A modest way of being Christian

Under the Midgleys, I came to see that explanation is not always like the foundations of a building, keeping it up – as if, without a proper explanation, the building falls. On the contrary, an explanation is a way of making sense of what is already there, not a way of re-arranging it. Understanding is after the fact. So St Anselm’s ‘Faith seeking understanding’ – i.e. faith is not built on understanding but goes looking for it – opened up, for me, a way of being a Christian, without having resolved any of the underlying contradictions. And that hasn’t stopped being true. For me, believing in God names a certain sort of commitment, not the conclusion of an argument.

Giles Fraser, eulogizing philosopher Mary Midgley, very recently reposed.

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Friday 10/12/18

1

There is nothing new about disinformation. Unlike ordinary lies and propaganda, which try to make you believe something, disinformation tries to make you disbelieve everything. It scatters so much bad information, and casts so many aspersions on so many sources of information, that people throw up their hands and say, “They’re all a pack of liars.” As Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide and former leader of Breitbart News, succinctly put it in an interview with Bloomberg, “[T]he way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with shit.”

Although disinformation is old, it has recently cross-pollinated with the internet to produce something new: the decentralized, swarm-based version of disinformation that has come to be known as trolling. Trolls attack real news; they attack the sources of real news; they disseminate fake news; and they create artificial copies of themselves to disseminate even more fake news. By unleashing great quantities of lies and half-truths, and then piling on and swarming, they achieve hive-mind coordination. Because trolling need not bother with persuasion or anything more than very superficial plausibility, it can concern itself with being addictively outrageous. Epistemically, it is anarchistic, giving no valence to truth at all; like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading.

… By being willing to say anything, they exploit shock and outrage to seize attention and hijack the public conversation.

That last tactic is especially insidious. The constitution of knowledge is organized around an epistemic honor code: Objective truth exists; efforts to find it should be impersonal; credentials matter; what hasn’t been tested isn’t knowledge; and so on. Trolls violate all those norms: They mock truth, sling mud, trash credentials, ridicule testing, and all the rest.

Jonathan Rausch. Donald Trump is our Troll-In-Chief.

How do you balance:

  1. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and slowing of regulatory assaults on orthodox Christians; against
  2. The daily tacit denial from Trump and Sarah Sanders that there exists any such thing as objective truth and reality — “flooding the zone with shit”?

Something tells me that the long-term costs of #2 — and not just in terms of damaging the credibility of Christianity (of which Evangelicals have dubiously made themselves avatars) — outweigh and perhaps vastly outweigh the benefits of #1. I can’t yet put my finger on it; maybe it’s ineffable or self-evident.

We’ve gone from agreeing that there is “Truth” (even if we disagreed about its content), to referring to “your truth” versus “my truth,” and now we hover on the edge of the Emperor’s truth being the only truth, with the Emperor smirking as he mocks us by changing that “truth” at will.

2

Purdue University,”mother” to an astonishing proportion of early astronauts and now sporting a rather new, large and prominent Neil Armstrong engineering building and archive, is atwitter over the release of “First Man” and should be (pardon the expression) over the moon at Joe Morgenstern’s Wall Street Journal review.

Speaking of which, our local TV news, which regularly interjects inadvertent comic relief into the news, covered the Armstrong archive last night with a comment about it housing “N pieces of his life,” reminding me of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women.”

3

Pushing back against talk about Texas Evangelical women pushing Beto O’Rourke past Ted Cruz in the Senate race:

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

Bobby Ross, Jr.

It’s good that this is in print, because one can read it categorically or presumptively (had it been spoken, the inflection likely would have disambiguated it):

  • I can’t support Beto  — because he’s pro-choice ….
  • I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice ….

I believe the moral law would permit Ross’s sister, for sufficient cause, to vote for Beto despite his being pro-choice, but never because he’s pro-choice.

The decisive question is the sufficiency of Cruz’s cynicism and lying. His cynicism stinks to the heavens, but I haven’t kept a scorecard on his lying. Texans probably have a better reading on that.

4

Be it remembered that Jeff Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters for the Presidency but Trump is getting ready to replace him because he won’t corrupt the Justice Department by conducting show trials against Trump’s enemies or by firing Robert Mueller.

This is the treatment Evangelicals can expect if they ever reach a “we must obey God, not Caesar” moment. Whether they have the integrity to reach that moment is an open question.

Add this to item #1 as a reason why Trump should be voted out either in the 2020 Republican primaries or against many potential Democrat nominees in the General Election.

Since we’re apparently slow learners, though, God may ordain that 2020 be a repeat of Trump versus Hillary or maybe even Trump versus Beelzebub.

5

Be it noted, too, that Atifa, at least in Portland, has itself become a fascistic mob, just as I figured would happen in this world where every evil has a euphemistic name.

At the beginning, they came out only when conservatives, including trolls like Milo or Ann Coulter, came to town. Now they call protests, take over the streets, redirect traffic, and threaten anyone who doesn’t comply.

That’s why I say “fascistic.”

6

Consider two recent surveys released before the Senate voted Saturday to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. After the riveting Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked: “If there is still a doubt about whether the charges are true, do you think Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed?” Respondents said no by 52% to 40%.

A Harvard-Harris poll released Oct. 1 asked: “If the FBI review of these allegations finds no corroboration of the accusation of sexual assault, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?” Sixty percent said yes and 40% no, with 86% of Republicans, 58% of independents and even 40% of Democrats supporting confirmation.

