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.

Sunday, 7/17/22

Poetry and Myth

Christianity and Poetry

The Incarnation requires an ode, not an email.

Poet Dana Gioia, Christianity and Poetry commenting on the poetry of the Magnificat.

More:

  • For most believers, the truths of their faith have become platitudes taught in catechism or Sunday school. The mysteries of faith—those strange events such as the Incarnation, Transfiguration, and Resurrection—have lost their awe and wonder and become replaced by sensible morality and proper reverence. There is nothing wrong with morality or reverence, but pious propriety is a starvation diet for the soul. Modern versions of the Bible, which translate verse passages into prosaic language for the supposed sake of clarity, are mistranslations, since they change the effect of the text.
  • When Jesus preached, he told stories, spoke poems, and offered proverbs. The Beatitudes are a poem about the merciful Kingdom of God in contrast to the selfish world of mankind. Jesus was not much concerned with theology. He left that to posterity. He did not ask his listeners to think their way to salvation; he wanted them to taste and see the goodness of God. He told them stories in which they could see themselves. He spoke to people as creatures with both a body and soul. He addressed them in the fullness of their fallen humanity, driven by contradictory appetites, emotions, and imagination.
  • When the Second Vatican Council dropped these sequences from the Catholic missal, it demonstrated how remote the Church had become from its own traditions. The new Church wanted to reengage the broader world and get rid of the musty traditions of the past. Vatican II wanted to be practical, positive, and modern; its motto was aggiornamento, Italian for “bringing things up to date.” The poetic sequences, which had seemed so splendid to the old Church—rapturous artistic vehicles for the contemplation of divine mysteries—felt too pious, formal, and elaborate for modern worship.
  • William Wordsworth was a religious man who saw the poet’s role as prophetic, but his Christianity expressed itself most eloquently in pantheistic Deism. He grew more devout and conventional in middle age, to the detriment of his verse. His pious Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822) marked the lowest point of his career. Read any page of it outdoors—the stupefied bees will stop buzzing and the birds fall senseless from the trees.
  • Minor poets with major minds, Chesterton and Belloc were smart, brash, and wickedly funny. Unintimidated by their intellectual foes, they swaggered when others would have taken cover. For the first time since the Elizabethan Age, there was an outspoken Catholic presence in English verse.

And then, in conclusion:

Christianity has survived into the twenty-first century, but it has not come through unscathed. It has kept its head and its heart—the clarity of its beliefs and its compassionate mission. The problem is that it has lost its senses, all five of them. Great is the harvest, and greater still the hunger it must feed, but its call into the world has become faint and abstract. Contemporary Christianity speaks mostly in ideas. Potent ideas, to be sure, but colorless and hackneyed in their expression …

A major challenge of Christianity today is to recover the language of the senses and to recapture faith’s natural relationship with beauty. There is much conversation nowadays about beauty among theologians and clergy. They seem to consider it a philosophical problem to be solved by analysis and apologetics. Those are the tools they have. Their relation to beauty is passive rather than creative. Even the clearest thinking can’t close the gap between how people experience their existence—a holistic mix of sensory data, emotions, memories, ideas, and imagination—and how the Church explains it—moral and spiritual concepts organized in a rational system. The theology isn’t wrong; it’s just not right for most occasions. It offers a laser when a lamp is what’s needed.

These things matter because we are incarnate beings. We see the shape and feel the texture of things. We instinctively know that the form of a thing is part of its meaning. We are drawn to beauty, not logic. Our experience of the divine is not primarily intellectual. We feel it with our bodies. We picture it in our imaginations. We hear it as a voice inside us. We are grateful for an explanation, but we crave inspiration, communion, rapture, epiphany.

It probably will come as no surprise to you that I do not think that Orthodoxy has "lost its senses."

But I am one man, formed in the West, which has lost its senses, so I face extra hurdles acquiring the mind of the Church.

(A "brilliant and substantive new essay" like this pops up just often enough that I still subscribe to First Things.)

Deep magic

I read more on Saturday of his first book, A Branch from the Lightning Tree, and it was so overwhelming that despite having had two giant cups of coffee, I had to come back to the room to sleep. There is deep magic in his words. I see now why Guite, an Anglican priest, told me that only Orthodox Christianity will be able to contain the immensity that is Martin Shaw’s imagination and sensibility.

