The moral horse and the doctrinal cart

Once again, Fr. Stephen gets my juices going:

In early centuries, [the catechumenate, that process by which we initiate persons into the life of the Orthodox faith,] lasted as much as three years. Surprisingly, it consisted primarily in “moral instruction” (teachings on how to behave). Instruction in the doctrines of the faith did not take place until after Baptism! The assumption behind this was (and still should be) that catechumens needed spiritual formation before they were ready to receive doctrinal instruction. This assumption has been greatly weakened in our modern culture.

We labor under the myth of being an “information-based” society. We imagine that we are deeply informed, have ready access to massive amounts of information on the basis of which we are able to make free and well-considered decisions. This over-simplification of our human experience is deeply flawed …

Catechumens, if given only a diet of information, … fail to thrive. Above all else, it is the practice of the faith that makes faith possible.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32)

“Abiding in the word” (keeping the commandments, engaging in the practices of the faith) is the necessary pre-condition for “knowing the truth.”

This suggests to me that we set our minds to become “perpetual catechumens” in which we give our attention to the softening of our hearts rather than inundation of our minds …

The heart’s learning is the true point of salvation. Information does not save us – but there is such a thing as “saving knowledge.” We speak of this, formally, as “holy illumination.” It is the consistent teaching of the Church that holy illumination is our desired path to God.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Perpetual Catechumen

Had I read this 25 years ago, I’d have wondered what kind of squishy Kum-Bah-Yah cult taught such things as "spiritual formation before doctrinal instruction."

Not a digression: I remember a rather fringe figure in my Evangelical years, Col. R.B. Thieme, Jr., teaching sometime in the 1976-79 range that "God loves nothing better than doctrine in the frontal lobe."

I didn’t believe him — but I lived as if it were true, or as if enough doctrine in my frontal lobe would eventually cure my disordered life. It never did, and it never would have. The trajectory it put me on was that of an irascible "discernment blogger" with a hot steaming mess of a private life. Only the lack of a consumer internet spared me that fate.

When I entered the Orthodox Christian faith some 20 years later, I did so expecting to get my doctrine straightened out, having seen a couple of fundamental flaws in my prior approach — the kinds of things you can’t un-see — and having somehow gained an implicit trust in the Church.

But for some reason, early in that same transitional period of my life, I saw in re-reading C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that I needed to forsake one particular moral failing, lest it make me the kind of person who wouldn’t even like heaven had he inherited it. In that regard, Anglican Lewis — and his message to my imagination, not my intellect — was my Orthodox moral catechist.

And now, twenty-four more years down the road, Fr. Stephen makes perfect sense to me. To my surprise, "Orthodox" Christianity turned out not to be all that much about doctrine. Beyond the Nicene Creed, there are few doctrinal dogmas. We are conspicuously apophatic, a tendency that Col. Thieme presumably would have anathematized.

What it is about is — well, you’ll just have to come and see.


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.

Our collapse proceeds apace

Shifting the arc of history

The elites kind of have a Martin Luther King, Jr. envy. Every generation want to have that moral quality, that sense that they are shifting the arc of history in a better way, even though we’ve generally done about as much as we possibly can to do that — in terms of within the possibilities (sic) of a liberal system.

Andrew Sullivan, interviewed on the Conversations with Tyler podcast.

"As much as we possibly can … within the possibilities of a liberal system" is perceptive — and ominous, since the impulse for "equity" may consider destruction of our liberal system a very acceptable price to pay.

It’s my hypothesis (in what I’ve called "Selma envy" in parallel with what Sullivan calls it) that part of today’s madness is that progressive organizations that achieve their ultimate objective won’t declare victory, close down, and move on. Instead, they dream up some new objective even when the new objective is, objectively, quite mad.

Most of the trans phenomenon seems to fit that pattern; why didn’t the Human Rights Campaign, for instance, wind up its affairs starting the day after Obergefell? As I recall, Andrew Sullivan — an early and influential proponent of same-sex marriage — has the same question.

Note that "Selma envy" is not meant to demean. The human desire for meaning is strong, and when so many religious options for meaning-formation have fallen into disrepute, both Left and Right may end up in crazy places.

Lex orandi, lex credendi

Michael Brendan Dougherty steps away from the pages of National Review to voice white-hot objection to Pope Francis’ suppression of the Latin Mass.

