Sunday reflections

In progress we trust

Faith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Sorry if I’ve posted this before. It just says so much in so few words.

Seen and unseen understood

We celebrated Theophany, the third-most important of the Church’s feasts, on January 6. The feast technically continues several days, and included last Sunday:

The true Light has appeared and bestows illumination on all. Christ is baptized with us, even though He is above all purity; and thus He infuses sanctification into the water, which then becomes the purifying agent of our souls. What is seen belongs to earth; but what is understood transcends the heavens. By means of a bath comes salvation; by means of water comes the Spirit; by means of immersion does our ascent to God come to pass. How wonderful are Your works, O Lord! Glory to You.

One of the "Praises" ("Lauds") in Matins ("Orthros") January 9 (emphasis added, because that caught my attention).

American Christianity collection

The "democratic" seeds sown

Every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport or license, and sell his false ware at pleasure. What is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen.

Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (1844)

178 years later, we can see a bit more clearly.

To see ourselves as others see us

Author and speaker Christine Caine recently shared that she was stunned by what she encountered when she first visited churches in the United States.

Before coming to the U.S., “I had never seen a flag in a church,” said Caine. “Never.”

Jessica Lea

Unguarded candor

I found my way into this Twitter thread because John MacArthur was quoted as saying:

I don’t even support religious freedom. Religious freedom is what sent people to hell. To say I support religious freedom is to say I support idolatry. It’s to say I support lies. I support hell. I support the kingdom of darkness.

Unfortunately, the quote was accurate, and he doubled down disastrously. MacArthur is a big-name Evangelical of the sort I would have thought fairly moderate.

Comic and tragic

I’m from the Midwest, the home of emotional withdrawal, where I grew up among serious Bible scholars for whom the result of scholarship was schism and bitterness ….

Garrison Keillor.

That Keillor is a low-key comic doesn’t mean it’s not true. Witness this:

New podcast: Reformed Church in America split points to rising tensions in Calvin country — GetReligion

The "Alliance of Reformed Churches" to which conservatives from the RCA are fleeing, is attracting interest from Churches of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) as well. Both a roiled by similar contentious issues, implicating sexuality.

I was already an adult, when the PCA was forming from dissident members of the United Presbyterian Church. Our church was considering affiliating with PCA. They were until recently reputed to be rock-ribbed conservative Calvinists. Now, they’re in some trouble.

Upon completing law school, and before entering the Orthodox Church, I spent roughly 15 years in the CRC.

It blows my mind how the PCA and CRC have changed in so short a time. (If you’re curious, or just not conversant with the polyglot Protestant world, "Presbyterian" and "Reformed" historically are the English and continental Calvinist Churches, respectively; for an American, there’s no high doctrinal barriers between them.)

We’re not total outliers, though

I have been reviewing some of my personal notes, and one portion of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary has particular religious valence. McGilchrist is a Brit, and so his observations aren’t focused on America, but presumably apply throughout the post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment West:

  • One can see the second process (a rejection of the right hemisphere’s world) in the way in which the decline of metaphoric understanding of ceremony and ritual into the inauthentic repetition of empty procedures in the Middle Ages prompted, not a revitalisation of metaphoric understanding, but an outright rejection of it, with the advent of the Reformation … The Reformation is the first great expression of the search for certainty in modern times. As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed … What is so compelling here is that the motive force behind the Reformation was the urge to regain authenticity, with which one can only be profoundly sympathetic. The path it soon took was that of the destruction of all means whereby the authentic could have been recaptured.
  • Decapitation of statues by the Reformers took place because of the confounding of the animate and the inanimate, and the impossibility of seeing that one can live in the other metaphorically. In a world where metaphoric understanding is lost we are reduced to ‘either/or’, as Koerner says. Either the statue is God or it is a thing: since it is ‘obviously’ not God, it must be a thing, and therefore ‘mere wood’, in which case it has no place in worship.
  • Protestantism being a manifestation of left-hemisphere cognition is – even though its conscious self-descriptions would deny this – itself inevitably linked to the will to power, since that is the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • Removing the places of holiness, and effectively dispensing with the dimension of the sacred, eroded the power of the princes of the Church, but it helped to buttress the power of the secular state.
  • In essence the cardinal tenet of Christianity – the Word is made Flesh – becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.
  • There are obvious continuities between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They share the same marks of left-hemisphere domination: the banishment of wonder; the triumph of the explicit, and, with it, mistrust of metaphor; alienation from the embodied world of the flesh, and a consequent cerebralisation of life and experience.
  • The destruction of the sacerdotal power of the Church was a goal of the French Revolution, as it had been of the Reformation. The Reformation, however, had not been nakedly, explicitly, secular: it had purported to replace a corrupt religion with a purified one. All the same its effect had been to transfer power from the sacerdotal base of the Catholic Church to the state, an essential part of the relentless process of secularisation, in the broadest sense – by which I mean the re-presentation of human experience in purely rationalistic terms, necessarily exclusive of the Other, and the insistence that all questions concerning morality and human welfare can and should be settled within those terms – which I would see as the agenda of the left hemisphere. (I am fascinated at the pregnant qualifiers "nakedly, explicitly".)
  • Eichendorff said that Romanticism was the nostalgia of Protestants for the Catholic tradition.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Selections

"Gospel"

It is almost universal in the Protestant Churches I know to say that "gospel" means "good news." But there’s some problems with that:

  1. The translation of evangelion is "woodenly literal" (ev, good + angelion, news or report). But dividing a word into parts and explaining the parts is not a good way to interpret languages. (Consider, for instance, the humble "butterfly.")

  2. II Corinthians 2:14-17 is an extended metaphor — obscure to us, but not to the first hearers. A "triumph" in the Roman Empire was something like a big parade, held to honor someone. The triumph was preceded by the evangelia, announcing who they were and their great accomplishments.

  3. Evangelion is the word the early Christians picked for announcing who Christ was and the victory he’d won. The Christian evangelia are Christ’s incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, ascension into heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his return to judge the living and the dead.

  4. But when the apostles "preached the gospel," people responded with "what must I do to be saved?" That asking is their response to the gospel. But most "sharing the gospel" in America skips the evangelia and goes straight to advice on how, in Evangelical understanding, to get saved.

From Father Stephen DeYoung, The Whole Counsel of God podcast on II Corinthians 2 & 3.

I haven’t decided if this is mere pedantry, but it grabbed my attention for its illumination of what the Gospel is, independent of any response.

Dispensaries of eternal security and uplift

Our churches are quite likely to be low-commitment clubs for religious people rather than definitive communities of disciples striving to live all of life under God’s kingship. For many modern Christians, churches are dispensers of eternal security and uplift—fire insurance and mood brighteners—not nurturers of a whole way of life, not the source of the best ways to act and think in all spheres of experience.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

History rhymes

Some German bishops, as the pope later lamented, still viewed Hitler as the defender of Christian values.

Mark Riebling, Church of Spies.

Standing conventional narrative on its head

I had a law school classmate — one of a group of thirty-somethings in my class (including me) who had returned to school after some other life experiences — who was an enigma in several ways. From Southern Indiana, with a drawl to match, he was nevertheless pretty far left politically.

Most surprising of all to me at the time was that he had converted to Roman Catholicism. I asked why.

"I decided I prefer a Pope in Rome who claims infallibility, but pretty much leaves me alone, to some ignorant local who claims just to be preaching the Bible, but expects to manage my life."

Did I mention that he was pretty perceptive?

