How wrong? Fractally wrong.

I heard a very evocative description in mid-April, and it has stuck with me.

I believe it involved a religious question, which the speaker could not possibly even begin to answer because the question itself came from premises so false that the resulting question was simply incoherent to him.

He described the question as “fractally wrong.” If you put it under a microscope and zoomed in, you’d find the wrongness pattern repeated over and over again at ever-more-microscopic levels.

I feel as if that might be a useful framing of the difference between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (maybe Protestantism more broadly, but I’ve never really been a mainstream Protestant, so I hesitate to say that).

Let’s start off in Eden, Genesis chapters 1-3. I think Evangelicals would see the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as simply a test God set up to see if humans would obey; He never wanted them to know evil at all. In contrast, I think Orthodoxy sees it as something there for humans — eventually, like when they had prepared and were ready for it.

But they jumped the gun, eating of that tree when they were not yet ready (and God hadn’t green-lighted it), requiring that they be removed from the Tree of Life lest they live forever in their fallen state. That’s Orthodox. Or maybe they disobeyed God, requiring the punishment of banishment. That’s Evangelical.

Sin is like crime (Evangelical) or like cancer (Orthodox), requiring, respectively, punishment or healing.

We inherit sin from our parents and are wicked right from the womb, deserving God’s wrath (Evangelical); or we inherit mortality, and the fear of death, which inevitably leads us into reactive behaviors including sin — missing God’s mark. (Orthodox).

And so on and so forth. I’ll soon be above my pay grade if I’m not already.

Thus if Evangelicalism is wrong, and I absolutely think it is, it’s fractally wrong. We don’t even share premises, let alone answers.

That, along with Orthodox reliance on intuitive modes of knowing, makes fruitful discourse, like questions and answers, very difficult.

I know this because I’ve been Evangelical and have analyzed our miscommunication a bit. Other Orthodox may have experienced it, but more with bafflement. They and Evangelicals may both be making the provincial mistake that H. Richard Niebuhr identified: “There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the standpoint which we happen to occupy is a universal one.”

The only way out of it may be for the Evangelicals to “come and see,” though if they do they’re rather likely to leave Evangelicalism.


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.

Curated for your reading pleasure

MYOB

Once, when Berlioz sobbed at a musical performance a sympathetic onlooker remarked: ‘You seem to be greatly affected, monsieur. Had you not better retire for a while?’ In response, Berlioz snapped: ‘Are you under the impression that I am here to enjoy myself?’

Via Iain Mcgilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Contemptible hyperbole

Books are violence, so says the American Violencesellers Association.

Tweet included in this story

If so, there’s something wrong with the regime.

The reason why what Francis has done matters is because some day the kind of liberalism he embodies will come for you — for the simple, sweet thing you were doing that wasn’t bothering anyone else but, by its mere existence, was an existential threat to the governing regime. You are next.

The Pope’s merciless war against the Old Rite

Evangelical/QAnon overlap

I don’t really trust Vice News, but this is a reasonable answer (because Ryan Burge it both a pastor and a serious sociologist of religion) to a question (‘why the big overlap between QAnon believers and Evangelical believers?’) that may not be as urgent as appears (because the premise that 34% of America is "Evangelical" ignores that many identify as "Evangelical" because they’re conservative-leaning and not atheist or agnostic, though they rarely go to church; further, if I wanted to be mischievous, I could affirm that I’m "born again" in both this historic sense — I’ve been baptized — and the Evangelical sense — I once had an emotional experience of "inviting Jesus into my heart").

Caveats aside, this could be worth 6 minutes of your time. The prevalence of Dispensationalism was the major reason I left Evangelicalism 40+ years ago.

Deconstructing "America is back"

In his Friday G-File, Jonah riffs on the Biden administration’s incessant “America is back” declarations. “For Biden, it seems to have two meanings. One is his narrow argument that we are rejoining all of the multilateral partnerships and alliances that Trump pulled out of or denigrated,” he writes. “But there’s another meaning to ‘America is back.’ It’s an unsubtle dig at Trump and a subtle bit of liberal nostalgia all at once. It’s kind of a progressive version of ‘Make America Great Again.’ It rests on the assumption that one group of liberal politicians speaks for the real America, and now that those politicians are back in power, the real America is back, too. But the problem is, there is no one real America. There are some 330 million Americans and they, collectively and individually, cannot be shoe-horned into a single vision regardless of what labels you yoke to the effort.”

The Morning Dispatch, 7/19.

Good points, Jonah.

Huxley > Orwell

With the benefit of hindsight, I concluded for long ago that Huxley was more prophetic than Orwell:

“Hug me till you drug me, honey; Kiss me till I’m in a coma: Hug me, honey, snuggly bunny; Love’s as good as soma.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Yes! But …

Censorship Circumvention Tool Helps 1.4 Million Cubans Get Internet Access | World News | US News

"The Toronto-based company’s Psiphon Network receives U.S. government financial support."

I think this is great, but:

  • I would not be surprised if Psiphon allows the U.S. to spy on its users as a quid pro quo for financial support.
  • This sort of thing just begs for retaliation — like ransomware attacks, maybe.

A rare naughty

Those who confuse burro and burrow don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.

Spotted on Pinterest by the Missus.


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.

Mostly tales of decline

Czech conservatives are worried about us

Rod Dreher speaking with Czech friends in Prague:

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

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

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

Weimar America

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

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

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

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

Priorities

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

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

Jason L. Riley, Critical Race Theory Is a Hustle

Culture war over fault for the culture wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burden of proof

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

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Exploiters versus nurturers

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

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

"Religion"

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

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

William T. Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

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

Adiaphora

Billionaires in Space

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

Feckless conservatives: Aw Shucks versus Chest-beaters

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

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

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

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

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

The Diversity Industry

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

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

What 007’s creator thinks of him

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

The Failures That Made Ian Fleming via Arts & Letters Daily

Woke illusionists

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

"Human Infrastructure" sickens me

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

Oil

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

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Stories

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

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

Rod Dreher, The Golem of Prague

Updates

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

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday select

The loss of Christendom

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. Hauerwas is one of a handful of Protestants who can still stir my Orthodox soul.

Evangelicals who by some accounts (see below) are grieving their loss of political power should take heart at this, too. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Make a virtue of necessity.

Futile persuasion

… you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community.

David French, Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations

The great Evangelical collapse

Why

This is something I never thought I’d say. According to this landscape report, there are more Americans who are white mainline protestants (16%) than there are Americans who are white evangelicals (14%).

What accounts for this? There is no new big influx into the mainline churches. Most of their gain seems to be coming from those who had left the mainline community for the evangelical community years ago, but who are simply returning to the church of their upbringing.

The decline of white evangelicals seems mostly to result from the larger changing demographics of America. This is obvious. There is an irreversible change from a white majority to a plurality of ethnicities in the country. This is happening no matter what one thinks about immigration or voting policies.

But there is another factor that has contributed to the decline. When Dean Kelly wrote his book in 1972, the evangelical community was focussed upon concrete “Biblical lifestyle issues.” Since then, the focus has broadened to involvement in political, partisan issues and the “culture wars” — the very sort of involvement that Kelly had blamed for mainline decline 50 years before.

