Put Mass back in Christmas

In the late 1600’s in colonial Boston, the celebration of Christmas was against the law. Indeed, anyone evidencing the “spirit of Christmas” could be fined five shillings.

English Churches outside of the Catholic and Anglican were non-liturgical. The “feast” of Christmas was as absent as the “feast” of anything else. It was not part of their consciousness. Thus, the growth of a popular Christmas in the mid to late 19th century took place outside the walls of the Church. It became a cultural holiday, with an emphasis on family and the home.

Surprisingly, Christmas is probably far more a part of Protestant Church life in America today than at any time in our history. But the echoes of cultural Christmas remain strong. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, Christianity in America revisits its conflicted past. It is not unusual to see Churches of a more Evangelical background cancelling Sunday services, deferring to Christmas as a “family” celebration. For liturgical Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.) such a practice seems scandalous in the extreme.

There are protests against the secular Christmas that say, “Put the Christ back in Christmas!” From a liturgical point of view I’ve wanted to add, “And put the Mass back in Christmas!” It is, after all, a feast of the Christian Church. Neither of these, however, will likely be dominant in a culture that once had little Christmas at all.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

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Emollients (I hope)

1

I would find it more convincing that Trump is “shaking up his administration,” as the press reports every day or two, if they’d first report the deep complacency that needs roiling. (I just haven’t noticed that on my own.)

2

Peggy Noonan thinks Bush I should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize, and she, ever the speech writer, wished for more articulation of what he was doing:

[The collapse of Communism] was a crucial event in the history of the West, and its meaning needed stating by the American president. There was much to be lauded, from the hard-won unity of the West to Russia’s decision to move bravely toward new ways. Much could be said without triumphalism.

It is a delicate question, in statecraft as in life, when to speak and when not to. George Bush thought it was enough to do it, not say it, as the eulogists asserted. He trusted the people to infer his reasoning from his actions. (This was his approach on his tax increase, also.) But in the end, to me, leadership is persuasion and honest argument: This is my thinking. I ask you to see it my way.

Something deeply admirable, though: No modern president now considers silence to be an option, ever. It is moving to remember one who did, who trusted the people to perceive and understand his actions. Who respected them that much.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added)

3

[L]ook at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.

Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan lays out the religious fervor of both the Trumpistas and the Social Justice warriors. Of the latter, he notes, “A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke.

But I never expected much from secular progressives, so I’m going to focus on his indictment of Evangelical Trumpistas:

  1. Their leaders have turned Christianity into a political and social identity, not a lived faith.
  2. They have tribalized a religion explicitly built by Jesus as anti-tribal.
  3. They have turned to idols — including their blasphemous belief in America as God’s chosen country.
  4. They have embraced wealth and nationalism as core goods, two ideas utterly anathema to Christ.
  5. They are indifferent to the destruction of the creation they say they believe God made.
  6. Because their faith is unmoored but their religious impulse is strong, they seek a replacement for religion.

His conclusion: “The terrible truth of the last three years is that the fresh appeal of a leader-cult has overwhelmed the fading truths of Christianity.”

If that is true, we who still hold those fading truths can thank God that Trump is always shaking up his crypto-complacent administration rather than brewing up some Kool-Aid.

(I think it was Ross Douthat who said “If you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait ’till you see the irreligious right.” On Sullivan’s reading, it might be “post-Christian Right” or even “post-Christian politics” generally. But I like Douthat’s version better, nevertheless granting Sullivan’s point about our incorrigible religiosity.)

4

As much as Trump’s defenders may want to minimize “process crimes,” it remains a fact that the last two articles of impeachment drafted against American presidents featured clear evidence of, yes, process crimes. Process crimes are still crimes. It is an enduring feature of political corruption that politicians will lie about things that aren’t illegal but are politically or personally embarrassing — and when they lie under oath or cause others to lie under oath they violate the law.

David French

  1. Objectively, Trump is in a heap’o’trouble.
  2. Somehow, though, he brazens his way through so far. (See item 3.)

5

Trump, I suspect, isn’t unfunny. He’s anti-funny. Humor humanizes. It uncorks, unstuffs, informalizes. Used well, it puts people at ease. Trump’s method is the opposite: He wants people ill at ease. Doing so preserves his capacity to wound, his sense of superiority, his distance. Good jokes highlight the ridiculous. Trump’s jokes merely ridicule. They are caustics, not emollients.

… This is an angry age, in which Trump’s critics also simmer in rage, ridicule, self-importance, self-pity — and hatred, too. They think they’re reproaching the president. Increasingly they reflect him. [Alan] Simpson’s message contains a warning to us all.

Bret Stephens, A Presidency Without Humor.

That’s an important warning, but our humor should not leave history wondering if we were complacent. No, we’re still pretty shaken up.

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Potpourri, 11/20/18

Wherever there is trauma, there has been betrayal, an abuse of authority, a moral injury.

… People who have suffered a trauma — whether it’s a sexual assault at work or repeated beatings at home — find that their identity formation has been interrupted and fragmented. Time doesn’t flow from one day to the next but circles backward to the bad event.

As a culture we’re pretty bad at dealing with moral injury. Sometimes I look at the rising suicide and depression rates, the rising fragility and distrust, and I think it all flows from the fact that we’ve made our culture a spiritual void. When you privatize morality and denude the public square of spiritual content, you’ve robbed people of the community resources they need to process moral pain together.

