Hobbit Day 2022

I have it on reasonably good authority that today is Hobbit Day, and it turns out that Peter Jackson isn’t the only one to cash in on Hobbits.

Culture

How the Bobos Broke America — key excerpt

I tend to quote a lot of things without comment, but I’m going to say that the following strikes me as true, and so contrary to the recent history of the Democrat and Republican parties that it’s core to why I believe a major realignment is underway. Today’s Republican party is not the same Republican party I left in January 2005. For my taste, it’s worse, but that taste almost certainly is tainted by Orange Man. But I gradually came to see his appeal:

What causes psychic crisis are the whiffs of “smarter than” and “more enlightened than” and “more tolerant than” that the creative class gives off. People who feel that they have been rendered invisible will do anything to make themselves visible; people who feel humiliated will avenge their humiliation. Donald Trump didn’t win in 2016 because he had a fantastic health-care plan. He won because he made the white working class feel heard.

How the Bobos Broke America.

There’s no need to hold a pity party for me, but I’ve spent most of my life too Christian and too socially awkward to be comfortable with social elites, too elite to feel instinctively empathetic or entirely comfortable with the working class.

How unreality spreads

Wrong beliefs and wrong perceptions are contagious whether or not they are sincere, because dissidents tend to self-censor and act like believers. That is how entire societies, such as the Soviet Union, can be built on everyone’s publicly pretending to believe what many privately know to be false.

Jonathan Rauch, Echo Chambers and Confirmation Loops in The Constitution of Knowledge.

I think this has some contemporary relevance. I’ll say no more.

National Conservatism could be a boon for religious liberty lawyers

Here’s the national conservatism “Statement of Principles” on God and public religion, signed by dozens of leaders of the national conservatism movement:

No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition. For millennia, the Bible has been our surest guide, nourishing a fitting orientation toward God, to the political traditions of the nation, to public morals, to the defense of the weak, and to the recognition of things rightly regarded as sacred. The Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and non-believers alike. Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes. (Emphasis added.)

This paragraph describes a form of religious supremacy that relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting Christianity a position of powerful public privilege.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that the “moral vision” of the signatories broadly reflects the diversity of Christian belief and practice in the United States. After all, there are churches that host drag queen events, as well as churches that condemn drag queens. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are completely dependent on their Bible-believing, church-going base constituencies (white Evangelicals for Republicans and Black Protestants for Democrats).

Are national conservatives thus satisfied when either party wins, so long as a Christian (Joe Biden, for example) is at the helm?

Of course not. For the term “moral vision” to mean anything, it has to mean a particular version of professed Christian belief and practice.

David French

A polity that "relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting [a form of putative] Christianity a position of powerful public privilege" is inconsistent with current Supreme Court thinking, and I don’t think Trump’s nominees change that.

When did modernity begin?

For us, the real Middle Ages extend from the reign of Charlemagne to the opening of the fourteenth century, at which date a new decadence set in that has continued, through various phases and with gathering impetus, up to the present time. This date is the real starting-point of the modern crisis: it is the beginning of the disruption of Christendom, with which the Western civilization of the Middle Ages was essentially identified: at the same time, it marks the origin of the formation of ‘nations’ and the end of the feudal system, which was very closely linked with the existence of Christendom. The origin of the modern period must therefore be placed almost two centuries further back than is usual with historians…

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World.

What Putin lacks

[T]he death of Queen Elizabeth II and the wave of antique pageantry help illuminate one of the Russian president’s important weaknesses. He has been hobbled in his fight because his regime lacks the mystical quality we call legitimacy.

Ross Douthat, Why Queen Elizabeth’s Strength Is Putin’s Weakness

This takes “self-deprecating” too far

We sat and watched the committal service, we who threw all this away in the 18th century, all the costumery, ribbonry, and titlery and iconic disciplines and endless dignity, in favor of the mess we know all too well …

[A]fter a couple hours of admiring tradition and ceremony and everyone knowing which foot to put where, it dawns on me that this elevation of bureaucracy to an art form is what America fortunately escaped and thus was better able to give the world the phenomenal techno advances of my lifetime, the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines. These things were not created by platoons of people marching in place but by brilliant gamblers and entrepreneurs, nerds of many stripes. (We also gave the world the blues and rock ’n’ roll, but that’s another story.)

An English major in college, I looked down on IT students because they all dressed alike and carried plastic pocket protectors for their ballpoint pens. I saw them as dullards. As it turns out they were at work on data technology that led to the internet, which changed my life and yours too. Meanwhile, the English department and other humanities march along beside the hearse and the horsemen.

I wanted to be eccentric and got my wish but the engineers in my family are more engaged with the real world.

Garrison Keillor.

Once again, I’ll opine.

I like technology entirely too well, but “the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines” do nothing to fill the void in the human soul, and I deny that they are the “real world” in a meaningful sense. Maybe monarchy doesn’t fill the soul-void, either; I don’t know (at least in part) because I’ve never lived in a monarchy. But I think monarchy says something true about reality that all the tech in the world misses.

So maybe we and Great Britain are still joined symbiotically at the hip; they provide the meaning, we provide the toys and the parties.

Correlation

This sort of thing is why I’ll probably renew Jesse Singal’s Substack:

Missed it when it was fresh

[I]t is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.

Boris Johnson, mid-2018, on Burqas.

Shorts

Journalism

Two formerly solid journals seem to have picked their tribes, and now assiduously pitch to the worst tribal instincts.

The Decline of First Things

There are many occasions for exposing hypocrisy these days. In the aftermath of the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Florida home, we can point to Hillary Clinton’s private server. Asked to denounce Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, we can cite Stacey Abrams, who never accepted her defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia.

R.R. Reno opening his big monthly Editorial in First Things.

That is Whataboutism at 190 proof. I have no idea what he thinks the FBI (or someone) ought to have done about Hillary’s server 6-7 years ago, and he certainly doesn’t tell us. He just insinuates that what they didn’t do was hypocritical because of what they later did. As for Stacy Abrams, so far as I know she has dropped “they done me wrong” from her stump speeches, unlike Orange Man (who is dining out on it), even if she has never formally conceded defeat.

That was just the opener. Considering how the column continued, I’m inclined to think that Reno had a bad case of writer’s block, and so resorted to tendentious bullshit.

I am thus reminded why I still (barely, and decreasingly) consider First Things essential reading but have ceased giving its publishing corporation anything beyond the cost of my subscription.

Conservative Radicals

It’s interesting to see a tribe close ranks.

Ron DeSantis’ sending two planefuls of refugees to Martha’s Vineyard is morally indefensible trolling.

So how does his tribe defend it? By focusing on “why the Left went so bat-guano crazy” over it, and implying that DeSantis had effectively taken a chapter from Saul Alinsky:

Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

Ridicule Is Man’s Most Potent Weapon

Apparently “ridicule” is now National Review’s term for instrumentalizing humans who are unpopular with the GOP.

With Kevin Williamson defecting to The Dispatch, I’m almost out of reasons (I can think of just two remaining) to glance at the National Review homepage any more.

Politics

Wrong kind of diversity

Liz Truss, Great Britain’s new Prime Minister, has completed her cabinet. There are no white men. None. But that’s not good enough for Britain’s Left:

“It’s a meritocratic advance for people who have done well in education, law and business,” Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank that focuses on issues of immigration, integration and national identity, told CNN. “It’s not an advance on social class terms.”

This is an interesting criticism. “Meritocratic,” used here in a pejorative sense, means based on ability and achievement, earned through a combination of talent and hard work. Traditionally, merit served as the primary consideration in hiring, but some people today see the very systems that confer merit as rigged, especially against minorities. In an effort to rectify that imbalance and to diversify the work force, particularly for leadership positions, it has become common practice in hiring — in the business and nonprofit worlds, as in government — to make racial or ethnic diversity a more significant factor.

The trouble is that for many of the same people, ethnic and racial diversity count only when combined with a particular point of view …

The implication is that there’s only one way to authentically represent one’s race, ethnicity or sex — otherwise you’re a phony or a pawn.

