Sunday Potpourri, 10/3/21

Religion

A voice crying in the wilderness?

I am not asking Christians to stop seeing superhero movies or listening to pop music, but we need to be mindful of how we use our time. Many of the popular stories in our culture leave us worse off. Instead of haunting us, they glorify vice, distract us from ourselves, lift our mood without lifting our spirits, and make us envious and covetous of fame, sexual conquests, and material possessions.

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Rawls’ secular convolution

[I]t took [John] Rawls several hundred pages of Harvard-level disquisition and ‘veils of ignorance’ analogies to restate Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Mathew 7:12.

‌Antonio García Martínez, in the course of an essay on why he is embracing Judaism.

First, I almost laughed out loud at Martínez’s summary of Rawls’ best-known, laboriously-constructed, moral (?) principle.

Second, Martínez makes a good case for fleeing secular modernity to a religion of some sort, and makes a good-enough case for Judaism — pretty movingly, actually. I could gladly have quoted much more.

But he makes no case for why he needed to leave Roman Catholicism, to which all of the Old Testament is likewise available, to secure the Old Testament for his children, nor did he even acknowledge that he’s leaving Catholicism, not secularism.

Is Roman Catholicism indistinguishable from secularism to him? Was he living as secular within the Latin Church?

PRE-PUBLICATION "UPDATE": Rod Dreher, who apparently is friends with Martínez, says he "was baptized Catholic [but] lost his faith in adulthood … AGM does not make a theological argument for Judaism, explaining why he chose it over returning to the Catholicism of his youth, or over any other religious option. It sounds like he’s taking a leap of faith that God really did reveal Himself to the Hebrews, and that unique revelation was not improved on by Jesus of Nazareth or Mohammed."

I had not heard of his loss of faith.

Good news, fake news

Nobody escapes suffering. Trite words, but true ones. I think the main reason I get so mad at happy-clappy forms of Christianity is because they seem to function to deny suffering, rather than help us to let it refine us. A Christianity that minimizes suffering is fraudulent; its gospel is fake news. Mustapha Mond’s phrase “Christianity without tears” applies here. Suffering is a sign of grave disorder in the cosmos — a disorder rooted in sin, and ending in death. These are heavy mysteries.

Rod Dreher, ‌Into The Darkness

Politics

For your prayerful consideration

barring a serious health issue, the odds are good that [Donald Trump] will be the [Republican] nominee for president in 2024

New York Times Editorial Board (italics added).

Consider adapting that italicized clause for your daily prayers.

I personally cannot presume to pray "Please, Lord, smite Donald Trump." But I can prayerfully share my concern about his toxicity, and that I like the USA well enough to lament it, and that our future worries me half sick when my faith is weak.

Chutpah

However the legislative gamesmanship playing out on Capitol Hill is resolved over the coming days, one thing is certain: The Democrats got themselves into this mess. They tried to enact an agenda as sweeping as the New Deal or Great Society though they enjoy margins of support vastly smaller than FDR or LBJ — and though their razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress are themselves deeply divided between progressive and moderate factions.

The Greeks would have called it hubris. A Borscht Belt comedian would have talked of chutzpah. Either way, it’s hard to deny the Democrats have fallen prey to delusions of grandeur.

Damon Linker, ‌Why do progressive Democrats expect their agenda to pass with such a small majority?

Mutually-profitable kayfabe

Did you know that Russians hacked our electrical grid? Did you know that Trump was connected to a server communicating with Russians? Did you know that Russians were paying bounties for dead American soldiers in Afghanistan? Get his taxes—the answers are there. When The New York Times eventually got ahold of them and parenthetically noted, amidst a cloud of dire innuendo concerning profits and losses of his real estate business, that no evidence existed in them pointing to any ties to Russia, the narrative was already too well entrenched to dislodge.

The Russia hysteria served a psychological function for those at a loss as to how the country they led had slipped from their grasp. It allowed them to offload the blame for the serial failures through which they rendered themselves beatable by a carnival barker onto the machinations of a foreign power. It allowed them to indulge fantasies of the president’s imminent replacement. It helped media companies reverse a downward spiral and restore themselves to profitability as they turned all of public life into a mutually profitable kayfabe with the object of their obsession.

Wesley Yang (Hyperlink added because I had no idea what "kayfabe" was. Once you know, "mutually-profitable kayfabe" becomes an elegant distillation of much of our public-life-as-reported — though I get the feeling that a lot of the true political animosity between parties is all-too-real now.)

My remaining concern is: Isn’t "mutually-profitable kayfabe" at least semi-redundandant? What kayfabe is zero-sum?

Perspective

As far back as Leviticus, priests were given the power of quarantine (13:46), masking (13:45), and even the destruction of property (14:43-47) in the interest of managing and containing disease. Throughout history, political authorities have exercised all sorts of powers for the sake of protecting the health of those God has given them authority over. The interdependent nature of the created order means that there is hardly a law that can be passed which does not have some effect on health. The health of our bodies is not a penultimate summum bonum requiring slavish insistence on removing all potential hazards, but our existence as embodied creatures means that whatever other endeavors are going on, health is always somewhere nearby either as a constitutive process or an important outcome.

‌Biopolitics Are Unavoidable

Just a little quibble over whether one human can own another

Even during the Civil War—I think we’re more divided now than we were then. As Lincoln said, we all prayed to the same God. We all believed in the same Constitution. We just differed over the question of slavery.

Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute, explaining to Emma Green how America is more divided now than in the Civil War.

"Just differed over the question of slavery." This man is too tone-deaf to be President of the Dog Pound, but he’s atop a big Trumpist-Right "think" tank.

What if there’s no omelet?

There’s a famous French Revolution-era maxim that declares that one does not make an omelet without breaking eggs. That maxim has served as a shorthand warning against Utopianism ever since.**

But what if there’s not even an omelet? What if the movement is simply about breaking eggs? What if “fighting” isn’t a means to an end, but rather the end itself?

David French, ‌A Whiff of Civil War in the Air

Culture and Culture War

Some limits of liberalism

The American Political Science Association was faced with the Claremont Institute wanting two panels that included John Eastman — he of the notorious memo on how Mike Pence could legally steal the election for Trump. It offered a sort of Covid-era compromise: those panels would be virtual (thus lessening the likelihood of vigorous protests of the live portion of the meeting).

I have not read what Claremont said upon withdrawing from the meeting, but I’d wager it invoked classically liberal values:

Liberalism stands for the free and open society. But does that mean it must make space for those who would destroy the free and open society? If the answer is yes, liberalism would seem to have a death wish. If the answer is no, liberalism looks hypocritical: Oh, so you’re for open debate, but only if everyone debating is a liberal! There really is no way to resolve this tension except to say that liberalism favors a free and open society, but not without limits. It can tolerate disagreement and dissent, but not infinitely. And writing a memo to the president explaining precisely how he could mount a coup that would overturn liberal democratic government in the United States crosses that line.

Damon Linker, ‌An academic scuffle tests the limits of free debate

Tacit misogyny?