Now it seems that the chickens have come home to roost. The Pew report of 2019 observed that it was just because of explicit political partisanship that many young adults are leaving the evangelical community, most likely landing squarely in the “unaffiliated” category.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias, the cost of partisanship

Wherefore

In addition to shrinking as a share of the population, white evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the United States, with a median age of 56. “It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”

… white evangelicals probably aren’t wrong to fear that their children are getting away from them. As their numbers have shrunk and as they’ve grown more at odds with younger Americans, said Jones, “that has led to this bigger sense of being under attack, a kind of visceral defensive posture, that we saw President Trump really leveraging.”

I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.

Michelle Goldberg, ‌The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It

I wouldn’t bet too much on Goldberg’s construal of QAnon, but she may have gotten into it (for professional reasons only) more deeply than I.

Hymns, east and west

As I approached the Orthodox Church almost 25 year ago, I was astonished at how different it was in “feel” from anything I’d previously encountered. Timothy (Now Bishop Kallistos) Ware provides a glimpse:

Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of the great Latin hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530 – 609), Pange lingua, which hails the Cross as an emblem of victory: Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, Sing the ending of the fray; Now above the Cross, our trophy, Sound the loud triumphal lay: Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, As a victim won the day. They feel equally at home in that other hymn by Fortunatus, Vexilla regis: Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old: Among the nations God, said he, Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree. But Orthodox feel less happy about compositions of the later Middle Ages such as Stabat Mater: For His people’s sins, in anguish, There she saw the victim languish, Bleed in torments, bleed and die: Saw the Lord’s anointed taken; Saw her Child in death forsaken; Heard His last expiring cry.

The Orthodox Church

Expounding that glimpse is above my pay grade, but I’m pretty confident that it reflects a non-Anselmian view of atonement by us Orthodox (which is also a reason why most Protestant writers on religion leave me cold).


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.

UPDATE: A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.

Three from today

Schrodinger’s victims

For the moment, at least, Jews are Schrodinger’s victims; they may or may not be deserving of sympathy, depending on who’s doing the victimizing. When a group of tiki torch-wielding white nationalists chant “Jews will not replace us!,” the condemnation is swift. But replace the tiki torch with a Palestinian flag, and call the Jews “settler colonialists,” and the equivocations roll in: Maybe that guy who threw a firebomb at a group of innocent people on the street in New York was punching up, actually?

April Powers naively believed that American Jews should get the same full-throated defense as any other minority group in the wake of a vicious attack, without ambivalence, caveats and whataboutism. That belief cost her the security of a job.

… This is America, guys.

Kat Rosenfield, April Powers Condemned Jew-Hate. Then She Lost Her Job. (guest-written at Common Sense with Bari Weiss)

De mortuis nil nisi bonum

For decades and decades my view of the Episcopal Church in the United States has been “unfaithfully liberal.” And having started in the essentially fundamentalist wing of Evangelicalism, I was baffled at how a Real Christian®️ could stay in such a Church. (I felt much the same way about the unfaithfulness of some other denominations, but the Episcopal Church had the additional strike of descent from a bastard child of Henry VIII.)

Well, at least as to the Episcopal Church, I’ve figured out over the last five years or so why a believing orthodox Christian might decamp to, or stay in, that Church: worship. You know, the kind of stuff that’s addressed to God or to reposed saints rather than to oneself or one’s friends in the pew. I starved for such worship in Evangelical and Calvinist Churches, with sporadic respite (a great hymn accidentally replacing a praise song, for instance).

But a mid-sized Episcopal Church probably conducts its liturgies and other services more punctiliously than the Roman Catholic Churches in its city. And they are worshipful, or at least not a distraction from worship. The heterodoxy outside formal services was too big an ask for me, but it hasn’t been for others.

And now, The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near (Religion in Public). I will, somewhat, miss it.

“That’s not a thing”

The retiring Rep. Kevin Brady—the top Republican on the House Ways & Means Committee—pointed to some of these concerns in a tweet on Friday. “MORE TROUBLING SIGNS: June jobs report,” it reads. “Long-term unemployment worsened. Unemployment for ALL MINORITIES & LESS EDUCATED worsened. Construction jobs shrank. Labor-force rate: still poor.”

But Tony Fratto—a top Treasury Department and White House official in the George W. Bush administration—argued naysayers were straining a little too hard to criticize the report: “I know it’s fun to find the dark clouds behind every silver lining, but there’s no such thing as a bad jobs report that adds 850k jobs. That’s not a thing.”

The Morning Dispatch: A Strong June Jobs Report – by The Dispatch Staff – The Morning Dispatch


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.

Competent beta males and other fancies

Identitarianism’s bad faith is right out in the open. If you watch closely, you’ll see that white liberals broadcasting their virtuous, courageous commitment to “listening to black voices” will suddenly waver when the black voice in question expresses opinions closer to John McWhorter’s than Ta-Nehisi Coates’. Almost without exception, people who make blanket statements of the form “I listen to X” or “Listen to X” are — and there is no more polite way to say this — full of shit.

Jesse Singal, Lobbying for Millionaires, for Social Justice

This is a fitting companion to Freddie de Boer’s Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect, quoted extensively last time.


The atmosphere is stifling, sluggish, leaden. Outside, you don’t hear a single bird, and a deathly, oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld. At times like these, Father, Mother and Margot don’t matter to me in the least. I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage. “Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter!” a voice within me cries.

Annelies, a 2004 choral work by James Whitbourn, based on the Diary of Ann Frank.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing this, though I must admit that the work didn’t come alive for me in rehearsal — not until production week, when we finally heard the brilliant “Ann Frank” soloist the Artistic Director had hired. Then: wow!


This is not about Donald Trump:

Donald Trump doesn’t get away with lies because his followers flunked Epistemology 101. He gets away with his lies because he tells stories of dispossession that feel true to many of them. Some students at elite schools aren’t censorious and intolerant because they lack analytic skills. They feel entrapped by moral order that feels unsafe and unjust.

The collapse of trust, the rise of animosity — these are emotional, not intellectual problems. The real problem is in our system of producing shared stories. If a country can’t tell narratives in which everybody finds an honorable place, then righteous rage will drive people toward tribal narratives that tear it apart.

Over the past decades, we cut education in half. We focused on reason and critical thinking skills — the core of the second reservoir of knowledge. The ability to tell complex stories about ourselves has atrophied. This is the ability to tell stories in which opposing characters can each possess pieces of the truth, stories in which all characters are embedded in time, at one point in their process of growth, stories rooted in the complexity of real life and not the dogma of ideological abstraction.

Now as we watch state legislatures try to enforce what history gets taught and not taught, as we watch partisans introduce ideological curriculums, we see how debauched and brutalized our historical storytelling skills have become.

It is unfashionable to say so, but America has the greatest story to tell about itself, if we have the maturity to tell it honestly. The Fourth of July weekend seems like a decent time to start.

David Brooks, ‌How to Destroy Truth (H/T my brother-in-law, since I don’t currently subscribe to the New York Times.)

This is more congruence, by the way, as I discussed last time; indeed, it’s congruent with ‌The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, though I’m only now getting into that part of the book.