If I were Roman Catholic, I think his piece would describe my position perfectly.

Of course, that’s a very big "if." Because if I were a Roman Catholic who had subjected himself to the Novus Ordo for decades, and had not availed himself of the Latin Mass during the blessed hiatus in its suppression sanctioned by Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum, I might have been "form[ed] … to a new faith," as Dougherty puts it.

This, too:

I learned that the Latin language was not the only distinguishing feature of this form of worship. The entire ritual was different from the post-Vatican II Mass. It wasn’t a mere translation into the modern vernacular; less than 20 percent of the Latin Mass survived into the new.

A freshman religious studies major would know that revising all the vocal and physical aspects of a ceremony and changing the rationale for it constitutes a true change of religion. Only overconfident Catholic bishops could imagine otherwise.

Just so. This is why we Orthodox guard our Liturgy (and our Liturgy guards us).

I had written the preceding part when I came across an interesting phrase in Fraces Fitzgerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape a Nation:

… [Paul] Weyrich, a Catholic so conservative he joined an Eastern Rite church after Vatican II ….

The implication is that the Orthodox Liturgy (used in the Eastern Rite with different diptychs) is more traditionally Catholic than the Novus Ordo.

That’s not wrong.

Institutions, internet, information

[T]hose who love the [Roman Catholic] Church’s traditions and choose to believe that she is truly the “perfect society” have, in actuality, zero power to preserve or protect her. They are left, therefore, with no choice but to obey papal innovations and be crushed, or to rebel against them, and thereby become the very opposite of what they espouse. Obedience to everything but sin is what the tradition recommends; rebellion against an unjust but not immoral order is anything but traditional.

Steve Skojec, Casual Saints and The De-Mythologizing of the Church – The Skojec File. H/T Rod Dreher.

Dreher continues on the corrosive difficulty of maintaining trust in institutions — any institutions — in the Information Age:

[I]t is certainly true that our governmental and health authorities have not covered themselves with glory in their management of information around Covid … [W]hen we saw last summer health authorities saying that it was okay to cast aside their warnings against public gatherings, for the sake of attending George Floyd protests, that instantly discredited them in the eyes of many of us. These things really do matter. At the same time public health authorities are giving warnings about Covid, and liberals are demanding that we TRUST THE SCIENCE, we are seeing things like the American Medical Association say that we should do away with “male” and “female” on birth certificates, because sex doesn’t exist. Now, it is perfectly possible that medical authorities could be telling the truth about how to deal with Covid, and be completely bonkers and politicized about sex and gender. But normal people see how quickly doctors are falling for the trendy ideologization of medicine, and wonder how much they can be trusted on anything.

Similarly, it is entirely possible that school systems are correct to mandate masks for students coming back to school in the time of the Delta variant. But when many school systems are also mandating teaching of radical neoracist ideologies based on Critical Race Theory, normal people can’t be faulted for doubting the judgment of those authorities.

I could cite examples all day. The point is this: authority is not the same thing as power. An institution that has squandered its authority has nothing left but power. And if it doesn’t have power to coerce others — as in today’s churches — what does it have? If it does have the power to coerce others, including those who don’t accept its authority, it risks being or becoming a tyranny.

You could say that the total information environment is good in that it compels institutions to become more honest and competent. Maybe. But humans are not machines. We are going to fail. If we live in a society where people regard all human failure as malicious, and freak out completely in the face of it, we aren’t going to make it.

(Emphasis added)

Relative dangers, Left and Right

Wokesters, a/k/a the Successor Ideology, is the current and is like a low-stage cancer, and the body politic has awakened to their presence and is responding. Left illiberalism has lost the element of surprise (surprise that it so swiftly leapt from the Ivy Tower to the street), and faces increasing resistance in the culture.

The more radically Trumpist Right, is an institutional disinformation organization, "flooding the zone with shit" about "rigged" elections and either violently seizing power or having red-state legislatures replace Democrat electoral winners with Republican losers. That’s more like an impending massive heart attack.

(Summarizing a portion of Monday’s Advisory Opinions podcast with Jonathan Rauch, author of The Constitution of Knowledge.)