It is striking that there is no … zealous campaign to abandon the word “men” in favour of “prostate-havers”, “ejaculators” or “bodies with testicles”.

The Economist, ‌Why the word “woman” is tying people in knots

Uprooted

Even if you are living where your forefathers have lived for generations, you can bet that the smartphone you gave your child will unmoor them more effectively than any bulldozer.

In all the time I have spent with people who live in genuinely rooted cultures — rooted in time, place and spirit — whether in the west of Ireland or West Papua, I’ve generally been struck by two things. One is that rooted people are harder to control. The industrial revolution could not have happened without the enclosure of land, and the destruction of the peasantry and the artisan class. People with their feet on the ground are less easily swayed by the currents of politics, or by the fashions of urban ideologues or academic theorists.

The second observation is that people don’t tend to talk much about their “identity” — or even think about it — unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, it seems, the more you have probably lost. The range of freewheeling, self-curated “identities” thrown up by the current “culture war” shows that we are already a long way down the road that leads away from genuine culture.

Paul Kingsnorth

Plus ça change …

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories

Cecil Rhodes, quoted by Edward Goldsmith, Development As Colonialism.

More:

Throughout the non-industrial world, it was only if such conditions could no longer be enforced, (usually when a new nationalist or populist government came to power), that formal annexation was resorted to. As Fieldhouse puts it, “Colonialism was not a preference but a last resort”.

Slowly as traditional society disintegrated under the impact of colonialism and the spread of Western values, and as the subsistence economy was replaced by the market economy on which the exploding urban population grew increasingly dependent – the task of maintaining the optimum conditions for Western trade and penetration became correspondingly easier. As a result, by the middle of the twentieth century as Fieldhouse notes: “European merchants and investors could operate satisfactorily within the political framework provided by most reconstructed indigenous states as their predecessors would have preferred to operate a century earlier but without facing those problems which had once made formal empire a necessary expedient”.

What could possibly go wrong?

Back in 1991, I saw the late Professor Derrick Bell, a well-known Critical Race Theorist from Harvard Law School, talk about how proud he was that he got his students, including a specific Jewish woman, who did not think of themselves as white, to recognize and become much more conscious of their whiteness.

What strikes me about this literature is how it ignores what seems to me to be the obvious dangers of encouraging a majority of the population to emphasize and internalize a racial identity, and, moreover, to think of themselves as having racial interests opposed to those of the non-white population. I mean, what could go wrong? It would be one thing to note the obvious dangers of increased ethnonationalism, racial conflict, and so on, and explain why the author believes the risk-reward ratio is favorable. But the literature I came across (which admittedly is not comprehensive), the possibility that this could backfire is simply ignored.

David Bernstein, “White Racial Consciousness” as a Dangerous Progressive Project – Reason.com

A relatively harmless polarity

Some parents react to a child being a National Merit Scholar by saying "Woohoo! A shot at Harvard, or Yale, or Princeton!" Others say "Woohoo! Full scholarship to State U!"

[I]n 2018-2019, more National Merit Scholars joined the Crimson Tide than enrolled in Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Michigan the University of Chicago, and virtually every other top university in the land.

David French, ‌American Higher Education, Ideologically Separate and Unequal

Miscellany

I’ll have to take a pass

I want small businesses to succeed, but having just heard about a local Bourbon & Cigar lounge, I’ll have to take a pass.

I have no problem with the bourbon, but it took me about 16 years to kick tobacco, with pipe and cigar being my favored poisons. I haven’t touched tobacco during the subsequent more-than-half of my life, and I’m not starting 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.

Without hype or spectacle

Christianity Today is the flagship publication of a relatively sane subset of North American White Evangelicalism. It has been doing an excellent podcast series, hosted by Mike Cosper, titled The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which could as well be titled The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Pastor Mark Driscoll. Driscoll was (maybe "is"; he’s trying to start over in Scottsdale) a sort of Evangelical version of Jordan Peterson, before Peterson was prominent, admonishing Seattle’s young men to grow up. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that analogy struck me as apt and broadly applicable to Driscoll’s masculine, sometimes even misogynist, version of (what he called) Christianity.

Toward the end of Episode 8, Demon Hunting, after much reporting on "grotesque abuses of power and manipulation" and a particular type of sensationalism within Mars Hill Church, the podcast (at 1:01:40) features a recording from an Orthodox monastery* in Sitka, Alaska, where a not-very-good little choir is slowly singing the Lord’s Prayer (the "Our Father"), part of a rhythm of life designed to "eliminate hype and spectacle." Mr. Cosper commends the vision of the monastery and its rhythmic "long, slow obedience" as a welcome contrast to "the hype, entertainment, and expressions of power that drive so much of Evangelical life."

As an Orthodox exvangelical, I couldn’t agree more. (I think that’s the first time I called myself exvangelical, and I wouldn’t have done it without the adjective before it.)

But be aware that the Orthodox rhythm of life (not just Orthodox monastic rhythm, though it’s fullest there) is not designed to eliminate antecedent hype and spectacle. Evangelicalism is not the norm, let alone remotely faithful to the early Church. It’s a novelty, barely 200 years old, adding hype and spectacle as it eliminated most sacraments and gutted the two that remained.

But there are two more important caveats for anyone tired of deviance and attracted to Cosper’s description of Orthodoxy :

  1. The "obedience" part means that you can’t design your own personal quasi-monasticism, tweaking it when the mood strikes. You need to be obedient to the rhythm of a Christian community.
  2. Precisely because it’s driven by hype, entertainment, and expressions of power, Evangelicalism can’t be the community for long, slow, sober and sane obedience. Evangelicals who get the message need to decamp to the Orthodox Church, which will cultivate, shape — and gradually heal — them.

[* Cosper does not acknowledge that the monastery is Orthodox; for all he says, this could be some kind <alt-evangelical> emergent thing. But it’s not: it’s Orthodox.]


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.

We loves us some next big thing

America: scrambling for the Next Big Ephemeral Thing

George Bush reputedly confided in Tony Blair that ‘The problem with the French is they have no word for “entrepreneur.”’ Musing on the success of this farm, I would counter: the problem with the US and the UK is that we idolise entrepreneurship, with all the associated impatient capital, innovation and marketing, at the cost of just getting on with doing what you do well. One reason why the farm is flourishing is because I have not been around making ‘innovative’ suggestions about new crops and radical ways of growing them.

No doubt it is important to embrace the opportunities that come with change in the rapidly evolving world of tech start-ups, but when it come to growing veg there is more to gained from progressive, incremental improvement and patient investment. The same is true across the UK more broadly: there is a nobility in doing something well, that lasts, which is lacking from the restless and undignified scramble to identify the ‘next big thing’ and turn it into money.”

Gracy Olmstead (emphasis in original), quoting a little newsletter that comes with each delivery of fruits and vegetables from Riverford Organic Farmers.