Pamela Paul, When Diversity Isn’t the Right Kind of Diversity

War? Really?

“Even the people who are responsible for disseminating the laptop admit that, on a human level, what happened to Hunter is horrifying. ‘A lot of stuff I do, I don’t feel great about,’ says one of them, Steve Bannon. ‘But we’re in a war.’”

The Morning Dispatch, recommending a New York Magazine article on the Hunter Biden laptop saga.

Steve Bannon is a very intelligent but quite unprincipled. “War”? Baloney!

J.D. Vance ❤️ Donald J. Trump

Trump went off on a tangent about a New York Times story that said Vance’s campaign didn’t ask Trump to come here. “JD wants my support so bad. He’s kissing my ass.”

Andrew Tobias on Twitter

Is this why we’re to take Trump “seriously if not literally”? He certainly captured the essence of Vance’s metamorphosis.

A Moment of Pleasure

Seldom has a Democrat made me as happy as Letitia James made me on Wednesday.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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 9/18/22

Liturgies

How Elizabeth experienced her coronation

Over here, people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the by the sacramental side of what we going on.

C.S. Lewis on the 1953 Coronation of Elizabeth II Regina, attributed to a personal letter.

In contrast to sacramentality, America developed …

Proto-Populism in the Pews

Simply put, the Antichrist now worked his evil machinations through elites of all kind, particularly the clergy.

Nathan Hatch, Thundering Legions in The Democratization of American Christianity

Or so Americans leaned to think. Bereft of sacrament, they invented tawdry substitutes, personal and collective:

C.S. Lewis on Christian patriotism

From Screwtape Letters:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

I think things would be better if supposedly serious Christian people stopped talking like demons, don’t you?

Jake Meador

What happens to churches that forsake liturgy

What strikes me about certain low church communities is that they sometimes imagine themselves to have no liturgy at all. In some cases, they might even be overtly hostile to the very idea of a liturgy. This is interesting to me because, in practice, it is not that they have no liturgy at all as they imagine—they simply end up with an unacknowledged liturgy of a different sort. Their services also feature predictable patterns and rhythms, as well as common cadences and formulations, even if they are not formally expressed or delineated and although they differ from the patterns and rhythms of high church congregations. It’s not that you get no church calendar, for example, it’s that you end up trading the old ecclesial calendar of holy days and seasons, such as Advent, Epiphany, and Lent, for a more contemporary calendar of national and sentimental holidays, which is to say those that have been most thoroughly commercialized.

L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society

What happens to politicians formed spiritually in such churches

When Vice President Mike Pence delivered his speech at the Republican National Convention, it was like witnessing a Walker Percy satire. Pence remixed Hebrews 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:17, by replacing “Jesus” with “Old Glory,” the “saints” with “this land of heroes,” and even interjected his own biblical gloss—“that means freedom always wins.”

In Love in the Ruins, the Roman Catholic Church has split into three groups, one of which is the American Catholic Church, whose new “Rome” is Cicero, Illinois. The protagonist Tom More attends church there with his mother to celebrate Property Rights Sunday, a major feast day for the church.

Unlike its forebear, the American Catholic Church “emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin Mass, and plays ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the elevation.”

In response to Pence’s speech, some Christian leaders denounced his idolatry, a great start to warding off Percy’s “Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world.” However, if we want to avert the American apocalypse, we need better readers and thinkers of the Word. As Americans, we should prioritize reading well, learning what words mean, why context matters, and how to be comfortable with mystery.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, Percy and Pence and the American Sense of Scripture

The Religion of American Greatness

Paul D. Miller, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University, recognizes that most of the existing works on Christian nationalism “are rather extreme and almost comical examples of beating up on straw men—or would be, if they weren’t also fear-mongering scurrilous libel masquerading as scholarship.” In The Religion of American Greatness, Miller, who identifies himself as a “Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer,” proposes to offer a “detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism.”

Mark David Hall, Christian Nationalism: An Existential Threat?

Deja Vu

I guess it’s time for somebody to mention, and even to elaborate upon, white Evangelicalism’s pathetic, unbiblical obsession with celebrities: Richard Ostling Is celebrity culture eroding American evangelicalism? This publishing insider says ‘yes’

Yes, I send “unbiblical.” Elevating novice Christian celebrities is pathetic and it’s dangerous to the celebrities themselves.

None of the periodic commentary on this weakness has changed a damned thing, of course.

Hidden life

Enough of my rough and critical thoughts on American religious life.

God Saved the Queen

In all of human history Queen Elizabeth II is the single person who has been most prayed for. From her birth in 1926 she was included in a petition myriads of people prayed day after day: It called upon the Almighty to bless and preserve “all the Royal Family.” From her accession to the throne in 1952, millions began to pray for her daily by name: “That it might please thee to keep and strengthen . . . thy Servant Elizabeth, our most gracious Queen and Governor.” A modern form introduced during her reign that is often used today pleads, “Guard and strengthen your servant Elizabeth our Queen.”

Prayers Answered: God Saved the Queen via Alan Jacobs. The author goes on with other notable things about the late Queen.

Learning to Let Things Be

We seem to be on the verge of choosing what and whether human life—and with it, all life—will continue to be on this planet. Whether science fiction or not there are a lot of brainy people with a lot of money behind them trying to turn us into something quite different than what we have been. I think they will fail. But I don’t really know, maybe they won’t. They will likely do tremendous of damage in the process regardless. Yet nobody is able to give a fully coherent explanation of what we are doing or why. Instead, we are drowning in partial, often unhelpful explanations. I have to wonder whether our situation even can be understood. Have we reached our cognitive and moral limits? Or are the cacophony of reasons we give merely an implicit way of admitting we don’t really know why we do what we do? Admitting our fundamental ignorance would at least be refreshing in its honesty. Instead, it is not unusual to find various deep, sincere, erudite, and eloquent views of our situation that are in nearly complete contradiction with one another. It actually is quite common. Many of them are done with the same air of certainty—where there likely is none.

I myself offer only the Arsenios Option, i.e., fleeing the world of distraction and ambition, being silent, and dwelling in stillness. I don’t offer it as way to understand our situation. It’s what you do when all explanations have failed and when talking turns to gibberish … It is the hope that we can go deeper than the problem itself. In silence, stillness not-knowing, we might possibly learn to stop trying to fix everything. Maybe thereby we can avoid the inevitable catastrophe our solutions themselves are causing. We can learn to accept that we don’t see things clearly and that we probably never will. We can accept that we don’t really know and that not-knowing is actually the better and more human way to live. We can live humbly with each other and upon the earth and with the Divine. We can finally learn to simply let things be.

For although at certain times and in certain circumstances it is necessary and useful to dwell on the particular situation and activity of people and things, during this work it is almost useless. Thinking and remembering are forms of spiritual understanding in which the eye of the spirit is opened and closed upon things as the eye of a marksman is on his target. But I tell you that everything you dwell upon during this work becomes an obstacle to union with God. For if your mind is cluttered with these concerns there is no room for him.

—The Cloud of Unknowing

Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden (footnotes omitted)


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Friday, 7/29/22

R.I.P. William Jon Gray

William Jon Gray, undoubtedly the best Choral Conductor I ever sang under, has died at his home in New York state at age 66. I have the impression (from someone saying “You sung under him?!”) that he was widely known in American choral music circles.

That’s all I know about his death at this point, the news having just come to me Thursday through the (reliable) grapevine.

Bill was Artistic Director of the Bach Chorale Singers from 1994 to 2010. I re-joined the Chorale, after a very brief prior experience in the 1980s, in 1997. In addition to his formal education, Bill learned from the Master, Robert Shaw, having sung with him for some period of time. He forever followed what I understand was “Mr. Shaw’s” practice of meticulously marking scores before distributing them to his singers and, heaven help us, count-singing. His other accomplishments can be seen at the first link, above.

The pinnacles of my experience with Bill were, in no particular order:

  • performance of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers,
  • a professional recording of the Latin Organ and Choral Music of Zoltan Kodaly, with Organist Marilyn Keiser, on the Pro Organo label. One track unfailingly brings tears to my eyes, and
  • in retrospect, sitting a couple of feet from our Guest Tenor Soloist, Lawrence Brownlee, days after he had won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions. (Bill said “Enjoy him. We’ll never be able to afford him again.”)

