon us abundantly the Holy Spirit,
The gift and pledge of immortality,
Who makes those who believe and obey sons of God and joint heirs with Christ;
And Him do we confess and adore,
One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name.
~St Patrick, The Confession

(Eighth Day Institute)

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

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