Proving the rule (and more)

Proving the rule

I have long said that when a denomination forms a committee to study whether they’ve been wrong about something that puts them at odds with the culture (and in recent years that almost always involves homosexuality), it invariably leads the denomination to capitulate to the culture.

I was wrong. Wrong about "invariably." Such studies are usually charades, but not, apparently, always.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (the denomination in which I was an Elder until I left to become Orthodox, and in which my wife so far remains) studied sexuality from 2016 until last week. Then it "voted Wednesday at its annual synod to codify its opposition to homosexual sex by elevating it to the status of confession, or declaration of faith."

The vote, after two long days of debate, approves a list of what the denomination calls sexual immorality it won’t tolerate, including “adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex.”

Christianity Today, Christian Reformed Church Brings LGBT Stance Into Faith Statement.

Note that homosexual sex is not singled out, though it leaps out on its own to everyone who knows what specific sexuality triggered the six-year study.

The reactions from the dissenters so far have run along predictable lines, which I resist critiquing except to say "It is not compassionate to affirm people’s sins." If you think "homosexual sex" is not a sin, and should be affirmed, then we do not agree.

(I do not mean by "sin" what most western people mean by "sin." Sin is "missing the mark." Deciding on the eternal consequences of particular sins, including the sin of the dissenters from the CRC synod’s decision, is infinitely above my pay-grade.)

The heaviest price the CRC will pay will almost certainly be at its highly-regarded Calvin University, a third of whose faculty publicly voiced opposition to the report from which the synod’s decision flowed:

What’s going to happen to Calvin? It’s going to lose its rock star faculty. But it’s probably going to remain Christian. These liberal faculty are going to go on to greater things, professionally, and be able to dine out on how they were badly treated by the homo-hating fundagelicals at Calvin. But the CRC has taken a brave and unpopular stand for the Gospel. God sees.

Rod Dreher. Most gay-affirming faculty will leave because they will no longer be able to subscribe (literally, as in "sign below" — I signed something analogous as an Elder) the denomination’s fortified faith statement; it would mark them as not among the cool kids to relent now by subscribing The Loathsome Thing, especially if they earlier subscribed the pre-emptive dissent.

Rod’s reader Andrew S. comments:

The momentary rush of conservative enthusiasm for this move will please Rod’s readers, but the fury of the left will be in full force over the next several weeks and months. Any university board contemplating a similar move better should study what will likely happen, and plan accordingly for a media siege of their institution. Watch for the following:

  1. a sudden drop in college rankings, unattributable to any objective criterion currently used by the major ranking media;

  2. a tsunami of requests, using already existing anonymous online reporting portals, for Biden’s Department of Education to open Title IX investigations at the universities in question;

  3. calls by social media talking heads to blacklist graduates of the schools;

  4. a sudden mysterious dearth of available federal and private grant money for faculty at these schools, along with the denial of conference platforms for faculty members.

Financial pressures are such that many if not most religiously-affiliated schools will quickly develop new “insights” into the Bible that permit them to cave in to the left, if they haven’t already. Board members sticking to Christian principles better raise prodigious sums of cash to plow into their endowments and strengthen ties with allied Christian schools to bolster their financial self-sufficiency. Woke winter is coming, and Calvin will provide an example of what other colleges should expect.

Do you doubt this? This manifests the "soft tyranny" that a few on the center-right ridicule, but which I take quite seriously, as recently as Tuesday morning:

It has now become indisputable that the liberal order not only uses a variety of quasi coercive legal instruments such as bureaucratic guidances, selective funding of NGOs, and so forth, but it also exploits the liberal version of the public-private distinction to full advantage. It deploys selective enforcement of the law against “private violence” and takes political advantage of background conditions of economic necessity (“the market”) and of the radical conformity of public opinion under liberalism, instigated by the media. It controls its subjects with mobs both virtual and real, threats of ostracism, loss of employment, and a sort of reputational death (the dreaded state of being “out of the mainstream,” enforced politically by a cordon sanitaire).

Adrian Vermeule.

I have said at least once before and will say it again: the Christian Reformed Church was a very good place from which to come to Orthodoxy. It never dove into the zaniness of broader evangelicalism (thought many parishes and individuals have dipped their toes, or even waded in up to the knees). Rather, from my earliest arrival struck me as sober and serious-minded.

Yet I expected it to cave in, because I do not trust Protestantism over the long haul to interpret their touchstone, their scriptures, in any seriously countercultural way.

I’m heartened that this was not the CRC’s year to swallow the zeitgeist. And they set such a firm precedent that it will be hard to backslide very soon. By then, the zeitgeist may have moved on, as zeitgeists are wont to do.

Why the rule remains generally valid

We are not in a post-Christian age, but in a post-Enlightenment age. The reason why these Christianities are collapsing is that they were rationalized.

Fr. Hans Jacobse on the WAWTAR podcast.

Calvinism ("the Reformed faith") is surely among the most rationalized. Its system fails, in my opinion, not for lack of rationality, but for lack of humanity: it’s hard to see daylight between Reformed predestination and simple fatalism, hard to see room for meaningful human agency.

Denialisms

I can have an argument with you about what to do about climate change. I can even accept somebody making an argument that, based on what I know about human nature, it’s too late to do anything serious about this—the Chinese aren’t going to do it, the Indians aren’t going to do it—and that the best we can do is adapt. I disagree with that, but I accept that it’s a coherent argument. I don’t know what to say if you simply say, “This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up, and the scientists are cooking the books. And that footage of glaciers dropping off the shelves of Antarctica and Greenland are all phony.” Where do I start trying to figure out where to do something?