Signs of the Times

  • A handful of former Democratic and Republican officials announced Wednesday they are forming a new national political party—Forward—that they believe will appeal to voters frustrated with the United States’ current two-party system. The centrist party will be chaired by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and plans to gain ballot access in all 50 states in time for the 2024 presidential and congressional elections.
  • A new FBI search warrant claims the man who allegedly attempted to assassinate Justice Brett Kavanaugh last month was also planning to kill two other Supreme Court justices. The FBI alleges the man searched “assassin skills,” “most effective place to stab someone,” and “quietest semi auto rifle” online before he was arrested, and that he messaged unnamed users on Discord that he was going to “stop Roe v. Wade from being overturned” and that he would “remove some people from the Supreme Court.”

The Morning Dispatch, July 28.

Turning Point, USA?

I conducted dozens of focus groups of Trump 2020 voters in the 17 months between the storming of the Capitol on January 6 and when the hearings began in June. One measure was consistent: At least half of the respondents in each group wanted Trump to run again in 2024. The prevailing belief was that the 2020 election was stolen—or at least unfair in some way—and Trump should get another shot.

But since June, I’ve observed a shift. I’ve conducted nine focus groups during this period, and found that only 14 percent of Trump 2020 voters wanted him to run in 2024, with a few others on the fence. In four of the groups, zero people wanted Trump to run again. Their reasoning is clear: They’re now uncertain that Trump can win again.

[U]nlike the impeachment hearings, which in some ways made GOP voters more defensive of Trump, the accumulating drama of the January 6 hearings—which they can’t avoid in social-media feeds—seems to be facilitating not a wholesale collapse of support, but a soft permission to move on.

Sarah Longwell, The January 6 Hearings Are Changing Republicans’ Minds

In [Peter Thiel’s] view, much of what passes for “progress” is in truth more like “distraction”. As he puts it, “the iPhone that distracts us from our environment also distracts us from the ways our environment is unchanging and static.” And in this culture, economy and politics of chronic self-deception, as Thiel sees it, we tell ourselves that we’re advancing because “grandma gets an iPhone with a smooth surface,” but meanwhile she “gets to eat cat food because food prices have gone up.”

Mary Harrington, Peter Thiel on the dangers of progress.

One of many provocative observations in this long piece.

And yes, I’ve read accusations that he’s a fascist. I’m just saying he’s smart, not that he’s good.

Nothing pointless

Speaking of fascists …

Himmler quite aptly defined the SS member as the new type of man who under no circumstances will ever do “a thing for its own sake.”

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Church/State

Lifeway research suggests that as many as 2/3 of American churches incorporate patriotic music into their liturgy for public worship during the time around the 4th of July holiday.

So this is one piece of the problem: For many of our nation’s white evangelicals, their patriotic commitments as Americans are so intertwined with their Christian faith that it is very hard for them to imagine a scenario where Christian fidelity actually requires them to reject standard American ideas about identity, wealth, success, and so on.

Jake Meador, Defining “White Evangelical Crap”.

Was MLK antiracist? Barack Obama?

Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech would not meet Kendi’s definition of anti-racism, nor would the one Barack Obama made about there being too many fatherless Black families. Indeed, nearly everything that Americans have been taught about how to be anti-racist for the past several decades is, according to Kendi’s explicit definition, racist.

Bari Weiss, Stop Being Shocked

Flash!

This just in: With Russia at war in Ukraine, and Putin’s stench in American nostrils increasing, our 45th POTUS has declared himself an acolyte of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr now. al-Sadr’s followers are very special people.

(Pass it on.)

Note to Readers

I will be traveling for more than a week. I may or may not get a post scheduled for tomorrow or intermittently during travel, but I should be back sometime the week of August 7.

And I just realized that today is the 57th anniversary of my most serious accident, on a motorcycle at age 16.


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Wednesday, 7/20/22

You didn’t miss anything. I didn’t publish yesterday because I just didn’t have enough material. That’s likely to recur, as I’m gradually correcting my incorrigible habit of poring over news that seems especially shareable.

Polling

The survey also found that 32% of Latino Catholics said their religious faith dictates their views on abortion, compared to 73% of white evangelical Protestants.

A new survey found Latino Catholics overwhelmingly support abortion rights. Here’s why.

I would be a pollster’s nightmare, as I find so many polling questions unanswerable if not unintelligible.

Orthodox Christianity is opposed to abortion, but I was anti-abortion before I became Orthodox, and (heaven help me, for this may mean that I’m an American individualist) I would affirm that at no time in my life has my religious faith "dictated my views" on abortion.

I have difficulty getting into the mind of anyone who would listen to that polling question, note the import of "dictate," and then answer in the affirmative. Thus the question is a — what? litmus test? ink blot test? I certainly don’t see useful information coming from it.

I don’t consider myself a rebel against my Church. I don’t think it has ever said what an Orthodox political position on abortion should be, though in my parish we especially pray regularly for an end to abortion through changed hearts.

My religious faith does "dictate" some things — say, my rejection of monothelitism and monoenergism and suchlike — important Christological questions of import on which the Church’s position is longstanding and plausibly reasoned (e.g., those teachings effectively denied the full humanity of Christ by saying that He had no human will or energy). Countermanding what the Church says about such theological nuances is above my pay grade and, unlike David Bentley Hart, I’m not arrogant enough to "go there." (I was a Protestant for two-thirds of my life and don’t care to try it again.)

But abortion? Capital punishment? Euthanasia? Eugenics? I can’t help but form my own opinions on those, informed by the Church but not dictated to.

Notes from a roving raconteur

I beat myself up because I’m an old fundamentalist and self-mortification is our specialty. And I’ve been having too much fun lately, which confuses me, doing shows in red states to crowds that include a good many Republicans who voted for the landslide winner in 2020 but nonetheless were warm and receptive to me who voted for the thief. In blue states, audiences are listening to make sure you check the boxes of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism. These are people who don’t mind that many theaters refuse to do “Our Town” because the “Our” does not acknowledge that Grover’s Corners was stolen from indigenous people. I use the possessive pronoun in singing “My country, ’tis of thee,” which audiences in red states enjoy singing with me, and also our national anthem, ignoring the fact that Francis Scott Key did own slaves.

Back in the Sixties, when I was in my twenties, we sang “We Shall Overcome” and clearly we did not overcome, we only created new hairstyles. So we pass the torch to the young, some of whom feel the word “person” shows gender bias and want to change it to perself. To which I say, “Good luck with dat.”

Garrison Keillor, national treasure.

Vignettes

There’s no apparent common theme to this two vignettes, but I thought each of them was interesting in different ways:

  • A young Hungarian academic I dined with last evening told me how jarring it was to get his master’s degree at a western European university, and to be congratulated by fellow grad students on how lucky he was to have grown up in a country that had been blessed by Marxist government. His own family had had everything taken from them by the Communists, yet these privileged nitwits could only imagine that life had been glorious under Communism. This has something to do with the fact that he’s living back in Hungary now, though he could make a lot more money working in the West. He can’t bear to deal with such ignorant people.
  • [A correspondent was one of] a bunch of very conservative Catholics who wanted to live rurally, and went out and bought land in the same area. This reader said he has been mostly grateful for having had the chance to live there and raise his kids there, but he’s not sure he would do it again if he had the chance. The reason, he said, is that he was too optimistic about how life would be there. He says he had not counted on the fact that the kind of Catholics who would make such a radical choice — strong-willed Catholics like himself, as he conceded — would find it unusually hard to get along. The reader told me that there were frequent disputes within the community over purity — not strictly sexual purity, but over whether or not it was licit to do things like let your daughters wear pants, or keep them in skirts and dresses. He said it got to be exhausting, dealing with these communal neuroses.

Rod Dreher’s Diary, Sisi, Queen Of The Magyars

Indestructible lies

… There in Boston is a monument to the man who discovered anesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t discover it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah, no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years ….