The 20-point swing between these two survey questions shows public opinion is malleable ….

Karl Rove.

I doubt that we’ll really know until November 7, if then, which way the Kavanaugh hearings cut politically.

7

I’ve periodically mentioned and lamented that “Christianity” in the U.S. Seems to have just two avatars, Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.

Roman Catholicism got that status by being huge and by claiming that it is The Church uniquely (a claim attenuated since Vitican II). Its claim had purchase in the West, which knew little of the four patriarchs from whom the proto-Popes went into schism (and which now are known as “Eastern Orthodox”). You were either Catholic or ex-Catholic via the Reformation. Those were the mental options.

I just realized, though, that I had that bit of history or Evangelicalism stored away that perhaps not everyone is aware of it.

Evangelicals got their status differently. I don’t discount the Great Black Swan, Billy Graham, and the boost William Randolph Hearst decided to give him, nor the sizzle of the Moral Majority and the rest of the Religious Right (which finally brought Evangelicalism into what the press thinks of as “reality”: contentious politics).

But it started earlier. Some evangelical visionaries early on saw the evangelistic potential of radio and, later, television. They scarfed up hundreds or thousands of FCC broadcast licenses in order to preach their version of the Gospel. Try to find a “Christian” radio station that isn’t Evangelical.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Crickets)

Domination of the airwaves had a big influence on perceptions of non-Catholic Christianity.

I don’t think Evangelicals set out to eliminate other voices from the airwaves, or otherwise to delegitimize those voices. It was more positive than that: spread the Gospel. The rest is epiphenomenal.

And the chaotic internet, where licenses aren’t yet required (but see next item) will perhaps diminish Evangelicalism’s place aside Rome in the Western Christian oligarchy.

8

Late Thursday, Facebook and Twitter began what appears to be a coordinated purge of accounts trafficking in real news our masters would prefer we not know and opinions that no bien pensant should entertain. Caitlin Johnstone, aware that “censorship” proper is a government act, thinks nonetheless that the rise of corporate power and the thin line between corporate and government power make this effectively censorship in our new media age.

I’m likely to have more to say about this, but for now, Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin will suffice.

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Redworld and Blueworld

1

[W]hen Ford came forward, it’s as if her allegations landed in two different countries. The good-faith residents of Redworld were skeptical and said, “Prove it.” The good-faith residents of Blueworld believed Ford and said, “Finally, she has a chance for justice.” The presumptions were diametrically opposite, and everything that followed turned on those different presumptions.

At the very heart of “Believe women” or “Believe survivors” is a flipping of the burden of proof. It’s a mind-set that says women almost always tell the truth about sexual assault, and that the failure of the criminal- or civil-justice systems to convict or impose liability on predatory men at anything approaching their rates of predation means that fundamental legal and cultural reform is mandatory. Compounding the injustice, the very process of proving the existence of abuse—especially when claims are subject to cross-examination and public scrutiny—can revictimize the survivor.

The abuse inflicts immense pain. The system inflicts more pain. And true justice is hard to find.

Redworld rejects this view. It treats sexual abuse as a crime like any other crime. Accusers should be heard and treated with respect, but they still have to prove their cases. They’re not “survivors” or “victims” until that proof has been offered. Redworld rejects the notion that women almost always tell the truth and is also concerned for men who face allegations that can and do wreck families and end careers. They do not see men as constituting a predator class or women as a victim class. There are men who are predators and women who are victims, but each case has to be judged on its own merits. Each case stands or falls on its own evidence. And, critically, every accuser bears the burden of proof.

Now, filter everything that followed through those two prisms.

David French, who proceeds to apply those two filters to episode after episode of the saga. Even before he really got to Kavanaugh and Ford, he hooked me (i.e., I read it because he wrote it) and then set the hook with this:

While no one can doubt the viciousness of the last presidential election, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a poor proxy for the true cultural and intellectual divides between left and right.

But I find his analysis of the hearings, which were a fearful proxy, almost perfectly in alignment with what I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears (bearing in mind that I did not watch the Thursday hearing with testimony from accuser and accused).

Did it fit what you perceived?

2

How can Western culture recover the will to live when, in Europe, the churches are empty because most of the clergy no longer believe the Nicene Creed, while in the U.S. many of the most popular churches preach a therapeutic narcissism that has little to do with taking up your cross and following Jesus?  Among the ruling elites in both Europe and America, Christian faith is regarded as spiritual eczema, an unfortunate condition to be covered up in public.

William Lind, A Second Reformation?

3

Today’s new word is henotheism:

the worship of a single god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other deities.

Hellenistic Judaism and Second Temple Judaism, and especially the cult of Yahweh as it was practiced in ancient Israel and Judah during the 8th and 7th centuries BC—have been described as henotheistic.

Use it in a sentence: “People who insist ‘Muslims don’t even worship the same god as Christians!’ appear as henotheists, not as trinitarian monotheists.”

Here endeth yet another approach to a pet peeve of mine. No, I’m not suggesting that we join ISIL for a round of Kumbaya, or that we can “just get along,” but people in pulpits should be more careful about how they lead their people away from sloppy bonhomie.