Jeffrey Goldberg, Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic.

You can swap "climate change" with a lot of other issues, most famously Alex Jones’ claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax, the bereaved parents "crisis actors." On second thought, "the Democrats stole the 2020 Election" may be more famous.

Hard words

A. G. Sertillanges wrote in The Intellectual Life: “The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production…. Never read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence.”

Kit Wilson, Reading Ourselves to Death.

Another excellent article read, on the perils of too much reading.

Babylon, not Israel

[S]ome see America as a new Israel, God’s chosen country that’s now being taken over by His enemies, rather than a new Babylon in which Jesus-followers are mixed in with many others.

Marvin Olasky, The Sixty Years’ War: Evangelical Christianity in the Age of Trump.

The oldest lie of all is the denial of death.

The cities lie. Their radical chic is stretched tight over the bare lust for money. Their cosmopolitan diversity hides the uniformity of clawing ambition. Their youth is stolen from elsewhere, used for a time, and discarded when its looks and gullibility begin to fade. They grow little food and make fewer objects every year. They offer only services no one needs and knowledge no one believes. A blustering businessman sinks deeper into debt; but, risking it all again and again, he’ll keep up his pretence until the bailiffs arrive. That is the soul of the city.

FFatalism, The dishonest land The whole short posting was excellent in a bleak sort of way.

And, God help me, I love cities anyway.‌

Dad theory

My kids—if I can even use the possessive—are a part of me, but I cannot see them if I reduce them to my own reflection. Parenthood entails limitless closeness; all parents see more of their very young children than their kids can see of themselves. Being a dad, though, means perceiving this intimacy from a distance and working to make it outwardly manifest through awkward, conscious effort. This dialectical relationship resembles good thinking, which brings us to the first moment of Dad Theory. Dads guard against losing themselves in particularity, on one hand, and losing themselves in abstraction, on the other. Being a dad means being neither too attached to one’s own concerns to see things clearly, nor too impressed by speculation to see the messiness of real life. To practice Dad Theory is to negotiate with the known unknowns—and to trust that love is a stable point you can use to navigate through ambiguity to reach something solid and sure.

Matt Dinan, ‌It’s Time for Some Dad Theory, via Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dads Choosing to be Dependable

When is a coup too stupid to be a coup?

The American Conservative‘s Peter Van Buren looks at January 6 and concludes that the coup attempt was so stupid and so deficient in his post-hoc markers of coup attempts (he sets a remarkably high bar) that it couldn’t possibly have been a coup attempt at all.

I’m so glad he cleared that up. It will be a relief when my subscription expires and I no longer feel duty-bound to rummage through such garbage in search of nourishment.

Word of the day:

Portent. Since portents don’t come with Divinely-inscribed subtitles, I’ll leave it to you to decide what this means.

But if you want to call it "mere coincidence," note that your case is no stronger than mine for "portent."


To the woke, discernment is discrimination and boundaries are oppression.

Richard Abbot, who I don’t know from Adam but who responded to this.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 6/5/22

The silver lining of collapse and defeat

[Gerhart] Niemeyer, in his typically tough and unsentimental fashion, was much less inclined to see signs of such spiritual recovery in the West, precisely because we have experienced neither the extremity of suffering, nor the shock of societal collapse and defeat.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age, Kindle Location 4090.

Theological liberals unawares

A political ecumenism that pushes back against woke lunacy but causes Christians to adopt or excuse the disposition of cruelty and licentiousness is its own compromise. This is why it’s ever so important for religious conservatism to keep their modes distinct. A subtle but gradual shift that normalizes the ethos and pathos of secular conservatism is but another manifestation of theological liberalism.

Andrew T. Walker. I will be blogging about secular conservatism in my next posting.

Was there ever a "positive world" for Christianity?

I’ve become very suspicious of accounts of Christianity’s place in American life that leave out questions related to justice. Issues of justice, especially as they relate to race and class have vexed the church for nearly our whole history in these lands. Indeed, they have vexed the church to such a degree that many Christian critics—Frederick Douglass, David Walker, Martin Luther King Jr., Wendell Berry, Jemar Tisby, etc.—have suggested that it is more accurate to call the prevalent forms of Christian practice in America something other than plain Christianity. Douglass called it slave-owners Christianity. Tisby uses “compromised Christianity.” Whatever term you prefer—I talked about “white evangelical crap” last year—I think the point here is significant.

It would be news to Christians during the antebellum years who sheltered fugitive slaves at considerable risk to themselves that they were living in a “positive” world. They were obviously behaving Christianly, and yet doing so put them at great risk relative to their supposedly Christian nation. Similar problems pop up elsewhere as well. Consider slaves themselves, many of whom were Christian but whose marriages were not respected and whose baptisms were often delayed or modified to accommodate the vicious slavery regime. What would they say if you told them they were living in a Christian nation or a nation friendly to Christians? Would Native peoples whose children were taken from their homes believe they lived in a nation where “Christian moral norms are the basic moral norms of society”?

Jake Meador, on why he has changed his opinion on the usefulness of Aaron Renn’s The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism.