David Brooks


 

Like any other news and information site, Church Militant and LifeSite News are rightly subject to fair criticism when they overstep morally and journalistically responsible bounds. But I’ll tell you this: the reason these outlets have such a readership is that they are doing what the mainstream media has for many years refused to do: report on a key aspect of the abuse scandal that offends liberal prior commitments.

Rod Dreher, commenting on an NBC online hit piece:

Corky Siemaszko approaches the Catholic gay conflict issue as a cause, not a news subject. Do his editors at NBC News even care? Are they even capable of seeing that there is a problem of news judgment here?


An instructive pattern emerges:

When Gospel Coalition people opine on LGBT issues and celibate Evangelicals respond, the latter almost always strike me as more deeply Christian than the former. Here and here, for instance. Ditto when the celibate Evangelicals start it.


“Sovereign Citizens” may be the tin-hattiest of the tin-hatters.


Companies are forever wanting to do “team-building,” but everything about the woke workplace compels those with any common sense to consider everyone around them a potential threat.

Rod Dreher.

Corporatizing the revolution has been rapid and consequential. Dreher is starting a “Woke Workplace” series with reader input.


 Ingenious: Divide States to Democratize the Senate:

Article IV providesthat “new States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union”—including from the territory of an existing state, if
its legislature consents. Five states were created in this manner: Vermont from New York (1791), Kentucky from Virginia (1792), Tennessee from North Carolina (1796), Maine from Massachusetts (1820) and West Virginia from Virginia (1863).

Drawing on that tradition, a Democracy Restoration Act could grant blanket consent to populous but underrepresented states to go forth and multiply to restore the Senate’s democratic legitimacy.

It responds to a plausible concern about a founding decision that threatens to become unsustainable.

But is the response a plan, or a taunt?

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Potpourri, 11/15/18

1

I never really kissed dating goodbye as a teenager in the mid-2000s — to be honest, I was pretty late in kissing it hello. But like many who were brought up in contact with evangelical culture, I absorbed its tenets almost by osmosis even though I never even read the whole book. Falling in love means sharing a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back. Sex is a slippery slope, generally with disaster at the bottom. Hard decisions could be boiled down to one rule: Keep it chaste. Do things right, though, and you’ll get the reward you deserve. Follow the instructions: results guaranteed.

Christine Emba.

It’s the promise of a fairy tale ending that offends me. Evangelicals lack any tragic sense of life. (Just “pray away the gay,” for instance.)

Or maybe that absence of tragic sense is a besetting American sin. More Emba:

In essence, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and its (inevitable, if you think about it) fall represent a mind-set prominent in evangelical culture, but also in American society more broadly.

We insist that meritocracy works and combine it with a valorization of hard work (which itself stems from our country’s majority-Protestant roots). To maintain the story that success is accessible to all, we’ve developed a tendency to seek out and elevate simplistic formulas that we hope come with guarantees. Stay pure until marriage, and your marriage will flourish. Follow the “success sequence,” and you’ll never be poor. Go to the right school, and all career doors will open. Elect the right candidate, and America will be great once more.

But the dark side of all this is that when the formulas fail — as they so often do — it’s you who must have done something wrong. And then it’s up to you to fix it on your own. Bad marriage? You must have screwed around as a teen. Still in public housing? Should have gotten a better job. The if/then mind-set doesn’t take into account how much is actually out of our personal control, or the systemic forces — race, class, family history — that might hold someone back.

It is difficult to counter such an ingrained — and easy — habit of thought. But give him credit: In reevaluating “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Harris is modeling one way of doing so — he’s admitting to complexity and engaging directly with others, rather than sending down recommendations from above. Alas, even this admirable attempt won’t undo the harms that his formula caused in the first place.

But let the implosion of a cultural touchstone like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” serve as a lesson, or at least a warning. The next time we’re tempted toward too-formulaic thinking, we’ll know to take it with a grain of salt. After all, life is rarely so pure.

2

Once upon a time, Protestant congregations had pulpits. This was a form of church furniture, a glorified lectern as it where, behind which pastors read the text for their sermon and preached it to boot. Today, contemporary design of church buildings makes little of fixed places for anyone participating in worship, except for the drummer who may be quarantined in a drum shield.

… as ministers of God’s word, pastors’ actions, including their feet, while communicating a message of such great moment should encourage the idea of permanence. That is one reason for having a pulpit with serious heft. It symbolizes that what goes on in this space is of great significance and enduring value (though some look so permanent that even the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth will not unsettle them).

The permanence of the word preached is also a reason for ministers to stay in the pocket behind the pulpit and not move around. At best, happy feet is a distraction that calls more attention to the man than his message. At worst, they invite liturgical dance. So if the argument from permanence does not help, maybe the thought of overweight men and women in leotards will assist pastors (some on the rotund side themselves) keep both feet firmly planted behind their congregation’s ample pulpit.

D.G. Hart

3

[S]cientists are … making declarations ex cathedra — as a direct result of intellectual movements that began in humanities scholarship twenty-five years ago.

So for those of you who think that the humanities are marginal and irrelevant, put that in your mental pipe and contemplatively smoke it for a while.

Many years ago the great American poet Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called “Shame,” in which he imagined “a cramped little state with no foreign policy, / Save to be thought inoffensive.”