4

It is remarkable that the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who in this very letter cautions against questioning the motivations of other bishops, does not hesitate to say that Archbishop Vigano is suffering from “bitterness and delusions” that have led him to inflict “a very painful wound on the Bride of Christ.”

Until very recently it was rare to see one bishop engage in such open criticism of another. No doubt Archbishop Vigano realized that he would be bringing such criticism on himself, when he dared to raise public questions about the leadership of Pope Francis. But isn’t it revealing that the bishop who has become the target for the most vituperative public criticism is not the bishop who preyed on his seminarians, nor the bishop who used diocesan funds to pay for the silence of an old lover, nor any of the bishops who lied to aggrieved parents, but the one bishop who, by telling inconvenient truths, put himself outside the protection of the clerical club?

Philip Lawler via Rod Dreher.

5

Before considering whether the Court’s legitimacy is seriously threatened, it is worth asking what exactly we mean by that. As I use the term here, a crisis of legitimacy does not happen merely because the Court makes rulings that many people hate. Such decisions are issued almost every year. Nor will it occur merely because many believe the justices’ rulings are influenced by politics (though such beliefs might help contribute to a crisis). Rather, the Court’s legitimacy undergoes serious challenge only when a strong political movement seeks to curtail the Court’s authority or take drastic measures to subordinate it to the party in power. Refusing to obey court decisions (as some nineteenth century presidents threatened to do) is an example of the first. “Court-packing” (as famously attempted by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937) is an example of the second.

Nonetheless, there are good reasons to take the looming potential threat to Court’s legitimacy seriously. The most significant is that left-liberal activists are indeed seriously considering drastic measures that were previously considered taboo, most notably court-packing ….

Ilya Somin

6

I watched several political attack ads last evening that made me say “I didn’t know that about [the attacked person]. Filtering out the tendentious rhetoric, I’m now likelier to vote for them.”

In neither case was it merely “I don’t like attack ads.” In both cases it was a matter of a fairly mainstream position being desperately spun as sinister.

7

Paul Moxley, head of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley in an Oct. 5 letter that the ABA committee is “reopening” its “evaluation” of Justice Kavanaugh. This is the same ABA committee that on August 30 gave the judge its highest rating in a report replete with praise. Now Mr. Moxley writes that this could change, given “new information of a material nature regarding temperament during the September 27th hearing”….

Wall Street Journal. There is no need for pseudo-expert ABA evaluation of what happened in public. The ABA has been controlled by progressives for 30 years or more and has increasingly marginalized itself.

8

“Trump’s Contradiction: Assailing ‘Left-Wing Mob’ as Crowd Chants ‘Lock Her Up’“. Oh, picky, picky, picky!

 

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What kind of crummy miracle is this!?

Jesus answered and said to [John the Baptist’s disciples], ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” (Lk 7: 20-23)

… wait a minute … The poor were not “made prosperous,” or at least given a steady income? Wouldn’t that be the “cure” for them? But no, the poor “had the gospel preached to them.”

The point I’m making is that material poverty is not an “affliction” our Lord promises to “heal” materially.

Sr. Vassa Larin, The Gospel and Prosperity (emphasis added).

Sr. Vassa’s quick observation that “material poverty is not an ‘affliction’ our Lord promises to ‘heal’ materially” left me wanting more, and before the day was over, I got more.

Father Steven Freeman in a podcast (I think it was an older one I hadn’t yet heard) noted that Christ made the lame walk, not fly. Christ restored the truth of things, mended brokenness. He didn’t lower himself to cheap parlor tricks.

This brought to mind some of the things C.S. Lewis wrote about Christ’s miracles as well. For instance, I believe he commented on the miraculous change of water into wine at the wedding at Cana (I can’t find the Lewis passage) as being what God always does — though He usually uses sunlight, soil and time — so that there’s a fitness to Christ’s miracles in a way missing in some miraculous stories from other religious traditions.

Is there anything broken about poverty? Is a rich man whole in a sense that the poor man lacks? Apparently neither our Lord nor His Apostle James thought so. (The scriptures make clear, though, that relief of poverty is a Christian duty.)

So in what sense does preaching the gospel to the poor restore the truth of things or mend brokenness? I’m not sure there’s any deficit unique to the poor that the preaching of the gospel addresses, but there’s a deficit in us all. Our truth is that we were made for union with God. Our brokenness is that we are alienated instead. And that’s where the preaching of the Gospel is exact what the poor need — as do all of us.

 

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Politics, I’m sad to say

1

Politics drove me halfway to the Slough of Despond yesterday. Two examples:

  • An old Evangelical friend posted about Brett Kavanaugh “let him who is without sin ….” If that weren’t bad enough, a friend of his jumped in with a litany of lurid innuendo about the accuser. I asked for citations and he snottily referred me to a QAnon YouTube (which I couldn’t find).
  • Then, on the Orthodox side, a priest trolled a sensible friend of mine, trying to change the topic from the patent deficiencies of Trump to the unreliability of Bob Woodward putting flesh on the bones we all can see with our own two (no doubt lyin’) eyes.

So I’m not feeling all that swell about the political swill I have to share today, but some of it is my own reflection, which was already written (at least in draft) to clarify my thinking, so here it is.

 

2

The current Atlantic asks “Is Democracy Dying?,” by which I think it means, at least in part, is classical liberalism dying? A lot of smart people think it is, apart from the Atlantic crew. Indeed, at American Affairs, they’ve been critiquing Patrick Deneen’s eulogy to liberalism.