It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that … ummm, enforcement

I’ll grant that the UMC [United Methodist Church] is more traditional than before, at least it is on paper. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how traditional our Book of Discipline is because we have no mechanism or process for ordering our ecclesial life in a way that reflects what is found in our documents. You can write anything you want in the Discipline, but if those responsible for administering it only enforce the parts with which they agree, then it doesn’t matter.

Matt O’Reilly, The UMC is More Traditional than Ever, but it Doesn’t Matter

Pre-Roe

… an earlier, pre-Roe tradition, in which liberal clergy helped women obtain abortions.

The Economist

Wow! Deja vu! It has been five decades now, but I am reminded by this on Friday that I once attended a United Presbyterian Church where one of the younger ministers was engaged in abortion referrals.

Live and learn. But when I think why I attended there regularly (i.e., excellent music and more thoughtful preaching than I was accustomed to), I sympathize more with orthodox Christians who remain in liberal churches like TEC (Episcopal) or ELCA (Lutheran).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

An oddball Evangelical finds a home in Orthodoxy

One of his first converts was Samuel Crane, who had been a devout Calvinist but was deeply perplexed by the apparent contradiction between the idea of an eternally fixed number of elect and reprobate and the idea that salvation was free for anyone to take: He supposed it must be as the [Calvinist] minister said, for he was a good man, and a very learned man; and of course it must be owing to his own ignorance and dulness that he could not understand it. On one occasion, as he was returning home from church, meditating on what he had heard, he became so vexed with himself, on account of his dulness of apprehension, that he suddenly stopped and commenced pounding his head with his fist, for he really thought his stupidity must be owing to his having an uncommonly thick skull. When Crane finally accepted Methodism, “he found a system that seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures, with common sense, and with experience.”

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Religion

Unlike Samuel Crane, I was not as perplexed by Calvinism as I probably should have been. Yet the Sunday after my 49th birthday, I left Calvinism and formally entered the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. It seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures (including the ones we were never told to underline), with common sense, and with experience. It was so obviously right once I explored it that I assumed lots of others would follow. It’s fair to say that only one did.

So I’m left wondering "why me?" Why am I the lucky one?

It’s inevitable that telling of one’s religious conversion — and it’s hard for me to view a move from Calvinist to Orthodox as anything less than a conversion, though both are Christian in some sense — will have a whiff of proselytism to it. I’ve tried to minimize that and just tell my story, though my story would be incomplete without a modest conclusion.

Major life decisions, I’m pretty well convinced, rarely hinge on arguments. They’re always undergirded by life experiences and attitudes, which are at most obliquely causal. They’re also so complex as to seem inexhaustible. I told a fuller story of going Evangelical-to-Calvinist-to-Orthodox in one truthful way almost five years ago: A life in a string of epiphanies – Tipsy Teetotaler ن.

But I often think that seeds were planted, and that my disposition somehow was shaped, decades earlier, so that my reception into Orthodoxy truly was a sort of "coming home" — like an adoptee stumbling across his birth parents.

Here’s what I mean.

My favorite Bible verses were not even in the "Top 100" list of favorite Evangelical Bible verses.

As long ago as high school, I became (and remained) fixated on some New Testament passages that were, shall we say, far out of the Evangelical mainstream.

First was Ephesians 3:17-18 in the Living Bible that was so popular then, praying that “Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts” and “May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.” My Evangelical contemporaries were likelier to pick John 3:16 or Acts 16:31, relieved that one key decision for Christ, once-in-a-lifetime, sealed the deal and there really was nothing more required.

But I didn’t think I had the deep roots the Apostle was praying for, but I wanted them, for myself and my friends. I may even have declared it my “life verse,” life verses being an Evangelical kid thing at least where I was. If I did, it has held up very well.

But in Evangelicalism, sinking deep roots seemed to be off the radar, or reduced to a matter of becoming more theologically astute, doing more Bible study, elaborating doctrinal outlines and such. Those are mostly good things (I’m not so sure about doctrinal outlines any more), but they amount to knowing about God, not knowing Him or having deep roots.

I was also fascinated with Romans 12:2, about the transforming of our “minds” (which came close to “life verse” status), which I thought would eventually come if I became more theologically astute. That was a fool’s errand.

And then there was a real baffler, Hebrews 6:1-2, which referred to “repentance from dead works … faith toward God … the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” as “the elementary principles of Christ!” I just couldn’t imagine what more advanced there could be than these seemingly weighty things, but I wanted it. And here I wasn’t convinced that theological astuteness in the Evangelical manner had any chance of hitting pay dirt.

I wanted to worship God when I went to a "Worship Service"

Call me petty, or Aspie, or whatever, but I thought worship services should be full of, like, y’know, worship or something.

I had no objection in principle to Christians playing hail-fellow-well-met, back-slapping and exchanging anodynes and nostrums, or talking like coaches getting the guys ready to go out there and win one for Jesus. But the time and place for that was somewhere other than the Nave between 9:30 and noon on Sunday.

So it seemed to me, and I was adamant about that. The irresistable force of happy-clappy and motivational Church services was strangely resistable to me.

Music selection was what really bugged me. By the time I was Christian Reformed, I was in a Church that had a full Psalter, versified for congregational singing. But even there, we sang way too few of them, preferring to sing things that were relatively emotional and manipulative, that 100 years earlier would have gotten one in deep trouble in that denomination. I called them "gospel songs" instead of "hymns," but I see some sign that my terminology isn’t undisputed. In any event, they weren’t Psalms, which alone were sung in the CRC until maybe the late-19th Century.