Corrupt Hillary

Whatever you hear on Twitter, this [Attorney Sussman Russiagate indictment] is a different kettle of fish from the after-the-fact lies charged by the Mueller task force against certain Trump campaign associates that, if they were lies at all, were incidental to the special counsel’s search for collusion crimes. Mr. Sussmann’s alleged lie, a charge he has now formally denied, would have been intended to spark an FBI investigation so the investigation’s existence could be leaked to the press on behalf of the Clinton campaign to influence a presidential election. If media reporters can’t see this, they aren’t trying very hard. The first sentence of the indictment filed by the Justice Department’s John Durham refers not to Mr. Sussmann or his allegations but to their appearance in the New York Times a week before Election Day.

By now, the pattern is familiar thanks to the Steele dossier, which Mr. Sussmann’s firm also promoted. Unsupported allegations aren’t reportable; the existence of a federal investigation is. The FBI and the Justice Department have strong institutional interests in not being manipulated in this way and it’s tempting to interpret Mr. Durham’s indictment partly as a reminder to them of this.

Let’s be realistic: Mr. Sussmann also likely knew the FBI knew he was not being forthright if, as alleged, he claimed he wasn’t working for a client; he may have assumed the FBI wouldn’t care about a small cosmetic lie if the purpose was the popular one of tainting Mr. Trump. Again, Mr. Durham may be sending a message here to the FBI and Justice Department as much as to any outside witnesses whose cooperation his broadly and deliberately informative indictment is meant to encourage.

Mr. Durham obviously still faces an uphill battle to be allowed to proceed. Washington’s institutional establishment is hardly keen on the truth coming out. Neither are many in the media. Our world is truly turned on its Woodstein head when the press is part of the coverup, but here we are.

Let’s understand about the media: Anybody can say anything. When a reporter is confronted with astonishing but unsupported accusations, 99% of the time the story stops then and there because a reporter asks himself a simple question: If these claims are true, would I be hearing about them now, in this way, from this source, with this total absence of documentary evidence?

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., ‌Durham Delivers on Russiagate.

I confess that I thought this indictment was a bit of a yawner. I’m obliged to Holman Jenkins for reminding me of the insidious purpose of the lie — and for rubbing other media’s noses in their "coverup."

I said in 2016 that "Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton has God’s judgment written all over it." But time has past, and reading now Holman Jenkins and also Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of the indictment tempts me toward the fallacy that Clinton was so very "Corrupt Hillary" that ipso facto Trump was the better candidate.

I repeat: fallacy.

Some people in the Trump campaign were playing footsie with Russians for their own profit, and Donald Jr. was keen to get dirt on Hillary when a Russian offered to meet and deliver. That’s not what team Clinton was manufacturing, but it’s not nothing.

Still, the sleaze in Clinton’s camp was at the top, to the core, and the press was deeply complicit.

How the disciplinary society manufactures consensus

Take a deep breath and set aside all distractions. This is dense:

What remained to be done was to ensure that the rest of the country, much of which still believed ("clung to the belief" — the sole way the benighted relate to the beliefs deemed to belong to the past by those who have arrogated to themselves the authority to decide which direction the arc of history bends) that the ability to discriminate between and assign differential rights to citizens and non-citizens was constitutive of the nation-state itself and therefore a fundamental aspect of sovereignty that the people have a right to enforce by virtue of their existence as as a nation, would be brought on board. At minimum, those continuing to cling would be made to understand that resistance is presumptively out of bounds, and would therefore not be represented within the political system, existing outside the bounds of the respectable and thus the sayable and thinkable.

"No human being is illegal" portrayed itself as merely etiquette and sensitivity while subtly smuggling in other implications: documentation was a mere formality, a matter of positive law that did not and could not speak to the underlying moral right. What remained to do was to complete the circuit taking us from "rights conferred on on us by virtue of our being human" to "rights conferred on us by virtue of being a citizen of the United States of the America."

A few years prior, the University of Berkeley office of student life issued a series of racial micro-aggressions that professors should avoid. They included "America is a melting pot," and "I think the best person should get the job." Under the guise of protecting student health and safety, the student life office resolved an ongoing debate about whether we should be a "salad bowl" that preserves cultural differences of sub-national units or a "melting pot" where a process of amalgamation in pursuit of a single unified national identity and declared one of the two competing propositions presumptively illegitimate — an act of harm, if not hate and harassment to be policed out of existence. Under the guise of protecting student health and safety it declared meritocracy as presumptively illegitimate as an institution. And though it did not formally declare these "racial micro-aggressions" to be subject to disciplinary action, it was a formal pronouncement that taking certain positions on contested debates was not merely wrong substantively, (the purpose of open debate and free speech being thus to discover what is wrong or right through an exchange of ideas) but an offense against the community itself existing beyond the bounds of decency and subject to disciplinary action by the entity (student life bureaucracy) with the authority to protect the community from harm.

We can therefore see here what the Successor Regime aims for and how it goes about obtaining its ends, which in turn tells us about the sociology of the movement of which it is a part: the manufacture of consensus around a range of issues through the capture of disciplinary power by adherents sharing a common set of values and goals that seeks to rule out various aspects of political action as presumptively illegitimate (border control, policing, prisons, standardized testing) by policing any debate out of them out of existence. It is a vision of a radically less disciplinary society of the street obtained through a radically more disciplinary society of the seminar room, workplace, board room, and bedroom — an ongoing distributed process of moral revolution without central direction but converging relentlessly around the same handful of goals — a politics of persuasion without persuasion, abjuring persuasion for coercion.

Wesley Yang, ‌"Undocumented Citizens" and the new Newspeak.

Yang, who coined my preferred alternative to "wokeness" (his coinage is "the Successor Ideology"), can write some tortuous sentences, but read carefully he’s landing solid punches.

Big philanthropy

[B]ig philanthropy today flatters itself that monster donations can enable “systemic change.” A better approach may be to endow cities with amenities available to everyone. Why not make people’s lives better in the here and now?

Howard Husock, ‌Tech Billionaires Ignore the Philanthropy of Things.

In contrast, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg build stuff like parks (High Line, Little Island). So boring! I’ll bet they’re so boring that they’re not even planning to have their brains frozen or uploaded so they can "live" forever and benefit from all the "systemic change" their dollars bought.

By and large, our billionaires are moral cretins and narcissists of Trumpian dimension.

Ruling out everything

Skewing too far toward a left-hemisphere view of the world

is ruling out so much. I can’t begin to tell you, but you can imagine, all the things that this very reduced, abstract, schematic, bureaucratic — essentially, it’s bureaucratic, you know, push something, it has an action on something else and we can predict the outcome, we can organize it — that’s the left hemisphere’s vision of the world: inanimate stuff that we can move about. Very much, the industrial revolution was a kind of acting out in the outer world of the world picture of the left hemisphere … It’s ruling out everything, really. It’s ruling out our ability to understand, to see, to see at all.

Iain McGilquist, interviewed by Jordan Peterson, shortly after 1 hour 19 minutes.

Diversity, schmersity!

When you don’t have the time to research something for yourself, what you should do is trust those who have good intellectual habits.

The upshot is intellectual diversity is a red herring, usually a thinly-veiled plea for more conservatives. Nobody is arguing for more Islamists, Nazis, or flat earthers in academia, and for good reason. People should just be honest about the ways in which liberals are wrong and leave it at that.