Sheep are the national product. The faint inscription
Over the city gates may perhaps be rendered,
“I’m afraid you won’t find much of interest here.”

The people of this nation could not be more overt in their humility, their irrelevance, their powerlessness. But …

Their complete negligence is reserved, however,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the whole empire.

Alan Jacobs, the imminent collapse of an empire

4

[W]hen you are told endlessly that there is no meaning to existence, then guess what? You actually start to think that way. And then everything loses its flavor. Everything starts to taste like rice cakes.

… [Y]ou cannot have it both ways. You cannot bleach divinity and Transcendence out of the cosmos and tell everyone that the whole affair is just an aimless and pointless accident, and then turn around and talk to us about the “moral necessity” of this or that urgent social cause.

Larry Chapp via Rod Dreher.

5

From before the election, but when I was otherwise occupied:

Trumpism … is the new normal. It is not going away. And there is no going back. The challenge for the center-right and center-left across the West is to accommodate this new normal in ways that do not empower authoritarianism, provoke constitutional unraveling, or incite civil unrest. And it seems to me that the lesson of the last two years is that the Republican Party is unable and unwilling to perform that function. It has turned itself into a cult behind a figure hostile to liberal democratic norms, responsible government, and any notion of moderation. It is less a political party than a mass movement sustained by shame-free, mendacious propaganda around a man whose articulated values place him more in the company of Putin and Duterte than Merkel and Macron.

The GOP cannot be talked out of their surrender to this strongman. With each rhetorical or policy atrocity, they have attached themselves more firmly to him. The dissenters are leaving; the new members of Congress will be even Trumpier than the old. They have abandoned any serious oversight role. Their singular achievement has been supplying judicial ranks who will not stand in the way of executive power. That was the real issue in the Kavanaugh nomination, as Newt Gingrich blurted out last week. A subpoena for the president from the special counsel would be fought, he promised, all the way to the Supreme Court, which is when we would see “whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.” This is a party bent on enabling authoritarianism, not restraining it.

That’s why I will vote Democrat next Tuesday. I have many issues with the Democrats, as regular readers well know. None of that matters compared with this emergency. I don’t care, in this instance, what their policies are. I am going to vote for them. I can’t stand most of their leaders and fear their radical fringe. I am going to vote for them anyway. Because it is the only responsible thing there is to do.

The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do.

Andrew Sullivan.

Or as William Blake put it:

what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I’m not at all certain that “judicial ranks … will not stand in the way of executive power” or that such was the aim of confirming them, but Sullivan otherwise is right about the abasement of the GOP, and the House has indeed flipped to the Democrats.

I wrote last week that the midterms would finally tell us what this country now is. And with a remarkable turnout — a 50-year high for a non- presidential election, no less — we did indeed learn something solid and eye-opening. We learned that the American public as a whole has reacted to the first two years of an unfit, delusional, mendacious, malevolent, incompetent authoritarian as president … with relative equanimity. The net backlash is milder than it was against Clinton or Obama (and both of them went on to win reelection).

What I take from this is that Trump really does have a cultlike grip on a whole new population of voters, as well as the reliable Republican voters of the past. That’s not just 42 percent of the country (to use Trump’s approval rating); it’s a motivated 42 percent. And what Trump has successfully done, by corralling right-wing media, tweeting incessantly, dominating the discourse, tending so diligently to his base, and holding rally after rally, is keep that engagement going. Most presidents are interested in governing and sometimes take their eye off the ball politically. Trump is all politics and all salesmanship all the time. And it works. If he can demonstrate this in the midterms, imagine what his reelection campaign will be like.

I’ve been razzed a little for using the term “existential threat” to describe Trump two and a half years ago. But I used it in a specific context: He was and remains such a threat to liberal democracy. Not democracy as a whole. Strongmen can win election after election with big majorities without rigging the vote. A single political party can co-opt the judiciary, or capture the Senate, by democratic means, for illiberal ends. I mean by liberal democracy one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power. The space for this in America has significantly shrunk these past two years and this election has only consolidated that new status quo.

Andrew Sullivan

I’ve detested the Republican party long enough now that my reflex to cringe at Democrat victories passes very quickly, replaced by a resigned feeling of “we are soooooo screwed!” — no matter which major party wins.

6

When you obsess about a problem, you have less energy and passion to pursue solutions. When you fret over every outrage, you elevate those outrages. Stories trend because consumers engage with them, clicking and sharing them, not because the news media dictates that they trend.

I think it would be a solid and beneficial step for us all to simply come to the realizations: Trump is going to Trump. He’s going to lie. He’s going to wink at the racists and Nazis. He’s going to demean women. He’s going to embarrass this country. It’s all going to happen.

Nevertheless, we can take this stand unequivocally: It is all unacceptable and we stand in opposition to it. It is not normal and must never be met as such.

But we must also focus on the future.

Charles Blow

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Potpourri 11/10/18

I indulged my urge to travel from October 29 through election day, with a long transcontinental flight back on Wednesday. Time didn’t permit keeping up with news, let alone commenting.

I’ve spent too much time trying to “catch up.” Aware, though, that much of what passes for news is noise and commercial solicitation, I deleted many items I initially had clipped for later reading.

Here are a few thing that survived.

1 Philosophy and Religion

In the name of mercy, some recent theologians have suggested that there are elements of good in some objectively wrong acts and relationships. For example, friendship is good, and there certainly is an element of friendship in an illicit sexual relationship.