Adrian Vermeule was one of the critics — a churl, in his own words. He is a very bright fellow — Harvard-Law-School-Prof bright. He’s also a Catholic convert and an Integralist — a non-liberal or illiberal political theory that I’d probably mangle if I tried to describe it myself.

Wikipedia introduces it thus:

Integralism or integrism is used in the context of Catholicism to refer to an organization of the state which rejects “the separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal.” Though less commonly referred to in modern theology, integralism defines the social order of medieval Christendom and is part of the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

(Footnotes and hyperlinks omitted) Suffice that Integralism is to my right, but not so far to my right that I scorn it reflexively.

Most days, you see, I find persuasive Patrick Deneen’s theory that liberalism has shot its wad, is going away, and good riddance! Integralism’s appeal is that in an illiberal regime, I’d rather have friends in control than enemies.

So I wish I could find plausible Vermeule’s scenario of a bunch of well-formed Christian Josephs and Daniels and Mordecais and Esthers taking charge of the apparatus of the liberal state from inside and putting that apparatus to holy use.

But with Alan Jacobs (through whom I learned of Vermeule’s article — I had neglected my American Affairs subscription), I think we’ve got a good generation of Benedict-Option style Christian formation to do or else we’ll get a takeover by illiberal Christianoids (or illiberal anti-Christians).

Jacobs:

If you need people who are sufficiently skilled in negotiating the liberal order to work effectively within it, but also committed to its transformation, and who can sustain that difficult balance over decades, you have to figure out how to form such people. And it is just this that the churches of the West – all the churches of the West — have neglected to do, have neglected even to attempt. With the (in retrospect quite obvious) result: the accelerating collapse across the board of participation in church life.

What is required, in the face of a general culture that through its command of every communications medium catechizes so effectively, is the construction of a powerful counter-catechesis. Who will do that, and how will they do it? The likely answer, it seems to me, brings us back to the very localism that Deneen and Dreher advocate and that Vermeule rejects. Though I also might reject certain elements and emphases of the communities that Deneen and Dreher advocate, I don’t see a likely instrument other than highly dedicated, counter-cultural communities of faith for the Josephs and Mordecais and Esthers and Daniels to be formed. Those who do see other means of such rigorous formation need to step up and explain how their models work. Otherwise we will be looking in vain for the people capable of carrying out Vermeule’s beautiful vision.

From where I sit, that’s pretty obvious, but not everyone has my perspective. So later, in a micro.blog “conversation” (uncertain how or whether that link will work if you don’t have a micro.blog account), Jacobs responded to a sincere inquiry whether “People who are deeply grounded in and deeply committed to their faith tradition who are also capable of rising to high levels of influence in government and education” doesn’t “describe a solid majority of U.S. elected representatives”:

… I have no doubt that such people are very sincere in their faith, but they aren’t especially well formed by it. You wouldn’t have to be all that well-versed in the Bible and Christian history to know that Jews and Christians have often suffered to the point of martyrdom because they wouldn’t worship the emperor or the gods of the State — and yet many of these professedly evangelical churches hold Make America Great Again rallies and destroy Nike shoes from the pulpit because NFL players “disrespect the flag.” Leading evangelicals say that it’s okay that Trump has done a lot of bad things because “King David was a sinner too” — without noticing that David repented of his sins, whereas Trump has said that he doesn’t repent because he doesn’t do many things wrong. So what we’re seeing here is people who have a sincere profession of faith but don’t know the basic grammar of their religion. It is the civic religion of America, rather, that they are formed by ….

And that’s why I tend to think on other days that liberalism, infirm though it may be, is the least bad option available in a fallen world, and we need to rejuvenate it.

It’s mostly the illiberal comprehensive theories liberalism keeps sneaking in the back door that give me pause, suspecting that the rhetorics of “democracy” and “liberalism” are just secular opiates of the people.

 

3

Why aren’t Western Christians better formed? Here, my imagination took flight.

Isn’t Forensic Justification — basically, that God declares us righteous without making us righteous (or even caring all that much about righteousness) — the perfect doctrine for consoling those who’ve been catechized in the ways of Babylon but want to call themselves Christian?

 

4

Liberty University is an accredited, actual institution of higher education. It’s a real place. People pay real money to go there, receive degrees bearing the school’s name, and take those degrees out into the world, proclaiming their association with it. People take out thousands of dollars in student loans for the privilege of doing that. Really … The average cost of Liberty University, after financial aid, is $24,000 a year.

Fred Clark, The Slactivist. But $24,000 is a bargain, because you get to be forever associated with “firefighter prophet” Mark Taylor, who has gone from extreme to batshit crazy. See here, here, here, here, and here. They’re associated with him because Liberty is making “The Trump Prophecy” based on him.

If I cared about Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University, I would explain “sunk costs” to them and urge them to quit digging (to mix metaphors).

 

5

 

There are two unfair and irrational ways to look at this allegation. One, of course, is simply to decide that because you already opposed or supported Kavanaugh, that should determine whether you think the charge is true (or useful). That’s the partisan route, and it treats individuals caught up in political fights as fungible and disposable parts.

The other is to decide that, because the allegations remind you vaguely of some charge in the past that turned out to be true, or false, or because you want accusers to generally be believed, you should just decide the same has to be true here regardless of the particular facts.