Mark Twain via Alan Jacobs

When Wystan met Hannah

“I met Auden late in his life and mine—at an age when the easy, knowledgeable intimacy of friendships formed in one’s youth can no longer be attained, because not enough life is left, or expected to be left, to share with another. Thus, we were very good friends but not intimate friends.”

Hannah Arendt, explaining (it seems) her refusal of a marriage proposal by the poet and friend W. H. Auden (via L. M. Sacasas). I was unaware of that episode, which rather complicates my recollection that Auden eventually gave up trying to resist his homosexuality.

Sacasas continues on other topics:

The examples I have in mind of this receding of materiality arise, not surprisingly, from the most prosaic quarters of daily life. As a bookish person, for example, I think about how the distinct material shape of the book not only encodes a text but also becomes a reservoir of my personal history. I remember where I was when I read it. Or I recall who gave it to me or to whom I have lent it. In other words, the presence of the book on a shelf recalls its contents to mind at a glance and also intertwines an assortment of memories into the backdrop of my day-to-day life. At the very least, it becomes an always available potential portal into my past. I don’t mean to be romantic about any of this. In fact, I think this is all decidedly unromantic, having to do chiefly with the meaning and significance of the stuff that daily surrounds us.

The digitized book by contrast may have its own advantages, but by being the single undifferentiated interface for every book it loses its function as a mooring for the self. It’s not that the e-reader has no materiality of its own—of course it does. Perhaps the best way of conceptualizing this is to say that the device over-consolidates the materiality of reading in a way that smooths out the texture of our experience. Consider how this pattern of over-consolidation and subsequent smoothing of the texture of material culture recurs throughout digital society. The smartphone is a good example. An array of distinct physical objects—cash, maps, analog music players, cameras, calendars, etc.—become one thing. The texture of our experience is flattened out as a result.

He’s not wrong about this (insider joke to one of my readers). Yet, because of the Readwise service, I’m developing a preferential option for eBooks. That and my shelves having filled to overflowing with regular books several times.

It’s helpful to be reminded of what’s lost, though. I hope Warren Farha of the world’s greatest brick and mortar bookstore, Eighth Day Books in Wichita, will forgive my my opinion if he’s reading this.

Awkward

Barton and WallBuilders argue that Jefferson and the Founders, outside of some exceptions, meant for the “wall of protection” to operate in one direction. It also, the group and its founder suggested, applies mostly to the federal government, not the states.

Jack Jenkins, The activist behind opposition to the separation of church and state

Well! This is awkward! I have a bad impression of David Barton, who I’ve understood as a grifter, dining out on "America is a Christian Nation."

But Barton is almost completely correct in what I first quoted. What Thomas Jefferson called a "wall of separation" was meant to protect the churches (I’d prefer "religion," though both terms have shortcomings in this context) from the state; and it was, at the time the First Amendment was ratified, intended to apply only to the federal government ("Congress shall make no law …"). Heck, Massachusetts had an established Congregational Church for 30 more years after Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, and that letter was well after the Bill of Rights!

Where Barton may be wrong is in in the report that he thinks that amendment "applies" rather than "applied" mostly to the Federal Government. The First Amendment has been incorporated in the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment and thereby made applicable to the states. Thus Saith the Courts.

Thus, it seems to me, Barton may be telling half-truths to embolden crypto-theocrats by whose concepts of Christianity I have no desire to be governed — unless the alternative is the Wokeworld religion. I would almost certainly pick the Bartonites in that contest.

Like I said: awkward.

Is the tide turning?

… there is something undeniably more powerful about reading critiques of contemporary sexual morality that arise not from traditional religious spaces, but from within secular feminism and and from elite media. That’s when you know the tide might be turning.

I bring this up because in every single argument and controversy under the sun, reality gets a vote. Culture wars are ultimately won or lost not by online arguments but through their real-world consequences, and the position that leads to greater human misery tends to lose.

To connect with the issues at the start of this piece, when speaking about the wave of intolerance that’s swept the academy, philanthropy, Hollywood, and much of mainstream media, I’ve told conservative friends that they have no idea how miserable it was making most of the people in those organizations. Something had to give, and the immiserated majority is going to be intimidated by the motivated minority for only so long.

When speaking of the reality of porn-influenced consent culture, there’s a similar dynamic in play. It’s immiserating people by the millions.

David French, in an encouraging column: we seem to have hit bottom and started back up in several ways. At least that’s what French thinks.

Imagine my arse

Comments such as these convince me that John Lennon captured a common liberal dream in his haunting song “Imagine.” Imagine if there were no countries, and no religion too. If we could just erase the borders and boundaries that divide us, then the world would “be as one.” It’s a vision of heaven for liberals, but conservatives believe it would quickly descend into hell. I think conservatives are on to something.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind.

I absolutely hate that song, and I was glad to learn I’m not alone.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

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.

Curated just for you, whoever you are

Legalia

Why would a conservative want to serve on SCOTUS?

I can’t fathom why anyone would want to serve on the Supreme Court. To be more precise, I can’t fathom why any conservative would want to serve on the Supreme Court. Liberal jurists are feted with honors at every juncture. But conservative jurists are excoriated and personally attacked. I wonder, in hindsight, if Kavanaugh still would have pursued a position on the Supreme Court, knowing what we know now: the first confirmation hearing, baseball tickets, Spartacus, Christine Blasey Ford, Michael Avenatti, Ronan Farrow, the second confirmation hearing, yearbook, beer, Klobuchar, Saturday Night Live, Matt Damon, the Dobbs leak, and now an assassination attempt outside of his home. During this time, Kavanaugh and his family have been dragged through such painful experiences, one after the other. Was it all worth it? And to what end?

Eugene Volokh

303 Creative

Creative professionals routinely express their politics in their art—through the art they choose or refuse to create. Famously, for example, shortly after the election of Donald Trump, a number of fashion designers (artists, to be sure) declared that they would, under no circumstances, “dress” Melania or Ivanka Trump –this despite the fact that dresses themselves rarely (if ever) contain a political or cultural message as explicit as the words or image a web designer creates. Merely doing business with the Trumps was an intolerable notion to creative professionals who abhorred the Trump family’s political methods and messages.

In an open letter rejecting the idea of working with the Trumps, designer Sophie Theallet said, “We value our artistic freedom, and always humbly seek to contribute to a more humane, conscious, and ethical way to create in this world.” She said, “As an independent fashion brand, we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas.” And another designer, Naeem Khan, asserted: “A designer is an artist, and should have the choice of who they want to dress or not.”

In reporting on the designer choices, the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan explained well how artists view their work:

Like other creative individuals, Theallet sees fashion as a way of expressing her views about beauty and the way women are perceived in society. Fashion is her tool for communicating her world vision. In the same way that a poet’s words or a musician’s lyrics are a deeply personal reflection of the person who wrote them, a fashion designer’s work can be equally as intimate. In many ways, it’s why we are drawn to them. We feel a one-to one connection.

A web designer’s work is similarly intimate ….

Brief of 15 Family Policy Organizations as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioners in the 303 Creative case (internal citations omitted).

If you don’t know the case, you should get to know it.

Colorado, with the help of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appealsl, has mounted the worst, and most explicit, attack on freedom from compelled speech since West Virginia v. Barnette in World War II (when West Virginia required recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by schoolchildren on pain of expulsion).

Colorado claimed that even though 303 Creative was engaged in pure speech (a key legal category; Masterpiece Cakehop, in contrast, had a creative element but in the end produced not speech, but cake), it could be compelled to create a website for a same-sex wedding because none of the other wedding website creators had exactly the talents of 303 Creative, so 303 was effectively a monopoly and could be forced to create the desired site:

In its decision below, the 10th circuit noted that the petitioners’ artistry created something like a “monopoly,” a market where only the petitioners exist.

Id. Only madness-induced blindness could distinguish the relevant facts of this case from those in West Virginia v. Barnette to the detriment of 303 Creative. Read and enjoy the whole Amicus brief.

Understated

The problem is a reflection of a badly broken political culture and it won’t be easily fixed. But, in the meantime, the House should probably go ahead and pass that SCOTUS protection bill.