The question should not be whether there are elements of value in sins, but whether there is anything valuable about sinning.

Consider: No one can love evil for its own sake. The only thing it is possible to will for its own sake is good. Thus, the only way it is even possible to will an evil is that something about it seems good to us.

But something seems good to us in every evil, because evil cannot exist in itself. The only way to get an evil at all is to take something good and distort it.

The upshot is that the fact that evil contains disordered elements of good doesn’t mean it isn’t evil. What this fact shows is why evil can be attractive.

J Budziszewski, The Underground Thomist (emphasis added).

Having been in the “elements of good” camp, I stand corrected.


The shallowness and poverty of Evangelical thought on sexuality will not be cured by repudiating I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Where’s the positive vision?

Abigaile Rine Favale elaborates.

I’m tempted to elaborate on my own. Nominalism. Realism. Natural Law. Chastity > Virginity. That kind of thing.

But I won’t.


The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters, notes that there are many ways for the government to provide contraceptives without forcing nuns to violate their beliefs.

An Unnecessary Culture War: The Little Sisters of the Poor finally get their religious exemption (WSJ, 11/10/18)

I love, and financially support, Becket Fund.

 

2 Politics

Pace Jonathan Haidt, liberals likely are not more “open” to “experience” in general than conservatives.


News from the birthplace of the free speech movement.

In a real sense, the most fascist people in America are young progressives.


Of all the ways in which Donald Trump’s presidency has made America worse, nothing epitomizes it quite so fully as the elevation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States. Intellectually honest conservatives — the six or seven who remain, at any rate — need to say this, loudly. His appointment represents an unprecedented assault on the integrity and reputation of the Justice Department, the advice and consent function of the Senate, and the rule of law in the United States.

Bret Stephens


The mystery of Donald Trump is what impels him to overturn the usual rules. Is it a dark sort of cunning or simple defects of character? Because the president’s critics tend to be educated and educated people tend to think that the only kind of smarts worth having is the kind they possess — superior powers of articulation combined with deep stores of knowledge — those critics generally assume the latter. He’s a bigot. He’s a con artist. His followers are dumb. They got lucky last time. They won’t be so lucky again.

Maybe this is even right. But as Trump’s presidency moves forward, it’s no longer smart to think it’s right. There’s more than one type of intelligence. Trump’s is feral. It strikes fast. It knows where to sink the fang into the vein.

Bret Stephens.

Having been recently in the offices of the Jerusalem Post, I was surprised to note that he was once its Editor-in-Chief, and Wikipedia confirms that he took that post when he was all of 29 years old.


Democratic leaders in the House … have the president at a disadvantage. He is a businessman who’s never had to answer to a board. His whole professional life it was him and his whims and his hunger and a series of organizations of which he was sole or principal owner. Democratic leaders should see themselves as his board. They’ve got a CEO they don’t like, but they’ve got some power and they’re using it to save the company. A united board can scare a CEO. Donald Trump up against a board will not be so sure-footed. He will agree to a lot of what you want.

Peggy Noonan.

I love this idea.


With his every utterance, Trump removes the moral guardrails that keep bigotry down.

… How does a conservative movement that is supposed to believe that every healthy society needs powerful moral guardrails give itself over to a president whose every other utterance cheerfully knocks those guardrails down?

The Trumpian defense is that no political leader can fairly be held accountable for the acts of followers like Sayoc, much less of avowed opponents like Bowers. Also, what about James Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot Republican Representative Steve Scalise last year? But Sanders wasn’t instigating anyone to violence. He wasn’t calling on supporters at his rallies to “knock the crap out of” hecklers, or praising fellow members of Congress for body slamming a reporter.

… fanning one set of hatreds against immigrants has a way of fanning others, as it did for Bowers when he attacked the synagogue because he was enraged by its support for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Bret Stephens, Yes, the President Bears Blame for the Terror From the Right.

Inclined to agree though a bit unsure, I nevertheless thought this merited consideration. No, on second thought, I agree. Period. Full stop.


“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
― Theodore Dalrymple

Via Rod Dreher

Communism is dead, but pray for the humiliated souls of Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and all the other Trumpish sycophants who abase themselves with transparent lies for their boss.


 

It just occurred to me as I tagged and categorized this blog that “conservative” and “liberal” seemed to me to suffice for casual political talk. Then I decided that “right liberalism” and “left liberalism” were maybe more precise, as both fit classic liberalism. Now, with illiberals in the alt-right and progressive left, I’m more convinced than ever that “right liberalism” and “left liberalism” are useful and important categories (though I’ll probably continue to use conservative and liberal from habit).

A coalition of classical liberals might be a really good idea, but I’m not sure that Trump, who looks alt-right in comparison to right-liberals, will allow it.

 

3 Europe

“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” Mr. Macron said on French radio.

Europe is the “main victim,” Mr. Macron said, of Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That accord prohibits the use of intermediate- and shorter-range rockets, as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles.

“We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army,” Mr. Macron said.

Wall Street Journal.

This, of course, set Trump into foaming at the mouth.

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Peter Principle update

Do you know the Peter Principle?