[W]e should not care about diversity at all. In fact, on certain dimensions we should seek intellectual homogeneity. If selecting for those with healthy intellectual habits gets us an elite without racial, gender, geographic, or socioeconomic diversity, so be it. Same with diversity across academic disciplines, given that many or most of them are fake.

Richard Hanania, Tetlock and the Taliban

Alan Jacobs admired this posting and distilled it:

The academic enterprise is not a Weberian “iron cage,” it’s a cage made from a bundle of thin sticks of perverse incentives held together with a putty of bullshit. We instinctively known how fragile it is, and so stay well inside its boundaries.

Unintelligent, uncharitable, dishonest. R.I.P.

John Shelby Spong, a celebrity (someone who’s famous for being famous) Episcopal Bishop is gone. I remember the controversies, but Alan Jacobs, an evangelical Anglican, remembers him better:

John Shelby Spong is dead. If he had been an intelligent man, he would have developed more coherent and logical arguments against the Christian faith; if he had been a charitable man, he would have refrained from attempting to destroy the faith of Christians; if he had been an honest man, he would have resigned his orders fifty years or more ago. May God have mercy on his soul.

See also the New York Times’ adoring obituary, John Shelby Spong, 90, Dies; Sought to Open Up the Episcopal Church

So hard to poll

The short version is that fewer than 50% of Evangelicals attend Church at least weekly. 8.4% don’t attend at all. The longer version is that a lot of people with no theology and no real religion started calling themselves "Evangelical" after 2016. Religious polling ain’t easy. (H/T David French)


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.

War, education, leisure, Soros, Roe and more

Seven Days on the Roads of France, June 1940

Within the past few days, I finished Seven Days on the Roads of France, June 1940 by Vladimir Lossky. I should get to Lossky’s theological masterpiece, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, within the next few months.

Meanwhile, selected highlights from his account of fleeing Paris ahead of the Nazis, hoping to enlist and fight them. As indicated by my added emphasis, I thought his reflections on war, in the chapter "Day 1," were timely as, by some accounts, we’re headed into dark times or worse:

Preface to the original French edition of 1998, by Nicholas Lossky

To begin with, it must be made clear that for this Russian Orthodox theologian – who remained very authentically Russian in many respects – France was not, as it was for many émigrés, simply a land of asylum. To be sure, it was that; but above all, in this case it was a land chosen quite deliberately. Indeed his great love for the country began in childhood. It came first of all from his governess ….

On the notion of dogma from an Orthodox perspective, [Olivier] Clément writes as follows: “For Orthodoxy, Lossky insists, a dogma is not an attempt to explain a mystery or even an attempt to make it more comprehensible. Rather, it seeks to encircle the ineffable and to compel the mind to surpass itself by a clear minded sense of wonder and adoration. […] Thus a dogma is not a solution to a problem but the protection of a mystery, in the Christian sense of Revelation of the unfathomable, the inexhaustible, the personal. In defining a dogma, the sole aim of the church is to preserve the possibility for each Christian of participating in revelation with his whole being; that is, of communicating with the very life of the One who reveals Himself.“

Day 1: Thursday 13th June 1940

Those who resigned themselves to staying in their homes, their streets, their quartier, their city – now become a prey to enemy invasion – were right. Equally right were those whose conscience dictated that they should set out on the great adventure of the open road.

“We shall conquer,“ we were told, “because we are the strongest, because we are the richest. We shall conquer because we have the will to do so.“ As if bons d’armement in themselves could bring about victory. As if war were nothing other than a vast industrial undertaking, a mere matter of capital. Such a war – a war of equipment and weaponry, inhuman, materialistic – yes, we have no doubt lost such a war. We must have the courage to say so. What is more, France could never have won such a war. Otherwise, she would no longer have been France, preeminently humane. If she had won such a war – one without a human face, a war of equipment (the kind of war being presented to us) – she would have lost the most precious thing she possesses, the essential characteristic of her very being. She would have lost that which makes her France, that which differentiates her from every other country on earth. (emphasis added)

There was another heresy, too -spiritual, this time – one which sought to superimpose itself on the materialism of the ‘war of equipment’ argument, to infuse into it an artificial soul. This was the ideology of a ‘holy war’, ‘crusade’. It came in several varieties: the struggle for democracy, for freedom, for human dignity, for western culture, for Christian civilization, even for divine justice itself. I say ‘heresy’ because such ideas, often just in themselves, were not based on lived experience. They did not well up from a deep, wholesome spring, which alone could have transformed them into ideas having a motivating force. Moreover, such words rang false, like all abstractions. They rang false above all since they sought to present as absolutes, concepts and values that are secondary, relative … No, war is not waged for absolute values. This has been the mistake of all so-called ‘religious’ wars, and the main cause of the atrocities associated with them. Nor is it waged for relative value that one endeavors to turn into absolutes, nor yet for abstract concepts which have been lent a religious character. Even if one were to set against the idol of a ‘pure race’ the more benign idol of Law, Liberty and Humanity, they are still idols – concepts that have been personified and made into absolutes. This would still result in a war of idols. The only just war – in so far as a war may ever be styled just – is a war for relative values, for values known to be relative. A war in which man – a being destined for an absolute end – sacrifices himself spontaneously and without hesitation for a relative value that he knows to be relative: his native soil, his land, his country. It is the very sacrifice that acquires a value that is absolute, incorruptible, eternal. (emphasis added)

Day 3: Saturday June 15th

Suddenly I was struck by the sound of a hoarse, muffled voice. I was not alone, after all. A tall old man with a stoop, wearing an old-fashioned fin-de-siècle frock coat, was waving his arms about, threatening and cursing someone. He had a fine face, the look of a well bred provincial gentleman, a devout and God-fearing type. I drew nearer to see who he was so angry with. He was going round the cathedral, stopping before each statue of a saint. It was to them that he was addressing his curses, his cries, his threats. “Alors, quoi?” Damn it all, then! Don’t you want to help us? Can’t you help us?“

I left the cathedral, quite overcome. You really need to have a faith that was deep and sincere, a genuine inner freedom before God and his Saints, to be able to talk to them like that. No, he wasn’t a madman. Rather, a noble Christian soul, seized with despair and bitterness, pouring out his pain to the Saints, who remained motionless and silent, guides of the divine ways that are so painful for us to follow.

Day 4: Sunday 16th June

[R]evolutionaries are always in the wrong since, in their juvenile fervour for everything new, in their hopes for a better future and a way of life built on justice, they always base themselves on theories that are abstract and artificial, making a clean sweep of living tradition which is, after all, founded on the experience of centuries.

Conservatives are always wrong, too, despite being rich in life experience, despite being shrewd and prudent, intelligent and sceptical. For, in their desire to preserve ancient institutions that have with stood the test of time, they decry the necessity of renewal, and man’s yearning for a better way of life.