This was an excellent discussion, including Rauch’s admiration for NIH head Francis Collins, who led the mapping of the human genome and is a faithful Christian. Looking at the considerable numbers of thoughtful believers in contrast to his contentedly-atheist self, Rauch hypothesizes that his atheism is perhaps like color-blindness.

That seems like a pretty good analogy, in part because a person who isn’t color-blind cannot with integrity deny the distinction between, say, red and green.

20 Hungarian Lessons the West Is Still Missing

There has been a lot of stupid, stupid stuff written about Hungary, Viktor Orbán, and some admirers on the American Right. 20 Hungarian Lessons the West Is Still Missing is a smart, balanced, longish piece written by Eric D’Amato, who knows Hungary well from 15 years there.

It’s embarrassing that so little commentary comes anywhere near this level, but I guess there must be loudly stupid things written on minor topics before there’s a market for smart ones.

Afghan collapse

After a long quote from a bitter, bitter blog from an ex-soldier who deployed twice to Afhanistan, Rod Dreher demurs just a teensy bit:

I think Joe Biden deserves criticism for the terrible way his administration handled the endgame. But Joe Biden didn’t lose this war. This war was lost not the day George W. Bush decided to attack Afghanistan — the Taliban government deserved it for harboring Osama bin Laden — but rather on the day that George W. Bush decided that we were going to nation-build in Afghanistan.

Dreher then goes on to quote a 2002 column that predicted, with what we now can all see was extreme accuracy, how our Afghanistan adventure could not and would not end well.

The neocon hatred for paleocons like Pat Buchanan, the author of that 2002 column, knows no bounds. I look forward to David Frum, one of the former, writing a ‘splainer in the Atlantic on how the débâcle is all Buchanan’s fault for not joining the imperialist cheer squad.

And I should add that Donald J. Trump, in addition to appointing a bunch of very good Federal judges (all of whom, remarkably, have "betrayed" him by staying faithful to their oaths of office) deserves credit for not starting any more of these perverse wars, as he promised (or at least implied) he wouldn’t.

Adiaphora

Andrew Cuomo Resigned Because the Democrats Aren’t a Cult
Normal political parties can police their own.

Benjamin Parker

Andrew Cuomo’s resignation shows 1 party is still capable of shame

Damon Linker. Linker continues:

Within hours of the attorney general’s press conference last week, the president of the United States, leading Democrats in Washington, and key members of the New York State Assembly had called on Cuomo to step down. With polls showing a majority favoring resignation, pressure in Albany mounting, and defenders dwindling, attempting to hang on would have been maximally risky. That made Cuomo’s decision a no-brainer.

The contrast with the Republican Party couldn’t be sharper.

Since Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the party in 2016, the GOP has adopted an ethos of merciless bellicosity. Fighting is what counts and what gets rewarded. Sacrificing for the sake of principle is denigrated and dismissed. To resign is to give up power voluntarily. It’s therefore a choice reserved only for suckers and chumps.

Add in the cult of personality that has accompanied this shift in moral orientation and we’re left with a party overwhelmingly predisposed to forgive transgressions of the most charismatic and politically potent members of the team.


There was a time when I said I listened to NPR news because it made me feel at least a little bit smarter, whereas most network and radio news was stultifying.

Well, I haven’t been listening to much news, but I went back to NPR today, only to be teased for a story on the increasing hospitalization rates for "pregnant people" with Covid.

It’s weird when no broadcast news is helpful. I’ve heard that BBC World News remains excellent, but they spend so much time on in-depth stories from halfway around the world — stories that (this probably means I’m a bad person) just are not all that keenly interesting to me.


Sex-Toy Makers Lovehoney, WOW Tech Merge in $1.2 Billion Deal as Lockdowns Spur Demand
Germany’s WOW Tech Group and U.K.-based Lovehoney said they have agreed to merge in a deal that values the combined company at around $1.2 billion, as the pandemic helps fuel global demand for sex toys.

I guess if you’re the Wall Street Journal, you report all kinds of business news. (August 12 digital edition). It makes one excited at the news possibilities should prostitution be legalized.


Here is the evidence that trans women are really women, and that trans men are really men: They say they are. This has been confirmed in study after study. So stop opposing Science, bigots.

J Budziszewski


I have had it with Rand Paul.


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.