There were other things I could have taken exception to, but the music was what got me riled. And then a faction of the Church wanted drums and guitars and more "celebrative" services, which horrified me. I just didn’t think that an emotion jag meant one was worshipping.

So my entire Protestant experience of "worship" was years of drought with an occasional delightful shower (a very good "hymn" as I defined hymn).

(Brief digression: to my knowledge, the Orthodox Church only sings one hymn that appeared in any hymnal in any church I regularly attended. We sing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent on Great and Holy Saturday. I’m even allowed to do the versified version, Picardy (8.7.8.7.8.7), which is used in Western Rite Orthodoxy. We share some ancient hymns with Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, too, but I was never Episcopalian or Roman Catholic.)

I had, apparently, a latent desire to worship with my body

As noted in my prior telling of my conversion:

My first experience of [Orthodox] Liturgy shocked me. I found myself immediately making a clumsy sign of the cross and genuflecting toward the Catholic hospital chapel’s altar, like a Roman Catholic.

It felt good. It felt as if those bodily gestures had been bottled up and were now breaking out. They felt natural

Maybe I should call those feelings “epiphany number four,” but it didn’t impress me quite that strongly at the time. And there’s a reason I blog under the rubric “Intellectualoid”: I tend to discount feelings as a reliable guide.

I didn’t consciously experience that Liturgy as "I’ve come home," but there was more than a whiff of that to it.

Orthodox worship is full of signing ourselves with the cross, bowing, kneeling, prostrating. My experience of body-involvement in Protestant worship was limited to a few gestures like holding up hands and lifting up fluttering eyelids, which somehow felt ersatz.

I was at best reluctantly dispensational premillennialist

Again, I told about my relationship to dispensationalism as Epiphany 3 in my prior telling of my conversion. It’s not worth quoting again, but my hesitancy about dispensationalism left me outside of the Evangelical mainstream.

I hesitate to make discomfort with that novelty a mark of Orthodoxy, because dispensationalism is only about 200 years, when Presbyterian, Reformed and Anglican churches were already a few hundred years old. My attitude toward end-times prophecy would have been pretty mainstream in any of those slightly-older churches, as it’s totally mainstream in Orthodoxy.**

But in my perception, dispensationalism is a mark of mainstream Evangelicalism and even has infected Presbyterian and Reformed Churches that tend to the Evangelical side. So my discomfort was likely to crop up most anywhere I went in Protestantism in these days.

I believed the Creeds and thought they were important

I suspect that the "Apostles Creed" is said rarely in frankly-Evangelical Churches today, and that the Nicene Creed is vanishingly rare. That’s a trend I think was starting 50 years or more ago. (Spot check: Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois lists its "Beliefs and Values" as "Love God. Love People. Change the World." That’s even worse that I feared.)

The Apostles Creed, though, remained a weekly feature in the Christian Reformed order of worship, with the Nicene Creed thrown in occasionally for a little spice.

By the end of my 20s, I think, I began calling myself “orthodox with a lower-case O.” I was, I thought, a “Mere Christian,” which I described as “believing the ecumenical creeds of the Church without mental reservations.” I learned more about them when I was Christian Reformed.

I’ve learned even more as an Orthodox Christian, but that could be its own story.

I wanted the original faith, which I took to be the purest

I wanted to be orthodox in that creedal sense. I and others detected proto-Calvinism in St. Augustine, and he was early enough that I thought I had finally joined with the early church, which is also what I wanted.

But I knew almost nothing about actual Orthodoxy. (Summary of what I knew: The Russian Orthodox have some awesome music. Orthodox Priests wear beards and funny hats. Orthodox isn’t the same as Catholic. Those were, mostly, true.)

An iconographer I met recently told of his first encounter with Orthodoxy:

I went to the Holy Land and encountered Orthodoxy. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was Christian, but vastly different, far older than my Methodist Church.

Indeed, and a few centuries older even than St. Augustine, who I looked to to buttress the "original faith" bona fides of Reformed Christianity.

The Orthodox Church recognizes Augustine as a Saint, but an unusually flawed one owing to his isolation in the West, when was still a Christian backwater, and his substantial ignorance of Greek and the Greek Church Fathers. So when I thought Augustine was early enough to be the original faith, I was wrong for practical purposes.

Afterthought

These are the things in my history and attitude that I think foreshadowed that my heart would find rest only in the Orthodox Faith. I began writing this many months ago, thinking that more proto-Orthodoxies would occur to me, but they really haven’t, and I don’t want to make things up.

My story would be incomplete were I not to say that all these desires that made me an odd-ball Evangelical and Calvinist have been (or are being) satisfied in Orthodoxy (though I’ve come to understand Creeds differently now). I cannot deny that they might have been satisfied in traditional Roman Catholicism, but that seems largely to have disappeared as Rome has Protestantized in the wake of Vatican II.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 1/23/22

In ways I probably have described elsewhere, a re-reading of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce played an important role in my embrace of Orthodox Christianity (versus Roman Catholic or any flavor of Protestantism) 25 years ago. Here’s an evocative excerpt (which may make less sense if you don’t know the basic story line):

…beyond all these, I saw other grotesque phantoms in which hardly a trace of the human form remained; monsters who had … come up to the country of the Shadow of Life and limped far into it over the torturing grass, only to Spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred their envy and (what is harder to understand) their contempt, of joy. The voyage seemed to them a small price to pay if once, only once, within sight of that eternal dawn, they could tell the prigs, the toffs, the sanctimonious humbugs, the snobs, the ‘haves’, what they thought of them.