The Royal Court, grouped round the Imperial Chapel and, seized with theological fervour, sought to ensure the triumph of a novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pressure from the Frankish empire caused this strange teaching to triumph in the West. After resisting for a while, the Popes were in the end obliged to alter the traditional, sacred text of the Creed. From then on, schism from the Eastern Patriarchates became inevitable. (Byzantium, on the other hand, never experienced such an extreme case of Caesaropapism.)

Day 5: Monday 17th June

Faced with Latin Christianity and its tendency to abstractions, to homogenization and sterilization; faced with a pagan and only too concrete pan-Germanism founded upon a mystique of “blood and soil“ that seeks to refashion the world according to its creed, France could then become a focus of regeneration for Western Christianity in a Europe that is becoming de-Christianized.

"Not very concerned with how much money you make when you grow up … where you go to college"

Genuine red-pilling from a classical educator:

Welcome to your sophomore humanities class.

This year, we will be reading early modern literature, which is roughly the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century. I have some fairly lofty goals for this class and I hope you do, as well. To be honest, when this class finishes nine months from now, I won’t know if I have accomplished any of those goals. I will need more time. Perhaps when you are forty or so, which is how old I am, we will both know whether this class has done you any good.

It will take at least this long to determine if I have accomplished my goals because I am not very concerned with how much money you make when you grow up, which means that I am not all that interested in where you go to college. Many of my students still labor under the delusional belief that if they can just get into the right college, they will be successful. If you are primarily concerned about getting good grades so you can get into the right college, you’re worrying about the wrong things, because beyond the age of 22 or 23, what matters is not grades, but whether you’re good at doing something that matters and whether you can be content doing that thing for the next thirty years. If the only thing you’re good at doing is getting good grades, your life is going to fall apart after you graduate college ….

Joshua Gibbs. Read it all.

We get leisure all wrong

Leisure is useful—but only insofar as it remains leisure. Once that time is viewed as a means to improve employee morale and higher growth, then leisure loses the very quality that makes it so potent. As Pieper wrote, “Leisure is not there for the sake of work.” Leisure is doing things for their own sake, to pursue what one wants. We should fight the urge to reduce it to a productivity hack.

We yearn to “make the most of” our free time, so we are constantly giving our evenings, weekends, and vacations over to our self-advancement. Labor-market precarity and the growth of the gig economy have sharpened these incentives. Pure leisure now feels like pure indulgence.

If leisure is justified by its contribution to other social ends—innovation, productivity, growth—it stands to lose any perceived worth as soon as it comes into conflict with those goals. An eventual clash between the two will always be settled in favor of work. The result is 768 million hours of unused vacation days. And even when employees take time off, they feel an urge to log in to their work email between dips in the ocean.

Krzysztof Pelc, ‌Why Your Leisure Time Is in Danger

When all your colleagues are, by definition, prickly progressives

George Soros’ Open Society Foundations are restructuring:

The tensions boiled over at the all-staff meeting in early May. On the eve of the voluntary buyouts, executives took part in a video call, in which staff members shared their misgivings and grievances.

After looking at a series of slides prepared by Bridgespan, which painted the organization as less streamlined than Gates or the Ford Foundation, with large numbers of staff approving lots of small grants, employees called out executives for their handling of the restructuring, according to several staff members who participated in the call and transcripts of both the video call and the simultaneous chat, where things got even rougher.

One commenter in the group chat called the process “unaccountable, and unscientific.” Another referred to the “frustration with respect to racism and sexism and other forms of oppression that are alive and well within the institution.”

Lie down with progressives, rise up with vague charges against you.

How to overturn Roe

“It grinds my gears when people say what’s been done here is genius, novel or particularly clever — it was only successful because it had a receptive audience in the Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit,” said Khiara M. Bridges, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, referring to the conservative-leaning federal appeals court that also weighed in on the Texas law.

“If you want to overturn Roe v. Wade, you create a law that is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s precedent and someone will challenge it and you work it through the federal courts,” she said. “You don’t create a law that is designed to evade judicial review.”

The Conservative Lawyer Behind the Texas Abortion Law – The New York Times

The second paragraph is, in a nutshell, why the Texas law is a sideshow and the real action (currently) is the Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.

Ah, California!

“Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra,” declares Assembly Bill 338, which passed both chambers by wide margins and now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. None of that is true. While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people. The lawmakers behind the bill drew their ideas from a single tendentious book written by journalist Elias Castillo.

Abp. Salvatore J. Cordileone and José H. Gomez, ‌Don’t Slander St. Junípero Serra

This sort of self-important nonsense, California, as much or more than envy, is why the rest of us make fun of you.

Shorts

  • Because of the divorce from the historic Church, Evangelicalism has sought for a new way to satisfy the need for materiality. This is why such believers have welcomed pop music and rock-n-roll into their churches. It is why emotion is mistaken for spirituality. It is why sentiment is substituted for holiness. Sincere feeling is the authenticator. Instead of icons of Christ, whose piercing stare calls you to repentance, the Evangelical can go to a Christian bookstore and buy a soft-focus, long-haired picture of Jesus. He’s a “nice” Jesus, but it is hard to believe that He is God. (Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy)
  • The project, begun at the time of Constantine, to enable Christians to share power without being a problem for the powerful, had reached its most impressive fruition. If Caesar can get Christians there to swallow the “Ultimate Solution,” and Christians here to embrace the bomb, there is no limit to what we will not do for the modern world. (Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens)
  • The perfect fictitious charity benefit, for "Rich People Who Wish To Help Poor People Without Having To Be In Physical Contact With Them," joins up with the perfect limerick for a well-nigh perfect blog post from Garrison Keillor.
  • Seekers of religious exemptions to vaccine mandates demonstrate that there is literally no limit to what folly you can "prove" from motivated reasoning recast as "personal bible study." Vaccine Resisters Seek Religious Exemptions. But What Counts as Religious?
  • It is a signal characteristic of “hermeneutic philosophy” to say we can no longer believe in something rather than arguing that it is false. (R.R. Reno, Return of the Strong Gods)
  • As parishioners, we believed that Christ had come to give us abundant life, yet the nature of that abundant life was conceived as simply more of what we already had as pleasure-seeking, comfort-loving Americans. (Robin Mark Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic)

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

The moral horse and the doctrinal cart

Once again, Fr. Stephen gets my juices going:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Perpetual Catechumen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Beheading of John the Baptist

Yes, we commemorated the beheading of John the Baptist today, saying some rather pointed things about Herod, Herodias, and that hootchy-kootchy dancer.

Let’s get this out of the way

Afghanistan continues to haunt, partly because I continue getting smacked by distasteful facts. I’d be pulling punches not to share them:

Where Hegel saw the spirit of the new age in the figure of Napoleon riding through Jena, the spirit of the liberal age increasingly came to be consciously and rhetorically centered, at least in part, in the figure of the afghan woman finally getting a chance to play football, celebrate pride month, and studying critical gender theory ….

Malcom Kyeyune, via Angela Nagle, How Will The Empire End?