Prayer

Father Porphyrios had a small parrot that he taught to pray in order to illustrate the absurdity of some Christians’ empty repetition of the words of prayer, as well as the ridiculousness of the opinion commonly presented in Eastern religions that someone can make moral advances by physical exercises or breathing techniques. Every so often, the parrot would mechanically say, “Lord, have mercy.” The elder would respond, “Look, the parrot can say the prayer, but does that mean that it is praying? Can prayer exist without the conscious and free participation of the person who prays?”

Dionysios Farasiotis, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios

All approaches to prayer have pitfalls. My pre-Orthodox experience was that, unless I labored very hard in advance to formulate a public prayer (usually with some prayer book in hand as an outline), the result tended to be a string of conventional and banal buzzwords.

Now that I’m Orthodox, the risk is the words of my prayer books becoming so familiar that I can pray them even as my mind wanders "all over the place." The advice of Orthodox priests for that problem tends to be "if you realize your mind has wandered, go back and pray it again."


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.

Something nice about Evangelicalism?!

[W]hen people whose parents loved them and expressed that love, cared for them and prayed for them, encouraged them in goodness and consoled them when they were hurt, tell me that their upbringing was terrible because those same parents were legalists and fundamentalists, well … let’s just say that I have a somewhat different perspective. I am not referring, of course, to those who suffered genuine abuse, and I see how abuse done in the name of God can be especially traumatizing. But those whose parents were merely legalistic and moralistic, narrow in their views, suspicious of mainstream culture, strict about movies and music — sure, all that’s not cool. But it could have been so, so much worse.

To those people, I say: While you’re rejoicing in your discovery of a more gracious and merciful God than your parents taught you to believe in — which is indeed something to rejoice in! — try to extend to them some of the same grace and mercy that you’ve received. And while duly noting what they failed to teach you, seek to have some gratitude for what they managed to provide. It was more and better than a lot of us get.

Alan Jacobs

Yes, I blogged about another part of this little essay recently, but in my haste to engage with Hannah Anderson’s claim, I had failed to engage Alan Jacobs’ reflection on it.

Then I decided that my thoughts could be a good stand-alone Sunday posting.

It occurred to me that one seed that eventually bore Orthodox fruit, may well have been the (inconsistent, but frequently) solid hymnody in the church of my youth and childhood.

Above all others, I remember this (which we could count on singing as the opening hymn every time a particular Purdue Professor (the late Paul Stanley) was picking the hymns:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

Maybe I could find fault if I fly-specked it, but I’m not even going to try.

Apart from that, a hymn I adored, but we rarely sang, was Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Apparently, it is an Advent hymn in whatever corners of Western Christendom still know it, and from the words, that’s understandable:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand.
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descending
comes, our homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of heaven now incarnate
in the body and the blood,
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heav’nly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
streams before him on the way,
as the Light of light descending
from the realms of endless day
comes, that pow’rs of hell may vanish,
as the shadows pass away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
“Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

But it is extremely ancient, dating back to the Liturgy of St. James, and sung in solemn Byzantine chant — and is appointed in Orthodox Churches of my acquaintance not for Advent, but for Great and Holy Saturday, where it surely is predicated on Christ’s descent into Hades and Harrowing of Hell, alluded to in the third verse.

Such hymnody captured the imagination of this no-longer-young man, but it’s my impression that you’ll have an exceedingly hard time finding either of these in any Evangelical Church today. For that, you’ll need to go to some "high" (and yes, disconcertingly liberal) church like the Episcopal Church. (And that insight made me understand how some Evangelicals might end up in liberal "high" Churches: they can ignore the doctrinal laxity of Episcopalianism, but not the debased worship in most of Evangelicalism.)

Or come to the Orthodox Church, where hymnody is held in such regard that several hymnographers are canonized Saints.


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.

December already?

I continue, with surprisingly little effort, to cease wallowing my mornings away with doomscrolling the news. It makes for less frequent blogging, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting.

Did your November fly past as quickly as mine?

Foretaste

Maybe you should sit down to read this and then mark your calendar in anticipation: on Sunday, I’m posting something nice about the Evangelicalism of my youth.

It may have boogered-up formatting, as WordPress seems incompetent at handling markdown other than paste-it-and-publish; save it and go back for edits and it incorrigibly inserts literal > before every blockquote.

Realism

People who discuss lowering the voting age – not only those for it but also those against – assume that it would mean a transfer of political influence to the young.

That is absurd. It would mean no such thing.

… It would only mean increasing the political clout of those who have influence through the young.

Pop stars. Sports coaches. Schoolteachers. Writers and editors of media aimed at teens. Especially people in such groups who have no children of their own to take up their time and attention.

… So one could expect further politicization of entertainment, primary and secondary education, youth athletics, children’s and “young adults” books, and teen magazines and media.

J Budziszewski

Ascetic abstention

Sondheim’s work was at its strongest when it lingered in the pain of the dawning realization that no ever after ever lasted long. His music and lyrics looked squarely at life and insisted, gently and eloquently, that of course it was never going to be exactly how we wanted it to be, that messiness and ambiguity were to be expected, and could even be part of the beauty.

Amy Weiss-Meyer, ‌What Stephen Sondheim Knew About Endings

I’ve pretty much stopped reading about Sondheim — though every new article is a temptation. An especially lovely surprise was John McWhorter’s heartfelt tribute.

"Earth Alienation"

“Should the emancipation and secularization of the modern age,” [Hanna] Arendt wondered, “which began with a turning-away, not necessarily from God, but from a god who was the Father of men in heaven, end with an even more fateful repudiation of an Earth who was the Mother of all living creatures under the sky?”

I thought about Arendt as I listened to Jeff Bezos talk about space exploration at a recent event held at the National Cathedral, a setting that will strike those of you familiar with the late David Noble’s work in The Religion of Technology as altogether apropos. The thesis of Noble’s book was that “modern technology and religion have evolved together and that, as a result, the technological enterprise has been and remains suffused with religious belief.” In this light, a cathedral is an altogether appropriate setting for the annunciation of a not-so-novel message of technologically mediated salvation and transcendence.

To be sure, Bezos makes a number of statements about how special and unique the earth is and about how we must preserve it at all costs. Indeed, this is central to Bezos’s pitch. In his view, humanity must colonize space, in part, so that resource extraction, heavy industry, and a sizable percentage of future humans can be moved off the planet. It is sustainability turned on its head: a plan to sustain the present trajectories of production and consumption.

L. M. Sacasas, Earth Alienation As A Service

This merits full reading, as the infatuation with space travel and colonization is not the only way in which our technological advances correlate to alienation from our actual situation.

In a related vein:

I kept thinking about Jesus’s admonition that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. The point is not that rich people are wicked. The point is that if you have money, it is much easier to believe that you can control things, that your money and the technology it can afford (as well as living in a relatively wealthy society) buffers you from contingencies. We forget our dependence on God, but more to the point, we forget to cultivate awareness of Him.

Experience of the natural world does not generate faith. (Christianity is not a so-called Nature religion.) But surely it can encourage a certain psychological orientation favorable to some brands of religious faith; and this suggests the correlative possibility that reduced experience of the natural world might do just the opposite.

It is probable that no one has yet created a cataphatic theology grounded in technological analogies because it cannot be done. Technological artifacts point us to the wrong creator — to the human race, not God; so they seem bereft of real signals of transcendence. Further, as they become our environment, they imprint in the collective subconscious the message that things exist in order to serve us. That is the very last thing we need to intuit.

despite its undeniable defects, asceticism was "positive, not negative" because it "fundamentally aspired to liberate the highest powers of personality from obstruction by the automatism of the lower drives."