Church and State, but not Church/State

Where religion and politics meet

David French is not happy with his co-religionists, who he provincially calls “the Church”:

… core biblical values are contingent, but support for Donald Trump is not …

We’re way, way past concerns for the church’s “public witness.” We’re way past concerns over whether the “reputation” of the church will survive this wave of insanity. There is no other way to say this. A significant movement of American Christians—encouraged by the president himself—is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic.

It’s clear now that when many of those people declared Trump to be “God’s anointed” they did not mean that his presidency was “instituted by God” in the same manner as other governing authorities, as described in Romans 13. (By conventional Christian reasoning, Joe Biden’s upcoming presidency is also instituted by God.)

No, they believe that Trump had a special purpose and a special calling, and that this election defeat is nothing less than a manifestation of a Satanic effort to disrupt God’s plan for this nation. They were not “holding their nose” to support him. They were deeply, spiritually, and personally invested in his political success.

We know that mainstream American Christian leaders can unite to condemn secular and progressive movements and ideas they find biblically problematic. For example, late last month the presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries united to declare that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”

As I’ve written, critical race theory has its uses and its flaws, but I wonder—how many critical race theorists are in conservative Christian pews? But how many more election conspiracy theorists and Christian nationalists are sitting right there, including in my own denomination, fervently believing lies and fervently praying for actions and outcomes that are fundamentally unjust?

Simply put, there should be at least as much concern about injustice and sin from the religious right as from the secular left.

David French, The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism

French’s column (along with Damon Linker’s gimlet-eyed identification of Trump as “demonic”) has me musing about whether Donald Trump qualifies for the title “AntiChrist” according to the standards of those who obsess over identifying AntiChrist.

And French’s labeling of Christianish Trumpists as part of “the church” reinforces my skepticism about Evangelical ecclesiology (French is Evangelical or at least Evangelical-adjacent; I think he’d choose the former) — about the possibility of Christ’s Church being so expansive as to take in delusional political freaks whose main interest in Christ seems to be His political utility.

Sigh! It’s none of my business to stake out the boundaries of the Church, but I can understand the reflex “if this is Christianity, I want no part of it.” I wish I could say “this is not, in any sense, Christianity,” but I can’t. I can (and do below) say something else that’s just as decisive for me.


Evangelicalism has figured out how to avoid the numerical decline besetting many religions: become so identified with Republican politics that people whose Lord and Savior is the GOP will self-identify as “Evangelical,” albeit without darkening the doors of church. For instance,

for 2008, 2012, and 2016 low attending evangelicals all start in basically the same spot – 35–40% conservative. But look at the solid pink line representing the data from 2019. Nearly half of self-identified evangelicals who never go to church identified as conservative (a jump of basically ten points).

the most religiously devout evangelical in 2019 is a bit less likely to be conservative than a devout evangelical from 2008.

Ryan P. Burge, So, Why is Evangelicalism Not Declining? Because Non-Attenders Are Taking On the Label (Religion in Public).

Burge, by the way, is becoming huge in social scientific scrutiny of American religion.


I left frank Evangelicalism in my late 20s over the issue of dispensationalism, which I perceived as so pervasive as to almost define Evangelicalism. (I left basically as soon as I discovered that my skepticism about dispensationalist prophecy porn — “Rapture crap” — was shared by others, serious Calvinists, who were not compromising with unbelief.)

At age 49, I was Orthodox, no longer Calvinist, and thus not even “Evangelical-adjacent.”

So I cannot begin to persuade Evangelical Trumpists to repent their folly.

So why do I rail against them as if I could change their minds?

Partly because I persist in the increasingly-implausible instinct that some of them are sane and sincere. But probably a bigger part is performative: I want the world to know that I am not an Evangelical, that Evangelicalsm is well out of the historic Christian mainstream (in its prophecy obsession, yes, but more in its rejection of liturgy and sacrament), and that disgust with Evangelicalism (and Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse, for that matter) does not necessitate rejection of Christianity or adoption of some sort of me-and-Jesus-who-needs-Church delusion.

I other words, when all else fails, consider Orthodoxy. If there’s no Orthodox Church nearby, that’s curable in many cases.