More from Nagle:

The Spectator commented on “How Ivy League diplomats sought to remake Afghanistan in Harvard’s image” via hundreds of millions spent on gender studies politics, which they persisted with even when it directly caused rebellions, adding this short illustrative video:

…you can see the exact point (specifically, 31 seconds in) where the American mission in Afghanistan dies.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/wdrvpSfJM1w?rel=0&autoplay=0&showinfo=0&enablejsapi=0

Or this:

The reality is that America lost its war in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, roughly around the time when CIA officers began bribing aging warlords with Viagra. The Americans knew all about the young boys the tribal leaders kept in their camps; because the sex drug helped Afghan elders rape more boys more often, they were beholden to America’s clandestine service. Losing Afghanistan then is the least of it. When you choose to adopt a foreign cohort’s cultural habits, customs for which the elders of your own tribe would ostracize and perhaps kill you, you have lost your civilization.

Assabiya Wins Every Time – Tablet Magazine

Yet another of the reasons it’s hard for me to look at Afghanistan is that it never occurred to me that when judgment finally fell on us, others would become collateral damage.

It is not entertaining when a writer repeats himself, but what we are experiencing is judgment. If we will not grasp that, we will grasp nothing. We are being judged not so much for the imaginary evils for which violent, deranged thugs despise the country, but for the real evils we have cuddled to our bosoms.  We are just beginning to have the government we deserve.

Politics matters, make no mistake. But what we need is not just a different president, not just a political reform, but sorrow, soul-searching, and conversion. The rest — let us hope — will follow.

J Budziszewski, Why the President Should Not Be Called a Coward

A poem to keep

Because the eye has a short shadow or it is hard to see over heads in the crowd?

If everyone else seems smarter but you need your own secret?

If mystery was never your friend?

If one way could satisfy the infinite heart of the heavens?

If you liked the king on his golden throne more than the villagers carrying baskets of lemons?

If you wanted to be sure his guards would admit you to the party?

The boy with the broken pencil
scrapes his little knife against the lead
turning and turning it as a point
emerges from the wood again

If he would believe his life is like that
he would not follow his father into war

(Naomi Shihab Nye, Fundamentalism, via Poetry Foundation)

Qutb, how liberalism has failed … and what’s the alternative?

The ideas that seized the imagination of millions had deep and diverse intellectual roots. For example, the mid-20th century thinker Sayyid Qutb mounted a comprehensive critique of the soulless materialism of America, tracing it in part to the separation of church and state — the fatal error, he believed, that divided the spirit from the flesh. In the Muslim world, he argued, body and soul should not be split asunder, but should live united in a resurrected caliphate, governed by Shariah law.

David Brooks, This Is How Theocracy Shrivels (The New York Times)

I have not read Qutb, but I’ve read several critiques, home-grown, of how liberalism has failed, and soulless materialism makes cameo appearances in some of them.

The critiques are persuasive. What I haven’t read is a persuasive prescription. I’m far from a great historian, even by amateur standards, but I’ve read enough to have a rich storehouse of yarns on how great ideas go wrong, and every prescription I’ve read has "this will not end well" written all over it.

Those of us who are Christian have no basis to hope for an earthly paradise. The scriptures seem to point against such a thing ever arriving. But we believe, or should, that there are no accidents, no nooks or crevices of the cosmos unnoticed or neglected by divine providence. How all this "works together for good to them that love God" is a mystery, and we have no commission to help the mystery along.

But mystery can become our friend if we use the time we formerly wasted on tilting at windmills to deal with things at least somewhat within our control.

"Conservative evangelicals" take up the mainstream’s worst habit

[On July 8], the Public Religion Research Institute released its brand new 2020 American Religious Landscape.

Some things are not surprising …

But there are two big surprises.

First, the “unaffiliates” are not growing so fast anymore …

The other surprise is bigger.

For the first time (I think ever), the population segment of white evangelicals is shrinking. "Since 2006,” PRRI reports, “white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020."

This is new, arrestingly new. For decades — since the 1970’s — it’s been a truism that conservative evangelicals have bucked the tide of religious decline in America. In 1972, sociologist Dean Kelly wrote a famous book called just that: Why Conservative Churches are Growing. He concluded that while mainline Protestant churches were concerned about popular political issues, conservative evangelical churches were concerned with Biblical demands upon life, relationships and responsibilities.

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias, ‌Second Terrace: the cost of partisanship

On a related note:

It must have come as a shock to Dad to be plunged into the heart of the American evangelical scene in the 1970s and 1980s, and to suddenly see just who he was urging to take power in the name of returning America to our “Christian roots.” Who would be in charge? Pat Robertson? Jerry Falwell? Gary North? Dr. Dobson? Rousas Rushdoony? And what sort of fools would “our people” elect as president or for Congress, given that they had so easily been duped by the flakes, madmen, and charlatans they were hailing (and lavishly funding) as their spiritual leaders?

Frank Schaeffer (son of the late Francis Schaeffer), Crazy for God

I am not a fan of Frank Schaeffer, but I read several of his books after he professed Orthodox Christianity. (I’ll leave it at that.) Occasionally he was perceptive and quotable.

Political war over culture is not culture war

From Ryan Burge, tweet, 2 July 2021.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked?

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”

—Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926).

We are told that conservatives “lost the culture war.” I dissent from this view: American conservatives never waged a culture war. Conservatives certainly fought, there is no denying that. They fought with every bit of obstruction and scandal their operatives could muster. But this was not a culture war. Rather, America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture. Republicans used cultural issues to gain—or to try to gain—political power. Their brightest minds and greatest efforts went into securing control of judiciary, developing a judicial philosophy for their appointees, securing control of the Capitol, and developing laws that could be implemented in multiple state houses across the nation. No actual attempt to change the culture was attempted.

This was not thought necessary. Conservatives had the people. One decade they were called a “silent” majority; as the culture war heated up, that majority transitioned from “silent” to “moral,” but a majority they remained. In these circumstances it was sufficient to quarantine the cultural dissidents and keep them from using minority maneuvers (“legislating from the bench”) to impose their cultural priorities on the rest of us. Political containment was the name of our game. Republicans played it well. They still play it well, even when the majority of yesterday has melted away.

The left played for different stakes. They fought for American culture as the right fought over it. Their insurgency succeeded as Hemingway’s businessman failed: gradually, then suddenly.

Tanner Greer, Culture Wars are Long Wars. H/T John Brady’s Rags of Light newsletter.

I really appreciate the distinction between culture war and political war over culture. More than eleven years ago, I declared myself a "Conscientious Objector to the Culture Wars." As I review that post today, I actually was objecting to the political wars over culture. Other than that, it was a pretty good post, and I’d stand by most of it today.

Moreover, when I posed the question "So who am I hangin’ out with these days," the answer basically reflected the commonplace that culture is upstream from politics, and I was trying to connect to healthy culture:

Basically, I’m going back and rethinking all things political and cultural. I’m wisdom-hunting. I read Wendell Berry essays and poetry, Bill Kauffman books, Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind, Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, Scott Cairns’ Poetry, W.H. Auden (“For the Time Being” is now on my list for every Advent).