Rod Dreher, ‌‘The Luminous Dusk’

Call me a bigot, but everyone who expresses enthusiasm about space colonization (or Zuckerberg’s Metaverse) as a solution to some problem sinks in my estimation (unless they were alread rock-bottom).

RSVP Hall of Fame

Late in life, during the Second Vatican Council’s alleged golden dawn, Waugh received an invitation to a book launch by self-consciously “progressive” Catholics. He shot back by postcard his unforgettable RSVP: while he would not attend a social meal in the progressives’ company, “I would gladly attend an auto da fé at which your guests were incinerated.”

Bacevich et. al., The Essence of Conservatism

Pro-life feminism

As humor writer Dave Barry put it, “Critics allege that [Amy Coney] Barrett belongs to a harmful non-secular cult that subjugates ladies by forcing them to turn into Supreme Court justices.”

We need to broaden the tent of feminism. If, in order to be a feminist, one cannot simply be against the oppression of women but also must affirm abortion or other left-of-center causes, then feminism does not actually exist as a movement. It is merely pro-choice progressivism marketed for ladies.

And that ultimately weakens the cause of feminism because it excludes a lot of women, especially young women ….

Tish Harrison Warren, ‌Why the Feminist Movement Needs Pro-Life People

Fox-No-More

Fox broadcasts Seth Rich conspiracies? Memory-holed. Fox gave airtime to Kraken lawyers? Well, they were just asking questions. Its streaming platform airs a deranged Patriot Purge documentary that re-imagines the reality of January 6? Nobody watches Fox Nation anyway.

The cultural and political consequences in the right-wing grassroots are considerable. Politically engaged citizens can cite to you chapter and verse of (very real!) mainstream media scandals, yet they’re often completely shocked at the idea that the alternative institutions they follow are often substantially less reliable than the MSM they despise.

But honestly, how would they know? They’re inoculated against criticism of the right by the left, and how many voices on the right are reliably independent and free of Fox’s influence?

Mainstream media is still often plagued with groupthink and intolerance. Unfortunately, the right surveyed years of problems with legacy outlets and then built a media industry that was somehow even worse.

David French.

Despite Fox’s dominance, The Dispatch’s Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes resigned as contributors after Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge insanity,

Consider supporting The Dispatch. And getting off Fox News. All network news stultifies, but some stultifies more than others.

Unintended consequences

I don’t know why we don’t think more deeply and consistently of consequences of public policies and programs:

[T]he intentions behind a given policy tell us little about its likely effects ….

Tyler Cowen, commenting on a paper by Boaz Abramson in When Lawyers Make Things Worse.

Some meat:

Policies that make it harder to evict delinquent tenants, for example by providing tax-funded legal counsel in eviction cases ("Right-to-Counsel") or by instating eviction moratoria, protect renters from eviction in bad times. However, higher default costs to landlords lead to higher equilibrium rents and lower housing supply, implying homelessness might increase.

Early to bed, early to rise

My early jobs as a dishwasher and parking lot attendant began at 6 a.m. and I remember this dimness well. It changed my life. I stayed home at night and went to bed early and postponed debauchery to my mid-twenties and then, at the age of 27, I got a job on the 5 a.m. shift and postponed it again. A dear friend of mine, whose parents subsidized her fully, went out late one night and fell in with some fascinating strangers who introduced her to hashish and some other substance and she fell into a psychotic state and had to be hospitalized and spent some time in a drug program where she met more fascinating troubled people and it changed her life. She never found a vocation. Instead, she became fascinated by her own disability and made a career of being troubled, married a troubled man who abused her, and today she’s in a nursing home somewhere, a faint replica of the witty woman she once was, and I am waiting for the coffee to brew so I can get back to work on a novel. Early to bed and early to rise makes for a life that, if not wealthy and wise, is at least pleasant and sensible.

Garrison Keillor

Lies the Atlantic told me

Ending legal abortion in America, though, has long been the main goal of the conservative legal movement.

Adam Serwer.

Serwer is wrong if he means that literally, sloppy if he doesn’t.

Ending the pretext that the Constitution mandates legal abortion has been the goal. It remains after that to persuade legislatures of the appropriate restrictions on abortion.

I will be surprised if more than 5 states fly their progressive flags by legislating abortion on demand throughout pregnancy; if more than 10 states ban all abortions initially; if more than 5 states that initially banned all abortions continue to do so 5 years after Supreme Court success; if a majority of states don’t allow abortions in the first trimester.

A lot of politicians have gotten by with feigning pro- or anti-abortion purity on the cheap for almost 50 years now. We’ll see how much dross the legislative crucible throws off.

(There was another Atlantic item even worse than Serwer’s.)

Why I don’t rush to give 5 stars to new podcasts

Can anything good come out of the now-Trumpified Claremont Institute?

I’ll leave it for you to judge, but my hopes for Spencer Klaven’s Young Heretics podcast (held out as classical education for adults who weren’t classically educated) turned, for my tastes, into propaganda as the young, bright podcaster would "apply" the lessons of antiquity to modern U.S.A.

Sad. But at least it’s one less podcast I feel obliged to audit.

And it confirms the wisdom of ignoring pleas of new podcasts to "visit Apple podcasts and give us a 5-Star rating." Give me a dozen or so episodes, folks; I’m not your Junior Marketing Assistant.

Afterthought

I would be remiss if I failed to ask — How ’bout them Boilermakers?!

The Purdue Men’s basketball team bodes well to get a number 1 ranking if it can win its next road game. It’s 7-0, averaging over 90 points per game, and (if you hadn’t heard) 10-men deep. A lot of good teams will drop to Purdue, as Villanova did, simple because Purdue wears them out by rotating in fresh legs all game long, and getting solid production off the bench.

I hope the NBA knows how to reward team play — but that they don’t get Jaden Ivy to bolt after just two years. His mom, a WNBA veteran and Notre Dame coach may be able to steel him against the blandishments.


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.

Endings … and religious beginnings

All The Presidents’ Lawyers is no more

Josh Barro and Ken White are ending one of my favorite legal podcasts, All The President’s Lawyers, loosely based on the premise that "all Presidents have legal problems, but some [read: Donald Trump] have more than others."

The podcast, I admit, was getting more than a bit repetitive if one was looking to learn about how the law operates, but it had turned into sort of a serial low-key comedy routine, with stock questions and caricatures like

  • Ken, is this RICO?
  • Ken, is Michael Avenatti a good lawyer?
  • … thumb-headed henchman Lev Parnus …
  • And just "Roger Stone," with no adjective needed,

that I found amusing.

The occasion of ending the podcast, though, is that Barro is leaving KCRW, the public radio station sponsoring ATPL. Since I don’t like being a freeloadeder, I once or twice sent KCRW a financial token of appreciation for ATPL and for a second Josh Barro podcast, Left, Right and Center (to which I ceased listening a while back). It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the emails and letters from KCRW to cease, since I now have no reason to send it money. If the mailings from the National Right to Work Committee to my dead father (who had a pretty good reason for disliking labor unions; I, in contrast, think we could stand to see their renewed vigor) for years after his death are any indication, it may be a long time.

Barro and White are concocting some kind of new podcast independent of KCRW, and I look forward to giving it at try.

Individualism is not the solution

Tocqueville, unlike so many of his current conservative and progressive readers, understood that individualism was not the solution to the problem of an increasingly encompassing centralized state but the source of its increasing power.

Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

Professional restraint

The prosecutor in the Ahmaud Arbery killing trial surprisingly did not dwell on race, racism, or sending any message to … well, whatever you care to call people like the Defendants.