I include this from Evangelical-leaning Anglican Alan Jacobs because he identifies an ascendant Evangelical vice:

There is no infallible means for discerning when a religious believer has been spoken to, directly and personally, by God. However, there is a reliable way to disconfirm such a claim. When a person demands that other people immediately accept that he has been spoken to by God, and treats with insult and contempt those who do not acknowledge his claim to unique revelation, then we can be sure that no genuine message has been received, and that the voice echoing in that person’s mind is not that of God but that of his own ego.

Alan Jacobs again, testing the spirits.

I suspect this has to do with Saturday’s “Jericho Marches,” which started with some guy who claimed that God told him to do it. I don’t recall whether he claimed that God told him that all Real Christians® must join him.


Evangelicals aren’t the only ones mucking about in political matters.

With America facing a bitterly divisive election, Episcopal Church leaders did what they do in tense times — they held a National Cathedral service rallying the Washington, D.C., establishment.

This online “Holding onto Hope” service featured a Sikh filmmaker, a female rabbi from Chicago, the Islamic Society of North America’s former interfaith relations director, the female presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a Jesuit priest known for promoting LGBTQ tolerance and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Our ideals, values, principles and dreams of beloved community matter,” said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the church’s first African-American leader. “They matter to our life as a nation and as a world. Our values matter!”

This was the kind of rite – think National Public Radio at prayer – a church can offer when its history includes 11 U.S. presidents and countless legislators and judges from coast to coast.

Continuing its recent trends, “relevance” isn’t working for the ECUSA much better in 2020 than in other recent decades — witness the title Terrifying statistics from 2019 offer another Groundhog Day jolt for Episcopalians — GetReligion

Law and politics, straight up

When conservatives defend their fight to overturn the election as an answer to the way Democrats reacted to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, they are correct in the sense that most of their arguments and proposed tactics have antecedents on the liberal side …

The difference, though, is that the right’s fantasy has been embraced from the start by a Republican president (Hillary Clinton was a follower rather than a leader in calling Trump “illegitimate”), and it has penetrated much faster and further into the apparatus of Republican politics. In January 2017, only a handful of Democratic backbenchers objected to Congress’s certification of Trump’s election. But you can find the name of the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, on a brief supporting the ridiculous Texas lawsuit.

The Texas lawsuit didn’t torch any city blocks, but all those congressional signatures on the amicus brief did make it feel like something more than just another meme. The crucial question it raises is whether people can be fed on fantasies forever — or whether once enough politicians have endorsed dreampolitik, the pressure to make the dream into reality will inexorably build.

Ross Douthat, The Texas Lawsuit and the Age of Dreampolitik


On Saturday, a federal district court judge in Wisconsin issued an opinion explaining why, on the merits, Texas’s substantive arguments were without merit. And, as occurred on the Supreme Court, a judge appointed by President Trump, Brett Ludwig, ruled against him.

Some Trump supporters are inclined to suggest the campaign’s court losses are the result of progressive judicial activism or #Resistance judging. This is nonsense. Dozens of election suits have been filed, and dozens of judges of all political stripes and judicial philosophies have ruled against the claims put forward by the Trump campaign and its allies. In this case, the opinion was written by a judge appointed by President Trump in September. Trump and his allies claim they want their legal claims heard by judges who will apply the law. They have been.

Jonathan Adler, Another Court Loss for Trump Campaign in Wisconsin


Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Liturgy, mimesis, humus

I went to a symposium over the weekend, the intimidating theme of which was For I Am Holy: The Command to Be Like God.

Like God?!

But this was my fifth year. I have people who are becoming like family to me. I wanted to see them.

Boy, am I glad I went.

There were no formulae. Holiness formulae can only turn us into delusional, self-righteous Church Lady prigs.

So the emphasis was how the liturgy and encountering great literature (sometimes with holy protagonists) and practicing humility at the most “humus” level can shape us toward holiness.

The Eighth Day Symposia are always ecumenical in the sense that the three main speakers are Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. The commonality comes from moderate to deep knowledge of the Church Fathers.

Christians are divided. This is a fact. We have been since the schism between East and West at the turn of the first millennium and since the Protestant Reformations in the sixteenth century. This is a tragedy. That’s why we believe we have a duty to facilitate a dialogue of love and truth, one that acknowledges our real differences, but one that also seeks to achieve a common mind so we can stand reunited in the One who is the Truth.