Buddhism, I’ve found, is how to live in Hell without becoming a devil. The competent man who guards his thoughts and emotions and stays calm and studies differential equations and provides for those around him financially even while living among very unhappy and unhealthy people—that is how the Aristocracy of the Competent is formed. When the Competent beta males rise to the top, that is when we will have a Renaissance.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency


Yet five years later, as our nation picks up the pieces from one of the most divisive, cruel, and incompetent administrations in the modern history of the United States—one in which the pursuit of Christian power led to prominent Christian voices endorsing nation-cracking litigation and revolutionary efforts to overturn a lawful election—the Christian “deal” looks bad indeed. When push came to shove, all too often the pursuit of justice yielded to the pursuit of power.

The cultural shockwaves are still being felt. They’re rearranging not just America’s political alignments but our language itself. Is “Evangelical” more of a political marker than a religious identifier? Does it even carry true religious meaning any longer? What is a “conservative”? Where I live, the term “staunch conservative” is a synonym for “Trump supporter,” in spite of the fact that Trumpism is far more akin to populism than conservatism, as traditionally defined.

Then there’s this other word: “patriot.”

I want all those words back. “Evangelical” is a word with a rich theological and historical tradition. It has meant something good. The word “conservative” has long been connected to the defense of the classical liberal virtues of the American founding. And I can think of no better time to reclaim the word “patriot” than on our nation’s Independence Day.

No, it’s not just that I “want” those words back. We need them back. …

David French, How Do Christian Patriots Love Their Country Well?


When the Pony Express needed riders, it advertised

a preference for orphans-

that way, no one was likely

to ask questions when the carriers failed to arrive,

or the frightened ponies stumbled in with their dead

from the flanks of the prairies….

There were plenty of orphans and the point of course

was to get the mail through, so the theory was sound….

think of those rough, lean boys-

how light and hard they would rise

fleeing the great loneliness.

Mary Oliver, The Riders (H/T The Daily Poem for July 2)


The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence.


You can’t unsee what you have seen, unlearn what you have learned. The only way to live entirely at ease with one’s hometown is never to have left, never to have seen how life is elsewhere, right? Or maybe not. Ruthie’s nature was not my nature. For me the only reason I was able to return to St. Francisville in the middle of my life was because I left it so long ago and satisfied my curiosity about the world beyond. Had I chosen Ruthie’s path when I was young, my way through life would likely have been bitter, filled with regret about the roads not taken.

Rod Dreher, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming


I have pared down a very contentious, even hurtful, couple of paragraphs to just one recommendation: I cannot recommend Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity too highly for anyone who wants to understand how so much of North American Christianity became so chaotic and heretical.


This one ought to be good comedy fodder:

Rural county in Nevada moving to rename road after Trump

YERINGTON, Nev. – A rural Nevada county where voters sided solidly with Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election is moving to rename a road after him. Lyon County commissioners voted 4-1 on Thursday for renaming the half-mile Old Dayton Valley Road in Dayton, an unincorporated community 23 miles south of Reno. Commissioner Ken Gray, a Republican, told KRNV-TV that he chose the road because only a few government facilities and no residents have addresses on it, making the change easier.


Jonah Goldberg unpacks some Trump bombast and finds inadvertent self-revelation:

Trump is a human incarnation of anti-factual narratives. Case in point: His trip to the border this week.

At a meeting to discuss border security, Trump went on a tear about how he “aced” a test designed to tell whether he was cognitively impaired. This is an oldie but a goodie, so I was glad to see him reach deep into his catalog. At the event, Trump called out to Rep. Ronny Jackson, the president’s former physician who had administered the test. Trump said:

“Did I ace it? I aced it. And I’d like to see Biden ace it. He won’t ace it.”

“He will get the first two. There are 35 questions and the first two or three are pretty easy. They are the animals. This is a lion, a giraffe. When he gets to around 20, he’s gonna have a little hard time. I think he’s gonna have a hard time with the first few, actually.”

Well.

The test doesn’t have 35 questions, merely 10 or 11 tasks (here’s a sample test). And it’s not supposed to take more than 10 minutes.

Boasting that the test was “really hard” doesn’t quite make the point Trump thinks he’s making. If you find a sobriety test “really hard,” that’s not quite the same thing as saying, “I’m sober.” If you struggle to pass a basic cardiovascular test, that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’m in great shape.” And if you say a test designed to determine if you have dementia got “really hard” toward the end, maybe that should be a cause for concern? I mean, if you have to dig deep to successfully repeat the sentence, “The cat always hid under the couch when dogs were in the room,” that’s not something to brag about.

The final—and presumably hardest question—asks if the patient knows the date, place, and city where the test is being administered.

(Emphasis added)


I had heard someone say that Vienna combined the splendour of a capital with the familiarity of a village. In the Inner City, where crooked lanes opened on gold and marble outbursts of Baroque, it was true; and, in the Kärntnerstrasse or the Graben, after I had bumped into three brand-new acquaintances within a quarter of an hour, it seemed truer still, and parts of the town suggested an even narrower focus.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (and Jan Morris), A Time of Gifts

From what Rod Dreher wrote just last Friday (I Am Pieter Brueghel’s Waffle Man – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher, Vienna is still magical.


Reflections introduced by Jeff Bezos’ rationale for going to space:

I think, is that the standard choices presented to us – reason versus superstition; progress versus barbarism; past versus future; Earth versus space; growth versus stasis – were always chimeras. The choice is not between ‘going forward’ or ‘going back’, but between working with the complexity of human and natural realities, in all their organic messiness, or attempting to supersede them with abstractions which can never hope to contain them.

Perhaps this is why artists, saints, poets, mystics and storytellers often have a better handle on what reality actually looks like than those who sing the praises of Science or Reason. The English painter Cecil Collins, for example, explained his view on the matter in a beautiful mid-twentieth century passage which is worth quoting in full:

Rationalists are very fond of saying that without reason the universe would be a mad place; but of course it is a mad place even with reason. Any artist, or poet, or really alive person, knows it is mad. It is a horrible and terrifying place full of a bitter cruelty and obscenity. It is a place full of wonderful, profound beauty, and the tenderness of vast mysterious sacrifices. What it is not is a nice little rational puzzle that works out in the end.

No, the universe of experience is a different matter. It is a deep abyss, full of voices, some whispering, some shouting, the voices of frustration, the voices of unfulfilled longings, the voices of mysterious lusts, of mystical desires that can find no place in the world, the voices of deep, buried wrongs that cry out from an abyss of world desolation, the voices of misfits, neurotics, failures, the weak, an abyss full of the ecstasy of the poet, the glow of the praise of life, full of an incomprehensible love and an incomprehensible destructiveness.

All these voices are centred in man’s consciousness and in order to escape from them he builds in his mind a prison of rationality, and then tries by the aid of the official world, to shut them out.

Paul Kingsnorth, A Thousand Mozarts (The Abbey of Misrule)


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.

“Legal Technicalities” (and much more)

Legal technicalities

I need periodic reminders that I’m a human, not a rational computing machine. My feelings about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s reversal of Bill Cosby’s rape conviction is the latest reminder.

Never has the unmasking of a sexual predator disconcerted me more than the unmasking of Bill Cosby. It seemed impossible that he could be a serial rapist. I could hardly bear his conviction even though the unmasking seemed complete and convincing (more from press coverage of the context than from trial testimony about the particular case).

Sarah Isgur of the Advisory Opinions podcast is vehement that his release from prison is not based on a “technicality,” because freedom from self-incrimination is fundamental, not technical. I still call it a “technicality” as a reminder to myself that the “evidence” against Cos (in a sense broader than what improperly was admitted in court) seems convincing — bitterly, disappointingly, convincing.