Rod Dreher.

I’m experiencing Martin Shaw that way, too, though I’ve only caught snippets and haven’t yet read the book I bought.

C.S. Lewis, reacting to the claim that society was returning to paganism, said something to the effect of "Would that it were so! The pagan is an eminently convertible man." Paul Kingsnorth and Martin Shaw may be the first fruits that add "prophet" to Lewis’ encomiums.

What Athos has on offer

Why have western scholars virtually ignored this experiential form of mystical Christianity at a time when numerous Westerners have turned their gaze toward Hinduism and Buddhism? What does Mount Athos have to offer to the Western world today that is not available within the mainstream churches?

Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence

What myths mean

However nonrational myths were, they betrayed man’s urge to explain what he found in himself and in the world, as well as his belief that explanation was somehow possible.

David V. Hicks, Norms and Nobility

Analysis

Hypocrisy or Mimesis?

Remember that old saw "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue"?

Gilbert Meilander, with help from C.S. Lewis throughout, reminds me that a charge of "hypocrisy" ought to be used very sparingly. Excerpt from the introduction:

Discussing his experience as a soldier in the Great War, he writes of a fellow soldier who was not only (like Lewis) a scholar from Oxford, but also—alarmingly to Lewis—“a man of conscience,” committed to adhering to taken-for-granted moral principles.

Embarrassed by the contrast with his own life, Lewis did his best to conceal the fact that he himself had not taken moral obligations so seriously. “If this is hypocrisy,” Lewis writes:

then I must conclude that hypocrisy can do a man good. To be ashamed of what you were about to say, to pretend that something which you had meant seriously was only a joke—this is an ignoble part. But it is better than not to be ashamed at all. And the distinction between pretending you are better than you are and beginning to be better in reality is finer than moral sleuthhounds conceive. . . . When a boor first enters the society of courteous people what can he do, for a while, except imitate the motions? How can he learn except by imitation?

Belonging, truthing

For human beings, the ability to belong is more [evolutionarily] adaptive than the ability to see what’s true.

Alan Jacobs citing Jonathan Haidt.

I’m thinking of an American-made religion with (1) what strikes me as an unusually implausible founding story, but (2) a very strong sense of community. That religion was still growing rapidly last time I looked at the stats (though that has been a while). Score one datapoint for Haidt and Jacobs.

Tonic

You’re churches, for God’s sake. Quit fighting for social justice. Quit saving the bloody planet. Attend to some souls. That’s what you are supposed to do. That’s your holy duty. Do it. Now. Before it’s too late. And the hour is nigh.

Jordan Peterson via Aaron Renn

Well, that’s bracing — unless your church was already doing that.


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.

It’s Havel’s Greengrocer Month!

SBC’s numbers fetish

“a satanic scheme to distract us from evangelism.”

Augie Boto, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Council general counsel and former vice president, characterizing reports of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and church employees.

Evangelicalism, of which the SBC is a member in very good standing, had a problem with seeking numerical growth above all else for as long as I was part of it. Psychological trickery and deception were part of the deal (e.g. "Every head bowed and every eye closed. … I see that hand. Is there another?" when nobody had raised a hand.)

The EC’s publishing arm, the Baptist Press, “was also used to portray victims in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse,” according to the report. For example, in 2019 Jennifer Lyell—an abuse survivor and employee of SBC-affiliated Lifeway—was asked to write publicly about her sexual abuse by an SBC seminary professor, but the article was changed before publication to suggest a consensual relationship and only corrected months later.

(Emphasis added)

Hauerwas strikes again

Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens.

Not-quite-rank speculation

Maybe Mainline Protestantism is less prone to pervasive sex abuse partly because it has far fewer young people for predators to target. Not many Mainline churches have vibrant youth ministries or large programs for children. But Mainline churches do have a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability that are likelier to address sexual abuse.

In contrast, most of evangelicalism is effectively congregationalist with fewer authoritative structures beyond the local church. Self protective pastors or congregational governing boards can more easily evade accountability than congregations within denominations. Mainline denominations have bishops, superintendents, presbyteries and synods that oversee congregations and clergy. Often this oversight fails to work effectively, but it can be better than no oversight at all.

