As others see us

Writing from Czechia, after an evening with the family of Vaclav Benda:

At one point, we were talking about the atmosphere of militant progressivism in the West, and how hard it is for Czechs to understand what’s happening in American universities. One of the Benda family friends, an academic, asked me if I had heard of Jordan B. Peterson. Yes, of course, I said.

“He is a miracle!” said this man.

Someone present explained that under communism, underground Christians looked with admiration to the West. But now they see so much decadence in the West, and don’t want it ….

(Rod Dreher)

UPDATE:

More:

I keep having a slightly unnerving experience here, both in Hungary and the Czech Republic. People cannot understand the insanity coming from America, the UK, and the EU on LGBT and gender theory. It is literally incomprehensible to them. Just this morning I was talking to a seminary professor of moral theology who said that his thesis on alternative sexualities was laughed at; his colleagues could not believe that anyone would take this stuff seriously. This professor is no advocate for alternative sexualities, but he had lived and taught in the West, and he knows they are going to have to be dealing with this stuff here sooner or later.

I keep telling the people I talk to about this that they should not simply laugh this stuff off as incomprehensible. Several agreed with me that 40 years of communism served as a vaccination against susceptibility to ideological extremism, and that this might be why even atheists (most Czechs are atheists) find the gender theory types to be crackpots. But then, if you had told a lot of Americans in 1998 what would be mainstream in our country on this front in 2018, they would have laughed like the Czechs and the Hungarians laughed. But now look.

(Another Dreher blog installment)

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

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

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

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Jordan Peterson again

This link was sent from an old teacher, now friend. I’ve modifed it to start with the “red meat” of Peterson’s religious stance. Prepare to be engrossed for maybe 27 minutes.

I don’t know whether Peterson gives an answer or just dances around the subject brilliantly. My friend and I seem to have differing interpretations.

Although I won’t try to distill Peterson’s position, I find this far saner to contemplate than “privilege checks” or insane intersectional tweets from feticidal maniacs.

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

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

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

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson, improbable cultural “rock star,” has been on a tear, and the Christianosphere is talking. Heck, the Babylon Bee even got into it.

There is no neutral standpoint, so it is legitimate to ask “where’s Jordan Peterson coming from?”

The consensus is that he’s not Christian, and I suspect that he’s on record to that effect. That’s not to say that Jordanism is altogether incompatible with Christianity. I don’t think it is, but you’ll soon see that there’s dissent on that.

An uncontroversial description of Peterson, so far as I’ve seen, is “Jungian.” A more controversial one is “stoic.”

One Charlie Clark, Writing at Mere Orthodoxy (which is thoughtful, reformed-leaning Evangelicals, not Orthodox — I know; it’s confusing) says Peterson is stoic, and it

is too bad then that the backbone of his whole program is what C.S. Lewis called “the Great Sin.” Peterson is, in fact, precisely the character that Lewis describes in Mere Christianity, one of those teachers who,

“appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride.”

For Lewis, “to beat down the simpler vices” by means of Pride is a cure far worse than the disease. And this is precisely Peterson’s strategy throughout 12 Rules for Life.

Clark also sees Peterson as effectively “Pelagian” when translated into Christianese:

Theologically, the expression of Pride is Pelagianism, the belief that you can save yourself without relying on God’s grace. This is precisely what we find in Peterson’s work. Consider what Peterson says Rule 2 (“Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”):

Heaven, after all, will not arrive of its own accord. We will have to work to bring it about, and strengthen ourselves, so that we can withstand the deadly angels and flaming sword of judgment that God used to bar its entrance…. Once having understood Hell, researched it, so to speak—particularly your own individual Hell—you could decide against going there or creating that. You could aim elsewhere. You could, in fact, devote your life to this…. That would justify your miserable existence. That would atone for your sinful nature, and replace your shame and self-consciousness with the natural pride and forthright confidence of someone who has learned once again to walk with God in the Garden.

Of course, Peterson, not being a Christian (nor perhaps even a theist), does not intend any of these statements in their theological sense. Nevertheless, the posture he is advocating excludes grace. As Peterson would have it, no one has come to rescue you and no help is on the way.

I like the lads at Mere Orthodoxy. I really do. And caution about any cultural “rock star” is warranted.

But I think the balance lies in another direction, described by an Anthony Bradley article that Clark linked. I’d encourage you to read it for yourself, but I’m going to try soaring up to 30,000 feet to give a meta-summary, including a concept the author doesn’t directly mention: So profoundly has the Augustinian idea of original sin, of people guilty and hell-bound from the moment of conception (perhaps this is later Calvinist gloss), shaped western Christendom, that Christianity as winsome toward feminism has for 50 years or so been savage toward men, and young men have known nothing but shaming as a consequence. To shamed and beaten-down young men, Peterson is a prophet.