1

Image Journal has a new editorial team, with James K. A. Smith taking the helm as the new editor in chief. That’s a bit of head-scratcher to be honest. Everything I’ve read by him on poetry and fiction is pretty much what you’d expect from a well-read theologian writing on poetry and fiction. That’s not a slight. Theologians and critics tend to approach texts in different ways, even if they might arrive at some of the same conclusions. For the critic, style is argument. For the Protestant theologian—and I’m generalizing here, so forgive me—style mostly contains argument. I can’t say this is always the case with Smith. He certainly has something like this view regarding form when it comes to liturgy, but I have never thought of him as being particularly interested in style in writing or in the forms of poetry or the novel. Anyway, he has a strong team under him, it seems, and I am sure he will bring in new readers. Good luck to the whole crew!

Micah Mattix’s Prufrock newsletter for October 18.

2

This item aggregates downers — I guess they’re “uppers” if you exult in Trump hatred instead of just shaking your head and saying “heaven help us.”

It is a sign of the times — the kind involving the seven-horned beast, and the rain of fire, and the end of days — that recent news has been dominated by Kanye, Stormy and the misogynist boor who is president of the United States. It would be a circus if it were not a crime scene, complete with credible accusations of financial corruption, obstruction of justice and campaign collusion with a hostile foreign power.

… I do think [the charge of fascism is] basically mere alarmism, yes. We have a president whose shallow malevolence is matched only by his bottomless incompetence. But that’s not fascism. It’s more weakness than strength.

And yet, it is impossible to listen closely to Trump without hearing echoes of fascist language and arguments. He describes a form of national unity based on deference to a single leader. He claims to lead a movement that speaks exclusively for American values. He defines this movement primarily through exclusion, by directing bigotry and contempt toward outsiders. He paints the picture of an idealized past, involving pride, ethnic solidarity and national greatness.

Fascism may not describe what Trump has done, as opposed to what he says. But what he says matters and can create its own dangerous dynamic. It is possible for a leader to be incompetent and still profoundly corrupt the people who follow him, undermining the virtues — tolerance, civility and compromise — that make democratic self-government work. It is possible for a foolish leader to leave the imprint of fascism on a portion of his followers ….

Michael Gerson (in part quoting an unnamed “conservative leader”).

Michael V. Hayden, a former C.I.A. director who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said that Mr. Trump could be coaxed into believing objective reality, but that it “is not the instinctive departure point for what Donald Trump does.”

“It’s something else — it’s feeling, emotion, preference, loyalty, convenience of the moment,” Mr. Hayden said. He quoted a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, Michael Gerson, about Mr. Trump: “He lives in the eternal now — no history, no consequences.”

Maggie Haberman. I didn’t used to think of left liberals as defenders of objective truth, nor of Evangelicals as indifferent toward it, but times change.

In the first 18 months of his administration, those who pointed out that he’d made a good decision, or failed to castigate him enough, were sometimes accused of “normalizing” Mr. Trump. But normalizing him wasn’t within their power. Only Mr. Trump could normalize Mr. Trump, by enacting normality and self-possession. He could have opted for a certain stature—the presidential stage, with its flags and salutes, almost leads you by the hand to stature. But he hasn’t.

Peggy Noonan.

3

Our clamoring after Christian “rock stars” — paired with the sheer volume of content those in the spotlight are expected to produce — has created the perfect environment for slipshod attribution and theft of content from lesser-known authors.

Mary DeMuth at Religion News Service.

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Alan Jacobs on Evangelicalism

Some very sharp observations by Alan Jacobs in a Los Angeles Review of Books interview. I’ll not highlight as you should read it all (if at all) and let Jacobs himself guide you:

I felt that [Marilynne] Robinson was, in many cases, using her entry to the liberal intelligentsia — she can always be published in the NYRB or wherever else — to be very critical of her fellow Christians, and I just wished that went the other way around. I wished she would use her opening with the liberal intelligentsia to be more critical of them.

But, I’ve got to say, there’s been a bit of a change in my thinking that can be deeply identified with the 80 percent rate at which white evangelicals — or people who call themselves evangelicals — voted for Trump. When that happened, I thought, maybe Marilynne Robinson is more right about my fellow evangelicals than I was, you know? At that point, I thought maybe I should just drop my criticism of her, she may have been right after all.

That was a very distressing moment for me. I knew there would be a lot of support for Trump simply because he was the Republican candidate. I didn’t expect it to be that high. What I expected was more of a nose-holding posture — like, I don’t like this guy, I don’t approve of his personal life, I don’t approve of many things about him, but he’s the lesser of two evils. What we got instead was a great many Christians refusing to acknowledge that there’s anything evil here at all — he’s great, he’s wonderful, he speaks for us. And I will have to admit that I was taken aback, not so much by the willingness of evangelicals to vote for him, but by the enthusiasm with which they voted for him.

And then I started looking into things a little more, because I was curious about this phenomenon. And I came to realize that a lot of people who are willing to claim the name “evangelical” are actually people who don’t go to church and couldn’t sum up what evangelical belief is. They just don’t know.

And while some see that as good news, that the people who voted for Trump aren’t really evangelicals, that’s not the lesson I took from it. The lesson I took from it is: How many of us are there? We used to think there are a lot of evangelicals in America. Maybe there aren’t very many people who are sufficiently formed in the Christian faith to be able to say what it is.

So, what does “evangelical” mean?

Right now, I have no freaking idea. [Laughs.] I couldn’t begin to tell you.