In her rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument — the last word before jurors were sent off to decide the fate of thee three men — Ms. Dunikoski made an appeal to common sense, offering up a general rule of life that she said the defendants had violated: “Don’t go looking for trouble.”

She had already told them that Mr. Arbery was killed because he was Black. Now she was telling them that the case wasn’t about whether the men were “good or bad people.” Rather, she said, it was “about holding people accountable and responsible for their actions.”

How a Prosecutor Addressed a Mostly White Jury and Won a Conviction in the Arbery Case

This prosecutor seems to have a very solid professional focus. She has declined interviews so far, too.

Despite our shared profession, something in me very much wants to see the defendants as "bad people," not just as people who need to be held accountable, but I know her way would be better for my soul — and I’d venture there’s a fair chance it struck a chord with the jury.

Self-Flagellation Day

Thanksgiving Day is here, and as is the fashion, it’s taking a beating. “What is Thanksgiving to Indigenous People? ‘A Day of Mourning,’” writes the onetime daily Bible of American mass culture, USA Today. The Washington Post fused a clickhole headline format with white guilt to create, “This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later.” Even the pundits who didn’t rummage in the past in search of reasons for Americans to flog themselves this week found some in the future, a la the Post’s climate-change take on Turkey Day menus: “What’s on the Thanksgiving table in a hotter, drier world?”

MSNBC meanwhile kept things festive by reminding us, with regard to the now-infamous Pilgrims, that “Instead of bringing stuffing and biscuits, those settlers brought genocide and violence” …

Where’s all this headed? In the space of a generation America has gone from being a country brimming with undeserved over-confidence, to one whose intellectual culture has turned into an agonizing, apparently interminable run of performative self-flagellation.

Matt Taibbi, ‌Thanksgiving is Awesome

Not Making This Up

1492 needs a trigger warning: The Women’s March issued an apology so perfect that I cannot summarize it. It has to be printed in full. This is a real apology sent out by the Women’s March.

We apologize deeply for the email that was sent today. $14.92 was our average donation amount this week. It was an oversight on our part to not make the connection to a year of colonization, conquest, and genocide for Indigenous people, especially before Thanksgiving.

Nellie Bowles

Escaping a flawed religious heritage

Alan Jacobs throws down a gauntlet:

Hannah Anderson in Christianity Today:

Just as we do not choose our biological families of origin, there’s a sense in which we do not choose our religious families of origin either. Those of us who have been birthed or shaped by evangelicalism will never not be affected by it. You can be a former evangelical or a postevangelical. You can be a neo-evangelical. You can be a recovering evangelical — even a reforming evangelical. But you will never not be defined by your relationship to evangelicalism.

At the same time, acknowledging your evangelical roots does not mean turning a blind eye to the challenges facing the movement, nor does it mean defining evangelicalism so narrowly that you can absolve yourself of responsibility for it. To extend the family metaphor, evangelicalism may be comprised of your crazy cousins, embarrassing uncles, and perhaps even dysfunctional homes, but it’s still your family.

One thing that I almost never see in the current Discourse about evangelicalism is an acknowledgement by people who were raised evangelical that their upbringing might have provided something, anything to be grateful for. When I hear people denouncing their evangelical or fundamentalist “family,” I often think of something Auden said about Kierkegaard: “The Danish Lutheran Church may have been as worldly as Kierkegaard thought it was, but if it had not existed he would never have heard of the Gospels, in which he found the standards by which he condemned it.”

As an Orthodox Christian, formerly Evangelical, I appreciate his point — and bits of Hannah Anderson’s comments as well. But I do not call myself exvangelical, former evangelical, postevangelical or even recovering evangelical. I think the claim that "you will never not be defined by your relationship to evangelicalism" is self-congratulatory if not delusional. I am an Orthodox Christian, and there’s just too little point of contact between truly historic Christianity and evangelicalism for the latter to be much of my Christian identity, though it’s part of my history.

But amidst much criticism of Evangelicalism, I’ve given credit where credit is due. See, most notably, the material in the section "Epiphany 1" in this longish blog post. My status as evangelical was tried and tested (see "Epiphany 2") but survived unequivocally to my late 20s or early 30s, when I embraced Calvinism (see the first seven paragraphs of "Epiphany 3").

And, yes, in evangelicalism I found the standards by which I now condemn it — including a lot of scriptures that evangelicals don’t underline in their Bibles if they notice them at all, and the clear context of some they do underline.


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.

Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey is essentially my contemporary, and he has been writing (Evangelical) Christian books from our early adulthood if not before we were 21. I’ve been familiar with his name from his early books, but for whatever reason, I’m not certain I’ve read even one of them.

Maybe I thought someone our young age would have nothing to teach me. Then in a few years my convictions turned Calvinist and I read few mainstream Evangelical books. Then in a few more decades, I was Orthodox and read almost no Evangelical books.

But Peter Wehner has placed Yancey back in my field of vision, and I’ve learned his backstory. It ain’t pretty. He was a product of a racist church and a broken family (his Father essentially killed himself by leaving an iron lung against medical advice, thinking he’d be miraculously healed) that was probably even sicker than the Church (his mother was vicious and mentally unstable). Then he went to a Bible College with 66 pages of detailed rules and taboos — far more legalistic than I’d ever heard of (any my Christian schools did have some extrabiblical taboos).

Yancey didn’t finish that Bible College, but instead transferred to Wheaton College, which his mother treated as an apostasy. He probably would have been my classmate had I not left Wheaton after my Freshman year.

Over then ensuing 50 years, he has written 25 books, and though I have read few if any, I had the impression that he wrote thoughtfully, betraying no lingering craziness from his youth.

Now, motivated by his survival of a grievous auto accident, has added a 26th, a memoir, Where the Light Fell. He explains:

I had written two dozen books, but they were all idea-driven books; they’re things that helped me come to terms with what I believe about Jesus, about grace, about prayer, about the Old Testament. And I wanted to write a book that explains why I believe those things. I call it a prequel. And it’s not a prequel that I could have written until all these other books were written, because I had to work through the ideas, figure out what I did believe, where I did land on some of these issues before I could go back and understand that backstory that relates all the way to childhood.

(Italics added)

There’s a big gulf between even the best Evangelicalism and Orthodox Christianity, but I think this brother’s memoir is one I’m going to want to read.


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.

Amazing: No Politics

Innovation then and now

Henry Ford happily allowed his children to be chauffeured around town in the mass-market vehicles he pioneered, but today, Silicon Valley executives protect their children from smartphones and send them to schools without screens—a telling sign of their opinion of their own products.

Gladden Pappin, Advancing in Place

Pappin is an integralist or integralism-adjacent, so I read him guardedly. Still, it’s hard to resist that little ad hominem.

Pornification failure

Much later, Playboy magazine came along, in which girls removed their underwear and a boy could drive to a drugstore in a part of town where he was not known and tuck a copy into a Wall Street Journal and peruse it And later came Tropic of Cancer and Portnoy’s Complaint and now porn is freely available online though to me it has all the erotic allure of watching oil well pumps pumping in North Dakota.

Garrison Keillor

Le mot juste is "shibboleth"

I generally don’t like "why didn’t he write about this?" objections, but I think John McWhorter missed the boat by not using the term "shibboleth" in this piece.

Put not your trust in jury verdicts

There is a dissonance between what we invest in a trial and what it resolves. We rely on the criminal-justice process for the airing of important aspects and arguments around many public controversies that deeply divide us. The trial and its attendant litigation become our historical record. But in the end, a criminal proceeding settles only a very narrow point: Did the state present proof beyond a reasonable doubt to support the charges it alleged?