Dan Maclaughlin

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Sunday 9/16/18

A Facebook friend from Texas posted this Friday:

We have a new priest coming our way. In this time of transition for actually 3 parishes, I thought the words of Flannery O’Connor appropriate:

It is easy for any child to find out the faults in a sermon on his way home from church each Sunday. It is impossible to find out the hidden love that makes a man, in spite of his intellectual limitations, his neuroticism, his lack of strength, give up his life to the service of God’s people, however bumblingly he may go about it.

Thanks, TJ.

Everything else I wrote was gossipy, uncharitable, or focused on the current vexations of Roman Catholicism. So I unwrote it.

Have a good Sunday.

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Potpourri, 8/21/18

 

1

“Scared stiff,” “weak,” not a “real attorney general”? He has been called worse in his time. It would seem to be the case that he has intuited something that most of his colleagues — to say nothing of the American people — have not: namely, that it is sometimes, indeed frequently, a good idea not to take the president seriously.

Sessions is the most devoted of our emperor’s servants precisely because he has nothing in common with the rest of them. He is neither a scheming amoral hanger-on like so many members of this administration, current and former, or a stolidly disinterested public servant like James Mattis, the defense secretary whom one could imagine resigning in the face of serious policy disagreements — to say nothing of insults to his personal honor along the lines of those to which Sessions has been repeatedly subjected. The attorney general is a true believer.

As long as he is at liberty to wage a renewed drug war and implement the schemes for restricting immigration of which he and his former deputy Stephen Miller have so long dreamed, Sessions will remain in this White House, brushing the dirt from his shoulders without so much as a smirk.

Matthew Walther on Jeff Sessions.

I’m reflexively suspicious of Sessions because, unlike with Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Harrison Scott Key and other southern writers, I can actually hear his drawl, and it triggers my own micro-version of PTSD from my discordant sojourn of three semesters in a third-tier southern Christianish educational institution (which I was invited to leave for the sin of being an “out” conscientious objector in the Vietnam era — an invitation that made too much sense to refuse).

But there is something about stoic Sessions, starting with his trail-blazingly early support of Trump, that sets him apart from both (a) the cynical climbers and (b) the kenotic, clenched-teeth-reluctant patriots in the Trump White House.

2

Before I talk about the ways in which the closet may have contributed to a culture of cover-up and abuse, let me say that most talk of “root causes” is premature and comes across as using other people’s rape as a weapon in a culture war.

This is the only part of Eve Tushet’s column, A Closeted Subculture, with which I’m pretty sure I disagree, almost vehemently. There have been plenty of people thinking about this abuse scandal for at least 16 years, since the “long lent,” and complaining that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church refused to identify the pervasive (not universal) homosexual nexus in abuse cases.

“Please, God! Not another study!”, I can hear faithful Catholics saying if they’ve not had blinders on since 2002 — but yet another study (or other stalling tactic) is the eventuality of the position that it’s premature to identify “root causes.”

More from Tushnet::

There are three basic roles I suspect the closet plays in parts of our Church. First, where people greatly fear being considered gay, it will be especially hard for boys or men to report sexual assault and coercion. Regardless of whether or not they’re gay themselves, they will fear that they’ll be told they were responsible for their abuse or welcomed it, and they will fear (for example) being made to leave the seminary or being outed to their family. Similarly, even if you weren’t assaulted yourself, if an abuser knows you’re gay then he has a secret to hold over your head, which you may fear that he’ll reveal if you report his abuse (or your suspicions of him).

Second, young people struggling with their sexuality are especially vulnerable where being gay is especially stigmatized. They may confide in an older man, perhaps someone who has cultivated their trust because he senses their vulnerability. He may even have shared his own secret homosexuality with them, precisely in order to win their trust; which he will then go on to abuse. His secret creates a powerful bond between them, even a sense that the victim has a responsibility to protect the abuser. Secrets can create a false intimacy, an environment in which manipulation is especially easy.

And third, the fear and secrecy of the closet distort people’s self-understandings, their ability to surrender their lives to Christ, and therefore their ability to regulate their behavior. What you can’t even admit to yourself, you can’t surrender to God: This may be part of what’s going on with men who rail against gay people, while they themselves were abusing men for sex ….

There’s quite a lot more there. Tushnet’s bottom line is that celibate gay men who are healthy enough to come out of the closet, and who will affirm and teach all that the Church itself teaches, should be ordained, and that gay priest bans will fail spectacularly. It’s an argument I had intuited but hesitated to spell out because (obligatory caveat) it’s not my Church; I’m just affected by its woes as are all Christians in the West.

Overall, I think Tushnet — a lesbian convert to Catholicism from atheism, a celibate, and a recovering alcoholic — can see more clearly than Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic in a same-sex marriage, whose disobedience of the Church regarding chastity seems to have clouded his vision.

I especially appreciate Tushnet articulating those three ill-effects of the closet, which merit a bit more reflection, really, than I’ve given so far.

3

Jasmyn Fleik, 27, of the Madison LGBTQ Dogma Defense Alliance, rejected the bishop’s claim that homosexual priests were the problem.

“Just because 80 percent of the victims of clerical sex abuse are boys, and just because most of the abusing priests were known to be sexually active gay men, that doesn’t at all mean homosexuality has anything to do with this crisis!” Fleik insisted, to coughs and rolling of eyes from bystanders.