He opens his book with an arresting anecdote based on an interview he did with the Catholic novelist Graham Greene. Cornwell visited him a year or so before his death in 1991. Cornwell questioned him on the nature of his Catholic faith, and found that Greene didn’t believe in much: not in heaven, not in hell, not in the devil, not in angels, and so forth. So why did he still call himself a Catholic? Because, Greene said, that he also doubts his disbelief.

Rod Dreher on a John Cornwell book, Powers of Darkness, Powers of Light


I don’t know a statement more indicative of the character of our moment than this by J. D. Vance: “I think our people hate the right people.” It’s what almost everyone believes these days, isn’t it? That they and their people hate the right people. And it seems to me that that is a pretty good definition of a post-culture: a society in which people have no higher ambition than to bring down those they perceive to be their enemies. I couldn’t agree more with my friend Yuval Levin that our moment is A Time to Build, but when you’re only concerned with hating the right people, who has time to build anything?

There are a lot of people out there doing good work to expose the absurdities, the hypocrisies, and the sheer destructiveness of both the Left and the Right. I myself did some of that work for several years, but I’m not inclined to keep doing it, largely because that work of critique, however necessary, lacks a constructive dimension. There has to be something better we can do than curse our enemies — or the darkness of the present moment. If I agree with Yuval that this is indeed a time to build, then what can I build?

Alan Jacobs, The Homebound Symphony


[T]here is one way that leaving Twitter has benefited my life and my mind. The times when I checked Twitter were often the transition points in my day: when I sat down to work or I finished a task, waiting at a light or in line or to pick up my kids from school, going to the bathroom, the few minutes before I fell asleep. Freeing up those small, seemingly inconsequential moments has been transformative. These moments of quiet and emptiness throughout the day are nothing I really considered before. I don’t schedule them in my calendar, and I didn’t notice their departure when I began going online. But leaving these small moments of my day unfilled changed how I walk through time.

My new motto born of this experience is: Guard the margins — those seemingly unimportant parts of our day and time. Margins on a page can seem like wasted space (wouldn’t it save trees if we wrote or printed across the whole page?), but all that blank space helps us to read and take in information. We need the blank spaces. We need moments when we get no input, no news, no videos, no memes, no opinions. We need moments when we space out, daydream, when our minds go blank.

Tish Harrison Warren, ‌How I Freed Up Time to Daydream


St. Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335–395) wrote that secular education is “always in labor but never gives birth,” and St. Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 330–390) said, “We theologize in the manner of the Apostles, not that of Aristotle.” Orthodox hymnography regularly contrasts the mentally darkened philosophers with the wise fishermen.

‌Anti-Western Bias and Anti-Intellectuallism in American Orthodoxy

Some of the anti-Western bias is related to how differently we "do theology":

Orthodox dogmatic formulation, especially in its conciliar expression, is primarily a pastoral response to heresy, not an opportunity for codifying speculation or systematic imagination in doctrine. Orthodox dogma never claims to expound the whole truth about anything, but only delineates the borders of the mystery.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy.

Coming to Orthodoxy from Calvinism, this may have been the biggest, and most pleasant, of my slow surprises. It’s not that I crave the latitude to flirt with crossing the boundaries, but that it evidences the epistemic humility of the Church (also reflected in its strong tendency to apophatic theology).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Selections

"Gospel"

It is almost universal in the Protestant Churches I know to say that "gospel" means "good news." But there’s some problems with that:

  1. The translation of evangelion is "woodenly literal" (ev, good + angelion, news or report). But dividing a word into parts and explaining the parts is not a good way to interpret languages. (Consider, for instance, the humble "butterfly.")

  2. II Corinthians 2:14-17 is an extended metaphor — obscure to us, but not to the first hearers. A "triumph" in the Roman Empire was something like a big parade, held to honor someone. The triumph was preceded by the evangelia, announcing who they were and their great accomplishments.

  3. Evangelion is the word the early Christians picked for announcing who Christ was and the victory he’d won. The Christian evangelia are Christ’s incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, ascension into heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his return to judge the living and the dead.

  4. But when the apostles "preached the gospel," people responded with "what must I do to be saved?" That asking is their response to the gospel. But most "sharing the gospel" in America skips the evangelia and goes straight to advice on how, in Evangelical understanding, to get saved.

From Father Stephen DeYoung, The Whole Counsel of God podcast on II Corinthians 2 & 3.

I haven’t decided if this is mere pedantry, but it grabbed my attention for its illumination of what the Gospel is, independent of any response.

Dispensaries of eternal security and uplift

Our churches are quite likely to be low-commitment clubs for religious people rather than definitive communities of disciples striving to live all of life under God’s kingship. For many modern Christians, churches are dispensers of eternal security and uplift—fire insurance and mood brighteners—not nurturers of a whole way of life, not the source of the best ways to act and think in all spheres of experience.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

History rhymes

Some German bishops, as the pope later lamented, still viewed Hitler as the defender of Christian values.

Mark Riebling, Church of Spies.