In the Rittenhouse trial — in what I continue to believe is a case that should never have been a criminal prosecution — the state did not meet its burden. That narrow finding is critical, and the jury made it.

Still, the trial has very little to tell us about the unrest on the streets, what caused it. It doesn’t address how the government dealt with, or rather was derelict in, its duty to provide security. It has nothing to say about prudential or moral questions unrelated to the proof vel non of charged crimes — e.g., should Kyle Rittenhouse have been on the violent scene in Kenosha that night, should he have been armed, and what does the fact that we can’t agree on these questions — indeed, can’t even seem to discuss them civilly much of the time — portend for our society? Nothing, because we’ve always been a rambunctious bunch, or disaster, because our disagreements are growing more fundamental?

Verdicts in a criminal case do not begin to address those matters.

But they are essential just the same. We can’t address anything effectively without the rule of law. Today, the rule of law won.

Andrew C. McCarthy, *‌Thoughts on the Rittenhouse Not-Guilty Verdicts *

Two paths of the novel

If the novelist cannot provide a window into reality, then he must ultimately write about himself; and his technique, or politics, or personal problems come to the forefront of his work. Like the postmodernist Pompidou Center in Paris, with all its pipes, wires, and elevators on the outside, the postmodern novel refuses the “hidden” artistry of the realistic tradition in order to flaunt its bag of tricks.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

A charitable surmise

One of the reasons that Pope Francis sometimes seems so frustrated with the state of the Church today may be that, in his experience, too many Christians tend to confuse doctrine and law and rituals and structures with the real experience of faith.

Abp. Charles J. Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land

If Archbishop Chaput’s surmise is correct, I’ll give the Pope his props for a change — with a caveat: the "real experience of faith" can be absent even in a saint, and even for long "dry" spells. Witness St. Theresa of Calcutta, who suffered depression for decades, rarely if ever feeling God’s presence.

Deep paradox

In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory in The Weight of Glory

Tell me why I’m wrong

Having avoided the divisive topic of politics, I turn to the divisive subject of religion.

When I consider a story like David French’s The Moral Collapse of America’s Largest Christian University, I think that public-facing Evangelicalism is almost entirely religiopreneurs getting ego strokes and money, lots of money, and lots of — oh, never mind. This is a family blog.

Oh, those guys plus followers who will follow their leaders anywhere, including perdition, if the metrics are good (since good metrics are confused with God’s blessing).

I know there are faithful pastors laboring away far from the limelight, but the tone is set by the bozos, isn’t it?

Thinking much about politics

A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion; to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.

C.S. Lewis, Membership, in The Weight of Glory


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.

Metrics, algorithms and more

Not politics

If you can’t measure it, it’s not "God’s Blessing"

I have been listening to Christianity Today’s podcast series The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which of necessity focuses on the doings of pastor Mark Driscoll. Episode 11, a really long one, is playing as I type.

I can’t decide if this is a complicated story or a really simple one:

  1. Much of Evangelicalism is congenitally more interested in numerical growth than in discipleship and true Christian growth.
  2. That propensity, combined with a narcissistic pastor who produced numerical growth for a number of years, completely broke down any pastoral accountability or Christlikeness.

Late in Episode 11, there was this quote:

If the goal is Church growth and not Church health, one way to do it is get a really charismatic, dynamic personality that attracts a large number of people and let him do whatever he wants. And then he’ll never leave. And the people will say "I go to so-and-so’s church. So-and-so is my pastor."
"Have you ever met him?"
"No, I never met him. He’s my pastor."

The speaker was Mark Driscoll, the disgraced Mars Hill pastor, himself.

A simple story, I think. And it’s being replayed, a bit more softly and in a lower register, throughout Evangelicalism today.

Because in much (most?) of Evangelicalism, numerical growth is per se "God’s blessing on pastor so-and-so’s ministry."

Just sayin’.

Thinking Locally

  • II. … Unless one is willing to be destructive on a very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. …
  • VIII. The balance between city and countryside is destroyed by industrial machinery, "cheap" productivity in field and forest, and "cheap" transportation. Rome destroyed the balance with slave labor; we have destroyed it with "cheap" fossil fuel.
  • XII. Industrial procedures have been imposed on the countryside pretty much to the extent that country people have been seduced or forced into dependence on the money economy. By encouraging this dependence, corporations have increased their ability to rob the people of their property and their labor. The result is that a very small number of people now own all the usable property in the country, and workers are increasingly the hostages of their employers.
  • XVII. Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics. Local life may be as much endangered by "saving the planet" as by "conquering the world." Such a project calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know, and so will destroy, the integrity of local nature and local community.

Wendell Berry. This was written 1991, before the internet revolution, but I’m not sure he’d change a word of it today.

Guilt by free association

The only motivation for the invocation of Schlafly seems to be that, as [Linda] Greenhouse notes, she was the subject of a television mini-series in 2020, and that both were lawyers with large families. "Forty years later, more than a few people looked at Amy Coney Barrett and saw Phyllis Schlafly," Greenhouse writes, with no indication of who those people were. "And how could they not, given the similarity in the two women’s biographies?" This isn’t even guilt by association. It’s guilt by free association.

Noah Feldman, reviewing Linda Greenhouse’s new book, Justice on the Brink, via Josh Blackman.

Things one couldn’t say 30 years ago

I was and remain deeply indebted to Marx’s critique of the economic, social, and cultural order of capitalism and to the development of that critique by later Marxists.

Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue.

Caveat on the headline: the first edition of After Virtue was published in 1981. I don’t know if it included this acknowledgement. In my neck of the woods, acknowledging learning from Marx in 1981 would at least get you the side-eye. I personally didn’t learn from him until later, after Communism fell, and sensible people stopped obsessing about it.

It’s the algorithms, stupid!

I think it would be preposterous to deny that there are good things [about social media]. My favorite thing is people with rare diseases finding each other and being able to compare notes. That wasn’t possible before. But it has to be said that all of those good things could happen without this algorithmic overlord. You could have all of the good of the internet and all of the good we associate with social media, which is real, without this crazy-making business model. And that’s why I find a fallacy in a lot of thinking that’s like, well, we just have to deal with Facebook making the world darker and crazier because we need this or that. That’s not true at all.

Jaron Lanier on the Sway podcast.

It’s still the algorithm, stupid!

Readwise suggests something it thinks I might like to read at the end of each day’s review of things I have read. Friday’s suggestion was this:

Goddess worship, feminine values, and women’s power depend on the ubiquity of the image. God worship, masculine values, and men’s domination of women are bound to the written word. Word and image, like masculine and feminine, are complementary opposites. Whenever a culture elevates the written word at the expense of the image, patriarchy dominates. When the importance of the image supersedes the written word, feminine values and egalitarianism flourish.

(Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess)

Ummm, I don’t think so.

It probably is selling briskly in a niche market of which I’m not a part. But it reminds me of some crazy PhD. thesis in a world where a high proportion of sane ideas have been explored by prior doctoral candidates. After defense of the thesis, the newly-minted PhD will have become heavily, heavily invested in the thesis, howsoever absurd, and will carry it into the academy with him/her.

The most baneful effects of this pattern are in theology, where an original contribution to the literature will be very likely heretical.

Rant over.