“I mean, like, use your brain for once,” she added.

Eric Mader at Clay Testament, mixing fact with fact (mainstream media’s disinterest, presumably because of people like the presumably fictitious Ms. Fleik).

4

Jerry Falwell Jr. is becoming a self-parody again. See Jay Cost, a little vignette about him from Matthew Walther in the middle of a piece about Jeff Sessions, and World magazine’s story about his university’s journalism department and school newspaper.

There ought to be a parable about the perils of sycophancy over Trump.

Oh, wait! There is: “Lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas.”

(The Jerry Fallwells, too, trigger my micro-PTSD.)

5

[Dear Tipsy],

Across North America, cities and towns are betting big on megaprojects like stadiums and shopping malls, in hopes that just one more big win will put their city back in the black.

It’s pretty tempting, right? One last gamble, then you’re out. One more risk, and you’ll be set for life (or at least until the next election cycle).

The only problem with this thinking? Cities who do it haven’t asked themselves what it really means for a city to win.

Today, my colleague Chuck Marohn is proposing something that shouldn’t be radical, but very much is: the only way that cities can “win” for their citizens is to stop putting them at enormous risk of losing it all.

That doesn’t mean risking nothing, of course. It doesn’t even mean we can’t be brave.

It means the opposite: having the courage to stand up to a dominant culture that’s bankrupting our towns and making our communities worse places to live. And having the courage to stand up for something so much better.

How will you help?

-Kea and the rest of the Strong Towns Team

Email August 20 from the estimable Small Towns, referring to this article.

Not all corporate welfare comes from the Feds. Cities, Counties and States give away billions annually, bidding for the attention of corporations that will bully them further (“you need to pass this kind of law; you need to repeal that kind of law”) in the process.

“How will you help?” Well, I scanned my check register and found that I have not given commensurate to Small Towns’ growth and influenceit has been three years since I gave even a pittance.

Time flies. Secure websites can cure such an oversight almost instantly.

6

The Agenda That Dare Not Speak Its Name

MATTHEW CONTINETTI

The reason Democrats seek power in 2018 is to obstruct President Trump wholly and without exception, to tie down his administration using the subpoena powers of a dozen committees, and ultimately to lay the groundwork for his impeachment.

It’s tempting to say “Yeah? You got a problem with that?”

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A distinctly American counterfeit

There’s some commentary in the New York Times Sunday that requires more than just a Facebook share with an open-ended comment like “a cautionary tale.”

It’s not that I disagree with the author’s interpretation of How America’s Jews Learned to Be Liberal. It’s not that I object to America’s Jews becoming liberal, politically or religiously though I identify as conservative in both realms (guarded locution because both liberal and conservative are highly contested and equivocal, and there no doubt are some, starting with one of my nephews, who would scoff at the very notion of a Never Trump Conservative).

What merits comment is this:

Judaism became a distinctively American religion, substantially changed from what it had been for more than two millenniums.

One factor in the rise of an American Judaism was practical. To assimilate and work in their adopted land, many Jews abandoned some of their ancient practices, from observing the Sabbath to keeping kosher and wearing distinctive clothing. Discarding these practices forced Jews to turn their faith into a devotion to core beliefs, rather than customs and practices.

More broadly, Jews sought to “Americanize” their rituals, making them look more like the church ceremonies of their neighbors. The largely German immigrants of the 19th century started Sunday schools, mixed men and women in family pews and incorporated choirs, organ music and sermons in their services while rejecting or shortening some obscure prayers. These changes provoked debates, division and lawsuits. But they took hold, even among traditionalists, and continued even after the influx of two million Jews from Russia at the turn of the 20th century.

The most significant change to Judaism was its untethering from the ancient tradition of praying for an altogether human messiah to deliver the Jews back to Jerusalem, restore the ancient temple destroyed in the year A.D. 70 and re-establish the House of David to rule over Jews in their ancient land of Zion, as prophesied in the Bible. These were among the enduring 13 principles codified as central to Judaism by Maimonides in the 12th century.

(Emphasis added)

I grieve that American seduced many of its Jews to abandon their ancestral religion for what arguably is a counterfeit.

I caution those Americans whose Christian tradition has some “ancient practices,” especially in your liturgy/order of worship,  not to relinquish even one of them just because it makes you odd. As Flannery O’Connor once quipped, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

Those Americans whose Christian traditions have no “ancient practices” I would caution differently: Have you already substantially changed historic Christianity into a distinctly American counterfeit? (I’m looking at you, Evangelicals who not just tolerate Trump but enthuse over him because he promises to “MAGA”.)

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Course correction

It was more recent than I recalled that I, inspired by a minor epiphany, felt competent at last to write something about homosexuality beyond that same-sex attraction is a spiritual affliction and that acting on it is sin.

Here’s a link to what I wrote.

I stand by the substance, with a couple of expansions and one update.

First, the locution “same-sex attraction” was probably coming into disfavor when I wrote. Now, it is derided (among those whose testimonies I trust) as “Christianese,” opaque to the world, and to be shunned in favor of “being gay.” I’m still digesting that argument and unready to change just yet, but neither is it a hill I’m willing to die on.

Second, I would double-down on my skepticism about orientation change, if only because I’ve learned that there are a lot of people still selling and buying that snake oil. I wouldn’t bet my life against orientation change, but I’d bet a lot.