If you want to hear more about this twist in the Cosby case, check out Why Bill Cosby is a Free Man – by David French and Sarah Isgur – Advisory Opinions‌. Spoiler Alert: The prosecutor of Cosby dunnit.

CRT redux

I mentioned recently an exchange with an old friend on Critical Race Theory. I wouldn’t change a word of that.

But my friend sent me a link (he reads this blog) and an implied invitation to further discussion.

So I set about collecting some articles on CRT and I now expand my comments.

My suspicion that there’s no agreed definition of Critical Race theory was confirmed. I think the author of the article he sent me implied a straw man definition of CRT. My knowledge that some on The Right are creating and exploiting confusion in waging culture war was confirmed.

The confusion makes it hard to say “what I think about CRT” in much the same way I hesitate to say I’m “conservative” these days: “conservative” by whose definition? “CRT” by whose definition?

But I’ll cobble together a “steel man” definition from two sources: Alan Jacobs of Baylor (and formerly of Wheaton) and an anonymous lefty reader of Rod Dreher’s blog:

Critical theory (of which CRT is a subset) is a discipline based on the conviction that the ways we think about our humanistic subjects are not self-evidently correct and require investigation, reflection, and in some cases correction. Critical Race Theory is a tendency to make race the central device in such investigation, reflection, and correction.

I have no problem with “Critical theory” as I’ve defined it. Far from it. Quite a bit of what I write here tacitly adopts it, albeit in a relatively undisciplined way.

But it is dangerous to pursue Critical Race Theory if that means that race is the sole, or even the primary, device for analysis. It’s dangerous because it’s imbalanced, but I also oppose it because I still aspire to “color-blind, melting pot” America, and racializing everything impedes that. Anyone using CRT should be prepared to code-switch before they get way out on a limb of implausibly racial explanations of injustices or social anomalies that have plausible non-racial explanations.

Convergences

I’ve Heard people talking about “convergences“ quite a bit lately, and I have to say I am experiencing a lot of convergence myself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for a very spritely blogging, because the convergence I’m getting points toward the important things in life being right hemisphere, and sometimes ineffable without a kind of violence.

I’ve been reading ‌The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World and the last line of this stanza keeps coming back to me:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

(From Wordsworth, The Tables Turned.) “Murdering to dissect” is the gist of what the left hemisphere sometimes does to comprehend the right hemiphere’s more holistic apprehensions.

BLM

Freddie de Boer caught fire. I quote extensively to give the context of his concluding indictments:

[W]hen people are asked to contribute to a cause a natural and indeed necessary instinct is to ask about the honesty of the do-gooder in question and the efficacy of their program. Otherwise there’s no point, there’s no progress. Why would we bother to empower people to fix things if we hadn’t asked whether they were honest and effective?

Those absolutely basic requirements of positive change have been completely evacuated from the public discussion of social justice politics, due to the fact that most people are afraid of the consequences of engaging in adult discrimination about these politics and also because they don’t really respect the people who espouse them … [N]one of us have (sic) any … reason to trust the people panhandling for money, clout, and fame through the auspices of social justice … We are all being told, by progressive consensus, that we have to mindlessly donate, ask no questions, never wonder about motives, and never, ever consider the efficacy of their efforts. We either blindly fall in line when they say to give them whatever they want, including the adoption of extremely contentious policies in a polarized democratic country, or we’re on the other side, the bad side, and we have to live with the black mark of being “part of the problem.”

Nowhere is this dynamic more obvious than concerning BlackLivesMatter.

There is no mainstream media criticism of BlackLivesMatter. There isn’t. There’s explicitly conservative criticism and “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff …

When a politician comes out with a tax plan, journalists and analysts look at it and say, “does this tax plan add up? Does it have the markings of an effective tax plan?” They’ll poke holes in it – yes, if it’s from the other party, but also if it’s from their own. Because they know we need tested and robust tax plans. But when Ibram Kendi says, “all of my vague recriminations and radical-sounding racialist woowoo is the solution to racism,” every journalist and analyst you know scratches their beard and says, “ah yes, indeed,” and they don’t even say that very loudly. But where’s the proof that any of Kendi’s rhetoric actually leads to any action at all? That such action does/could prompt positive change? Who is checking his work? What has Ibram Kendi’s ideology accomplished, beyond enriching Ibram Kendi? Can we point to, like, a graph that shows the outcome of his good works? It certainly seems that we can’t. Since this is the case, why does 95% of the journalism that references Kendi make literally no mention of the basic concept of efficacy?

Media and academia are controlled by white liberals and white liberals live their lives in absolute petrifying fear of being called racist. Or transphobic or ableist … But … talking about honesty and efficacy is how you make sure progress is happening. If you actually care about any political movement, you dedicate yourself to the task of critical engagement. The way adults do for other adults … That’s what love requires. What respect requires. The policy on lefty Twitter is that you never ask hard questions about #BlackLivesMatter, ever, and most people in establishment media write for the approval of lefty Twitter above and beyond any other motivation. $10.6 billion dollars1 were sucked up into a vague and amorphous social movement that has no defined boundaries or parent organization, and yet many of the biggest players in the media haven’t once asked where it went!

The most obvious fact about this horseshit “great awokening” we’re going through than that it’s all powered by condescension … You know why the immense numbers of white liberal journalists on Twitter who cheered on the movement last year and put “BLM” in their Tinder profiles never ask hard questions about the movement and whether it was using its political capital and economic resources wisely? Because they think Black people are the [expletive deleted] junior varsity of politics. Their unwavering “support” for BLM functions, in practice, as an exercise in patronizing head patting, an expression of contempt dolled up as political solidarity. Supporters ask questions and make criticisms. And it is the media’s job to investigate all notable political movements, even if its members are fundamentally supporters of those movements. That responsibility has been almost totally abdicated in regards to BLM.

Where did that $10.6 billion go? If the mainstream media has any credibility at all – and if anyone involved has any respect for the goals of BlackLivesMatter, rather than fear of appearing to oppose them – they’d perform a major, critical, skeptical, hard-nosed investigation. The public interest demands it … [C]heck this fact: BlackLivesMatter has existed for seven years and it’s resulted in more new houses for Patrisse Cullors than pieces of national legislation. Media, do your [expletive deleted] job. Prove me wrong.

Something tells me they won’t!

Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect (likely paywall)

If you admire his courage, consider subscribing. He “nails it” like this quite regularly, and is followed by smart prominent thinkers left, right and center. “Their unwavering “support” for BLM functions, in practice, as an exercise in patronizing head patting, an expression of contempt dolled up as political solidarity.” That alone is worth an annual subscription!

Performance-enhancing drugs

U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has been suspended for one month after testing positive for marijuana, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Friday morning.

(USA Today network)

Some social media acquaintances, quoting Robin Williams, helped me pin down what’s annoying about this: marijuana is a performance-enhancing drug only if there’s a Hershey bar waiting at the finish line.

Masculinizing

Aaron Renn, a veteran researcher and writer, began relatively recently, to publish a newsletter (The Masculinist) and then added a podcast by the same name. (See here.)

I moderately enjoyed the newsletter and greatly enjoyed the podcast — until the past two weeks, when Renn seems to have lost some coherence and has resorted to insider chit-chat about North American Evangelicalism (like most Evangelical commentators, he reflexively equates that to “the Church”). I stand so far outside Evangelicalism these days that I barely recognize the players’ names, let alone Renn’s allusions to what they’ve been up to lately.