Anything that fits the narrative will be accepted tout suite

The MSM took the ludicrous story of Jussie Smollett seriously because it fit their nutty “white supremacy” narrative. They told us that a woman was brutally gang-raped at UVA (invented), that the Pulse mass shooting was driven by homophobia (untrue) and that the Atlanta spa shooter was motivated by anti-Asian bias (no known evidence for that at all). For good measure, they followed up with story after story about white supremacists targeting Asian-Americans, in a new wave of “hate,” even as the assaults were disproportionately by African Americans and the mentally ill.

We all get things wrong. What makes this more worrying is simply that all these false narratives just happen to favor the interests of the left and the Democratic party. And corrections, when they occur, take up a fraction of the space of the original falsehoods. These are not randos tweeting false rumors. They are the established press.

Andrew Sullivan, decrying the deceitfulness of mainstream media — to which media, nevertheless, sensible people have no good alternative.

(I increasingly think we do have a good alternative: tune out the news almost entirely. What good does it do me in Indiana, for instance, to have any opinion whatever about the interaction of Kentucky Catholic School boys and an older native American in DC?)

Politics of a sort

Summit for Democracy

Tensions are indeed rising between the U.S. and China, but that’s not primarily because the former is a democracy and the latter is authoritarian. It’s because America is a global hegemon that projects power into China’s near abroad, and China is a rapidly rising power seeking to expand its influence across East Asia. That places the two countries on a collision course, and whether they’ll prove able to avoid armed conflict will have very little to do either country’s form of government.

Damon Linker, The anachronistic vision behind Biden’s Summit for Democracy.

Biden’s vision may be anachronistic, but he’s not alone in that.

"Polite" has never been so flexible a term

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted out the 13 representatives’ office phone numbers and urged Americans to “politely say how they feel about these traitor Republicans voting to pass Joe Biden’s Communist agenda.”

Morning Dispatch, ‌Did ‘Republican Traitors’ Save the Filibuster?.

MTG’s "Politely address traitors who voted for Communism" does not pass the plausible deniability test when things like this were the response:

They did. “You’re a f—ing piece of s— traitor,” one voter said in a voicemail left for GOP Rep. Fred Upton, vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. “I hope you f—ing die. I hope your f—ing family dies. I hope everybody in your f—ing staff dies, you f—ing piece of f—ing s—. Traitor!”

Even National Review, in a descent almost as steep as that of the Claremont Institute, was outraged at Republicans voting for the the infrastructure bill.

I. Don’t. Get. It.


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.

A.D.D., but organized after the fact

There’s no single theme today, just as there usually isn’t. But I took the scattered stuff and sorted it.

Politics

Josh Hawley’s voodoo

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley unveiled a proposal last week that he believes will “solve” the current supply chain crisis by requiring companies manufacture “over 50 percent of the value” of certain goods in the United States, but Eric Boehm of Reason argues it would make today’s shortfalls permanent. “One must assume that if the lights in his home went out due to a storm, Hawley would respond by declaring electricity to be a mistake and demanding that the government require homes to be lit with candles and gas lamps,” Boehm jests in response to Hawley’s plan. “After all, what is the electrical grid but a complicated supply chain that leaves Americans woefully dependent on production and distribution systems (power plants, substations, and lines) that they do not fully control? Better to produce your own lighting, right? If that means you have to live without television or the internet, well, those are just the trade-offs required to achieve self-sufficiency.”

The Morning Dispatch 11/1/21.

I commented on this column very briefly already, as well as separately registering my opinion on Josh Hawley (“braying populist(ish) ass”), its author.

S.B. 8

For anti-abortion activists, Texas’s recent law, Senate Bill 8, must have seemed like magic—a way to stop abortion immediately, without the grind of constitutional litigation and its attendant legal fees.

Mary Ziegler, ‌The Anti-abortion Movement Will Win Even If It Loses

You should actually ask a few anti-abortion activists outside of Texas, Professor Ziegler, instead of speculating.

Whistling (an amusing little ditty) in the dark

White and suburban kids in Virginia are now saved from CRT and Sharia and Bigfoot and Unicorns.

Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali, Tweeting about Glenn Youngkin’s election win. Yascha Mounk, more open to reality, says “It is impossible to win elections by telling voters that their concerns are imaginary”.

I was irritated when Christopher Rufo started agitpropping that anything he didn’t like was Critical Race Theory:

“We have successfully frozen their brand—‘critical race theory’—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,” [Rufo] wrote.

Jelani Cobb, ‌The Man Behind Critical Race Theory

But I’m becoming equally irritated at Democrats’ insouciant and sometime dishonest Motte and Bailey denial that there’s anything there at all. There is, as Mounk outlines:

[A]cross the nation, many teachers have, over the past years, begun to adopt a pedagogical program that owes its inspiration to ideas that are very fashionable on the academic left, and that go well beyond telling students about America’s copious historical sins.

In some elementary and middle schools, students are now being asked to place themselves on a scale of privilege based on such attributes as their skin color. History lessons in some high schools teach that racism is not just a persistent reality but the defining feature of America. And some school systems have even embraced ideas that spread pernicious prejudices about nonwhite people, as when a presentation to principals of New York City public schools denounced virtues such as “perfectionism” or the “worship of the written word” as elements of “white-supremacy culture.”

Maybe that’s nut-picking, but I’m irritated at the Democrats because my former party, the GOP, still kisses Donald Trump’s a**, and is not fit to govern in its present state. (Youngkin has pledged to ban CRT, a pledge he’ll either ignore or botch in the execution — see next item, for instance.) But “govern” the GOP will, starting in January 2023, if Democrats don’t wise up — and the Left end of its base resists all wisdom.

Opposing perspectives on the Holocaust?!

The most notorious example of this came two weeks ago in Southlake, Texas, when a school administrator told teachers that, if they include a “book on the Holocaust” in their syllabi, then they also have to include one with “opposing perspectives.”

David French

This is what happens when populist bulls decide to visit the Left-illiberal china shop, passing vague laws against divisive and hateful ideologies in public schools.

Counting all the chickens in one medium egg

Is it a “done deal” that the GOP regains control of House and Senate in 2022? Not so fast, buddy!

Candidates matter. Youngkin became the candidate after a nominating convention for state party diehards used ranked-choice balloting to pick among seven contenders. And they did it this way on purpose to ensure that “a crazy” didn’t tank their chances of winning the race. Jonah is more in favor of cigar smoke-filled back rooms with party bosses than I am—the big difference, I think, being how many times our butts would be touched if we were ever invited into such a room. But clearly picking an electable candidate is important. And a political party willing to give serious thought to what process is most likely to yield the most electable candidate is going to have an advantage in midterm elections. 

Which is all to say, no, I don’t think Virginia is proof that the Senate and House will flip. It’s quite likely that the House does, in my view. But I think the primaries for these Senate seats are going to dictate a lot about what it means to have a winnable race for either party.

Sarah Isgur (emphasis added).

The folks on the Dispatch podcast the day after the elections were even more explicit: had the GOP not used a ranked-choice vote at its convention, its nominee would have been State Sen. Amanda Chase, “Trump in heels,” and it’s much less likely they’d have won.

I’m with Jonah on returning to smoke-filled rooms — both parties — and if the voters don’t like it they can abandon the parties or start new, more “democratic” ones. Well, maybe I’m being impetuous, but it’s not the first time I’ve thought of how different things would be if candidates were chosen for electability rather than for how violently they’ll trigger the other guys. Both parties, I think, are likelier to elect extremists in primaries than to select them with party professionals.

(I sort of miss the military draft, too, but that’s for another day’s installment of “Times When Young Tipsy Was Naïve.”)