I now think that some of the “ex-gay” gurus are conscious frauds — fraudulent in the same way that guys like Benny Hinn are fraudulent. (Others may be letting others’ expectations of holiness determine what they’ll profess to have attained. And there are many other possibilities from this crooked timber of humanity, from which so few straight things are made.)

Third, I feel a need to say that almost everything positive I write about gay Christians is about those committed to celibacy — “Side B” in the argot of these Christians themselves. I have never encountered anything I thought a credible argument for the Christian licitness of gay sex (and if I did, it would have a well-nigh insurmountable hill to climb — 2000 years of Christian teaching — to convince me.

Finally, the update. Back then I wrote:

I’m not sure why they might feel a need to be publicly open and transparent about the sexual particulars of their sickness (versus open with a select few for purposes of support); I feel no need to be publicly open and transparent about the temptations I’m not going to name here.

That was literally true when written: I wasn’t sure. But I actually meant “when they talk about it so much, it starts creeping me out.”

I now have a better idea why they may need to talk about it so much, and why I need to listen (yes, and maybe push back some times) more patiently than I was ready for a few years ago. (I’m not going to try putting the reasons in words because I have something better than that. Stay tuned.)

But I’ve also had some other little epiphanies, converging, whence this current offering.

For one thing, I’ve always sensed the force of this apocryphal Martin Luther quote:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him.

It is clear to me that the world and the devil at this moment (and for the last 50 years or so of accumulated moments) are attacking in the area of sexuality:

Conservative Christians are fond of using this [Luther] quote to insist that we must stand up for the truth of the historic Christian sexual ethic even as it is being attacked in contemporary Western cultures, and that to fail to do so is to fail to be orthodox, faithful, biblical. And, in a mainline Protestant church like the one I belong to, I feel the force of this. These days it can seem easy to preach Christ in every way but the way that He challenges progressive sexual mores.

(Wesley Hill) That is a partial answer to why I have read a lot, thought a lot and written a lot about these issues, and naming that motivation was an epiphany of sorts, though a very minor one. Before that, I had been reflexively “trimming.”

A bigger epiphany is expressed, but not exhausted, by a continuation of Wesley Hill’s comment on the Luther quote:

And yet “the world” that “Luther” mentions in that quote is not always the world of progressive secularism/liberalism. Sometimes “the world” attacks the truth of Christ on the second point that Fr. White mentions — by tempting Christians to demean, disdain, ignore, overburden, or otherwise harm LGBTQ people. “The world” and “the devil” can manifest themselves in so-called “progressivism,” yes—and they can manifest themselves just as easily whenever a Christian heaps shame on LGBTQ people (“There’s something more askew in your life than there is in that of heterosexuals,” is what a pastor once told me), or offers a quick solution to their complex dilemmas (“Just get married!” is literally the advice I saw from a conservative Christian last week, as if I haven’t ever considered that possibility), or caricatures their sex lives (“Gay culture is inherently promiscuous”), or damages their faith (“If you want healing from same-sex attraction, it is available, and you have only to say yes,” I have been promised by Christians numerous times), or in any number of other ways attacks their dignity. If you are in a so-called conservative church and you are loudly proclaiming the truth about homosexuality at every point but at the point where that truth insists on the worth and lovability of LGBTQ people — if you are binding up heavy burdens on them and not lifting a finger to help (cf. Matthew 23:4) — then you are not proclaiming Christian truth, no matter how much you may seize the high ground and claim otherwise.

Several converging articles, podcasts, YouTubes and such drove that home to me as never before, and several of them centered on the recently-completed Revoice18 conference, a gathering of celibate gay Christians under the umbrella of SpiritualFriendship, in a conservative Calvinist (PCA) Church in St. Louis.

Some of what I read, heard or saw critiqued or defended the whole idea of celibate gay Christians, with the criticisms tending to niggle over the adjective “gay.” It came from self-styled Calvinists (“Reformed”) and certifiable Southern Baptists. Their critiques were well familiar to the conferees, to the point of murmurs of approval at refutations. I’ll not try to summarize it because although I was in that critics’ general camp by instinct a few years ago, I’m moving away from it now by conviction.

Another epiphany was confirmation that my intuition, which I had barely dared to utter aloud, was true: a lot of people who think themselves “transgender” are dealing with unresolved conflict over homosexual urges. I no longer need to intuit about that, or worry that I’m naïvely grabbing a third rail that will kill me. Many teenagers who think they’re trangender ultimately desist from that, but they’re generally homosexual at that point. Others who went far into “transitioning” and then de-transitioned report the same drive.

Apparently, life as a homosexual person can be so humiliating and frightening that a non-trivial number of people respond by attempting to become the sex appropriate to their erotic urges. I guess I’ve led too sheltered a life. (I’m resisting a temptation to digress here; let me just summarize that I’m still not sure that public accommodations laws are efficiacious at relieving unaffected humiliation and fright.)

It’s even bad in the Church (bracketing the question of whether it’s even worse):

  • “It was easier for me, as a convert from atheism, to trust that God loved me, than for a gay kid who grew up in the church. Shouldn’t that shock us?” (Eve Tushnet).
  • For many celibate gay Christians, there’s a feeling of being “harassed by our Churches, and seen as utter fools by the world,” to paraphrase Johanna Finegan.
  • Part of that harassment is a pernicious persistence of belief in reparative therapy, converting gay Christians into straight Christians, consonant with the metanarrative that gays are broken heterosexuals.
  • If the Church harasses, beats up, distrusts and otherwise abuses someone, it can break them, and they may not find their way home again.