What is it supposed to mean?

So, the most classic definition is one that was coined by Scottish historian David Bebbington (you can Google the term “Bebbington quadrilateral”), and it consists of these four things: evangelicals are people who believe in a conversion experience; they believe in the authority of scripture; they have a theology centered on the cross, and Jesus’s atoning work on the cross; and, as Bebbington puts it, they engage in a theologically informed activism, they get out there and preach the gospel and try to win people over. Some have suggested revisions to that, but that’s the general thing.

And what we’re looking at now is that many of the people who call themselves “evangelical” in polls are people who actually could not in any meaningful way affirm any of those four things. But that’s not encouraging to me, because what that suggests is that there are all these people who have some kind of tribal association with the word “evangelical.” And that means that evangelical churches have allowed themselves to degenerate into a kind of tribalism, rather than theologically informed, compassionate activism.

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Friday 10/12/18

1

There is nothing new about disinformation. Unlike ordinary lies and propaganda, which try to make you believe something, disinformation tries to make you disbelieve everything. It scatters so much bad information, and casts so many aspersions on so many sources of information, that people throw up their hands and say, “They’re all a pack of liars.” As Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide and former leader of Breitbart News, succinctly put it in an interview with Bloomberg, “[T]he way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with shit.”

Although disinformation is old, it has recently cross-pollinated with the internet to produce something new: the decentralized, swarm-based version of disinformation that has come to be known as trolling. Trolls attack real news; they attack the sources of real news; they disseminate fake news; and they create artificial copies of themselves to disseminate even more fake news. By unleashing great quantities of lies and half-truths, and then piling on and swarming, they achieve hive-mind coordination. Because trolling need not bother with persuasion or anything more than very superficial plausibility, it can concern itself with being addictively outrageous. Epistemically, it is anarchistic, giving no valence to truth at all; like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading.

… By being willing to say anything, they exploit shock and outrage to seize attention and hijack the public conversation.

That last tactic is especially insidious. The constitution of knowledge is organized around an epistemic honor code: Objective truth exists; efforts to find it should be impersonal; credentials matter; what hasn’t been tested isn’t knowledge; and so on. Trolls violate all those norms: They mock truth, sling mud, trash credentials, ridicule testing, and all the rest.

Jonathan Rausch. Donald Trump is our Troll-In-Chief.

How do you balance:

  1. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and slowing of regulatory assaults on orthodox Christians; against
  2. The daily tacit denial from Trump and Sarah Sanders that there exists any such thing as objective truth and reality — “flooding the zone with shit”?

Something tells me that the long-term costs of #2 — and not just in terms of damaging the credibility of Christianity (of which Evangelicals have dubiously made themselves avatars) — outweigh and perhaps vastly outweigh the benefits of #1. I can’t yet put my finger on it; maybe it’s ineffable or self-evident.

We’ve gone from agreeing that there is “Truth” (even if we disagreed about its content), to referring to “your truth” versus “my truth,” and now we hover on the edge of the Emperor’s truth being the only truth, with the Emperor smirking as he mocks us by changing that “truth” at will.

2

Purdue University,”mother” to an astonishing proportion of early astronauts and now sporting a rather new, large and prominent Neil Armstrong engineering building and archive, is atwitter over the release of “First Man” and should be (pardon the expression) over the moon at Joe Morgenstern’s Wall Street Journal review.

Speaking of which, our local TV news, which regularly interjects inadvertent comic relief into the news, covered the Armstrong archive last night with a comment about it housing “N pieces of his life,” reminding me of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women.”

3

Pushing back against talk about Texas Evangelical women pushing Beto O’Rourke past Ted Cruz in the Senate race:

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

Bobby Ross, Jr.

It’s good that this is in print, because one can read it categorically or presumptively (had it been spoken, the inflection likely would have disambiguated it):

  • I can’t support Beto  — because he’s pro-choice ….
  • I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice ….

I believe the moral law would permit Ross’s sister, for sufficient cause, to vote for Beto despite his being pro-choice, but never because he’s pro-choice.

The decisive question is the sufficiency of Cruz’s cynicism and lying. His cynicism stinks to the heavens, but I haven’t kept a scorecard on his lying. Texans probably have a better reading on that.

4

Be it remembered that Jeff Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters for the Presidency but Trump is getting ready to replace him because he won’t corrupt the Justice Department by conducting show trials against Trump’s enemies or by firing Robert Mueller.

This is the treatment Evangelicals can expect if they ever reach a “we must obey God, not Caesar” moment. Whether they have the integrity to reach that moment is an open question.

Add this to item #1 as a reason why Trump should be voted out either in the 2020 Republican primaries or against many potential Democrat nominees in the General Election.

Since we’re apparently slow learners, though, God may ordain that 2020 be a repeat of Trump versus Hillary or maybe even Trump versus Beelzebub.

5

Be it noted, too, that Atifa, at least in Portland, has itself become a fascistic mob, just as I figured would happen in this world where every evil has a euphemistic name.

At the beginning, they came out only when conservatives, including trolls like Milo or Ann Coulter, came to town. Now they call protests, take over the streets, redirect traffic, and threaten anyone who doesn’t comply.

That’s why I say “fascistic.”

6

Consider two recent surveys released before the Senate voted Saturday to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. After the riveting Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked: “If there is still a doubt about whether the charges are true, do you think Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed?” Respondents said no by 52% to 40%.