Is he a false prophet? Where Evangelical Clark sees Pelagianism, Orthodox Tipsy hears echoes of synergism, with which Orthodox Christianity, rightly so-called, is comfortable to that point that we’re often mistaken for Pelagians. (I’m not about to claim Peterson for Orthodox Christianity, but I know he has at least slight familiarity with it from his interactions with iconographer Jonathan Pageau, for instance here and here.)

So, young Evangelical man, let me prescribe this:

  1. Go ahead and listen  to Jordan Peterson, inspired and lifted by his words.
  2. Remember that he’s not coming from a Christian place and there is no neutral place. Be careful. It’s a jungle out there and the enemy of your enemy may not ultimately be the friend you need.
  3. Be aware that the Sunday morning place that continues the beatings you get during the week is a sect (Evangelicalism) of a schism (the Protestant Reformation) from a schism (the Patriarch of Rome breaking from the other four Patriarchs of the first-millennium Church) — and that Augustine and Original Sin are not part of Christian consensus world-wide, even if they dominate in the world Catholicism built.
  4. Get Thee to an Orthodox Church to put Peterson’s message in historic Christian context. Unless the Priest is a convert with original sin notions still lingering, the beatings should cease. Even if the priest is still crypto-Protestant, the Liturgy knows better. God is gracious and loves mankind, you’ll hear again and again and again.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

An Antidote to 45

There are times when I genuinely wonder whether I can hold up psychologically in our current politics and culture. My shrink tells me I am far from alone in this, and that everyone she listens to is consumed with a depression that swings from despair to rage to what can only be called learned helplessness. There are moments when everything I have come to believe in — reasoned deliberation, mutual toleration, liberal democracy, free speech, honesty, decency, and moderation — seem as if they are in eclipse. Emotionalism, tribalism, intolerance, lies, cruelty, and extremism surround us (and I have not been immune in this climate to their temptations either). Trump has turned the right into a foul, spit-flecked froth of racist reactionism, and he has evoked a radical response on the left that, while completely understandable, alienates me and many others more profoundly with every passing day …

Trump himself seems hard to oppose without in some way mimicking him. Take the high road and you risk genteel irrelevance. Go down to Trump’s level and you find yourself wrestling with a brawler whose indecency eventually defines you as well …

[W.H.] Auden is an antidote to Trump and to our times. He despised celebrity; he ran from fame and money; he never “signaled” his many virtues to anyone; in fact, he went to great lengths to hide them from view. “Once at a party I met a woman who belonged to the same Episcopal church that Auden attended in the 1950s, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery in New York,” Mendelson recalls. “She told me that Auden heard that an old woman in the congregation was suffering night terrors, so he took a blanket and slept in the hallway outside her apartment until she felt safe again.” He privately paid for the tuition of a succession of war orphans until his death; he made himself look like an asshole in demanding immediate payment for some work — but only so he could quietly give the money to Dorothy Day’s homeless shelter in New York. Mendelson also recalls how “I got a phone call from a Canadian burglar who told me he had come across Auden’s poems in a prison library and had begun a long correspondence in which Auden gave him an informal course in literature. Auden was especially pleased to get him started on Kafka.” It turns out that there were countless such acts of quiet generosity.

He hated to grandstand. He knew the temptations of the easy political stance. He gave a public speech in the U.S. just after he arrived here in 1939 and got a rapturous response from the liberal crowd. But he wrote to a friend afterward: “I suddenly found I could really do it, that I could make a fighting demagogic speech and have the audience roaring … It is so exciting but so absolutely degrading; I felt just covered with dirt afterwards.”

Auden found this wisdom — and indeed way of life — in Christianity, as so many others have over the millennia, which is why I worry about our day and age. We live in a post-Christian world, and even many who say they are Christian turn out to be craven sophists, dedicating themselves to an evil man for the sake of something they call good. So where do we go to get off the train of history now that faith has “ended,” to see it in some deeper perspective, outside the hot take of 30 seconds ago, the news of the last hour, or the most recent assault on reason and decency from the man at the head of the table? …

(Andrew Sullivan) Read the whole thing, including the second part, on science and sexual harassment.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The latest school shooting

Two takes:

We discuss motives, but isn’t it always the same motive? “I have murder in my heart.” Why do so many Americans have murder in their hearts?

We know. We all say it privately, but it’s so obvious it’s hardly worth saying. We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent videogames, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hypersexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here.

So much change, so much of it un-gentle. Throughout, was anyone looking to children and what they need? That wasn’t really a salient aim or feature of all the revolutions, was it? The adults were seeing to what they believed were their rights. Kids were a side thought.