The Morning Dispatch on increasing political violence, prompted specifically by the plot against Justice Kavanaugh.

More generally, the Morning Dispatch’s coverage of the successful recall of San Francisco Prosecuting Attorney Chesa Boudin confirms its trustworthiness as a news source: It has more points in Boudin’s favor than I’ve noticed anywhere else, and they aren’t insubstantial.

Sexualia

Incoherent Pride

[I]t is interesting that the American Embassy to the Vatican is flying the rainbow flag for Pride month. Commentators have pointed out the obvious intent to cause offense to the Catholic Church. But the embassy’s decision also sends a message to the American people: Another flag has government endorsement. The message of “inclusion” that it represents signals to those Americans who might dissent from the LGBTQ+ movement that in these interesting times their membership in the republic for which the real national flag stands is more a matter of tolerance than full-blooded affirmation.

The problems with LGBTQ+ inclusion are, of course, manifold. First, there is the logical problem that any movement deploying the rhetoric of inclusion has to face: If everyone is included and nobody is excluded, then the movement is meaningless. Thus, the language of “inclusion” here is really a code word for precisely the opposite: It actually means exclusion and the delegitimizing of any person or group that dissents from what the movement’s movers and shakers deem to be acceptable opinion. Acceptable thought will typically tend toward a view of reality that regards such dissenters as mentally deficient, sub-human, or simply evil.

Carl R. Trueman

Succinct

There are masculine girls. There are feminine boys. What are we going to do? Carve them up?

Jordan Peterson on the Official Trailer for the Matt Walsh documentary (prank-a-thon?) What is a Woman?.

Politics

Relatively successful

Purdue University president Mitch Daniels is retiring at the end of the year. Consistent with his maverick ways over the last 10 years, his successor was announced concurrently with his retirement announcement. There was no public Presidential search, and we will doubtless be treated to days of complaints, petty and serious, about that.

His successor will be the professor and Dean, Dr. Mung Chiang, who served as his Executive Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, of which Purdue has formed a great many over the last 10 years, with some of the biggest corporate names in the world.

I’m very proud of Purdue, my neighbor just across the Wabash, but I would prefer that my loved ones not attend there.

First, like most major universities today, the streets of the campus flow with alcohol, which endangers students of both sexes with the ambiguities of sexual interactions between drunks.

Second, I prefer undergraduate liberal arts education to enlisting in the Technocracy fresh out of high school.

But it seems to me that Mitch Daniels has been a tremendously successful Ginormous Research University President, and I wish him well.

"A Crucial Element of Fascism"

The American militia movement is small, but in the early days of 2021, it nonetheless came to the aid of a lawless president seeking to use force to keep himself in power. It did so by attacking the national legislature and threatening to kill elected representatives of the American people. And when this happened, the president himself stood back and stood by, watching expectantly, refusing to call off the armed mob, hoping the violence might empower him to remain in the White House despite losing the election two months earlier. In doing so, Trump ended up injecting a crucial element of fascism into the country’s political system.

I don’t use the F-word lightly. Trump winning the presidency while losing the popular vote by three million isn’t fascism. Trump appointing a record number of judges and three Supreme Court justices who appear poised to overturn Roe v. Wade isn’t fascism. Trump attempting to close the southern border to immigrants and refugees isn’t fascism. Trump’s verbal attacks on the media aren’t fascism (though they could be said to lay the groundwork for it by stoking popular rage against a free press). Trump engaging in the politics of bullshit by lying constantly to the American people isn’t fascism (though it, too, can prepare the way for it by leading voters to despair of firmly distinguishing between fact and falsehood).

But groups of organized, armed thugs allied with the president acting at his request to prevent the peaceful and lawful transfer of power to his successor is absolutely a fascist act. We’ve seen nothing remotely like it elsewhere in the democratic world, no matter how bad the illiberal policies and rhetoric of newly emboldened right-wing populists in other countries have been.

Damon Linker

Holding up that hateful mirror

Republicans are the co-creators of Trump’s corrupt and unconstitutional enterprise. The great majority of them are still afraid to break fully with him. They consider those who have, like Liz Cheney, to be traitors to the party. They hate Cheney because she continues to hold up a mirror to them. They want to look away. She won’t let them.

Peter Wehner

Is racism a public health crisis?

My fair city has approved a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis.

The statistics on racial disparities are stark. But unless the reporting is botched — a very real possibility considering that our Gannett paper hovers near death — the response is one of those "OMG! WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING!" responses, and implicitly accepts the dogma that all racial disparities are caused by racism.

My point would be mere pedantry were it not for the likelihood that a vague diagnosis of "racism" as the cause is likely to lead to errant treatment.

Stochastic Terrorism

I’m kind of a sucker for portentous names given to commonsense observations. My new one is "stochastic terrorism," introduced by David French with a link to Todd Morley.

As French puts the commonsensical translation:

The concept is both common-sense and controversial. The common-sense element is easy to explain. If you’re a normal person and five people hate you, what are the odds you’ll face targeted violence? Unless you’re engaged in criminal activity yourself (and the five people who hate you are other criminals), then the odds are almost impossibly low.

But what if 50,000 people hate you? Or five million? Then the odds change considerably, until they reach a virtual certainty that you’ll face a threat of some kind.

Why did the Californian last week go after Justice Kavanaugh instead of Justice Alito? How many million people hate Brett Kavanaugh? How did there come to be so many who hate him? D’ya think it might have something to do with the over-the-top attacks during his confirmation hearings?

That’s how you build a frenzy from which someone emerges to exact just retribution on some putative fiend. Todd Morely names a few names.

(FWIW: I cooled about 20 degrees on Kavanaugh as soon as it emerged that he has been a heavy recreational beer-drinker since years before he could drink legally. Call me extreme — and on this topic, I clearly am far out of the American mainstream — but I think a Supreme Court Justice should have a history of abiding even by annoying little laws like minimum drinking age, and of sobriety both literal and figurative. Drunken frat boys are a turnoff even when they don’t grope co-eds.)

Well, anyway, back to stochastic terrorism. French again:

Of course the ultimate recent example of hatred and fury spawning violence is the attack on the Capitol on January 6. It was perhaps the most predictable spasm of violence in recent American history. One cannot tell tens of millions of Americans that an election is stolen and that the very fate of the country hangs in the balance without some of those people actually acting like the election was stolen and the nation is at stake.

But if the concept of stochastic terrorism is so obviously connected to human experience, why is it controversial? In part because it aims responsibility upward, and it places at least some degree of moral responsibility for violent acts on passionate nonviolent people. While criminal responsibility may rest exclusively with the person who carries the gun (or his close conspirators), moral responsibility is not so easy to escape.

(Emphasis added).

Too long I have blithely and exclusively "blamed the person who carries the gun", discounting (if not ignoring) incitements that stop short of criminality. I remain a free speech advocate, and I detest the idea that any truth is too dangerous to be uttered lawfully. But it is becoming too, too obvious politicians and pundits who make careers of vilifying specific opponents, and internet jackasses who doxx the scapegoat du jour, are playing with fire, and at the very least should face political, social and commercial* sanctions.

And to the extent that I have dehumanizingly vilified Donald Trump over the last three years, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

(* I have in mind commercial sanctions like boycotting Tucker Carlson’s advertisers, but I don’t want to watch him to find out who they are.)

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg alludes to who Tucker’s advertisers are:

Seb Gorka dron[ing] on about Relief Factor (a fish oil supplement that all super-patriots take before they put their heads on Mike Lindell’s pillows)

No chance for boycotting there.

Religion

Normally, I’d consider putting Religion in first position, but the following are not the kinds of dogma or dogma-adjacent things that cry out for that.

Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson

In David & Bathsheba, we see a man in the act of either removing—or replacing—a jacket from a woman’s shoulders. Is this the moment before or after King David has committed adultery with the wife of his general? Mrs. Potiphar presents us not with a cartoonish harridan panting after the biblical Joseph, but an attractive, middle-aged woman staring pensively at her reflection in a mirror. McCleary treats the incident not in terms of mere lust, but in a larger psychological and spiritual context of loneliness and fear of death.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World.