My conversion to Orthodox Christianity started it in a way. I soon realized that the Church has not always prevailed, and has produced martyrs in every century. And that’s okay. Better we should lose honorably than win by selling our souls.

Christ: disguised under badly remembered and selectively retold western history

Our world is a “post-Christian” world.  Culturally speaking, Christ and His message is well known, but disguised under layer after layer of badly remembered and selectively retold western history.  Everyone knows the name “Christ,” but very few associate it with anything life-giving.  Even those who believe in Christ, who look to Him for salvation, who are baptized and who have some devotion to the Church, even these no longer take the hierarchy of the Church seriously and have largely accepted a culturally reimagined version of Christ: a nice-guy deity, interested mostly in how I as an individual feel about things.

This, of course, is a far cry from Christ, the God who became human to transfigure human nature into the divine image from which it fell of old in Paradise.  Yet very many Christians today, many Orthodox Christians, do not know this Christ.  They know only the culturally acceptable christ of their imagination. And so they are lost in their own confusion and passions thinking that they follow Christ. And for these, we must pray.  They are like those who have received an inoculation.  They have taken just enough dead virus to put them on the defence against the real.  The false Christ that they have come to know, blinds their eyes and deadens their ears to the real.

Archpriest Michael Gillis, ‌Is It Possible to Live a Holy Life in the World? H/T John Brady (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.

Downers and uppers

Afghanistan

This week has been a real downer, but I can’t not mention Afghanistan. Rest assured that I picked four that don’t seem to be echo-chamber fare:

1

Back in 2001 and 2002, Pat Buchanan was warning against the Iraq War, and against nation-building in Afghanistan. He was marginalized as a heretic by the official gatekeepers of the Right. Because Pat Buchanan has objectionable opinions about some things — he was “far right,” in their estimation — he was not to be taken seriously in anything.

But Pat Buchanan was right. He was right about Iraq, and he was right about Afghanistan. The same people who denounced him as a heretic then are leading the chorus of denunciation against Viktor Orban and Hungary. And you know, maybe they’re right. I don’t think they are, but you can make up your own mind about that. I would just strongly urge you to keep an open mind about Hungary, because the anti-Buchananites are the same ones now fashioning themselves as anti-Orbanites. Are you sure you should trust their judgment? Are you sure you should trust their construal of what Hungary is like? Keep that in mind.

Rod Dreher, Andrew Sullivan Vs. Viktor Orban

2

[W]hen faced with a choice of a U.S. style democracy and medieval sharia state the local people chose a sharia state. It’s not like the U.S. didn’t try. Under effective U.S. rule the GDP of Afghanistan grew 500%, women’s rights were improved and vast amount of infrastructure was built. America was putting down the infrastructure to integrate Afghanistan into the globohomo system.

And remember, the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years.

The speed and rapidity of the Taliban advance–most of the time with hardly any fighting at all–showed that American values had completely failed to "take" in Afghan society. The modern American way of life was an unwanted product. As it was in Vietnam.

The bottom line is that institutional America, homo secularis, was taking on the Taliban, homo religiosus and the Taliban won. The point here is that most men are motivated by more than dollars and cents and that sometimes the intangibles are far more important. But what’s also important to note here is that Islam reinforced identity. America was caught in a a rather interesting bind. To be tolerant, it had to allow Islam to flourish but Islam was opposed to America. There was a fundamental incompatibility that doomed the US project from the outset.

The Social Pathologist: Taliban 1: Woke Empire 0

"Globohomo" is not in my vocabulary, and I don’t plan to add it. It is such very short shorthand that I don’t know whether it even communicates much to peripheral members of the author’s tribe.

But it has been reported by at least semi-credible sources that our Embassy in Kabul was recently flying the rainbow flag in celebration of something-or-other, and it’s safe to assume that Afghans are broadly aware of what all it stands for. It’s not really surprising if Afghans chose the Taliban (they gave up awfully easily; maybe a better explanation than "willing surrender" is forthcoming) again over the cosmology of which that flag serves as a condensed symbol — which cosmology they have some reason to believe is the eventuality of liberal democracy.

3

The withdrawal plan always seemed abrupt and arbitrary. Why did the White House think the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was the right date for a pullout? What picture of America do they carry in their heads that told them that would be symbolically satisfying? It is as if they are governed by symbols with no understanding of what the symbols mean.

Peggy Noonan

4

Prophecy for a nation of wankers:

In the next few days, another girl foolish enough to think she can keep going to school will take another bullet to the head, and when that happens, the left is going to lose its mind. … Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott will go 12 rounds in Madison Square Garden to determine which one of them gets to fund girls’ education in Afghan refugee camps. The winner will fund beautiful schools — air-conditioned, STEM-centered schools. And there might even be time for the winner to private-jet herself to the Aspen Ideas Festival to explain the importance of girls’ education before those schools are blown up, along with the girls inside them …

Caitlin Flanagan.

Collect for the Feast of St. Jonathan Swift

A decade ago, when I thought things were getting bad — oh how naïve I was in those days — I wrote an essay “Against Stupidity” in which I argued for the canonization of St. Jonathan Swift and even wrote a collect for his feast day.

Gather around, friends … and let’s bow our heads and say together,

Almighty and most wrathful God, who hate nothing You have made but sometimes repent of having made Man; we thank you this day for the life and work of Your faithful servant Jonathan Swift, who constantly imitated and occasionally exceeded Your own anger at the folly of sin, and who in his works excoriated such folly with a passion that brought him nigh unto madness; and we pray that You may teach us to be imitators of him, so that the follies and stupidities of our own time may receive their proper chastisement; through Christ our Lord, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.

Alan Jacobs.

Politics as fashion

I’m frequently surprised that bog-standard lefty shit now attracts shock and pushback. The most obvious of these is free speech. I don’t support free speech despite being a leftist, I support free speech because I’m a leftist … I’m not interested in giving the pro-free speech case here, but I am asserting the simple fact that free speech has always been a leftist priority … But there has been little opportunity to fight for those values because people seem to have just sort of woken up one morning and decided free speech was out. When did we vote on that? Was there a meeting I missed? If we’re going to make massive changes to basic commitments, we better have a serious process of working that out. Instead free speech is out like mom jeans. It’s politics as fashion.

Same thing with deference to the establishment media. I criticize the NYT or other big-shot MSM property on Facebook and people react in horror. “Criticizing the media?!? Who are you, Tucker Carlson?” But distrust of the media has been a leftist stance since before I was born. The media is the propaganda arm of capitalism and empire. Yes, reporting serves a vital function, but commies like me have distrusted the corporate media for ages. If you think that should change, fine, then argue that. But don’t act like I’m the weird one for not suddenly adopting a dramatically different attitude towards the media out of fear of appearing to be a Republican.

Freddie deBoer, When Nothing is Worked Through, Nothing is Explained, Nothing is Understood

What crooked timber we are!