… A nation has an atmosphere. It has air it breathes in each day. China has a famous pollution problem: You can see the dirt in the air. America’s air looks clean but there are toxins in it, and they’re making the least defended and protected of us sick.

(Peggy Noonan)

Nobody will say the exact words “the foundational document of our government essentially requires that we suffer mass murder again and again with no recourse,” but that is what they will be telling you.

(Elizabeth Bruenig)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Alt-Right Christians?

[T]hose who ascribe the achievements of Western culture to race rather than providence have chosen Faust over Christ.

But to assert orthodox doctrine against __________’s heresies would be useless. His private dialectic, congregation of one, has transcended the old creeds. __________ wants to show that Christianity and the alt-right are compatible, not by declaring a new racist orthodoxy, but by denying that Christian faith is incompatible with anything at all.

________ thus places himself in the same camp as … every … liberal Protestant who preaches a liquid creed. For all of them, there is nothing stable at the heart of Christian faith, no set of propositions that must be judged true or false, no substrate of apostolic tradition or spiritual authority sustaining the Church through the ages; there is only that fickle goddess History, leading a perpetual process of discernment and evolution according to the self-loving demands of the “present.” Whether one uses this “infinitely malleable” Christianity to serve a liberal or a reactionary agenda is largely beside the point.

It’s an old phenomenon, perhaps best understood by Hans Kerrl, Nazi Reichminister for Church Affairs during the 1930s. In 1937, as the resistance of the Confessing Church grew bolder, Kerrl made a speech to loyalist clergy:

The Party stands on the basis of Positive Christianity, and Positive Christianity is National Socialism. . . . [Lutheran clergyman] Dr. Zoellner and [Catholic Bishop of Münster] Count Galen have tried to make clear to me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the son of God. That makes me laugh. . . . No, Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle’s Creed. . . . True Christianity is represented by the party, and the German people are now called by the party and especially the Führer to a real Christianity. . . . The Führer is the herald of a new revelation.

 

That potent German concoction we call liberal theology—historical criticism, Enlightened reason, fellow-feeling, and Hegelian dreams—was far more susceptible to ideological manipulation by the Nazis than were the traditional dogmas of Roman Catholics or evangelical Lutherans.

(Connor Grubaugh) I don’t play the “Nazi” card lightly. Neither did Grubaugh.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Self-narcotizing cant

From a Rod Dreher blog, quoting a Reformed Christian in Great Britain:

I am extremely rare in being concerned about Christian education. Most evangelicals I know think it is selfish, and possible sinful, to take children out of state education because of the evangelistic opportunities one can have at the school gate. It is also argued that children can’t be kept out of the world indefinitely. None of this makes sense. There is a deep, deep naiveté amongst most Christians and when you consider what we are up against, we are going to be eaten for breakfast. I just find a deep seated objection to thinking the way you do in the Benedict Option but with no clear rationale as to why.

That said, there are a few Christian schools which have been set up in the UK in the last few years which are excellent, however most evangelicals I speak to are suspicious about them.

One often hears US Evangelicals claiming the same thing about public schools. My guess is that it’s far, far more likely that the Evangelicals kids are going to get “evangelized” by the popular culture than the other way around. I also wonder if some parents who could afford these schools for their kids aren’t simply rationalizing the fact that they would rather get the free education than make a sacrifice to pay for them.

Most Christians in the United States apparently feel the same.

Our professed concern for “the children” is self-narcotizing cant.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Social Media

At last weekend’s Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Ken Myers‘ second plenary address was nominally about “Social Media and the Commodification of Friendship.”

I find that at my fairly advanced age, and perhaps with a little tone-deafness to social cues, I’ve seemingly avoided the worst crippling effects of media that Ken described, which presumably makes me a social media misfit where social media brings

a thousand bits of banal but cheerfully good news. Speed, radical transparency, confessionalism, exhibitionism, prideful consumerism and, above all, a relentless positivity — these are the values and practices of today’s social media. They are enforced by tribalist pressures — that is, the need to fit in, the example set by friends and the famous — as much as by the programmers and moderators who manage these networks.

It’s more like me to be the Debbie Downer of my Facebook timeline, and I don’t, unlike the average person, spend more time on social media than anything else online. Nowhere close.

So I, and much of the audience there, were thinking more about our children or grandchildren than about ourselves — though I’m not exempting myself.

Discernment is key … Navigating cultural life generally is a matter of wisdom, not of law.

In some circles that I speak to, it’s impossible to have a conversation about the use of media or technology because people are afraid of being “legalistic.” Because there’s no Bible verse that says something about Facebook or smartphones, people say that they should be free to do what they want to.