The "Mrs. Potiphar" Wolfe refers to is presumably this:

Mrs. Potiphar

If you don’t know the allusion, read Genesis 39. If you don’t know what Genesis 39 is, may God have mercy on your ignorant soul.

A Dangerous Inversion

To justify Christianity because it provides a foundation of morality, instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity, is a very dangerous inversion; and we may reflect, that a good deal of the attention of totalitarian states has been devoted, with a steadiness of purpose not always found in democracies, to providing their national life with a foundation of morality — the wrong kind perhaps, but a good deal more of it. It is not enthusiasm, but dogma, that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.

T.S. Eliot via Kevin D. Williamson, who continues:

Eliot’s “dangerous inversion” is very much the model for the intersection of religion with politics in our time: Religion is, and is almost universally assumed to be, the junior partner.

American Evangelicals as Cultural Christians

What has happened is that the Christian sense of collective identity has persisted even among those hollowed-out Christians who have abandoned Christian orthodoxy, reducing the Christian confession to a demographic box to check, one of many constituent parts of an American “national identity.” Never mind, for the moment, that one of the hallmarks of the authentic American identity is approaching Christian orthodoxy and Christian observance with a seriousness that brushes up against fanaticism: The story of the United States does not begin with the arrival of the first slave, as the 1619 Project would argue, but with the arrival of the first Separatist.

For a century or so, Americans have had friends and countrymen who are “culturally Jewish.” We know what that means: a Jewish sense of communal identity bound to that vague American religious sensibility that sits somewhere between Protestant and agnostic — not atheistic, but operatively secular. I have not heard many Catholics call themselves “culturally Catholic” — Catholics who have given up Catholicism mostly just continue to call themselves “Catholic,” with the “cultural” qualifier being understood. In the case of Catholics, the communal identity is not in the end religious at all but is instead only the detritus of immigrant ethnic identities that have been dissolved in the hot soup of modernity. Conservatives used to be the ones who preferred the “melting pot” model of communal life to ethnic and religious particularism, but the rightist element Hochman writes about has, to some considerable degree, abandoned that. And so we have that new thing, the “cultural Christian.” I believe the first time I ever heard the term used was by Richard Spencer, the white nationalist, who found his parents’ Episcopalianism insufficiently invigorating.

Evangelicals, particularly white Evangelicals, are an important part of the new coalition that was formed around the campaign and cult of Donald Trump, but Christian thinking per se plays almost no role in that cult. Indeed, it would be very difficult for these Christians if it were otherwise: Donald Trump is an idolator and a heretic, a blasphemer and a perpetrator of sacrilege, and much more ….

Kevin D. Williamson


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.

Sunday gleanings 1/9/2022

Popular Christianity

How tragic it is that so much of the popular version of Christianity preaches a secularized message. It keeps God isolated, but popping in from time to time. It has lost the sense of the permeation of matter by divine Grace, the sacramental vision of reality; it insists that the Eucharist is just bread and wine, baptism is just a bath, and the world operates independently of God. It preaches a moralism of being “good,” leading only to obsession with guilt, and then, when that becomes too much, to shamelessness. It preaches that our salvation is acquired by a simple confession, and that it consists of going to “heaven” instead of going to “hell”—not a life lived in cooperation with divine grace…

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

Not what it’s for

I believe in evangelism, but it is not a means of cultural engagement at all.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Epiphany and Theophany

The incorrigible habit in western media of mis-identifying Othodox Theophany as Epiphany is an annual irritant.

I do not know how East and West diverged on the observance of January 6, but they are not the same Christian Feast under different names. Such is the "depth" of religion journalism in the U.S. that a common date and the conceptual similarity of the two names throws journalists off every time.

What is common about them is that both celebrate the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. But:

In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus Christ’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles …

Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God ….

Wikipedia thus gets us in the ballpark. But its initial description of Theophany falls pretty far short of the fullness. Fortunately, it gets much closer further into the article.

Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked [the first of – (Tipsy)] two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor). Thus the holy day is considered to be a Trinitarian feast.

(Emphasis added)

Here’s the hymn of the feast:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
and called Thee His beloved Son;
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself//
and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

We sing it five times in the festal liturgy, just in case one’s mind wanders (which probably isn’t the real reason).

I’m a partisan (and a gentile, no less), but I think the first open manifestation of the Holy Trinity is a weightier matter than gentile kings visiting the Christ Child.

And I know it’s not the same thing.

Where is God when you need Him?

In the wake of the tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean in 2007, major newspapers in America (and elsewhere) asked the question, “Where is God?” Tragedy reminds us of God’s apparent absence, but our cries of abandonment seem empty in light of the demands we make for God’s absence at most other times and places.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

The most thoroughly atheist culture in history?

Has Western society become the most thoroughly atheist in history?

[Augusto] Del Noce’s real genius was his prophetic insight into the rise of Western irreligion. He saw that Marxism “won” the war of ideas, even as it collapsed as a theory, by establishing the economic dimension of man as humanity’s defining reality. For Del Noce, the West “defeated” Marxism not by reaffirming biblical morality or Christian anthropology but by quietly shedding both. Western countries won by outproducing Marxist systems on their own terms, with material results—superior science, superior technology, more and better consumer goods. The dark side of technology, Del Noce argued, is a passion for “total revolution”—permanent revolution against the past doing business as innovation. The byproducts of its success have been religious agnosticism, sexual liberation and radical secularism. By the time of his death, Del Noce viewed much of Western society, despite its Christian residue, as the most thoroughly atheist in history, a feat achieved not by persecuting God, but by ignoring and rendering him irrelevant.

Francis X. Maier, ‌How Marxism ‘Won’ the War of Ideas.

(Serving suggestion: Read my first item again.)


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.

Mostly tales of decline

Czech conservatives are worried about us

Rod Dreher speaking with Czech friends in Prague:

They all follow us closely. It is hard to overstate the prestige the US has long had here, because of our opposition to Soviet communism. My experience is only anecdotal, of course, but it was disconcerting to see the pained puzzlement in the faces of my Czech friends. They really do fear that America is tearing itself apart. What could I tell them? I think so too. The transgender thing, I find, is the most mystifying to Central Europeans. They struggle to understand it as a phenomenon, and really struggle to understand why a society like America’s would celebrate this disorder, and even privilege it.

… I was sharing this yesterday with a Czech friend back in the US, a man who hated Communism so much he fled to America when he was young. This man said, “We live an a patently evil world and at the end it was the US — not the USSR — who made it possible.”

If he were a standard leftist saying that, it would be one thing. But he’s not. He’s a fierce conservative and Christian who really did think America was a land of hope. He married and had kids in America. He is living through disillusionment now, but knows that he doesn’t have the luxury of despair. He is preparing for very hard times ahead, and reminds me from time to time that he’s actually more pessimistic than I am. It’s probably because he lived through Communism, knows what it’s like, and knows that the ideological madness that has America in its grip is going to play out in similar ways. In fact, he was a nominal Christian until the Great Awokening made him aware that the only way through what is here, and what is to come, is through a deeply committed, sacrificial relationship to God.

Weimar America

Strauss was himself a conservative revolutionary in his youth, supporting the antiliberal right during the era of Germany’s Weimar Republic. When the most extreme of the right-wing parties — Adolf Hitler’s virulently anti-Semitic National Socialists — rose to power, Strauss (a Jew) fled the country, first to France, then to England, and finally to the United States …

That is a lesson that Strauss’ devotees at the Claremont Institute, who delight in pouring rhetorical gasoline on the country’s many smoldering civic conflicts, have actively unlearned. Unless they failed to grasp the point in the first place. Either way, they’ve ended up where Strauss’s quest for wisdom began, knee-deep in the pestilential swamps of the radical right, as Laura Field’s masterful essay amply documents.

Damon Linker, commenting on Laura K. Field, What the Hell Happened to the Claremont Institute? (The Bulwark). The devolution of the Claremont Institute into a bunch of low-down, lying Trumpist trolls is really tragic, but with "conservative" intellectuals giving up on our system and vowing to smash it, we may not have seen the worst yet.