There is a separate Florovsky-Newman week to focus on our differences. I’ve never been to one, but I think that’s going to change.

Eighth Day Institute is mutually and enthusiastically supportive of Eighth Day Books, a Christian bibliophile’s “happiest place on earth.”

EDB has just published a paper catalog for the first time in eight years. Get one before they’re gone!

* * * * *

All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

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.

James Carroll’s faerie tale

 

Christianity was very different at the beginning. The first reference to the Jesus movement in a nonbiblical source comes from the Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus, writing around the same time that the Gospels were taking form. Josephus described the followers of Jesus simply as “those that loved him at the first and did not let go of their affection for him.” There was no priesthood yet, and the movement was egalitarian. Christians worshipped and broke bread in one another’s homes. But under Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, Christianity effectively became the imperial religion and took on the trappings of the empire itself. A diocese was originally a Roman administrative unit. A basilica, a monumental hall where the emperor sat in majesty, became a place of worship. A diverse and decentralized group of churches was transformed into a quasi-imperial institution—centralized and hierarchical, with the bishop of Rome reigning as a monarch. Church councils defined a single set of beliefs as orthodox, and everything else as heresy.

James Carroll, Abolish the Priesthood, the sensational cover story in the June Atlantic.

The only thing in the article more absurd than this crypto-Protestant précis of Church History (pretty much straight out of Dan Brown, from what I’ve heard of Dan Brown) is Carroll’s insouciant sketch of the future, after the masses have arisen, overthrown the clerisy, and replaced priests with “sacramental enablers”:

The future will come at us invisibly, frame by frame, as it always does—comprehensible only when run together and projected retrospectively at some distant moment. But it is coming. One hundred years from now, there will be a Catholic Church. Count on it. If, down through the ages, it was appropriate for the Church to take on the political structures of the broader culture—imperial Rome, feudal Europe—then why shouldn’t Catholicism now absorb the ethos and form of liberal democracy? This may not be inevitable, but it is more than possible. The Church I foresee will be governed by laypeople, although the verb govern may apply less than serve. There will be leaders who gather communities in worship, and because the tradition is rich, striking chords deep in human history, such sacramental enablers may well be known as priests. They will include women and married people. They will be ontologically equal to everyone else. They will not owe fealty to a feudal superior. Catholic schools and universities will continue to submit faith to reason—and vice versa. Catholic hospitals will be a crucial part of the global health-care infrastructure. Catholic religious orders of men and women, some voluntarily celibate, will continue to protect and enshrine the varieties of contemplative practice and the social Gospel. Jesuits and Dominicans, Benedictines and Franciscans, the Catholic Worker Movement and other communities of liberation theology—all of these will survive in as yet unimagined forms. The Church will be fully alive at the local level, even if the faith is practiced more in living rooms than in basilicas. And the Church will still have a worldwide reach, with some kind of organizing center, perhaps even in Rome for old times’ sake. But that center will be protected from Catholic triumphalism by being openly engaged with other Christian denominations. This imagined Church of the future will have more in common with ancient tradition than the pope-idolizing Catholicism of modernity ever did. And as all of this implies, clericalism will be long dead. Instead of destroying a Catholic’s love of the Church, the vantage of internal exile can reinforce it—making the essence of the faith more apparent than ever.

And then pink faeries will fly out of our nether regions and we’ll all live happily ever after.

The End.


Seriously, the problems of the Catholic Church are many and deep. I try not to meddle in the affairs of this not-my-Church.

But Carroll does a much better job of sketching the problems than he does of selling his solution.

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Creed and deed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

Greg Coles.

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

Feminization of Christianity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Erin Manning)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

3 things, 12 rules, 1 prayer

[P]rophets are neither new nor controversial. To a first approximation, they only ever say three things:

First, good and evil are definitely real. You know they’re real. You can talk in philosophy class about how subtle and complicated they are, but this is bullshit and you know it. Good and evil are the realest and most obvious things you will ever see, and you recognize them on sight.

Second, you are kind of crap. You know what good is, but you don’t do it. You know what evil is, but you do it anyway. You avoid the straight and narrow path in favor of the easy and comfortable one. You make excuses for yourself and you blame your problems on other people. You can say otherwise, and maybe other people will believe you, but you and I both know you’re lying.