Of court the Grey Lady says “Republicans pounce.” What else would she say?

There it was, just as media critics parody:

Republicans Pounce …

More specifically, “Republicans Pounce on Schools as a Wedge Issue to Unite the Party.” (Caveat: The Times tends to change its headlines to create the impression of fresh content, but that was the headline at 6:30 am EDT November 4.)

In the Times thinking, I guess, there’s never a fair issue that simply works to the advantage of Republicans because Democrats are firmly tied to an unpopular approach.

The subheadline was

Rallying around what it calls “parental rights,” the party is pushing to build on its victories this week by stoking white resentment and tapping into broader anger at the education system.

On “parental rights,” the Democrats have it right legally. If you send your kids to public school, you don’t get to reach in and custom-tailor their education. Your key parental right is to not send them to public schools in the first place.

On “white resentment,” that’s right up there with “Republicans pounce.” But “along with Glenn Youngkin, Virginians elected Winsome Sears, a black woman, as lieutenant governor and Jason Miyares, a Cuban American, as attorney general.

Not politics (or not really politics, anyway)

The Second American Republic

[E]ven before the passage of [the] Reconstruction amendments — indeed, as a kind of precondition for them — Lincoln fatally injured the Constitution of 1787. He consciously and repeatedly violated core elements of that Constitution as they had been understood by nearly all Americans of the time, himself included.

Through those acts of destruction, Lincoln effectively broke the Constitution of 1787, paving the way for something very different to replace it. What began as a messy, pragmatic compromise necessary to hold the young country together was reborn as an aspirational blueprint for a nation based on the principle of equal liberty for all.

Noah Feldman, Lincoln Broke Our Constitution. Then He Remade It.

Some whip-smart conservative decades ago noted that Lincoln ushered in our Second Republic. He also claimed that FDR brought our Third Republic.

His main point, I think, was that we should stop flattering ourselves about being the world’s longest-lived stable democracy. We’re really just uncommonly good at putting liptick onto, and keeping blood out of, some of our revolutions.

“Higher” education

They have built colleges on an equal scale, only to see them turned into playgrounds for grown-up children or centers of vocationalism and professionalism. Finally, they have seen pragmatists, as if in peculiar spite against the very idea of hierarchy, endeavoring to turn classes into democratic forums, where the teacher is only a moderator, and no one offends by presuming to speak with superior knowledge.

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

Sending everyone to college hasn’t given everyone a college education. That can’t be done. It’s given everyone what used to be a high school education. A very, very expensive high school education.

J Budziszewski

Reaching a political dead end

Only an open semiotic system can clear space for us to affirm life. Only open trade will bring peace. Only open borders will bring saving diversity. Only open minds can stop the return of Auschwitz. There is simply no other way. When intelligent, educated, and responsible people talk this way, we know that we’ve reached a dead end.

R.R. Reno, Return of the Strong Gods. I have come to distrust Reno because of his Trumpist and populist conversion, but I try to read across a wide spectrum of opinion, and this hyperbole is provocative.

Genocide of the Tomboys

One mom spoke about how having to fight the culture at her middle-school daughter’s school, on behalf of her daughter. Her daughter is a tomboy, and the culture at school is aggressively pro-trans. She thanks God that her daughter is a solid and committed Christian, and wants nothing to do with that. The mom said that she has worked hard to help her daughter understand that there’s nothing wrong with being a tomboy, and that it doesn’t mean she is a transgendered male.

Rod Dreher

More about his weekend with an unusual Evangelical group — one that “gets” the Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies:

“This isn’t a typical Evangelical service,” the guy sitting next to me said. I repeated that to someone else at the church, who said, “Yeah, if you went to a megachurch, you’d hate it. It’s basically 45 minutes of concert followed by a TED talk about how God wants you to be happy.”

Our Father, Who Art in the White House …

National governments are widely assumed to be responsible for and capable of providing those things which former generations thought only God could provide—freedom from fear, hunger, disease and want—in a word: “happiness.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. (Gosh I quote him a lot!)

Catechesis failure

Though my identity as unequivocally Evangelical is more than 40 years in my past, I still watch, and am aghast at my credulity for ever accepting unquestioningly that we Evangelicals were true and countercultural Christians.

That Donald Trump with his crudities and cruelties could ever be a mad crowd favorite of evangelicals is just mind-boggling. How could that happen?

The best monocausal explanation I’ve seen is catechesis failure:

“What we’re seeing is massive discipleship failure caused by massive catechesis failure,” James Ernest, the vice president and editor in chief at Eerdmans, a publisher of religious books, told me. Ernest was one of several figures I spoke with who pointed to catechism, the process of instructing and informing people through teaching, as the source of the problem. “The evangelical Church in the U.S. over the last five decades has failed to form its adherents into disciples. So there is a great hollowness. All that was needed to cause the implosion that we have seen was a sufficiently provocative stimulus. And that stimulus came.”

“Culture catechizes,” Alan Jacobs, a distinguished professor of humanities in the honors program at Baylor University, told me. Culture teaches us what matters and what views we should take about what matters. Our current political culture, Jacobs argued, has multiple technologies and platforms for catechizing—television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, and podcasts among them. People who want to be connected to their political tribe—the people they think are like them, the people they think are on their side—subject themselves to its catechesis all day long, every single day, hour after hour after hour.

On the flip side, many churches aren’t interested in catechesis at all. They focus instead on entertainment, because entertainment is what keeps people in their seats and coins in the offering plate. But as Jacobs points out, even those pastors who really are committed to catechesis get to spend, on average, less than an hour a week teaching their people. Sermons are short. Only some churchgoers attend adult-education classes, and even fewer attend Bible study and small groups. Cable news, however, is always on. “So if people are getting one kind of catechesis for half an hour per week,” Jacobs asked, “and another for dozens of hours per week, which one do you think will win out?”

Peter Wehner, ‌The Schism in the Evangelical Church

That’s not perfectly satisfying since I don’t know whether or why Evangelicals watch more television (or more FOX and OAN) than other religious groups, but it feels like it’s on the right track.

(And I’ve become fairly sure that Evangelicals would be in the vanguard of falling for Antichrist.)

Republican Justices revive a cottage industry

A cottage industry has revived in the law schools: re-writing Roe v. Wade to prove how the Constitution really does require abortion essentially on demand. ‘Roe’ Was an Originalist Reading of the Constitution – The Atlantic. If you’re interested in wagering that the upcoming Dobbs case out of Mississippi (abortion banned after 15 weeks) has nothing to do with it, let me know. I’m not opposed to easy money.

(I acknowledge that Planned Parenthood v. Casey has replaced Roe as our controlling abortion precedent — but it’s no better-reasoned.)

New atheists

The new atheists’ texts are manifestoes, buoyantly coarse and intentionally simplistic, meant to fortify true unbelievers in their unbelief…

David Bently Hart, The Experience of God


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 10/27/21

The cure for out-of-parental-control public schools

Terry McAuliffe may have been too candid for his own good, and Republicans may have "pounced" on his statement (“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”), but his statement parallels the state of the law:

[T]he state does not have the power to “standardize its children” or “foster a homogenous people” by completely foreclosing the opportunity of individuals and groups to choose a different path of education. We do not think, however, that this freedom encompasses a fundamental constitutional right to dictate the curriculum at the public school to which they have chosen to send their children.

1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Brown v. Hot, Sexy, and Safer Productions, Inc., via David French.

Since public school parents are not a homogenous bunch, how could any other rule work?