He may become one of the few paid subscriptions I drop.

Getting Trumpy

From here to the end, it’s witty and insightful, but all Trump-related, should you wish to abstain.

Trump’s legacy

It went on like that for the whole interview. Romney knew the infrastructure bill in detail. He praised President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He differed with Democrats about social spending and taxes. He stated unequivocally that the election was free and fair. In short, he was completely out of step with modern “conservatism” and the Republican party.

Some said that the permanent change Trump would effect in the Republican party would be a heightened attention to the needs of the working class. That may or may not materialize. Some Republicans are making noises about being a “worker’s party,” but there doesn’t appear to be anything concrete there yet.

No, the biggest post-Trump change is the eager embrace of indecency …

Do you remember—eons or five years ago—when it was considered beneath contempt to attack a politician’s family? Bring the heat for the man in the arena, but by all that is holy, leave his wife and kids out of it? It seems antique now. When one of the Biden family dogs passed away a couple of weeks ago, a National Review writer tweeted, “Champ Dies. Major lives on. The Biden family tragedy in miniature.”

Mocking a family when they’ve lost a beloved pet, which was the way some on Twitter interpreted this, would have been tasteless and cruel. But this was much more sinister. The implication was that Biden’s “good son,” Beau, had died while his brother Hunter lived on. Who does that? And especially those who call themselves conservative and constantly rant about threats to civilization. How can they not see that undermining basic civility and decency is itself an attack on civilization?

Well, at least we have Romney, and a few more, to remind Republicans of what they once were and could be again.

Mona Charen, Decency, R.I.P.

The indictment

Everybody seems to agree that prosecuting his CFO is prosecutors’ way of trying to flip him and get to Trump. But what do they think Trump did?

A grand-jury indictment of Donald Trump’s business and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, unsealed this afternoon in New York, alleges tax evasion arising from an attempt to pay Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives extra money “off the books.” Prosecutors charge that Weisselberg and others received rent payments and other benefits without paying the appropriate taxes on them. Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have said they will plead not guilty.

So far, the danger is to Trump’s friends and his business, not the former president himself. But the danger could spiral, because Trump knew only so many tricks. If Trump’s company was bypassing relatively moderate amounts of tax on the income flows to Trump’s friends, what was it doing with the much larger income flows to Trump and his own family? Even without personal testimony, finances leave a trail. There is always a debit and a credit, and a check issued to the IRS or not.

David Frum

The Big Steal in a nutcase – ummm, nutshell

In our country today, a considerable minority of our fellow citizens believe that the 2020 election was stolen in plain sight by left-wing mathematicians in Venezuela who devised algorithms to rig voting machines to overturn a landslide Republican victory and elect a senile Democrat and his communistic base to run the government who want to confiscate your guns and make everyone ride bicycles and live on tofu and kale and who invented a fake Chinese influenza so they could force immunization with a vaccine that makes people passive and accepting of state control, which allows vampires to move freely and drink the blood of small children, but in August, when the rightful president is reinstated and our borders are secure, we can breathe freely again and make America great.

I take no position on that. Strange things happen every day. I am only an observer; I don’t make the rules. As I have said on so many occasions, “You kids work it out among yourselves.”

The truth of the Fourth: a minority report | Garrison Keillor

January 6 distilled

I’m not sure I’ve heard a better summary of the events of January 6 than a text early that afternoon from my younger brother – the text that first alerted me that something big had happened: “It’s official. Trump has turned us into 3rd World shithole.”


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.

Contrariness

Correcting the Record

Over the weekend, I had coffee with a Hungarian friend who spent a lot of time in America as a kid and teenager, because his father is an academic. He has a critical view of the US system because of its tolerance for economic precarity for so many. He supports the Orban government, and agrees with me about how totally biased and distorting the news media are, based on the kinds of things that middle and upper middle class reporters care about. For example, said my friend, in the long wake of the 2008 global economic crash, Viktor Orban’s government passed a law forbidding banks from expelling people who had defaulted on their mortgages from their homes. “Barack Obama didn’t do that,” said my friend. And then we talked about how with the US left, as long as you fly the rainbow flag and say “Black Lives Matter,” you can do whatever you want with the economy, and you won’t hear a word of protest from the supposed champions of the little guy versus Capital.

Rod Dreher, Who Is Viktor Orban, Really? (emphasis added)

Assaulting Hades

[A] liturgical practice … in Orthodoxy … is a frontal assault on Hades.

The traditional name for these celebrations is “Soul Saturdays.” They are celebrations of the Divine Liturgy on Saturday mornings offered for the souls of the departed … They make a fitting prelude for Holy Week and Pascha. At Pascha, Christ Himself “tramples down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestows life.” This is the Great and Holy Sabbath – the true and Great Soul Saturday. This is the great theme of Pascha itself. Christ’s Resurrection is, strangely, not so much about Christ as it is about Christ’s action. Many modern Christians treat Pascha (Easter) as though it were a celebration of Jesus’ personal return after a tragic death. Orthodoxy views Christ’s Holy Week, Crucifixion, Descent into Hades and Resurrection as one unending, uninterrupted assault on Hades. This is the great mystery of Pascha – the destruction of death and Hades. Death is the “last enemy.” Those who forget this are like soldiers who have forgotten the purpose of the war in which they fight.

And so the battle forms a significant part of the liturgical effort of the Church. The boldness of the third prayer is quite striking …

I can recall the first time I offered this prayer in my priesthood. I had a copy in front of me, but had not read it before the service, nor had I ever heard it. I trembled as I offered the words … astounded by their boldness. I had never heard such boldness before the Throne of God within the walls of the Church itself. It is also a reminder of the weakness and infirmity of the legal imagery of salvation. The legal view requires of God that He be the enforcer of Hades. To such a prayer He could only reply: “I cannot grant such things because of my Justice!”

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Pentecost and the Liturgy of Hades (emphasis added).

Bait-and-Switch

If there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be—and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it …

One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, "How does someone else’s marriage affect me?" and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change …

It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core "live and let live" argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.

Andrew Sullivan, quoted by William McGurn

CRT

An old friend we visited Saturday en route to our favorite vacation spot asked my thoughts on Critical Race Theory, and I think I shocked him with my mild dismissiveness, which I couldn’t explain all that well on the spot. "Well, the reported excesses, like telling white school kids that their skin tone makes them irredeemable oppressors, already constitute racial harassment or a racially hostile environment under Title VII, so why do we need new laws?" was the gist of my answer. Very lawyerly.

The incompleteness of that answer has bothered me, and I’ve surfaced two more reasons:

  • Laws banning ideas are a bad idea, especially when the ideas sought to be banned are ill-defined or mis-defined, which is the case with most or all of the anti-CRT laws. Similarly, the inability to define CRT suggests that much of the murmuring about it is mostly Shibboleth.
  • The reported excesses of CRT exemplify progressive overreach, which generates its own cultural backlash. I don’t need to enter that fray.

Reading Between the Lines

There were three kinds of evangelical leaders. The dumb or idealistic ones who really believed. The out-and-out charlatans. And the smart ones who still believed—sort of—but knew that the evangelical world was shit, but who couldn’t figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else. I was turning into one of those, having started out in the idealistic category.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God. I don’t really recommend Schaeffer, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of reading between the lines here to explain how Schaeffer became the equivocally-Christian author of kiss-and-tell Exvangelical books and Huffington Post columns.