Third, it’s not too late to change. You say you’re too far gone, but that’s another lie you tell yourself. If you repented, you would be forgiven. If you take one step towards God, He will take twenty toward you. Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.

This is the General Prophetic Method. It’s easy, it’s old as dirt, and it works.

Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex, reviewing Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life.

For whatever reason, I’ve become pretty fierce about the obligations of lie-resisting and truth-telling. I’ll leave that sentence as a bit of a Rorschach test, but I’ll tell you that it includes resisting lies from sources Left and Right.

With that, and with Jordan Peterson particularly in mind, I added to my morning list of people to ask God’s blessing on “all truth-tellers, Christian or not, in this age enamored of lies” (that’s the reminder I wrote to myself).

Then an old friend — and by “old” I mean I met him in 1963 — who has remained fiercely Evangelical and activist, pricked my conscience with a video, shared on Facebook, pointing out that the United States was in a terrible spiritual state in the late 18th century — maybe worse than that of the late 20th century — but then,  voilà!, what should up and happen but the Second Great Awakening, with enormous and lasting change in its wake.

So I decided I should pray for something like a Third Great Awakening, and that’s how I wrote down a second reminder.

But it’s no secret that I’m an ecclesial and liturgical Christian. Among other things, that implies that if I’m going to pray for something every morning, I’d really like to do a bit better than “Father God, we just ask you Father to just Father bless all the truth-tellers Father and coudja just send us Father another Great Awakening Father if it’s not to much trouble — Father?”

So I was pleased Thursday night to notice, in the Prayer Book I was using, a succinct petition that, with minor adaptation, effectively rolls my truth-teller and Great Awakening prayers into one, leaving the executive details up to He Who Is At An Infinitely Higher Pay Grade:

O, Most Holy Trinity, who lovest mankind and willest not that any should perish, look, I beseech Thee, on all my countrymen that are led astray by the devil; that rejecting all errors, the hearts of those who err may be converted and return to the unity of Thy truth.

“Led astray.” “Error.” “Converted.” “Unity of Thy truth.” That seems to cover it.

Feel utterly free to make it your own, remembering that it could apply to you, too.

But if you try to type it, watch out for those dadburned modern auto-correct features. They don’t like the King’s English.

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

On the other hand …

Two critiques of the newly-reposed Billy Graham, which I note not just for the record, but because I cannot help but agree.

First, a George Will column I passed over, then returned to because, well, it was by George Will: Billy Graham was no prophet.

Because Will is a veteran writer, he tells us right away what he’s going to tell us:

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some, and there are many “miracles around us today, including television and airplanes.” Graham was no theologian.

Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said “a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” Prophets take adversarial stances toward their times, as did the 20th century’s two greatest religious leaders, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. Graham did not. Partly for that reason, his country showered him with honors.

I made the same points — neither theologian nor prophet — yesterday, but not as an indictment, which Will pretty clearly implies.

The problem, to reframe some of the same points Will makes, is that Evangelist Graham often positioned himself in a fundamentally prophetic role by becoming the intimate of powerful men:

Graham’s dealings with presidents mixed vanity and naivete. In 1952, he said he wanted to meet with all the candidates “to give them the moral side of the thing.” He was 33. He applied flattery with a trowel, comparing Dwight Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and calling Richard Nixon “the most able and the best trained man for the job probably in American history.” He told Nixon that God had given him, Nixon, “supernatural wisdom.” Graham should have heeded the psalmist’s warning about putting one’s faith in princes.

On Feb. 1, 1972, unaware of Nixon’s Oval Office taping system, when Nixon ranted about how Jews “totally dominated” the media, Graham said, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.” He also told Nixon that Jews are the ones “putting out the pornographic stuff.” One can reasonably acquit Graham of anti-Semitism only by convicting him of toadying ….

Yes, if you’re going to get that close to power, you’re surely obliged to don the prophet’s mantle, especially if you’re purporting to “give them the moral side of the thing.” To paraphrase Will, we can acquit Graham of dereliction only by convicting him of toadying — or by assuming that quietly, and in private, he did truly “give them the moral side of the thing” in a way that was at least minimally prophetic.

Is there another alternative?

Second, Darryl Hart (who I likewise passed over at first) makes a subtler point, and one that I probably cannot make strongly enough to heal scotomata: Graham’s itinerant evangelism inherently undermined Churches.