Perhaps more importantly, there is culturally less deference toward and trust for clergy and for church governance in Mainline Protestantism. As I recall growing up Methodist, critiquing and tearing down the pastor is often the local church’s most fervent sport, sadly. Preoccupation with pastoral flaws obviously is deeply unhelpful and may help explain part of Mainline Protestantism’s dysfunction. But Mainliners are typically not intimidated by clergy or distorted ideas about pastoral authority.

The typical Mainline cleric is not invested with the spiritual authority that many evangelicals accord their pastors. And of course Catholic priests have more spiritual authority than do Protestant clergy. The reasons are ecclesiological but also maybe sociological. Wealthy Ivy League educated parishioners at an Episcopal parish who belong to country clubs, have many lawyer friends, and know the mayor, are less likely to defer to their cleric or congregational leaders than maybe less culturally privileged members of an evangelical church.

Evangelicals maybe are more prone to idealize their pastors than Mainline Protestants, who are more prone to see clerics as the hired help.

Juicy Ecumenism, ‌Mainliners, Evangelicals, Catholics & Sexual Abuse – Juicy Ecumenism (Italics added)

This seemed timely, but don’t think that I’m siding with the Mainline. I have history in Evangelicalism, and write reactively against it, but I can’t say one way or the other whether the Mainline is healthier overall. I will, however, unequivocally endorse accountability — be it bishops, synods, presbyteries or whatever — over congregationalism, or what I call "fiefdoms."

Also, for what it’s worth, I’m skeptical of the claim I italicized, but it’s been a long time since I spent time around Protestants talking about their pastors.

Gun nuts, pro and con

Respected philosopher James K.A. Smith emotes:

We’ve taken too long. Habitualities built up over a 200 year history will not be undone by tweaks on policy and half measures.

We need the collective will to repeal the 2nd Amendment and confiscate guns.

Only Mammon and our idols prevent us from doing so.

Burn them down.

But Mark Tooley has some cautions:

Christian realism always counsels against ambitious absolutist solutions that override precedent, ignore human nature, and downplay the complex social factors that foster the conditions for catastrophe.

Tooley also has cautions for gun hobbyists, too (and by implication, for us all):

Christianity traditionally argues not only against malevolent violence, of course, but also against vain amusements. The vast, vast majority of gun enthusiasts are mainly devoted hobbyists. For most, their pursuits are benign. But traditional Christianity cautions against unhealthy enthusiasms for worldly hobbies, however benign. This is especially the case where a prurient fascination with guns bleeds over into the macabre.

For more than 2,000 years, Christianity often has preached against theaters, salacious literature, dancing, festivals, bear-baiting, carnivals, card playing, horse racing, and other recreations that many Christians see as mostly harmless in themselves. The argument against passions for such pursuits is that life is short and that Christians are called to redeem the time and be sober, alert, and focused on God’s work.

Life under soft totalitarianism*

If I gave in to the Inquisitors, I should at least know what creed to profess. But even if I yelled out a credo when the Eugenists had me on the rack, I should not know what creed to yell. I might get an extra turn of the rack for confessing to the creed they confessed quite a week ago.

G.K. Chesterton, The Established Church of Doubt, in The G. K. Chesterton Collection (Kindle Location 19750)

I had to read that a few times to get it when Readwise coughed it up this morning. It’s as true today as when Chesterton wrote it, though the actors have changed:

  • "Conservatives" who abandoned bog standard conservatism for Trumpist populism, but pre-eminently …
  • Wokesters, who positively make a cruel game out of cancelling anyone who still believes, say, that marriage is between a man and a woman (or other offenses again liberal groin pieties or racial identity politics).

* Soft totalitarianism is that totalitarianism that doesn’t command by pointing a gun barrel. Not yet.

Havel’s Greengrocers

Speaking of liberal groin pieties, it’s Pride Month, and more and more restaurants and other businesses are playing Havel’s Greengrocer.

It’s actually kind of nice of them: it tells me who to avoid this June and, conversely, what courageous little dissident shops I might want to patronize.


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.