A Harvard-Harris poll released Oct. 1 asked: “If the FBI review of these allegations finds no corroboration of the accusation of sexual assault, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?” Sixty percent said yes and 40% no, with 86% of Republicans, 58% of independents and even 40% of Democrats supporting confirmation.

The 20-point swing between these two survey questions shows public opinion is malleable ….

Karl Rove.

I doubt that we’ll really know until November 7, if then, which way the Kavanaugh hearings cut politically.

7

I’ve periodically mentioned and lamented that “Christianity” in the U.S. Seems to have just two avatars, Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.

Roman Catholicism got that status by being huge and by claiming that it is The Church uniquely (a claim attenuated since Vitican II). Its claim had purchase in the West, which knew little of the four patriarchs from whom the proto-Popes went into schism (and which now are known as “Eastern Orthodox”). You were either Catholic or ex-Catholic via the Reformation. Those were the mental options.

I just realized, though, that I had that bit of history or Evangelicalism stored away that perhaps not everyone is aware of it.

Evangelicals got their status differently. I don’t discount the Great Black Swan, Billy Graham, and the boost William Randolph Hearst decided to give him, nor the sizzle of the Moral Majority and the rest of the Religious Right (which finally brought Evangelicalism into what the press thinks of as “reality”: contentious politics).

But it started earlier. Some evangelical visionaries early on saw the evangelistic potential of radio and, later, television. They scarfed up hundreds or thousands of FCC broadcast licenses in order to preach their version of the Gospel. Try to find a “Christian” radio station that isn’t Evangelical.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Crickets)

Domination of the airwaves had a big influence on perceptions of non-Catholic Christianity.

I don’t think Evangelicals set out to eliminate other voices from the airwaves, or otherwise to delegitimize those voices. It was more positive than that: spread the Gospel. The rest is epiphenomenal.

And the chaotic internet, where licenses aren’t yet required (but see next item) will perhaps diminish Evangelicalism’s place aside Rome in the Western Christian oligarchy.

8

Late Thursday, Facebook and Twitter began what appears to be a coordinated purge of accounts trafficking in real news our masters would prefer we not know and opinions that no bien pensant should entertain. Caitlin Johnstone, aware that “censorship” proper is a government act, thinks nonetheless that the rise of corporate power and the thin line between corporate and government power make this effectively censorship in our new media age.

I’m likely to have more to say about this, but for now, Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin will suffice.

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Mildly offensive to all

1

There has been a fair amount of terse commentary in my field of vision on the question of “Is R.R. Reno correct in this assessment?” By “this assessment, I assume the reference is to the conclusion, from which I’ll quote a great deal:

I’m willing to bet that hostility toward Kavanaugh increases proportionally with socio-economic status. It is an elite rage of law professors and management consultants. It’s the rage of the powerful, which is always more dangerous than the rage of the downtrodden. It finds articulate, well-placed leaders who can draw upon fully theorized narratives of oppression. They position themselves to speak for all who resent exclusion or exploitation, actual or perceived. They draw upon an intersectionality of rage.

For this reason, the decision by the Democrats to turn the Kavanaugh hearings into a theater of rage was a dangerous ploy. Perhaps I am even over-stating the element of calculation in the decision. Because this rage affects the powerful, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, and the others may themselves be animated by it—rage’s instruments, rather than its masters. If so, the situation for the Democrats is more perilous still.

Donald Trump raises the emotional stakes of political debate. This has been the key to his political success. But his success has come at a cost. Trump’s politics of rage unsettles establishment Republicans. Staid suburban voters who are moderate conservatives see Trump as a destabilizing figure in our body politic, putting a hard ceiling on his support.

In this context, Democrats have much to gain by presenting themselves as the responsible adults, the ego to Trump’s id. Dianne Feinstein and most other Democratic leaders are ultra-establishment figures with no interest in upheaval. Soon they will pivot back to playing the “responsible party” against Trump and Republican “extremism.” But the rage on display during the Kavanaugh hearings will not be easy to contain. It is fueling Leftist populism, which is on the rise. It highlights the Left’s own destabilizing politics of rage and destruction.

Ever since Trump’s ascent, the strongest arguments against him have focused on his temperamental unfitness for the presidency and his polarizing effect on our society. These are arguments for establishment competence and sobriety. In the aftermath of the rage-driven strategy to derail Kavanaugh’s appointment (quite different from the quiet, procedural tactics of Mitch McConnell, which derailed Merrick Garland’s appointment), these arguments are harder to make.

The Democrats may imagine that they, like Trump, will benefit from the politics of rage. But the Democrats’ power flows from their monopoly on the “responsible center.” The last season of leftwing rage came as the 1960s crashed to a close, and it did great harm to the Democratic Party. This time is different, in that both sides are drawing upon reservoirs of rage. But in my estimation, the Democrats will suffer more than the Republicans, because the Democrats have long been the establishment party. The politics of rage are far more likely to undermine than to renew the Ivy League–Goldman Sachs–Silicon Valley liberalism that has stood astride our politics since 1945, for rage always upsets the calculations by which establishments maintain their grip.

The analysis seems too varied to support a wager, so I’ll not play my chips. But I dread living in a country where the two major parties have become, basically, alt-right and antifa.