Standing conventional narrative on its head

I had a law school classmate — one of a group of thirty-somethings in my class (including me) who had returned to school after some other life experiences — who was an enigma in several ways. From Southern Indiana, with a drawl to match, he was nevertheless pretty far left politically.

Most surprising of all to me at the time was that he had converted to Roman Catholicism. I asked why.

"I decided I prefer a Pope in Rome who claims infallibility, but pretty much leaves me alone, to some ignorant local who claims just to be preaching the Bible, but expects to manage my life."

Did I mention that he was pretty perceptive?

Prayer

Father Porphyrios had a small parrot that he taught to pray in order to illustrate the absurdity of some Christians’ empty repetition of the words of prayer, as well as the ridiculousness of the opinion commonly presented in Eastern religions that someone can make moral advances by physical exercises or breathing techniques. Every so often, the parrot would mechanically say, “Lord, have mercy.” The elder would respond, “Look, the parrot can say the prayer, but does that mean that it is praying? Can prayer exist without the conscious and free participation of the person who prays?”

Dionysios Farasiotis, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios

All approaches to prayer have pitfalls. My pre-Orthodox experience was that, unless I labored very hard in advance to formulate a public prayer (usually with some prayer book in hand as an outline), the result tended to be a string of conventional and banal buzzwords.

Now that I’m Orthodox, the risk is the words of my prayer books becoming so familiar that I can pray them even as my mind wanders "all over the place." The advice of Orthodox priests for that problem tends to be "if you realize your mind has wandered, go back and pray it again."


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.

Mostly from news and commentary

Chickens coming home to roost

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker on Thursday ordered nine attorneys—including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood—to pay $175,250 to the state of Michigan and city of Detroit in response to their participation in the frivolous “Kraken” lawsuits seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The Morning Dispatch

U.S. Sportsball vs. Chinese Communist Party

In an interview on The Lead With Jake Tapper yesterday,  veteran sports broadcaster Bob Costas offered a measured, but forceful, condemnation of the coddling of China by some international institutions and prominent athletes. Tapper asked about the Peng Shuai situation and why the Women’s Tennis Association and International Olympic Committee have taken such different approaches to it. “The IOC is in bed with China,” Costas said. “It’s very troubling, their affinity for authoritarian regimes. … Meanwhile, you’ve got not just the IOC, you’ve got the NBA, and you’ve got Nike, and various individual sports stars in the United States who have significant investments in China, where the sports market is huge. And some of those people are very outspoken—as they have a right to be, and maybe in general you and I would agree with their viewpoints—very outspoken and sometimes offer sweeping condemnations of their own admittedly imperfect country, the United States. But when it comes to China—perhaps the world’s leading human rights abuser given its size and its wherewithal—they’re mum. Very, very few have anything to say.”

The Morning Dispatch

The Families Roe

We can’t shake the picture of the wholesome 1950s and ’60s as a time of American innocence. But no country is “innocent,” and so many of the central players in the [American abortion] drama came from some kind of deep dysfunction—sadness, family chaos, sirens in the night. Norma McCorvey, the Roe in the case, was a remorseless, compulsive liar who variously claimed to have been raped, gang-raped, beaten, shot at, preyed on by lesbian nuns. As I read her she was a sometimes charming, often funny sociopath, always uninterested in the effect on others of her decisions.

There is the brilliant lawyer who brought the first case and wound up destitute in a heatless house in East Texas; the prickly, eloquent pro-life leader who wound up unappreciated, alone and a hoarder. There is the writing of the Roe decision itself. And there is the idealism of many on both sides who were actually trying to make life more just.

Peggy Noonan, source from Joshua Prager’s book The Families Roe

Getting and spending

It is something of a cliché to suggest that the world outside is preoccupied with getting and spending. We have to put a lot of time and energy into those activities here on the island. I think the difference is that it would not occur to us to think of such activities as the main, let alone the sole, reason for our existence.

Peter France, A Place of Healing for the Soul: Patmos

Without comment

What a fast swimmer: A University of Pennsylvania swimmer who competed for three seasons at the college level as a man is now absolutely dominating the sport as a woman, breaking record after record in women’s swimming. “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding,” Lia Thomas said.

Nellie Bowles via the Bari Weiss Substack

Ray Bradbury, prophet

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.

Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

Projection

We always have to remember that how we see the world about us is but a reflection of the state of our own inner world. Ultimately, it is because we see ourselves as existing apart from God that we also see nature as existing apart from God.

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature


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.

Relatively reflective

Today, I have deliberately avoided politics or focused commentary on particular current events — and that involved cutting maybe 60% of what I’d clipped. I may be old, but I haven’t given up doing better.

Wisdom from the Vietnam era:

For the Student Strikers
By Richard Wilbur

Go talk with those who are rumored to be unlike you,
And whom, it is said, you are so unlike.
Stand on the stoops of their houses and tell them why
You are out on strike.

It is not yet time for the rock, the bullet, the blunt
Slogan that fuddles the mind toward force.
Let the new sound in our streets be the patient sound
Of your discourse.

Doors will be shut in your faces, I do not doubt.
Yet here or there, it may be, there will start,
Much as the lights blink on in a block at evening,
Changes of heart.

They are your houses; the people are not unlike you;
Talk with them, then, and let it be done
Even for the grey wife of your nightmare sheriff
And the guardsman’s son.

Recommended by A.M. Juster, the pen name of Michael J. Astrue, a conservative who has served in high government roles in Washington, in a PBS interview. This poem, which I hadn’t read before, is a keeper.