Don’t we need at least to think harder about what to do to make it less humiliating and frightening in the Church which, after all, is chock full of sundry sinners with manifold temptations?

Yet another epiphany that still boggles my mind (though that epiphany has been around a while; it’s not new) is that these pictures are not “gay.” They depict an easy and un-selfconscious friendship that we’ve lost in the U.S., perhaps throughout the West.

That says more about us than about these guys. There is so much more that could be said, but someone else will need to do it or you’ll have to wait until I’m ready. As they say, “I. Just. Can’t. Even.”

The folks at the Revoice conference are trying to recover something like such friendships, while their critics are echoing Sigmund Freud in sexualizing the very idea. “Flee! Run as far and fast as you can!” is the gist of it, and what comes across is “learn to live life without any emotional intimacy, because the opposite sex doesn’t have time for you and you might get a rise in your Levis if you attempt same-sex friendship.”

Excuse me as I have a little reverie about our Lord’s excoriation those who lay on burdens heavy to bear.

Call all that an epic (or at least self-indulgent) introduction.

I had imagined writing a blog that went into some detail about what I’ve learned. But I don’t think anything I could write would top the 43 minute, 17 second pre-conference Revoice18 talk of Johanna Finegan.

A man at her church, concerned about her upcoming attendance and presentation at Revoice18 said “It sounds like these people think it’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t act on it.” She responded “Well, yes. What’s the alternative? Not getting out of bed in the morning?”

Just so.

There’s some refinement needed about what it means to “not act on it,” but I’ll step aside now:

This in particular (38:15) challenges me:

“Maybe we can see it as a gift to the world — a beautiful, confounding witness … We declare that something is more valuable than the sex and the romantic love we naturally long for. We declare that genuine Christianity changes and shapes your whole life … We declare that Jesus Christ is sublimely and absolutely worthy and worth it. And maybe we can see it as a gift to the Church. Our lives could be illustrations of what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus that can help our straight brothers and sisters. Our lives can depict what it’s like to follow God, we know not where ….

Some of what the Spiritual Friendship/Revoice18 people are saying, and what I’m now inclined to believe, probably has a “sell-by date.” Remember that I’m a “trimmer.” Maybe — heck, almost certainly — we risk overcorrection, but correct we must, in what another blogger calls “the present cultural moment.”

So it seems to me.

* * * * *

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Creed and deed

Is is possible to separate creedal orthodoxy (whole-hearted assent to the Nicene Creed — or possibly the Apostle’s Creed for those Christian traditions that use it) from particular standards of ethics and morality?

That has been under some discussion among smarter people than me, as I watched and listened. It strikes me as relevant if not crucial to the compass of the umbrella of communion — the question of when it’s necessary to excommunicate someone, for instance, or when one must no longer “agree to disagree” within the same ecclesial body. (Sometimes, it seems to me, it may even require a conscientious believer to leave a body that refuses to draw the proper line, despite the seriousness of schismatic behavior. I’ll leave it at that, because I know good people who remain in denominations that both I and they know have failed in key areas.)

I cannot recall anyone raising the creed/morality relationship earlier than Calvin College philosopher James K.A. Smith, and he’s been on my “I’m not sure I can trust him” list ever since he did; not because the question is illicit, but because the answer he seemed to give struck me as wrong-headed.

Today, I came across an answer which I think much better, that of Alastair Roberts via the Davenant Institute (if that link does not work, retrieve it from this page, where it’s titled “Does Creedal Orthodoxy Require Traditional Sexual Ethics?,” sexual ethics being the major if not exclusive battle ground today).

Roberts points out how “liberals” formerly emphasized good, ethical deeds over creeds, whereas now “conservatives” may use “orthodoxy” in polemics as synonymous with traditional sexual ethics. He then discusses five possible configurations of the relation between creed and deed, with his preference apparently being the fifth.

I can call it “much better” because, as I read it, that fifth alternative rejects the premise that ethics are outside the creed. The creed incorporates ethics when it professes “I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Belief in the church entails belief in the church’s ethical teaching.

I agree with that, but that lands us on the contested turf of ecclesiology (a word of which, tellingly, the WordPress spell-checker knows nothing; it is the doctrine of the Church).

I believe I’ve found the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, but I’m aware that other bodies (including one prominent and very upper-crusty one that can lay plausible claim to apostolicity), permit things I think absolutely illicit. Getting the “church” question right is crucial.

Even then, shepherds may fail the sheep, fearing or otherwise failing to communicate the whole counsel of God on matters ethical or, as is far too timely in August 2018, making mockery of it in their own lives. I’ve heard horror stories about failures of Christian formation so abysmal that Christians have no idea that, for instance, the Church forbids fornication, or even that it forbids the current version of promiscuously “hooking up.”

You can’t “church shop” on the superficial basis of whether the clergy are hammering home your personal pet subjects, but you probably can’t rely on clergy for 100% of your own Christian formation, either.

Finally, Roberts illustrates how the creedal affirmations of the Church ramify ethically by briefly scrutinizing the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of sexual sin in the Church at Corinth.

So if you’ve wondered about the opening question, check out Roberts’ answer.

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.