Graham’s work, which was completely independent of a church or a communion, undermined implicitly the work of local pastors who were trying to the best of their abilities to evangelize the locals. Along would come Graham and all of a local pastor or priest’s endeavors seemed paltry by comparison. Here I’m reminded of what H. L. Mencken wrote about Billy Sunday and the kind of appeal a popular (and traveling) preacher had compared to the residential and denominational variety:

Even setting aside [Sunday’s] painstaking avoidance of anything suggesting clerical garb …, he comes down so palpably to the level of his audience, both in the matter and the manner of his discourse, that he quickly disarms the old suspicion of the holy clerk and gets the discussion going on the familiar and easy terms of a debate in a barroom. The raciness of his slang is not the whole story by any means; his attitude of mind lies behind it, and is more important … It is marked, above all, by a contemptuous disregard of the theoretical and mystifying; an angry casting aside of what may be called the ecclesiastical mask, an eagerness to reduce all the abstrusities of Christian theology to a few and simple and … self-evident propositions, a violent determination to make of religion a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern.

… Mencken’s point about evangelicalism and the evangelists who benefited from it stands. Your average pastor cannot compete with the bells and whistles of a mass meeting and the publicity that surrounds it. Nor can your average minister disregard preaching through a book of the Bible or fashioning a homily based on the lectionary and situating that relatively learned speech into the fabric of a liturgy or order of service (for the Puritans out there). In other words, theology, church government, and convictions about worship constrain a pastor, not to mention the responsibilities of ministering over time to a variety of congregation or parish members in all manner of walks of life. Graham could simply give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row, with a different musical performance or celebrity interview, and then leave town. Your average pastor doesn’t have that pay grade. And if he is actually preparing his flock for the world to come (read death), then a religion that is “a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern” is not necessarily going to cut the Gordian Knot of how sinners become right with the sovereign Lord of the universe.

In other words, not all Protestants were thrilled by Graham’s ministry. In fact, going back to the revivals of the First and Second Great Pretty Good Awakenings, denominationally and theologically self-conscious Protestants (Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed), have opposed mass revivalism because it undermines the work of the ordained ministry and the local church.

Hart says “undermined implicitly.” I say “inherently undermined.” The two are not the same and I stand by my version, precisely because of two things Hart doesn’t mention:

  1. Graham did not merely “give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row … and then leave town.” He or his aides routinely — in my understanding, invariably — told those who responded to his invitation to go back to their churches, provided only that those churches had Jesus and Bible. That was why he caught flak from Bob Jones and a significant number of others: Catholics were sent back into the maw of the whore of Babylon, as the critics saw it.
  2. But despite #1, Graham’s crusades were ineluctibly parachurch, his Gospel transactional, his salvation forensic. Having lived in his world, I can say from personal observation that a whole lotta folks took their “eternal security” to the golf course or beach on Sunday mornings. That kind of tacit falling away was well known to Evangelists, who lamented it but didn’t know how to deal with it. (Campus Crusade for Christ, n/k/a Cru, came up with a “Spirit-filled life” tract to complement “Four Spiritual Laws,” but even then were frustrated by the crypto-lapsi.)

When I referred to “scotomata,” I was referring to such widespread disregard or disrespect of the “institutional” Church as opposed to parachurch ministries. Of this, too, I have personal experience, even though habitually, and all my life long, I’ve attended church — even when I considered church merely a good idea and in no way salvific.

Those who just bristled at the idea of church being salvific are those with the scotomata. Jesus Christ did not “build [His] Church” just to be the sort of thing you might go for if you go for that sort of thing.

You can look that up.

Hart doesn’t put it that bluntly, but a Calvinistic version of that (i.e., a sensibility that probably doesn’t unequivocally see the Church as salvific) is his sensibility, and I agree that undermining local churches was a weakness Billy Graham’s methods could not avoid.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Saturday Potpourri 2

  1. The Spirit of Peace
  2. Pray without ceasing and see the doctor
  3. Almost she persuades me, a skeptic
  4. Always a corrupting enterprise
  5. I do remember — don’t you?
  6. SF passes the law of unintended consequences
  7. The ever-morphing political dinner name game
  8. PROBABLY

Continue reading “Saturday Potpourri 2”