I think the fear of legalism is itself a form of legalism. It’s to assume that law is the only relevant category guiding our lives. That places much more emphasis on law than the Bible does. In I Corinthians 10, for instance, St. Paul is quite clear in saying some things are lawful, but it doesn’t mean that they’re helpful or will build us up. So that the lawfulness of something is not a sufficient excuse or rationale for endorsing it.

Wisdom is the Biblical framework for making decisions about how we might navigate and live well. Wisdom transcends the stark categories of lawful and unlawful. Many things that are lawful are still foolish, and unfortunately the fear of legalism often cuts off the conversation about wisdom and folly.

(Ken Myers)

This is, in a way, “deja vu all over again.” In my Evangelical childhood and adolescence, we had a lot of extrabiblical rules. I won’t digress into listing them or critiquing whether those who made the rules had come anywhere close to prohibiting those things that most risked spiritual harm to us. At the time, I thought not, and I was in the “there’s no Bible verse that says that” camp much of the time.

The adult response vacillated  between putting scripture on the rack and torturing it to make it say “that,” on the one hand, and frank confession that they, our elders, were forbidding things they thought “inexpedient” (to use the King James term for St. Paul’s discouragement of dumb lawful stuff) on the other hand.

I now think that they were trying to do a good thing, however clumsily and unpersuasively they did it, and however undiscerning they may have  been in identifying salient threats. It’s more obvious now than then, but the recent observation of Kenda Creasy Dean (author of Almost Christian) in her interview by Ken Myers was probably true even then:

One of the things that’s really tricky to convey to parents is that if you’re trying to form your kids to be Christians, it’s not going to fit them very well for American culture. It’s a lot easier to raise kids who are Christianish — who are capable of affirming a few central beliefs but who have little of consequence in their lives that’ shaped decisively by that belief.

Form Christians anyway. This anti-culture, such as it is hasn’t got very long before big changes come anyway.

Suggested resources:

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We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Second-hand Random, Bold Predictions for 2018

Dwight Longnecker makes his Random, Bold Predictions for 2018, disclaiming the prophet’s mantle in a sort of caveat emptor.

Excerpts (wistful, not random):

5. The Sexual Revolution will fizzle out. Hugh Hefner is dead and buried next to Marilyn Monroe. People are fed up with aggressive sexual adventurers. Women don’t want to be bunnies anymore. The flower power love the one you’re with generation are getting really old and their stamina is not what it was. Ordinary folks can see that the sexual revolution, like all ideological revolutions, ends in absurdity and violence. A younger generation can see the freaks, the disasters and the walking wounded from fifty years of perversity and they are going to step away from it into the one option that is healthy, wholesome and good: sex between one man and one woman that makes babies and families for life.

7. Radical Islam will start to peter out. There are reports of an amazing amount of conversions to Christianity in Islamic lands. People don’t really want to live in bondage to theocratic regimes who behead little children and who sell women and little girls as sex slaves. Not really. As rebellion simmers in Islamic countries be prepared for crackdowns. It won’t be pretty.

9. Europe will begin to recover her Christian roots. Atheism will die out because it is a lie. So will fashionable secular agnosticism. Poland will be the center from which a renewed Christian revival begins to spread across Europe, first in Eastern Europe, then moving West. It has happened before. While it seems impossible, it is when the pendulum swings to its furthest point that it must swing back.

Note that number 9 will probably mean more stories from Mainstream Media (see Longnecker’s prediction 2) about “far-right” candidates in Hungary and points north, south and west, and will mean fewer non-Christian immigrants to the re-Christianizing countries. I’m not wistful about that.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Deep chasm

American Law from a Catholic Perspective:
Through a Clearer Lens

Edited by Ronald J. Rychlak
Rowman and Littlefield,
326 pages, $42

In this assemblage of twenty-two essays, Catholic academics and legal scholars apply Catholic social teaching to the poetic and prosaic aspects of the American legal system. The subjects discussed range from labor and employment issues and family law to property law, religious liberty, and the philosophy of law. The authors attempt to show the commonalities between Catholic teaching and American law; they also point out where the two diverge.

In reading these essays, I was struck more by the latter. Over and over again, we see the deep chasm between the Catholic understanding of the human person and the anthropology implied by American liberalism. The difference is stark. The former conceives of each human being as a person—a relational being, in relationship to God and others and dependent on God and others. The latter sees each human being as an individual who can make and fashion his own being and existence autonomously and apart from God and others. God is a valid choice, but he is just that, a choice. The Catholic lawyer cannot help but feel a dissonance between his deepest beliefs and the law he is called to practice each day. American Law from a Catholic Perspective helps to remind readers where their allegiances must lie. The attentive reader can begin to see the ways in which he must work to change American law at its very roots to help it conform to the truth proclaimed by the Church.

—Conor B. Dugan writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

(First Things, January 2018, emphasis added. The paywall crumbles as the month wears on.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.