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.

Potpourri 6/6/21

Russell Moore and the Southern Baptists

I will not comply with another secret task force meant to silence me about issues I believe are issues of obedience to Christ. I will not sign another “unity” statement meant to “call off the dogs” of scrutiny so that the beatings may begin again in private. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to be part of a house of prayer for all peoples, then that’s what I signed up for. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to be one big retirement home for a furious royal family, then, that’s not what I signed up for.

When God called me to himself in Jesus, and when he called me to serve him in ministry, he called me to stand for the truth, to point the way to the kingdom, to die to self, and to carry the cross. He did not call me to provide cover for racial bigotry and child molestation.

Russell Moore, to the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Freedom Trustees, February 2020. And now they’ve lost him — forced him to resign or formed another secret task force or something. He not only left his position; he left the Southern Baptist Convention entirely.

The knives are out already, but it sounds as if the knives were out before he left the SBC, too.

David French is quite interested in all this:

Late last month, Religion News reported that the SBC has lost a stunning 435,632 members since its 2020 annual report. Some of those individuals have left for other churches. Some have left the faith entirely.

Why? It’s not hard to analyze. A tolerance for predation and corruption demonstrates no fear of God. A pervasive fear of the world (or “the left”) demonstrates no faith in God. Brazen abusers disregard God’s justice. Fearful believers behave as if the Maker of the heavens and earth needs corrupt politicians or corrupt pastors to preserve his people’s presence in this land.

I can’t put it better than Russell Moore. Writing in April, shortly before his departure from the SBC, Moore said young Evangelicals are “walking away from evangelicalism not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches.” In other words, young Americans are saying to church leaders, “Why should I believe when you so obviously do not?”

One last point. It’s hard to overemphasize how much the church’s defensiveness is at odds with the imperative of repentance. Standing in front of the world, when undeniable scandals rock so many of our most important institutions, and declaring, “We’re better than you think” is the opposite of a penitent spirit.

David French, Russell Moore’s Warnings Should Bring a Reckoning

I probably — no, almost certainly — still spend too much time wallowing in the news despite a very great and intentional reduction of news consumption. Clickbait is effective more often than I like to admit. I really should be more like Gary:

I am going to focus on what I hear directly from people I know. I know two women who recently gave birth to their first babies and are joyful and so are their men and that is real news. A grandson is starting college. A daughter is moving. A friend has finished a novel. A widowed friend, marrying again at 84, writes to say he is well and adds, “And it’s none of your business but the sex is great.” A cousin attended a graduation ceremony at a school for intellectually disabled children and one poor graduate stammered through a speech of which little could be understood and the crowd clapped all the harder for him.

Life Goes On. That’s the news …

I believe in a fraction of what I was taught, my faith wavers … But I do believe that when Jesus, surrounded by the sick and impoverished and oppressed, the blind and demon-possessed, said to his disciples, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for me and your Father in heaven,” he spoke the truth, and if you wish for some truth in your life, along with your interesting attitudes and opinions, this is the one to go for.

Garrison Keillor

With the benefit of hindsight, I see that much of Evangelicalism was (is?) about ginning up emotions, and affirming happiness as if saying it could make it true, and recruitment of others ("evangelism") as a kind of MLM buttress to one’s own faith. These days, I’ll take a humble faith like Garrison Keillor expresses here over any of that.

It’s not that my own faith is quite as weak as his — if he has a mustard seed, I’ve maybe got a corn kernel — but that all that emotional jag brought me no closer to God and distracted me from things that might.

It feels as if it could be a good time for Orthodox Churches to start advertising:

Sick of Evangelicalism but can’t shake Jesus? Come and see.

("Come and see" isn’t just for "exvangelicals," but I think, perhaps naïvely, that they have a relatively high proportion of "can’t shake Jesus" folks.)

TFPOTUS

1

In my reflections on Donald Trump when he was running for President in 2016, I made one significant error: I didn’t think he would nominate responsible judges and Justices. I thought he would hand out judicial appointments like candy to friends and toadies. But it turned out that the judiciary couldn’t capture his attention, so he farmed out the decisions to others who acted on sound conservative principles. (Given how many of the very judges he appointed ruled against his recent frivolous lawsuits, precisely because they were honest conservative jurists rather than toadies, I wonder if he’s belatedly reassessing his priorities.)

Alan Jacobs

I, too, did not trust Trump to fulfill any campaign promise, however explicit and solemn.

2

Just how far out there is Trump’s theory? Consider that, even if it were true that the 2020 election had been stolen — which it is absolutely not — his belief would still be absurd. It could be confirmed tomorrow that agents working for a combination of al-Qaeda, Venezuela, and George Soros had hacked into every single voting machine in the country and altered the totals by tens of millions, and it would remain the case there is no mechanism within the American legal order for a do-over of any sort. In such an eventuality, there would be indictments, an impeachment drive, and a constitutional crisis. But, however bad it got, Donald Trump would not be “reinstated” to the presidency. That is not how America works, how America has ever worked, or how America can ever work. American politicians do not lose their reelection races only to be reinstalled later on, as might the second-place horse in a race whose winner was disqualified. The idea is otherworldly and obscene.

There is nothing to be gained for conservatism by pretending otherwise. To acknowledge that Trump is living in a fantasy world does not wipe out his achievements or render anything else he has said incorrect. It does not endorse Joe Biden or hand the Republican Party over to Bill Kristol or knock down an inch of the wall on the border. It merely demands that Donald Trump be treated like any other person: subject to gravity, open to rebuttal, and liable to be laughed at when he becomes so unmoored from the real world that it is hard to know where to begin in attempting to explain him.

Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review

3

On August 13, 2015, I predicted in my blog that Donald Trump had a 98 percent chance of winning the presidency based on his persuasion skills. A week earlier, the most respected political forecaster in the United States—Nate Silver—had put Trump’s odds of winning the Republican nomination at 2 percent in his FiveThirtyEight.com blog.

Scott Adams, Win Bigly

"… based on his persuasion skills"?! Trump is to persuasion as a rapist is to seduction.

Undermined democracy

I … consider the GOP’s efforts to use various institutional tricks to win maximal power while failing to win popular majorities or even pluralities to be civically corrosive — and its Trump-inspired flirtation with outright defiance of the results of free and fair elections genuinely dangerous.

But in truth, I don’t simply, or even mainly, fear these developments because I see authoritarianism on the horizon (to paraphrase the headlines of countless opinion columns over the past few months). I fear them far more because such efforts are an expression of political desperation — the actions of a party that considers losing unacceptable. I also fear them because they will drive Democrats to their own acts of desperation, which will justify more Republican panic which will justify more Democratic alarm — with all of it, on both sides, motivated by the intensifying conviction that the only legitimate outcome is for one’s own party to rule uncontested.

Partisan disagreement over policy and even zero-sum cultural disputes are one thing. But liberal democracy — self-government, the system itself — only works if the rules for the alternation of political power are considered legitimate by everyone. What just a few years ago was a sharply polarized partisan environment is now rapidly becoming a battle over these common rules, with the two parties no longer able to reach or maintain consensus about what those rules should be, about what should be considered legitimate.