Narcissism-by-proxy and more

Narcissism-by-proxy

> There’s this weird psychological phenomenon in tradland [traditionland]where folks — usually but not always young men —outsource the pride and arrogance they know would be personally sinful to the Church, since She Can Never Be Wrong™. They then weaponize this narcissism-by-proxy to glibly condemn anyone who falls short, unconvincingly disguising their rash judgment as a spiritual work of mercy: “I’m just admonishing the sinner/instructing the ignorant, fam.”

Steve Skojec, ‌How Jordan Peterson Changed My Life.

Skojec was the hyper-combative muse of onepeterfive.com, a radically traditionalist Roman Catholic venture — until his faith collapsed and the rest of his life almost followed suit. I am hoping he will find Orthodoxy* (after he calms down a bit more, please — he’s already shown some improvement), and it’s interesting to see him acknowledging benefitting from Jordan Peterson because Peterson’s version of Jungianism somehow seems to rhyme a lot with Orthodoxy (all truth is God’s truth).

* (I acknowledge that Orthodoxy has its own share of young men whose pride and arrogance, plus their access to books neither of us is qualified to read — notably, The Rudder — has made them, first, insufferable prigs, then schismatic Pharisees and, finally, spiritual shipwrecks. Mercifully, I didn’t fall into that trap though I’ve been prone to that sort of thing in the past.)

Secret Diaries

Why Joshua Gibbs won’t let his daughter keep a secret diary:

> Secret diaries encourage the worst and darkest sorts of thoughts a person has. Secret diaries are often filled with complaints, insults, and grievances with others. Why? A secret diary needs a reason to be secret, which means you will fill it with the sorts of thoughts you don’t want other people hearing, which either means confessing your own sins or the sins of others. A diary is no place to confess your sins, though, because a diary can’t forgive you. And it’s no place to catalogue the sins of others … Writing things down formalizes them, confirms them, solidifies them. Writing down your thoughts takes time, and so you linger over all the unsavory thoughts you don’t want others to hear. It is one thing to have those thoughts, but another thing to dwell on them. If you have a mean or nasty thought about someone, there’s no need to make them permanent by recording them and coming back to them later.

He also affirms what a diary is good for.

Is Ruso-Ukraine a "religious war"?

> The Western secular imagination … looks at Putin’s speech the other evening, and it describes him as mad — which is another way of saying we do not understand what is going on.

Giles Fraser, who "gets it" that in a sense, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a religious war. So does John Schindler.

Religious wars are, mythology to the contrary notwithstanding, relatively rare, and the Ruso-Ukrainian war is partly religious not because there’s any daylight in doctrine or piety between Russian Orthodoxy and Ukrainian Orthodoxy, but because Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew, \likely egged on by the USA, put his foot in it\ and provoke a schism by declaring an Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 2019, whereas the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has long been part of the Moscow Patriarchate. Thus \the religious element of this war is inextricable from Putin’s overall irredentist ideololgy, which is distinguishable from his putative Orthodox faith.

Fans versus Disciples

> This is what our politics has become: We’re often just fans of a party — or even a religion — not believers in actual tenets.

Jane Coaston, reflecting on Georgia gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor’s campaign bus, painted with her slogan "Jesus, guns, babies."


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.

The obvious question eluded

Peter Wehner has noticed some trouble in Evangelicaldom:

  • [Crypto-racism at McLean Bible Church] [C]hurch members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque … Platt, speaking to his congregation, described an email that was circulated claiming, “MBC is no longer McLean Bible Church, that it’s now Melanin Bible Church.”
  • “Nearly everyone tells me there is at the very least a small group in nearly every evangelical church complaining and agitating against teaching or policies that aren’t sufficiently conservative or anti-woke,” a pastor and prominent figure within the evangelical world told me. (Like others with whom I spoke about this topic, he requested anonymity in order to speak candidly.) “It’s everywhere.”
  • The aggressive, disruptive, and unforgiving mindset that characterizes so much of our politics has found a home in many American churches.
  • [M]any Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized.
  • “When Trump was able to add open hatred and resentments to the political-religious stance of ‘true believers,’ it crossed a line,” [Church historial George] Marsden said. “Tribal instincts seem to have become overwhelming.” … [M]any Christian followers of Trump “have come to see a gospel of hatreds, resentments, vilifications, put-downs, and insults as expressions of their Christianity, for which they too should be willing to fight.”
  • [Tucker Carlson, Catechist] [M]any churches aren’t interested in catechesis at all. They focus instead on entertainment, because entertainment is what keeps people in their seats and coins in the offering plate. … “People come to believe what they are most thoroughly and intensively catechized to believe, and that catechesis comes not from the churches but from the media they consume, or rather the media that consume them. The churches have barely better than a snowball’s chance in hell of shaping most people’s lives.”
  • Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington, … [has] heard of many congregants leaving their church because it didn’t match their politics, he told me, but has never once heard of someone changing their politics because it didn’t match their church’s teaching.
  • The former president normalized a form of discourse that made the once-shocking seem routine. Russell Moore laments the “pugilism of the Trump era, in which anything short of cruelty is seen as weakness.” The problem facing the evangelical church, then, is not just that it has failed to inculcate adherents with its values—it’s that when it has succeeded in doing so, those values have not always been biblical.
  • Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a history professor at Calvin University and the author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, argues … that American evangelicals have worked for decades to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism. (She defines Christian nationalism as “the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such,” which she says is a powerful predictor of attitudes toward non-Christians and on issues such as immigration, race, and guns.
  • “What we’re watching right now in much of our nation’s Christian politics,” [David French] wrote, “is an explosion not of godly Christian passion, but rather of ancient southern shame/honor rage.”
  • Scott Dudley of Bellevue Presbyterian Church said he knows of several pastors who have not just quit their churches but resigned from ministry, and that many others are actively seeking to switch careers. “They have concluded that their church has become a hostile work environment where at any moment they may be blasted, slandered, and demeaned in disrespectful and angry ways,” he said, “or have organized groups of people within the church demand that they be fired.”
  • The historian Mark Noll’s 1994 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, will be rereleased next year. In the forthcoming preface, which Noll, himself an evangelical, shared with me, he argues that in various spheres—vaccinations, evolutionary science, anthropogenic global warming, and the 2020 elections, to name just a few—“white evangelicals appear as the group most easily captive to conspiratorial nonsense, in greater panic about their political opponents, or as most aggressively anti-intellectual.” … “Much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism is not essential to Christianity,” Noll has written. And he is surely correct. I would add only that … in important respects, much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism has become antithetical to authentic Christianity. What we’re dealing with—not in all cases, of course, but in far too many— is political identity and cultural anxieties, anti-intellectualism and ethnic nationalism, resentments and grievances, all dressed up as Christianity.

He concludes that "Jesus now has to be reclaimed from his Church …."

Critiques by Mark Noll and George Marsden are decades old, but Evangelicalism has only gotten worse. I’m pretty sure Evangelicals have had to "reclaim Jesus from His Church" before. But even if I’m wrong, how screwed up must things be before y’all figure out that maybe, just maybe, Evangelicalism isn’t really "His Church"?


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.

Gleanings

From Deschooling Society

  • Hope, in its strong sense, means trusting faith in the goodness of nature, while expectation, as I will use it here, means reliance on results which are planned and controlled by man. Hope centers desire on a person from whom we await a gift. Expectation looks forward to satisfaction from a predictable process which will produce what we have the right to claim. The Promethean ethos has now eclipsed hope. Survival of the human race depends on its rediscovery as a social force.
  • Classical man framed a civilized context for human perspective. He was aware that he could defy fate-nature-environment, but only at his own risk. Contemporary man goes further; he attempts to create the world in his image, to build a totally man-made environment, and then discovers that he can do so only on the condition of constantly remaking himself to fit it. We now must face the fact that man himself is at stake.
  • I know a Mexican village through which not more than a dozen cars drive each day. A Mexican was playing dominoes on the new hard-surface road in front of his house – where he had probably played and sat since his youth. A car sped through and killed him. The tourist who reported the event to me was deeply upset, and yet he said: “The man had it coming to him”. … At first sight, the tourist’s remark is no different from the statement of some primitive bushman reporting the death of a fellow who had collided with a taboo and had therefore died. But the two statements carry opposite meanings. The primitive can blame some tremendous and dumb transcendence, while the tourist is in awe of the inexorable logic of the machine.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society.

This is the first Ivan Illich I’ve read. It’s mind-expanding, but my mind is not yet capacious enough to find many of his proposals for alternatives to "schooling" realistic.