That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

21st-century American political culture has become an ever-widening suckhole of cringe.

Matt Taibbi‌

Asking the right question

Alan Jacobs suggests an introspective question for Christians who aspire to political power:

How must I be formed as a Christian in such a way that I can be worthy of the power and influence I desire?

The question comes in a context that makes the next sentence apt:

That the integralists and Christian nationalists I read don’t seem to be asking that question is, I think, cause for concern.

It should concern us all.

Part of Dubya’s charm in the 2000 election was (a) he seemed to have a real (if fairly shallow) love of Christ and (b) his demeanor conveyed that he could take or leave political power. They don’t make many like that.

Serendipitous misreading

You see, the thing about movies is that they’re usually ninety minutes or so long.

Ted Lasso and the Temptation of “Aww, Shucks” Idealism – Front Porch Republic

I misread the quoted portion as “You see, the thing about movies is that they’re usually ninety minutes too long” and agreed heartily. I’m also noticing all the padding in even very good nonfiction books, like 4000 Weeks. It’s hard enough to identify key parts when skimming that I have little choice but to go ahead and read the padding, resenting it even while understanding that what I’m reading might fail as “a book” if 75% of the pages were edited out.

What we can do

[W]e cannot literally believe or disbelieve things at will, but for better or for worse, we can willfully place ourselves in situations or courses of action that may produce change in our beliefs …

[I]t’s true that we can’t shut off unwanted feelings like a switch.  It’s also true that the very effort of trying to suppress them can stir them up.  Even so, our control over our inward life is much greater than we like to admit, just like our control over our beliefs.

J. Budziszewskizi, ‌Can We Believe and Feel Things at Will?

I have taken this to heart yet again. The things I obsess about, the things I wallow in, require careful consideration.

Artistry

Bowls From an One Hundred Year Ash Tree – The School of the Transfer of Energy

News-adjacent

This commentary was encountered as I was reading about current events, but it has a long, or nonexistent, sell-by date:

Fox News boosters, inside and outside of the network’s offices, like to describe this business model as “respecting the audience.” Defenders of Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio program used to say much the same about it — that all it was doing was tapping into an underserved audience and taking its concerns seriously. But that account is almost comically one-sided. Just as the capitalist economy doesn’t simply give people what they already wanted but actively creates new desires and shapes consumer tastes, so right-wing media doesn’t just respect the pre-existing views of its audience. It also actively intensifies and radicalizes those views by flattering the prejudices that underlie them and providing an endless stream of provocations designed to confirm their validity.

That’s how the model works: Ratings rise and profits increase by giving viewers more red meat than they knew they wanted — a process that, over time, moves the Overton Window among American conservatives ever further to the right. Fox News is a machine for generating ideological extremism, in other words ….

Damon Linker, Fox News was toxic long before Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 movie


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.

Random thoughts and clippings

With so many people voluntarily (and bafflingly) unemployed, I’m not hearing much talk about how Universal Basic Income wouldn’t disincentivize work.


I’m not going to quote much from this short Volokh Conspiracy item. It involves lesbians who are excoriated — sometimes by themselves — for shunning "trans women."

I’m also going to resist the temptation to valorize the relatively sane just because they’re being attacked by the batshit crazies.

But I cannot resist the three-point view of Eugene Volokh:

  1. People who want to have sex with you may indeed try to make you feel bad for not agreeing.
  2. "You owe it to someone to enjoy letting me penetrate you" is a very old story.
  3. It’s just not clear to me how this gives them the moral high ground.

Nothing Says "Free to Be Me" Like Compulsory Pansexuality – Reason.com


In a way Republicans have already won in Virginia. Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor and longtime party mover, has been forced to fight for his life in a state Joe Biden won by 10 points. If Mr. McAuliffe pulls it out Tuesday, his not-so-Trumpy challenger, Glenn Youngkin, will still have come close in the age of Trump, and his campaign will have provided a rough pathway for how future party candidates can make their way through: 1. Be a respectable, capable-seeming person who focuses on legitimate local issues (schools, taxes.) 2. Don’t say crazy things. 3. Don’t insult Donald Trump but do everything to keep him away.

If forced to wager I’d bet on Mr. Youngkin. I think he’s done something remarkable. But whatever happens Democrats should stay nervous and Republicans can feel some degree of relief: a template is emerging, at least as to states like bluish-purple Virginia.

Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan is very sharp, but I fear she, with her long-term crush on the GOP, has lapsed into wishcasting here about the winning "template."


The "Christian’s" political favorite gives his favorite life advice:

In a 2011 speech, Donald Trump explained his single top rule in life: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.” He’s repeated the same idea over and over again in speeches, tweets, and books published under his byline. In 2024, the targets of Trump’s revenge are American law and American democracy. At a September 25 rally in Perry, Georgia, Trump excoriated state Republican officials who failed to subvert the state election for him. In Iowa two weeks later, Trump delivered more attacks on the 2020 election process, focusing this time on state Republicans who failed to steal Arizona for him.

In 2016 and through the early part of Trump’s presidency, there was often an edge of Friars Club comedy to Trump’s rally performances: not very nice comedy, a little out of style in tone and sensibility, but comedy all the same. Not in 2021. Now it’s all dark and bitter.

David Frum, ‌Is Donald Trump Already Running for President in 2024?