Damon Linker

If you don’t like the Religious Right …

America is a lonely place. When you hold to a conspiracy theory, you join a community. You’re suddenly part of something. You have new friends you can talk to on the internet to whom you’re joined at the brain. They see the world the way you do; it is a very intimate connection.

Church affiliation and practice have been falling for decades, but people always have a spiritual hole inside, and if God can’t fill it, Q will do.

Peggy Noonan, What Drives Conspiracism (no pay wall)

Never forget the memorable saying: "If you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait ’till you see the Irreligious Right."

Cruelty is here to stay

I promise you that every single day high school students are absolutely savage to each other. What’s more, human nature being what it is, I’m sure that they now do so explicitly utilizing the politicized and therapeutic language that proponents of social justice norms foolishly assume is an antidote to that bad behavior. Because interpersonal cruelty is a universal aspect of the human condition and any philosophy can be bent to its use. This condition can perhaps at times be ameliorated but it can never be eliminated and learning this reality is an important part of growing up. Cruelty is here to stay.

Freddie deBoer, At the Heart of It All

I left the GOP when Dubya delusionally declared it our national policy to eradicate tyranny from the world. One of many reasons why I haven’t become Democrat is that they’re just as delusional about hate, cruelty, bullying and such.

As others see us

We had great conversation about the political and cultural situation here, and in the world. I heard some of the same sadness about America’s self-destruction that I’ve been hearing in Budapest. One of my dining companions said, “Maybe I’m cynical, but I don’t really care if America destroys itself. I worry that it’s going to destroy us too.”

“Yes,” said the man across the table. “Everything that starts in America eventually comes here.”

Rod Dreher, reporting from Bucharest

Invisible Revolution

I always thought that if you lived through a revolution it would be obvious to everyone. As it turns out, that’s not true. Revolutions can be bloodless, incremental and subtle. And they don’t require a strongman. They just require a sufficient number of well-positioned true believers and cowards, like those sitting in the C-suite of nearly every major institution in American life.

That’s one of the lessons I have learned over the past few years as the institutions that have upheld the liberal order — our publishing houses, our universities, our schools, our non-profits, our tech companies — have embraced a Manichean ideology that divides people by identity and punishes anyone that doesn’t adhere to every aspect of that orthodoxy.

Bari Weiss, introducing a long guest essay on Manichean medicine by Katie Herzog.

We must do something. Scapegoating is something.

"What we have to do is make these attacks so costly and painful for the bad guys that they decide the rewards aren’t worth it,” [AEI’s Klon] Kitchen continued. “And specifically, we have to change the political calculus of government leaders like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin."

The Morning Dispatch

Whenever Mrs. Kissel breaks wind we beat the dog.

The Vicar in the movie 10‌.


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.

Backwater news and commentary

A strange story out of Israel.

Michael Elkohen, born Elk, has been holding forth for a decade or so as an Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi in Israel, all the while intending to lead Jews to his conception of Christianity.

He apparently was a fairly persuasive humbug, as he had many followers and was entrusted with circumcisions, copying Talmud scrolls and such. (On the other hand, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copland and Joel Osteen have plenty of followers, implausible though they be. Go figure and caveat emptor.)

Persuasive Elk/Elkohen has, however, been pretty persuasively unmasked, though he denies the accusations — sort of (He says something along the lines of "Yeah, I was doing that but I repented.") If you read the stories, though, I think you’ll discern that they’ve nailed him. Here are three very overlapping accounts:

  1. NJ ‘orthodox rabbi’ accused of double life as missionary in Israel
  2. EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, the Christian missionary who went undercover in Jerusalem as an Orthodox rabbi
  3. ‘Good Jewish boy’ or chief ‘infiltrator’? NJ man spent years as fake rabbi in Israel, groups say

So much for the basic story. Here’s what fascinates me, though: Elk/Elkohen may not be unequivocally fake, even if the exposés are true.

Michael Elk came from the marriage of a non-observant Methodist and a non-observant Mennonite. (Rod Dreher wrote of his own youth something very like this, which my memory dishes up: "We didn’t go to church much, and the church we didn’t go to was Methodist.") Elk "got religion" around age 17 and went off to an evangelical college. By the time he graduated, he was living as a Messianic Jew and claiming that both of his parents were Jewish.

> Elk’s path to Judaism appears to have begun around the time of his graduation. By that time, he was in a serious relationship with Crystal Tracy, whom he had met at Eastern University. > > At the time, she told the JC, Elk was attending a ‘Messianic synagogue’ (for Jews who follow Jesus) called Beth Yeshua, in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. > > He also worshipped at a charismatic evangelical church called Vineyard. Yet he was dressing like an Orthodox Jew, always wearing a white shirt, black trousers and kippah.

(EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, the Christian missionary who went undercover in Jerusalem as an Orthodox rabbi)

He convinced Ms. Terry that he’d discovered her Jewish ancestry, too, so they could be married — in a wedding with some Jewish accoutrements. He apparently did something similar with his second wife, after Ms. Terry woke up and dumped him (he’d lost a job over accusations of flim-flammery with the time clock). Then off he went to Israel with wife two, where they were fruitful, and multiplied, and filled the earth with five little Elkohens.

So what I thought was going to be the story of a very bright guy who had undergone extensive spy-like training starts to look like a story of a guy who got deluded fairly young and stayed deluded for the long haul — perhaps even up until now. It’s no less interesting a story for that, but press coverage seems to favor the humbug theory even while reporting the tidbits that make me suspect delusion. (Some of the Israel-based stories don’t seem very conversant with the countless Protestant groups around. One referred to the simple cross on the tombstone of Elk’s father as a "crucifix.")

Arguing against the delusion theory, though, is a 2011 MorningStar Ministries TV appearance:

> In the interview, he openly praised Jesus and prayed together with other Christian devotees. The Jews, he said, needed to be “stirred to jealousy” until they followed Christ.

(Id.) But overall, I get the impression that he was a Christian Judaizer, syncretistically blending Jewish ritual with Christian doctrine. (That’s why I suggest that he’s not unequivocally fake.) Or as one of the stories put it, perhaps not knowing that there are Christian Judaizers:

> The idea of these messianic groups is to blur distinctions in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist the Christian message.

(NJ ‘orthodox rabbi’ accused of double life as missionary in Israel)

A version of such distinction-blurring was repudiated at the very first Council of the Christian Church, in Jerusalem, where the Church held that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised, as a substantial party of Jewish Christians argued they must be. Later, Paul harshly and thoroughly warned the Galatians about such Judaizing in the Epistle to the Galatians, chapters 3 and 4.

Moreover, MorningStar Ministries, allegedly his sponsoring missionary agency, bears a distinctive mark of dispensational premillennialism, a second heresy but one that tends to go along with evangelical Judaizing:

> As time went on, Ms Tracy said, Elk became more and more committed to the group. Elk considered going to their ministry school, she said, and was “very, very devoted” to their teachings. > > “He carried on with MorningStar after the divorce,” she recalled. “They are very much about converting the Jews to bring on the end times. I heard this all the time.”

(EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, above)

So sincere or not, a conscious deceiver or a deluded heretic, "Rabbi" Michael Elkohen deserves adherence neither by Jews nor Gentile Christians who recognize heresies.

And he reportedly is not the only covert Christian Missionary working in Israel.