I initially wondered what the Bulwark would do with Trump voted out of office, but so many Trumpistas remain enthralled that I don’t think the folks there need to be sending out resumés.

Priorities

A majority of American fourth- and eighth-graders can’t read or do math at grade level, according to the Education Department. And that assessment is from 2019, before the learning losses from pandemic school closures.

Recently, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, announced that they had jumped on the bandwagon. At its annual meeting earlier this month, the NEA adopted a proposal stating that it is “reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.” More, the organization pledged to “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric” and issue a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” There was no proposal vowing to improve math and reading test scores, alas.

Jason L. Riley, Critical Race Theory Is a Hustle

Culture war over fault for the culture wars

I channeled Andrew Sullivan claiming that the Left is more responsible for the culture wars than is the Right, but I have come to realize that it’s a complicated question — not that I (or Sullivan) was wrong (he is outstanding and you should read him), but that there’s more to it.

Thomas Edsall first cast the scales from my eyes. His column links to all four columns (Drum, Linker, Noonan and Sullivan) that had previously toyed masterfully with my confirmation bias.

Tim Miller of the Bulwark had me chuckling enough that I thought I was reading Jonah Goldberg, but Goldberg actually refuted Miller.

Your answer probably will depend in large part on whether you re-frame "who started the culture wars" as "who most zestfully prosecutes the culture wars?"

I’ve long known a witticism I should have recognized as the key from the beginning: Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend. Or as Goldberg puts it:

It’s called a culture war for a reason. Just as culture is about more than the aggregate opinions of voters, it’s also about more than the shenanigans of politicians. And I don’t think any reasonable observer of our culture can dispute that the majority of people and institutions that control the commanding heights of the culture are well to the left of the average American (and even the Democratic Party) … One reason Democrats seem more reasonable in their cultural warfare is precisely because they have the wind at their back. The media, academia, and Hollywood all provide cover for Democrats in myriad ways.

Burden of proof

In science you can be as perfunctory as you like as long as you are saying what everyone else is saying, but if you are saying something different, you need, reasonably enough, to be as explicit about your evidence and as empirically based as possible. That way you are open to challenge, and that is how science progresses.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Exploiters versus nurturers

The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. . . . The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible by as little work as possible; the nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

"Religion"

I am in the camp that sees fundamentally religious impulses behind ultimate commitments and even civic pieties. That means I don’t think it’s possible for a nation to be truly neutral unless it’s truly adrift, bereft of any sense of mission (and probably dying as a result).

As Marty uses it in this case, the term “religion” refers not to ritually putting one’s hand over one’s heart and reciting a pledge of allegiance to a piece of cloth endowed with totemic powers. The term religion applies only to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal to do so. And yet the violence against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is exhibit A in Marty’s warning about the violent tendencies of religion.

William T. Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

For the first 40 years of my life, opposing commies was more or less our national religion. I’ve faulted the Republicans for not finding any inspiring replacement for that, but the recent illiberal ejaculations from that party’s luminaries kind of makes me long for when they were adrift rather than powering toward crypto-fascist shores.

Adiaphora

Billionaires in Space

Just about the only thing I find cool about billionaires racing each other to "space" is that Purdue-trained astronauts — women, actually — were one-third of the actual astronauts for Richard Branson. The worst part is our inability to leave the billionaires up there.

Feckless conservatives: Aw Shucks versus Chest-beaters

Conservatives were handed a political gift they did not win and do not deserve—the disaster of the Left’s ascent. The activist Left’s policy agenda is widely disliked. Its positions veer between unreasonable (Defund the Police), unlivable (indulge looters, larcenists, and vandals), unsustainable (open the borders), and untenable (transwomen are women). Almost no one actually agrees with any of this. But rather than find common cause with moderates who would join the fight, Chest-Beating Conservatives would rather heap contempt on moderates, score points for Team Red, and sully themselves in rudeness.

The Aw Shucks Conservatives meet the Left reluctantly and meekly, praying like hell the other side will forfeit. (It won’t.) They allow themselves to be convinced that the current madness will burn itself out, or that they could not possibly respond to even the most outlandish of Woke claims—like whether biological men’s participation is healthy for women’s sports—without a PhD in kinesiology. They dream that America will come to its senses.

The Chest-Beating Conservatives at least do not underestimate the task at hand. But they lack discipline and restraint and occasionally even seem to revel in ignorance. They find their personification in Marjorie Taylor Greene, the greatest thing to happen to the Left since Roy Moore.

Abigail Schrier, Want to Save America? Don’t Act Like a Conservative

(She said it so well. I wish I could agree unequivocally.)

The Diversity Industry

Almost Four Decades After Its Birth, The Diversity Industry Thrives on Its Own Failures

With a title like that, I’m not altogether certain I need to read the article.

What 007’s creator thinks of him

“I have a rule of never looking back,” Ian Fleming said. “Otherwise I’d wonder, ‘How could I write such piffle?’”

The Failures That Made Ian Fleming via Arts & Letters Daily

Woke illusionists

Is is just me, or do the most woke corporations share the least common denominator of making their stuff with Chinese labor? D’ya think they’re trying to distract us?

"Human Infrastructure" sickens me

Apart from “human infrastructure” being a political coinage to make the Democrat/Progressive wish list more palatable, I find its implication that we mostly matter for economic production to about as pretty toxic as calling someone "a vegetable."

Oil

“Oil is the lifeblood of modern civilization.” I would like to rephrase that sentence to this: “Nothing about modern civilization is normal, ever, in human history, because it runs on oil.”

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Stories

I had lunch today in Budapest with a visiting anthropologist who told me that the older he gets, the more he realizes how little that we can actually know — which is another way of saying how mysterious life is. He also said that he is increasingly frustrated by academic thought that believes it can pin everything down — and if something can’t be pinned down, it can’t be said to have existence. This is not true, said the anthropologist (who is not a religious man, he told me), but scientists and academics don’t have the humility to admit it.

In Prague, Kamila Bendova told me that she read Tolkien in communist times to her children, “because we knew that Mordor was real.” We should tell the story of the Golem of Prague because in the same sense, we know that golems — things we arrogantly create to serve us that end up seeking to destroy us — are real. Science won’t tell us that; myth will.

Rod Dreher, The Golem of Prague

Updates

  • A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.
  • I was reading along and nodding vigorously at Abigail Schrier’s latest (see above) when I realized that she wasn’t saying anything fundamentally different than Aaron Renn’s "liberals play to win and conservatives should, too." So I’ve re-subsubribed to Renn’s Masculinist podcast, making a mental note to suppress my annoyance with the way he presents some things — but also to keep my guard up.

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.

Sunday Potpourri

The Jericho March … co-founders are essentially unknown in the organized Christian world. Robert Weaver, an evangelical Oklahoma insurance salesman, was nominated by Trump to lead the Indian Health Service but withdrew after The Wall Street Journal reported that he misrepresented his qualifications. Arina Grossu, who is Catholic, recently worked as a contract communications adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. (Weaver and Grossu declined to comment.) Still, they will have far more influence in shaping the reputation of Christianity for the outside world than many denominational giants: They helped stage a stunning effort to circumvent the 2020 election, all in the name of their faith.

Emma Green, Storming the Capitol for God and Trump.

“Essentially unknown in the organized Christian world” is what I thought about Paula White and most of the “evangelical” leaders who gathered with Trump for photo ops in the Oval Office, laying hands on him as if anointing a King or Prophet.

I’ve been away from Evangelicalism for a while, though, and I don’t how big a tent “Evangelical” is these days — or what new celebrities have replaced the celebrities of my youth. (Yes, “celebrity” is my deliberate choice.)


Evangelical Christianity, which once played a central role in legitimizing democracy in the early days of the American experiment through its fusion with classical republican values, may now play a central role in the unraveling of America through its unholy union with modern conspiracy theory.

And, like [Milton William] Cooper [who inspired Timothy McVeigh], Trump, in the words of [David] Kilcullen, has played less the role of the Pied Piper, calling his followers hither and thither at whim with his flute, than the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, summing dark forces from the abyss that he has no clue how to control. Now we wait to see if someone will play McVeigh to Trump’s Cooper.