Perhaps that means that my mind is captive to the schooling mentality, but I can’t help but note that the suggestion is both ad hominem and circular.

On at least one thing do Illich and I agree: As one who identifies as auto-didact (one much provide one’s identity these days, right?), I agree that most of what I know I learned outside of school. And that goes double for important things (beyond basic learning skills).

That should disabuse us of any servility to schooling.

A Counterworld

The Church’s function is not to adapt Christianity to the world, or even to adapt the world to Christianity; Her function is to maintain a counterworld in the world.

Nicolas Gomez Davila, Escolios a un Texto Implicito, via John Brady’s Rags of Light e-newsletter.

And if you understand that, you should understand:

  • The case for The Benedict Option; and
  • That The Benedict Option is, as many have said, "just the Church being the Church."

How badly must Trump botch this notion to disenthrall his acolytes?

DWAC, the Trump Social-Media SPAC, Soars in GameStop-Like Frenzy
Shares of Digital World Acquisition more than doubled to $94.20 Friday after trading as high as $175; have risen nearly tenfold in two days

Maybe losing beaucoups bucks will disenthrall Trump’s sycophants. Something needs to.

Decadent Jazz & Journalism

Jazz has been compared to “an indecent story syncopated and counterpointed.” There can be no question that, like journalism in literature, it has helped to destroy the concept of obscenity.

Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences.

Even the greats can be wrong sometimes — about jazz, not journalism, of course.


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.

Ye olde variety store

Reminder to self

I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations lately that various conservatives are white supremacists, or, somewhat more narrowly, that they are adherents of "white replacement theory." My initial reaction was to treat this as a way of mainstream media saying that conservatives have cooties.

But when it comes to white replacement theory, there’s a very important line: it is on one side of the line to think that there is a conspiracy to replace white people with darker skinned people, and that the southern border (for instance) has been thrown open by the Democrats as part of that conspiracy. It is on the other side of the line to note that much of our immigration is darker-skinned people, and that white folks have sub-replacement fertility levels, and that as a matter of fact we are on track for white people to be outnumbered by the year 2050 — without carrying on luridly about how that, ipso facto, will be "the end of America.”

My personal history of dismissing warnings too casually is cautionary. I was slow to see that the charges of anti-Semitism against conservative columnists Joseph Sobran and Samuel Francis were not just epithets thrown by liberals, but true. (Both were brilliant, but both really were antisemitic, though Sobran at least wrote a lot that was not tinged with antisemitism.) I was also slow to see that Patrick J. Buchanan was coming unhinged, as I think he was (and is).

So in dealing with charges of white replacement theory, and giving due allowance to the possibility that somebody like Tucker Carlson is insincerely talking about it just to attract viewers, I need to be aware that even if the comments, prima facie, fall on the right side of the afore-described line, bringing the subject up obsessively is a very bad sign. That’s what should have tipped me off earlier on Sobran.

Meatloaf on side constraints

The Federalist Society is committed to advancing the rule of law, which is why many of its members, in their individual capacities, have worked so hard for the appointment of judges who believe in the rule of law. And many of those judges, in ruling against meritless election challenges brought by the man who appointed them, stood up for the rule of law in the past few months, to their great credit.

But to sacrifice the rule of law as a value, in the hope of getting four more years of a president who might appoint good judges but is otherwise anathema to the rule of law (sic), is simply perverse. I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, ‌The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?. Lat was commenting in the second paragraph on some individual Federalist Society members. The Society itself cannot lawfully back a candidate, nor did it do so unlawfully.

On choosing to cease choosing

[H]uman flourishing depends, [Antonio García Martínez] says, on the acceptance of various "unchosen obligations" (to family, to community, to God) that form the backdrop of a morally and spiritually satisfying life. Hence his attraction to Judaism, an ancient, communally based system of laws that seems far more secure than our confusingly fluid world of freely choosing individuals.

Which means that García Martínez is converting to Judaism in order to escape secular modernity — but isn’t his own decision to convert itself an individual choice? And as such, isn’t it just as much an expression of the modern mindset as any of the trends he denounces here and in his broader social media commentary?

Yes, it’s a choice to stop choosing, but that still grounds his conversion in an act of the individual mind and will. García Martínez will always know that what can be chosen can also be unchosen — that he can choose to leave Judaism with an ease that would have felt quite foreign to a premodern Jew.