Restless Natives In Judeo-Christendom

> [A]dministrators made it clear to me that members of certain religious groups were overrepresented on campus. This was why the college wanted to get rid of chaplaincy programs. I suddenly realized what was at stake in the move from the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, or Thomas Chatterton Williams, for example, to the antiracism of Ibram Kendi or Robin DiAngelo. Telling me that the “number one priority of the college is antiracism,” my supervisor in Student Life explained:   > >> And because of the colleges’ commitment to antiracism and equity the question finally becomes, Is chaplaincy sustainable? Our Jewish community has the support of its alumni donor. How do we manage that? And Roman Catholic students and others interested in Catholicism can apply for grants from an endowed fund for Roman Catholic Studies. And in order to be antiracist we have to have equal resources for Hindu students, Muslim students, Buddhist students, or we need to do away with Spiritual Life groups all together. > > My supervisor was echoing Ibram X. Kendi, who writes, “If discrimination is creating equity then it is antiracist.” Inequity, in this case, means any difference between ethnic groups that isn’t reflected in the racial demographics of the United States. How does this relate to religion? I didn’t think that it did. But here this administrator decided that because Jews, being a tiny percentage of the US population are overrepresented in higher education generally, and at the college where I worked in particular, antiracism in this instance required that the number of Jewish students be reduced. Moreover, because there were 60 students at Shabbat and only a handful of Muslim students on campus, the Jewish group should not exist.

Anna Keating, The Problem with “Western” Religions on Campus – The Hedgehog Review

Contemptuous Familiarity with a Counterfeit

> I found a Christianity that had retained its ancient heart—a faith with living saints and a central ritual of deep and inexplicable power. I found a faith that, unlike the one I had seen as a boy, was not a dusty moral template but a mystical path, an ancient and rooted thing, pointing to a world in which the divine is not absent but everywhere present, moving in the mountains and the waters. The story I had heard a thousand times turned out to be a story I had never heard at all.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Cross and the Machine

I appreciate that Kingsnorth is open about his conversion, but also that he’s wise enough not to be argumentative about it ("None of this is rationally explicable, and there is no point in arguing with me about it. There is no point in my arguing with myself about it: I gave up after a while."). That’s better than how I did it.

The Averted Gaze

I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Operation Varsity Blues and would summarize it as timorous.

Wealthy clients of Rick Singer spent in the high six-figures or more to get their failsons and boopsies into elite schools, making it likelier that they would graduate from merely "wealthy" to "upper-class," just one step down from fully "elite" (see Aaron M. Renn, Rediscovering E. Digby Baltzell’s Sociology of Elites (American Affairs Journal).

But that’s only part of the story. Liberal ameliorative legislation like Title IX and the ADA set the stage for some of Singer’s trickery (while not actually creating "legal loopholes").

> The water polo angle may give the scandal a WASPy flavor but that’s a red herring … > > In fact, if the water polo angle signifies anything, it’s the crucial importance of liberal policies in making Singer’s schemes possible. The reason schools have so many recruitment slots in boutique sports like women’s crew is Title IX, which forced colleges to equalize spending on men’s and women’s athletics. “Institutions with football programs can have upwards of 100 men on those teams,” Unacceptable explains. “To maintain equitable opportunity, they may have built really, really big women’s rowing programs.” > > The biggest silent revolution in education today is the proliferation of diagnosed disabilities among affluent students. In the last ten years, elite parents discovered that getting their kid labeled with ADHD or anxiety allows them to request special accommodations on tests, like extra time or a private room. Singer encouraged clients to get bogus diagnoses so he could channel their kids to special testing sites and put his designated proctor in the room with them to correct their answers. > > Students with special accommodations used to have asterisks next to their SAT scores when the College Board sent them out. In 2003, those asterisks were removed — not because wealthy parents flexed their influence, but because of a civil rights lawsuit brought by a disability advocacy group. Eliminating the “scarlet asterisk” would protect disabled students from discrimination, they said. Instead it enabled canny operators like Singer to commit fraud on a large scale.

Helen Andrews, Operation Varsity Blues: Elite Anxiety, Not Elite Privilege.

> Because of Title IX gender equity rules, colleges are far more likely to have a women’s crew team than a men’s squad. Athletic departments use women’s crew teams to balance out male sports like football and wrestling. Unlike men’s rowing, women’s crew is an official NCAA sport with a sanctioned championship. Women’s Division I rowing teams are allowed to hand out the equivalent of 20 full scholarships, more than any other women’s sport.

For an edge in Ivy League admissions, grab an oar and row – Chicago Tribune

See also Hal Berghel, A Critical Look at the 2019 College Admissions Scandal

Reporting on bad behavior by rich celebrities is easy, but for me, the untold parts of the story, the parts too hot to handle, include (1) the insidious corruption of education by sports and (2) the insidious corruptibility of ameliorative legislation.

Is the Sum of Evangelical Parachurch Ministries Called "Christendom"?

I’m not exactly sour on David French, but I read him ever more critically when he (currently a Calvinist with a meandering background) addresses Christian matters. Most recently, How American Christendom Weakens American Christianity seems both formulaic and confused:

  • He provincially conflates Evangelical "parachurch" ministries with "Christendom" even though the ministries he names neither sought nor gained sway over governments. (See below.)
  • He poisons the well by insinuating that doctrinally orthodox, spiritually lukewarm institutions are in it for the money.
  • He implies that lukewarm orthodox Christians ("Christendom") were a problem to be solved rather than an inevitability.

There’s probably more.

I fully appreciate that the sexual abuses of Ravi Zacharias and Kanakuk Kamp have been much on French’s mind, but to address them as a problem of "Christendom" reads like a brainstorm he had but should have abandoned as far too facile. It seems, though, that French had this "evangelical parachurch ministries as Christendom" brainstorm a few years ago and clings to it still:

> The Evangelical analogue to the state religious establishments of years past — the “Christendom” that all-too-often redefined the faith as a kind of cultural and legal conformity, a rote adherence to external religious dictates — is the creation of a series of extraordinarily wealthy, powerful, and influential institutions that not only reach and influence Americans by the tens of millions, but also shape the course and conduct of the domestic and foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the history of the world.

I’m unconvinced that the Evangelical institutions are as powerful and influential as French thinks. I’m even less convinced that they’re a plausible analogy to "Christendom" as traditionally understood.

But I’ve lamented that when Americans hear "Christian" they probably think of Evangelicals, or perhaps Roman Catholics in a few instances, and that neither tradition remotely represents me. So maybe those Evangelical institutions have a bigger "Christendom-like" footprint than I’m appreciating.

Tidbits

A local grade school principal challenged her students to collect 1000 cereal boxes in a week, promising that if they did, she’d let them duct-tape her to the wall. They did and she did.

In completely unrelated news, schoolchildren reportedly have problems with disrespecting their teachers and administrators.


> "Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient," he explains. "There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."

Bill Gates, quoted in In Search of the Real Bill Gates – TIME, 1/13/1997.

I must be aiming somewhere other than where Bill Gates is aiming, because I consider church indispensible.


> Doyle has 43,000 Twitter followers, a fan base 20 times smaller than that of the Sarcastic Mars Rover parody account.

How Substack Soap Operas Change the Media Business – The Atlantic

Comparative measures of smallness, fewness and such are a usage I’ll never consider proper.


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.