Most Republicans have wagered that the road to office runs through Mar-a-Loco, where you must walk barefoot across the hot ashes of your incinerated pride to kneel at his throne and feed a bit of your soul to him.

Frank Bruni, ‌J.D. Vance’s hillbilly hypocrisy Vance has made that pilgrimage.


A New York Times Guest Column Saturday:

The Only Way to Solve Our Supply Chain Crisis Is to Rethink Trade

The pandemic has exposed problems decades in the making. We need to fix them.

By Josh Hawley
Oct. 29, 2021

The topic interested me, but Josh Hawley has so beslimed himself that I no longer trust a word he says or writes.

Anyway, I’d eat my hat if he conceded that bringing more production back to the U.S. would result in a lower "standard of living" under our current consumerist models (which live by the fallacy "if we can’t measure it, it isn’t real). Rather, he would perpetuate the delusion that we can have it all, no trade-offs.

The only Republican who has held up fairly well against my initial expectations (yes, I had hopes for Hawley) is Ben Sasse. So far, I’m interested in rookie Pete Meijer, too — who is the current occupant of Justin Amash’s old seat. Southwest Michigan produces some interesting pols these days.


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.

Sacramental Christianity

Sacramental Christianity (versus the others)

[I]t is easy to see how the older, sacramental forms of Christianity conform to this global pattern. The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the core of the religion, and is re-enacted every time there is a liturgy at the altar … When you take the sacramentality out of the religion, as many forms of Protestantism have, it wrecks the symbolism. How can a church that looks like a theatrical space do the symbolic work it is supposed to do?

Let me be clear: it’s not that God is not with people who worship in low-church Protestant temples; it’s that the structures perhaps make it harder for the worshipers to feel God’s presence. This matters for my book project, because I am trying to figure out how we can re-enchant the world, and live more like “religious man” (Eliade’s term) lived in the premodern era. The Protestantization of worship spaces, and the de-sacramentalization of some forms of Christianity, likely contributed to the disenchantment of the world. It wasn’t on purpose — nobody can accuse the Puritans, for example, of wanting to push God out of the world — but their theology, and horror at things that smacked of papistry, might have led them to throw out too much.

Rod Dreher, ‌Mircea Eliade On Temples

More:

If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints’ days more uplifting than the observance of Mother’s Day. There is great wisdom in the maligned phrase ex opere operato, the effect is in the doing. Intention is like a reed blowing in the wind. It is the doing that counts, and if we do something for God, in the doing God does something for us.

Quoting Robert Louis Wilen, Church as Culture

And still more:

[A] young kid from the Andes who’s raised to believe that that mountain is an Apu spirit that will direct his or her destiny will be a profoundly different human being and have a different relationship to that resource or that place than a young kid from Montana raised to believe that a mountain is a pile of rock ready to be mined. Whether it’s the abode of a spirit or a pile of ore is irrelevant. What’s interesting is the metaphor that defines the relationship between the individual and the natural world. I was raised in the forests of British Columbia to believe those forests existed to be cut. That made me a different human being than my friends amongst the Kwagiulth who believe that those forests were the abode of Huxwhukw and the Crooked Beak of Heaven and the cannibal spirits that dwelled at the north end of the world, spirits they would have to engage during their Hamatsa initiation.

Quoting Wade Davis

Grab-bag

After a series, I still have some miscellany left:

These salespeople were … functioning according to a false narrative, in which the good life depends on more weeks at a resort. For these programmed Un-Manned folks, they were selling me happiness. They were ensuring that I could face death, knowing I had spent as much time as possible at the spa or the arcade. We were at odds with these salesmen because we live and move and have our being within a completely oppositional narrative to the one that they assume. We are fish aware of the water that gives us life, and they are fish trying to climb the shore, not realizing they cannot breathe on land.

Jessica Hooten Wilson on a time-share pitch in Orlando (Shudder!)

What’s telling to me is that this is the pitch that sells timeshares to the typical American in America 2021.

In other news from the Culture of Death, our local Gannett rag has a front-page story about how two years of legalized mobile sports gambling is producing gambling addicts. Bear in mind that these gambling companies are listed on stock exchanges now; it’s considered legitimate business.


For some, the religious failures of the 14th century serve to bolster a general critique of religious belief itself. One of the blind spots of modernity is to imagine ourselves to be in a non-religious, secularized world … The modern world is not “disenchanted” so much as it has a “modern enchantment.” We have faith in market forces, medicine, government, democracy, technology, algorithms, and the march of progress.

Fr. Stephen Freeman


Once he was free, Wurmbrand wrote that there are two kinds of Christians: “those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.”

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option


The Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Western publishers, mindful of their likely audience, were careful to excise his criticisms of homosexuality from the American versions of his books.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion


Can anything good come from Berkeley? Darned right. Here (To End Police Violence, Get Rid of the Traffic Cop – The Atlantic) is an example of a sane policy that shouldn’t be dismissed as "abolish the police."


But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


Everything is habit-forming, so make sure what you do is what you want to be doing.

Wilt Chamberlain


The GOP Senate primary races in Missouri and Ohio have become contests to see which candidate can create the stupidest tweet.

One of them will insist the moon was made by gay communists and promise to punch it out of the sky, and win in a walk.

Kevin Kruse


All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Blaise Pascal


Indiana Statehouse reflected after my grandson’s 14th birthday dinner. It probably looked the same before.


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.