National Review’s Andy McCarthy addresses a bolder claim than a parental constitutional right to dictate public school curriculum, namely that public schools are unconstitutional:

Professor [Philip] Hamburger is right to highlight this project’s offensiveness to the parents of schoolchildren as among its worst features. That said, parental dissent, which is widespread but not unanimous, is just one reason why the project should be resisted. And Hamburger strains mightily not only to portray this dissent as the dispositive objection to progressive curricula, but to portray such curricula as a violation of the constitutional right to free speech.

It is an ill-conceived theory, and reliance on it will only disserve a critical cause by giving progressives an easy target to shoot at.

Hamburger asserts:

Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination.

It would be generous to describe these propositions as dubious. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that most pedagogy, like most human interaction, takes the form of speech, and therefore that the whole of education is, as Hamburger maintains, covered by the First Amendment. Even if all that were true, what he is arguing for here would not be freedom of speech, but freedom from speech.

Essentially, he posits that the First Amendment gives one party to a protected communication a veto over the other. By this logic, if parents wanted their children to be taught that two plus two equals five, teachers would be expected to comply. Ironically, moreover, Hamburger’s suggestion that public schools are compelling parents to “make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination,” or at least pressuring them to do so, is belied by the very legal authority that he offers in support of his specious First Amendment claim.

The best solution for parents who don’t like what’s going on in public schools is to get their kids out of public schools.

Two final, somewhat tangential, observations:

  1. I sympathize with public school board members. They are almost always (so far as my experience goes) well-meaning volunteers, dependent on educational professionals for their information, and, realistically, serving these days mostly as lightning rods for those educrats.
  2. Phillip Hamburger’s piece was so flawed that I’ve got to suspect the Wall Street Journal of high-class clickbaiting.

Time to descend from the pulpit

Elections are not prayer meetings, and no one is interested in your personal testimony. They are not therapy sessions or occasions to obtain recognition. They are not seminars or “teaching moments.” They are not about exposing degenerates and running them out of town. If you want to save America’s soul, consider becoming a minister. If you want to force people to confess their sins and convert, don a white robe and head to the River Jordan. If you are determined to bring the Last Judgment down on the United States of America, become a god. But if you want to win the country back from the right, and bring about lasting change for the people you care about, it’s time to descend from the pulpit.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal

As if on cue, Damon Linker on wokeness:

Then why does wokeness nonetheless drive me crazy?

The beginning of an answer can be found in the fact that wokeness makes me feel like I’m attending Sunday school in a denomination and parish I never chose to join. I just turn on the radio or open the paper or scroll through Twitter — and the next thing I know, a finger-wagging do-gooder with institutional power behind him is delivering a sermon, showing me The Way, calling on me to repent, encouraging me to be born again in the moral light.

Do not underestimate Russians

Napoleon at last occupied Moscow as he had occupied the capitals of Austria and Prussia, but instead of surrendering, as those countries did, the Russians retreated and fought on. Suddenly Moscow burned down and Napoleon, facing the Russian winter in a destroyed city, was forced to make a rapid retreat. Assuming that history is made by decisive actions, historians asked whose idea it was to incinerate Moscow. Some credited the city’s furiously patriotic mayor, Rostopchin; others picked other Muscovites. Nonsense, Tolstoy replies. No one decided to burn the city down. No one had to, since a city made of wood, where scarcely a day passes without a fire, “cannot fail to burn when its inhabitants have left it and it is occupied by soldiers who smoke pipes, make campfires . . . and cook themselves meals twice a day.” Likewise, no one ordered the inhabitants to leave—Rostopchin in fact tried to stop them—but the civilian equivalent of “the spirit of the army” led them to feel that they simply could not remain under French rule. By leaving, they unintentionally made the city burn and, without intending it, saved Russia. Tolstoy concludes: “Moscow was burned by its inhabitants, it is true, but by those who abandoned her, not by those who stayed behind.”

Gary Saul Morson, ‌Tolstoy’s Wisdom and Folly

An organized vehicle for neurotic progressivism

But even accounting for their courage, Martin Luther King Jr., who began his career in ministry as a staunch liberal inspired by Unitarian Pastor Theodore Parker, felt compelled to renounce the flimsiness of unitarian liberal theology in a 1960 essay: “liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin. … Liberalism failed to see that reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man’s defensive ways of thinking.” The delusional optimism of liberal theology, according to King, could not stand up against the hard, grim reality of human chauvinism and cruelty.

From its inception in 1825, the American Unitarian Association—formed from a schism within the Congregationalist church, with the Unitarian contingent leaving behind those committed to Calvinism—was as much an institution for social reform as a religion. Theologically, however, it could never really get its act together.

… in lieu of having commitments to theology or anything identifiable as the divine, the Unitarian Universalist church has functioned for decades as primarily an organized vehicle for … neurotic progressivism ….

‌The High Church of Wokeism

Seeking status and significance?

[I]n the United States, a record nearly 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, according to the Labor Department, and more than 10 million positions were vacant — slightly down from July, when about 11 million jobs needed filling …

… [T]here might also be something deeper afoot. In its sudden rearrangement of daily life, the pandemic might have prompted many people to entertain a wonderfully un-American new possibility — that our society is entirely too obsessed with work, that employment is not the only avenue through which to derive meaning in life and that sometimes no job is better than a bad job.

… They’re questioning some of the bedrock ideas in modern life, especially life in America: What if paid work is not the only worthwhile use of one’s time? What if crushing it in your career is not the only way to attain status and significance in society? …

Farhad Manjoo, ‌Even With a Dream Job, You Can Be Antiwork.

So the goal is "status" and "significance"?

I don’t think so:

if a man lived in obscurity making his friends in that obscurity, obscurity is not uninteresting.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

And don’t forget that leisure is the basis of culture.

Beta male smackdown

I’m old enough to remember when John Zmirak was bragging to his friends about hanging a picture of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in his Manhattan office. He had much better taste in right-wing strongmen then. They were actually, you know, strong.

Rod Dreher, responding to Trumpkin "failed writer and professional ankle-biter" John Zmirak who called Rod (and others outside the asylum) "beta males." Rod’s response is pretty devastating — especially if one’s familiar with Zmirak.

Empathy failure

Came across this from last year, as I was still reading anything from any plausible source to explain why my fellow-American Trump supporters weren’t patently wrong, but had reasons I could apprehend with enough effort:

…as preposterous as it may sound given Trump’s penchant for exaggeration and sarcasm, a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for truth against the overt political propaganda of the corporate media.

Robert Hutchinson, Why so many voters support Donald Trump: a letter to baffled non-Americans

For the record, I highlighted this for the outlandishness, not that it helped me understand. It is not logical to vote for a terrible President because the media lie about him, and Trump’s lies and cruelties were not mere "exaggeration and sarcasm."

I just cannot get into the mind of Trump voters, and their own explanations have more drollery and trolling than plausibility. I only hope that the madness somehow — ummmmm — dies down before 2024, and the only obvious way for that to happen is something that I, not having rightful power over life and death, dare not pray for.

Shithole University

“The Liberty Way”: How Liberty University Discourages and Dismisses Students’ Reports of Sexual Assaults — ProPublica

Is anyone really surprised? My only surprises are:

  • that Liberty hung on to a handful of very good people, like Karen Swallow Prior, as long as it did; and
  • at Liberty, as elsewhere, almost all of the young women who got sexually assaulted were partying and drinking, as were the louts who assaulted them.

But we’re not supposed to notice the nexus between getting blasted and getting sexually assaulted, because that would be blaming the victim. So the only effective preventive — sobriety in comportment and drinking — is off-limits for discussion.


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.