2

I can hear the “what about Merrick Garland” already:

Democrats file cloture on every nominee, which kicks off 30 hours of debate even if no Senator is opposed. They figure if they can’t defeat nominees they can delay and consume valuable time. Democrats have forced 117 cloture votes—versus 12 in Barack Obama’s first two years and four in George W. Bush’s.

Wall Street Journal. This is not “responsible center,” is it? Were I in Congress, I’d want to make sure there were as many adults around Trump as possible, unless my motive was letting him screw things up so badly that my odds of winning the next Presidential election reached the stratosphere.

3

Longtime readers will remember that three years ago, a reader told me his elderly mother, who spent years in a communist prison as a dissident, told him that the spirit overtaking our culture today reminds her of the years when communism came to her country.

Thinking that must be an exaggeration, I relayed that observation to a friend in the UK who defected with his wife in the 1960s from a communist country. He said that it was absolutely true. I asked him to explain that conclusion, because it made no sense to me. He said that it has to do with the willingness of people to try to destroy their opponents. With righteous mobs, aided and abetted by the media. Ideological hysteria. This was how the communist behaved. And these aging former dissidents, who don’t know each other, see the same thing happening in the liberal West.

(Rod Dreher, The Media & The Mob)

4

Oh, dear! At least one person is not fawning over Nikki Haley during her lame duck period:

But because she only advocates establishment-sanctioned mass murders (and perhaps partly because she wears the magical “Woman of Color” tiara), Haley can be painted as a sane, sensible adult-in-the-room by empire lackeys who are paid to normalize the brutality of the ruling class. While you still see Steve Bannon routinely decried as a monster despite his being absent from the Trump administration for over a year, far more dangerous and far more powerful ghouls are treated with respect and reverence because they know what to say in polite company and never smoked cigars with Milo Yiannopoulos. All it takes to be regarded as a decent person by establishment punditry is the willingness to avoid offending people; do that and you can murder as many children with explosives and butterfly bullets as your withered heart desires.

Haley will be departing with a disgusting 75 percent approval rating with Republicans and 55 percent approval with Democrats, because God is dead and everything is stupid. It is unknown who will replace her once she vacates her position (I’ve got my money on Reaper drone in a desk chair), but it’s a safe bet that it will be someone who espouses the same neoconservative imperialist foreign policy that this administration has been elevating since the beginning. Whoever it is should be watched closely, as should the bipartisan beltway propagandists whose job it is to humanize them.

Caitlin Johnstone, Empire Loyalists Grieve Resignation Of Moderate Psychopath Nikki Haley.

5

A non-trivial number of Evangelical women in Texas are supporting Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz. Two vignettes feature competing baby-centered narratives:

“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke, one of Ms. Mooney’s friends, confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”

Ms. Clarke, who sells candles poured by refugee women in Dallas, began to weep as she recalled visiting a migrant woman detained and separated from her daughter at the border.

Plenty of white evangelical women still support Mr. Cruz. Pam Brewer, who leads women’s ministries at Mr. Jeffress’s First Baptist Dallas, does because she wants to end legalized abortion and increase border security, to stop allowing “criminals to come kill our babies,” she said.

6

Justice Kavanaugh’s worst decision of the last month (it’s not even a close call, IMHO) was taking a victory lap with partisans Monday night. Everyone knew Trump would sully it.

Depth to which Republicans have not yet sunk: Trying to pack the court before they lost political power.

7

Reminder to the Democrats: There are good people who could actually vote for Democrats, but who don’t do so currently, because of your friends of feticide platform.

(Lurking background concern for some of us: your little-remarked transformation into the secularist party as the Republicans transformed into the Religious Right and then, mirabile dictu, the Trump party. But you’ll not cease friendship with feticide until that secularism moderates, and the GOP’s “religion” currently is so toxic, that this concern merely lurks.)

8

Noble is right to say that society sends me on a quest for authenticity. Wisdom sends me on a quest to know myself. They are utterly different adventures. Society wants me to be my true self, philosophy demands I be as I should be.

John Mark Reynolds in part of a series of comments on Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness.

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Can a perv be a great leader?

Tanya Selvaratnam’s whole story of sexaul abuse by disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is creepy but feels timely.

For my money, though, these are the creepiest parts:

  • Three of my close friends told me to keep quiet because Eric’s work was so important to the progressive cause. “We need him,” one said.
  • The months since then have not been easy. I’ve dealt with rebukes from friends, family and strangers telling me I should have shut up or that it was my fault.

In a country where progressives rallied around Bill Clinton despite his predations, and where whit Evangelicals now variously accommodate or enthusiastically support Donald Trump, this kind of thing does not surprise me.

But it offends me.

It offends me partly because I remember how Schneiderman served the progressive cause: with lots of abusive lawsuits, jawboned in the limelight he so loved. Kamala Harris did the same thing on the other Left Coast, and how she’s obviously angling for the Presidency in 2020.

On the other side, Trump serves something-or-other (it’s nothing I’d call “conservative”) by nonstop lying and sociopathic cruelties, with a limelight-seeking narcissism that makes Schneiderman’s pale in comparison.

And it offends me, too, because I don’t think a pervert (“My bad, bad girl, Daddy’s going to rape you.”), constant liar or sociopath ultimately can be a fit executive, and I’m apparently a real outlier on that one, with few allies either Right or Left.

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

Greg Coles.

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