… [H]istorian John Fea has noted that “The U.S. Senators who objected to the Electoral College results,” including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, “were almost all evangelicals.” Though a number of notable evangelicals such as David French, Ed Stetzer and Russell Moore have challenged the unfounded claims of electoral fraud in a timely and persistent manner, others such as Franklin Graham have condemned the violence of the Capitol siege without challenging the false allegations about the election, which Kilcullen identifies as the key motive for the crowds who precipitated the violence in the first place.

Todd Thompson, A Homegrown Christian Insurgency – Mere Orthodoxy


[I]t’s difficult to define exactly what Christian nationalism is. To the extent one can create an academic definition, it’s hard to improve on the one Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd cites in a recent Gospel Coalition essay. He quotes Matthew McCullough’s description of Christian nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.”

[But e]xplicit “patriot churches” are still thin on the ground.

Thus, I agree with Kidd. “Actual Christian nationalism,” he says, “is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance.” He provides an interesting example:

“I recently saw a yard sign that read “Make Faith Great Again: Trump 2020.” I wondered, How can re-electing Donald Trump make “faith” great again? What faith? When did it stop being great? No coherent answers would be forthcoming to such questions, but that’s the point. The sign speaks to a person’s ethnic, religious, and cultural identity in ways easier to notice than to explain.”

Now let’s ask a challenging question—why do we see this nationalism more in white conservative Protestant Christianity than in any other strain of American Christianity, including the Black Protestant church or the Catholic church?

I’d argue it’s because that for more than two centuries, the United States of America was quite likely the best place in the world to live if you were a white theologically conservative Protestant. No, it wasn’t a perfect place. But it was the best place. Our freedom, our prosperity and (ultimately) our power were unmatched anywhere else.

As a practical matter, our culture slippers fit so darn well that it grew all too easy to see ourselves as “in” and “of” the United States of America.

Black Christians could not feel such comfort … And while theologically conservative Catholics and Protestants now often lock arms in the modern American culture war, that would have been unthinkable in the days when anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments stalked the land.

What is Christian nationalism? It’s a deep emotional attachment to a particular and exclusive culture, a skewed version of history, and a false sense of “marked superiority” that must and will fade away.

What is Christian patriotism? To echo C.S. Lewis and George Washington, it’s a love of home and place and neighbor that does its best to fulfill the vision of peace and justice articulated by the prophet Micah so many long years ago—“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”

David French, Discerning the Difference Between Christian Nationalism and Christian Patriotism


I’m a graduate in Medieval Studies, and when I try to explain some myths about it, people look at me as if I was insane. The Enlightenment propaganda is so strong, that telling the truth about Medieval era sounds like a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory. And this is a serious problem. Many school textbooks, media, etc. promote most of these myths, which are inherently biased and dangerous, because they distort the truth.

The Enlightenment historiography is still the most successful propaganda ever made; it refused to die, because the [anti-Christian] sentiment which these thinkers had promoted seems to be popular ever since. Demonizing the Other is the best way to begin a fight, because it gives you the feeling of the moral superiority. In our case, this has been done by distorting and misinterpreting historical facts, and inventing myths and false villains and heroes. This genius propaganda has affected and influenced most of us, therefore it’s not surprising how our imagination has been constructed. For example, when we think or talk about [the] historical horrors, the vast majority will think of the those ‘dark’ Middle Ages. Ironically, we rarely realize that the most morbid and inhumane crimes were committed during the Enlightenment and Modern era. Concentration camps, gulag, genocides, eugenics, racism, reign of terror, totalitarianism, etc. The aforementioned catastrophes are a result of the ideology which promoted the cult of progress, reason and science, which ended becoming the cult of irrationality, regress and crimes. But of course, rarely will we hear that being denounced, because we still live in that era, where one of the most criminal and bloody act of history [the French Revolution] is presented as ‘glorious’ and ‘good’.

The Enlightenment way of thinking may have ‘freed’ people from believing in religion or God, but at the very moment when this philosophy rose, ideologies were born. So, today, many don’t believe in religion because they consider it dogmatic, but unconsciously and even dogmatically believe and follow ideologies as Enlightenment.

Albert Bikaj, via The Neomedievalist. H/T Rod Dreher


Once upon a time there was a couple whose names were Oskar and Auguste. They had a little girl whom they named Johanna Maria Magdalena. Everyone called her “Magda” for short. She lived in a world that was soon awhirl with exciting possibilities, opportunities, and temptations. People looking at her said that she was to be envied as she rose to prominence, money, influence, and fame, riding an intoxicating wave that took her ever higher. Those able to see somewhat into the mystery and murk of the human heart knew that far from ascending ever higher, she was in fact sinking ever lower. Down and down she went spiritually into ever more dangerous, mad, and suffocating places, but only God could see the true tragedy of her descent. In the glittering world in which she lived and moved, she shone. Everyone knew her name. Everyone knew who Magda Goebbels was, the unofficial First Lady of the Third Reich, wife to Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the powerful Minister of Propaganda.

It quickly became apparent to her that it was all over. She would never again live in the world she had come to love. The world that was fast approaching would be a world without a triumphant National Socialism, a world in which swastika flags would not hang from every balcony, a world without Hitler, and for her, a world without hope. She could not bear the thought of her and her six young children emerging from the bunker to live in that world. She could not endure living a world without Hitler. Though urged to leave the bunker and allow her children to be smuggled safely out of Berlin, she refused. In a final letter to her adult son from a previous marriage, she wrote, “Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvellous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and National Socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow.”

Her will did not waver: on May 1, 1945 she had her six children drugged with morphine and then murdered with cyanide, and then took her own life. When the Russian soldiers finally breached the bunker, they found only her charred corpse in the Chancellery garden with that of her husband, and down below, the limp corpses of their six children, dressed in their nightclothes, with ribbons still tied in the girls’ hair.

Let us be clear about the lesson to be learned from this tragedy. The question to be asked is not “How should Magda be punished for her evil?” but rather, “What in the world can be done with Magda?” Magda Goebbels found the possibility of a life without Hitler and National Socialism too painful to bear. Living in that post-Hitler world was for her literally a fate worse than death. Life in that world would be agony, a ceaseless turmoil of tears and searing pain. That was why she murdered her children and took her own life.

Fast forward from this tumultuous age to the shining world of the age to come. What in that world can be done with Magda? In that world also there will be no Hitler, and the “glorious idea” that was ruined in 1945 along with “everything beautiful and marvellous” that she had known in her life will find no place there either. Instead, everywhere the Jew from Nazareth will reign supreme, and His face will illumine that world to its furthest corner. Magda would regard that world as an accursed place, for Hitler and the “glorious idea” of National Socialism will not simply be hated. For her it will be worse than that: as age succeeds sunlit age, Hitler and National Socialism will be utterly forgotten, left behind, like a disease which had long ago found its cure.

… [I]f Magda could not endure living in a post-Hitler world, if she would have found that world too painful to bear and a fate worse than death, how would she regard living in the sunlit world of the age to come? Such an existence would be for her worse than a fate worse than death. If a post-Hitler world would be too agonizing to endure, what would her pain be in this world?

This is where the pains of hell find their source. God did not create a subterranean torture chamber to punish the lost for their sins. The pain suffered by Magda Goebbels in that age will not come from the hands of Jesus, but from the heart of Magda.

Fr. Lawrence Farley.

Note, too — apart from the argument between orthodox Christians and universalists — the personal implications of this: I can pray The Sinner’s Prayer and then declare my eternal security, but if I then live like the devil, presuming on that supposed eternal security, I can end up shriveled, turned in on myself, wanting what I’ve taught myself to want no matter what, and … outside of heaven by my own choice.

There was too much of that in my life. That realization was a key in my decision to turn my back on Calvinism and enter Holy Orthodoxy.


Nothing here is sinister
because nothing is at stake.
Everything is null and void
of depth, of resonance,
not real but celluloid.

From Vijay Seshadri, “City of Grief”


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