This doesn’t mean that García Martínez is making a mistake in becoming Jewish. (I have my own complicted history with Judaism, Catholicism, and conversion.) But it does mean that doing so isn’t likely to liberate him from modernity, returning him to the premodern world as conservatives like to imagine it — a world defined by fated obligations individuals have no choice but to take on and accept with gratitude and fulfillment.

Choosing is the destiny of human beings, from which we will never be rescued.

Damon Linker

I wish Antonio García Martínez were choosing Orthodox Christianity instead of Judaism, but I had the same types of taunts tossed at me as I approached Orthodoxy: "So, you’re choosing to stop choosing, huh?! Har-de-har-har-har!"

I gotta live in the world as it is. In American law and the American mind, one’s church is a "voluntary association." You can opt in; you can opt out. Nobody can stop you legally and few will try socially*. But I can choose wisely and resolve to let the faith, in that chosen setting, do its work on me, not looking for greener grass elsewhere.

Or looking for sheer novelty, as if it doesn’t matter:

To assert that all religions are really just different paths to God is a denial of the central tenets of these religions. The Hindu Yogin trying to achieve oblivion and utter absorption into the faceless universe is not on the same path as the Jew bowing down before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Scientologist working to become “clear” of alien beings called “thetans.” To suggest that all these believers are really on the same path is to do damage to their theological systems—to assert that somehow we know better than these people do what their teachings really are.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

[* The late Jaroslav Pelikan, perhaps the greatest Anglophone church historian of the 20th Century, left his natal Lutheranism for Orthodoxy very late in life. A Calvinist friends who had studied at Yale said that would "shake Yale up." "Why?" I asked. "I didn’t think Yale still had strong religious identity." "It doesn’t," he replied, "and it will shake them up that one eminent among them cares enough about religion to actually change his."]

I just can’t figure this out

New York Times’s criteria for considering a story religious continue to baffle. Why, for instance, is a call for blessing same-sex couples, from German Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, not there?! It clearly is a religion story and it even flatters the Times’ notion of how arc of history is bending!

My, we are hard to please!

One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (a delightful book, but not Orthodox-with-a-capital-O; it’s Roman Catholic, but in a sort of anticipation of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity).

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

"A recent survey by the American College Health Association showed that, in 2008, one in 2,000 female undergraduates identified as transgender. By 2021, that figure had jumped to one in 20."

But any suggestion that there’s a social contagion involved is a Hateful Transphobic Lie.

The surge doesn’t exist, and it exists because Republicans are adding testosterone to our public water supplies to try to shore up the Eurocentric Heteronormative Patriarchy, and the one in 20 were there all along, but just too embarrassed to say it. Yeah! That’s the ticket!

[In this mad age, I probably should note that this was sarcasm.]

Zeal has its limits

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

St. Isaac of Syria, quoted here

And again:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

How we live today

“After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth,” we use our bodies “only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work."

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

No tribe wants him

I grow weary of the Covid discourse. So, so weary. I am particularly exhausted by the fact that the side that is more correct on the epidemiology, the pro-vaccine side, is also worshipful of expertise, incurious about basic questions, contemptuous of good-faith questions, and shrill in all things. I hate it all.

Freddie DeBoer, reprising this blog

Practicing silence

Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day, not to become more "productive", but to become more human and, ultimately, more Christlike.

This is advice to myself.

Silence?! 20-30 minutes of silence!? It’s so terrifying that I must try it.

UPDATE: A 300- knot prayer rope helps. I couldn’t imagine remaining silent for that long without my scattered mind going hither, thither and yon. But the same faith that (through one of its wise priests) counseled sitting in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day knows how to do that: repetitive prayer — not, I hasten to add, that God will hear me because of repetition, but that my heart (and who knows what else) will be changed by it.

The nice thing about this gigantic rope is that praying the full rope takes me about 21 minutes, and if I add another hundred knots (to the first bead, which is a tactile clue) I’m at almost 28 minutes. I don’t have to try to remember how many times I’ve prayed a 50-knot rope — which is itself a distraction from "silence."

Just for fun

I don’t know if I want to cheer or jeer Dutch artist Jens Haaring.


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.

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

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