I think I first saw this nearly three weeks ago, but its weirdness lingers:

Something very strange has been happening in Missouri: A hospital in the state, Ozarks Healthcare, had to create a “private setting” for patients afraid of being seen getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video produced by the hospital, the physician Priscilla Frase says, “Several people come in to get vaccinated who have tried to sort of disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say, ‘Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine.’” Although they want to protect themselves from the coronavirus and its variants, these patients are desperate to ensure that their vaccine-skeptical friends and family never find out what they have done.

Brooke Harrington, ‌Vaccine Refusers Don’t Want Blue America’s Respect

Degenerate natural law

When the Supreme Court announced a “right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, some thought it was rejecting the very idea of natural law. Really it was asserting a degenerate theory of natural law, one widely held in the culture—or at least in those parts of it which our controllers choose to recognize, such as law schools, abortion facilities, and liberal seminaries. It was propounding a universal moral right not to recognize the universal moral laws on which all rights depend. Such liberty has infinite length but zero depth.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Hillsong just doesn’t cut it any more

I received an e-mail the other day from a longtime reader of my blog, a megachurch Protestant who quit going to his normal church when the congregation became defiantly committed to the idea that Covid is a hoax. He and his wife are both medically compromised, so they couldn’t take the risk of attending services there anymore. He wrote:

Based on your writings, I decided to give the Greek Orthodox Church a try.  I’ve been attending on and off for 8 months.  Now that we are vaccinated, I am also back at my old church, but after a service that opens a window to Heaven so the congregation can sing the Trisagion [“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”] with the angels, Hillsong pop music falls flat.  Having seen the members participate in the last supper with the Lord, passing around a tray of sliced up pie crust to "commemorate" the event doesn’t cut it.  Bottom line, I’m likely on my way to Orthodoxy.

This is what “come and see” means.

Rod Dreher

Rinsing one book off with another

I am re-reading Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence. After reading Frances FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, I feel the need for something clean and wholesome.

Most of this book was about events during my lifetime. I caught the author in a few trivial factual mistakes and, as she warmed to the task of demolishing religious right leaders, unwarranted or even absurd interpretations and commentary.

But the arc of her account rings true, and she’s right far oftener than she’s wrong.

The big-name Religious Right leaders — Falwell, Robertson, Dobson particularly — loved the limelight (Robertson denied it) and eventually came to instantiate the folk-definition of a fanatic: one who, having forgotten his goal, redoubles his efforts. Such redoubling too often involved wild-ass hyperbole, apocalyptic predictions about Democrat rule, over-promising and, in general, neglect of the very religious precepts they were supposed to be defending.

In the end, their discreditable behavior discredited them, the GOP, the Conservative cause, and worst of all, the reputation of the Christian faith.

Fr. Maximos, a young but advanced Athonite monk ordered to go to a monastery on Cyprus, is nothing like that.

Food news

I’ve taste-tested it twice now and can confirm that the Strawberry Brie Burger at Bryant, just outside of West Lafayette, Indiana, is one of the best burgers on the face of the earth.

Get it medium-rare. Salty, sweet, creamy, unctuous and smoky. What more could you ask?


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.

Apophats and Cataphats

> In the 1830s, virtually all American theologians—Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians alike—assumed theology to be a science whose aim was to produce exact formulations based on evidence … Generally, the Bible was thought to be a storehouse of facts and propositions and the task of theologians was to systematize these facts and to ascertain the general principles to be found in them … [A]ll, including the Unitarians, assumed that every passage in the Bible had only one meaning, and that all readers through history could understand it.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Kindle locations 1065-1070).

This formulation shocked me, but I readily recognized it as accurate even when describing the Evangelicalism of my youth, 130 years later. The conceit that we were getting warranted certainties in sermons and chapel talks was strong, and I suspect it’s still around, if less universal, today. Some of those certainties were toxic falsities, as probably are some of today’s.

Fast forward a few decades from the 1830s to this recognizably similar view from a scholarly sort of Protestantism:

> Scottish Realism with its optimistic, democratic view that anyone could discover the truth appealed to many Americans, and it had particular appeal to the Protestant clergy because it posited the spiritual nature of consciousness and it involved no skepticism about religious truth … As Marsden points out, Old School Presbyterians, raised on the Westminster catechisms, tended to view the truth as a stable entity that, when expressed in precisely stated propositions, would be understood by everyone at all times in exactly the same way … Further, if moral laws could be adduced in the same way as the laws of physics, then theology was a science, too … to systematize the facts of the Bible, and ascertain the principles or general truths which those facts involve … “The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science,” he wrote. “It is his store-house of facts.”

Id., Kindle locations 1305-1326.

Contrast this dissenting view from the 1830s:

> [Horace] Bushnell’s challenge to this whole way of thinking rested on the new science of philology and on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ideas about the indeterminacy of language … Dogma-based theologians, he argued, ignore the instability of the abstractions they use and work out Christian systems that are consistent but false simply because of their consistency … The authors of the Scriptures, the inspired witnesses to spiritual truths, could not convey these truths directly. Rather, like all good writers, they did their best by multiplying forms or figures, and by creating paradoxes and contradictions to give as many hints as they could to their inspiration … [I]t offended piety and intelligence to claim that the meaning of God’s self-expression in Christ could be captured in “a few dull propositions.”

Id., Kindle location 1077-1083.

I’m not endorsing Bushnell’s liberal Protestantism, let alone claiming that he was influenced by Orthodox Christianity, but I was surprised to see that on this occasion, the liberals are much more sympathetic to my Orthodox mind than was the mainstream. The uncertainty reflected in Orthodoxy’s apophatic theology seems to have something of the same look to it, though the lineages of the two are quite different.

Now, something more contemporary.

> Richard Dawkins argued against God’s existence, saying that omniscience and omnipotence are contradictory …

Garrison Keillor

Omniscience and omnipotence are familiar words to Christians, though perhaps only those of a Western sort. Having been a Western Christian, they’re familiar to me.

These are cataphatic, affirming two things about God: that He knows everything and can do everything. These are the kinds of "facts" (themselves abstractions) through which much or most Western Christianity purports to know God.

In contrast, here are a few things Eastern Christian apophatic theology says:

  • No one has seen or can see God (John 1:18).
  • He lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16).
  • His ways are unsearchable and unfathomable (Job 11:7-8; Romans 11:33-36).
  • The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility (The Life of Moses, Gregory of Nyssa).
  • God is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility (On the Orthodox Faith, John of Damascus).

OrthodoxWiki (hyperlinks omitted). An Orthodox Christian with a truly Orthodox mindset, not unduly influenced by a Western milieu, will still affirm those, and will demur from terms like omniscient and omnipotent.


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.

How wrong? Fractally wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Curated for your reading pleasure

MYOB

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

Via Iain Mcgilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Contemptible hyperbole

Books are violence, so says the American Violencesellers Association.

Tweet included in this story

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

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

The Pope’s merciless war against the Old Rite

Evangelical/QAnon overlap

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

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

Deconstructing "America is back"

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

The Morning Dispatch, 7/19.

Good points, Jonah.

Huxley > Orwell

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

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

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Yes! But …

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

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

I think this is great, but:

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

A rare naughty

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

Spotted on Pinterest by the Missus.


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