Sunday, 1/8/23

Orthodoxy

Two from Constantinou

  • Orthodoxy holds that the fullness of the Faith was revealed to the Church at Pentecost, once and for all. The Greek Fathers utilized their education in the service of the Church to explain doctrine, not to find new truths, since the fullness of the truth was received at Pentecost.
  • Ultimately, theology is not a set of definitions or theories. Theology is mystery since it transcends the rational mind and attempts to express the inexpressible. In schools of theology and seminaries, theology is indeed an academic subject and, as such, it requires accuracy and embraces a certain “intellectual rigour,” as Met. Kallistos remarks. This does not conflict with Orthodoxy, since “we do not serve the Kingdom of God through vagueness, muddle and lazy thinking.” But he also notes that in other sciences or areas of investigation, the personal sanctity of the scientist or inquirer is irrelevant. This is not the case with theology, which requires metanoia (repentance), catharsis (purification), and askesis (spiritual struggle).

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind (emphasis added)

Both of these observations point out true Orthodox distinctives in comparison to Western Christendom, don’t they?

How to Live (temporally)

Within this longer blog post is a priceless bullet-list on “how to live.” I review it regularly.

Though I blog a lot about politics, it’s been a long time since I argued politics. The difference in outcomes between policy A and policy B are usually less important to me than the potential for personal alienation. So my political blogs are mixtures of “this is my opinion; yours may vary” and “here’s something thought-provoking or very well written.”

I guess that confirms that I’m temperamentally in David French’s “hope and freedom” camp versus the camp of “anger and power.”

Other

A Reminder of Where We Were Two Years Ago

Certainly, the bulk of Pentecostal-charismatics who follow the prophets are in for a shock when Biden gets inaugurated Jan. 20. Rather than admit their error, Brown says some prophets have already concocted a scenario where Trump will be inaugurated “in heaven” and that God will replace Biden with Trump sometime this spring.

Julia Duin, Charismatics are at war with each other over failed prophecies of Trump victory

The whole story is well worth reading, Julia Duin being a “Religion Beat” pro in the press.

Homeless

I am thinking of a Black Southern Baptist–trained pastor who could not stomach taking his kids to church within his denomination anymore because of his fellow church members’ reluctance to talk about racism. A longtime staffer at a major American archdiocese who feels daily rage at the Catholic Church’s inability to address the clergy sexual-abuse crisis. A young woman fired from her job at a conservative Christian advocacy organization because she spoke out against President Trump. A Catholic professor who bitterly wishes the Democratic Party had room for his pro-life views. These are all examples from the world of religion and politics, but they speak to a deep and expansive truth: In many parts of American life, people feel the institutions that were supposed to guide their lives have failed, and that there is no space for people like them.

Emma Green, The American ‘way of life’ is unsustainable for so many. Is it time to build radical forms of community?

Seeing this excerpt surface in Readwise, I’m reminded that I haven’t seem much from Emma Green lately, and I miss her.

A baffling, frustrating, near-Saint

Did the 20th century produce anyone more baffling than Simone Weil? Christ at the Assembly Line

Russia and Ukraine

It’s a useful skill to be able to hold two truths in mind at the same time.

Truth #1 is that Russia is unjustified in invading Ukraine.

Truth #2 is that, discounting all the bullshit about “de-Nazification” or “Russki Mir,” Russia is right that the West is decadent, particularly in the area of sex and gender (with the U.S. leading the way), and that Ukraine is worrisomely trending westward in many areas of culture.

I literally pray every day that God will thwart our meddling in traditional cultures, and I generally have sexual perversity in mind as the distinctive way we meddle these days. I also pray that God will turn back all manner of attacks on Ukraine. So I’m rooting for Ukraine to win against Russia in the hot war, but also that it will reject some of our ways as it grows closer to the West.

Nota Bene

No Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on January 6 or 7. All Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on December 25.

You read that right.

The thing is, December 25 on the Julian calendar (which much of world Orthodoxy follows liturgically) is January 7 on the Gregorian Calendar, the “civil calendar,” which some Orthodox (including my parish) follow for every Christian feast except Easter/Pascha.

Religion News Service summarizes plausibly enough, given its Gregorian Calendar premises:

While the Orthodox Christian churches in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania celebrate [Epiphany/Theophany] on Jan. 6, Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Serbia follow the Julian calendar, according to which Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 19, as their Christmas falls on Jan. 7.

It is not disputed that the Gregorian Calendar is more accurate astronomically.

I won’t get into the intra-Orthodox disputes over the “calendar issue,” which I personally shunted aside decades ago. Those arguments do nothing to edify.


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.

American Christianity Today

Affiliation versus Faith

As Bullivant notes in his book, the fall of communism meant that “talk of ‘a final, all-out battle between communist atheism and Christianity’ was much less a part of the cultural background.” Now only the oldest millennials have the faintest recollection of what it meant to fear the destruction of our civilization at the hands of a hostile imperial aggressor.

Instead, millennials faced something else entirely. “Very soon,” writes Bullivant, “the most pressing geopolitical threat to baseball, Mom, and apple pie was not from those without religion but those with rather too much of the wrong kind of it.” The 9/11 attacks introduced Americans to Islamic fundamentalism, and “religious extremism, in the form of radical Islamic terrorists, usurped the place in American nightmares that communist infiltrators used to occupy.”

Where does this leave us? Bullivant’s book is a reminder that culture and context matter. While any given individual may resist the tides of the times, at scale religious affiliation is more malleable than we might think. The malleability of religious affiliation is one reason why it’s important to think of affiliation and faith as perhaps distinct and different concepts.

David French, mulling over what he’s read so far in Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America

Americanized religion

When I saw that Ross Douthat had written on The Americanization of Religion, I knew it would be good.

I was right.

By the way, The Americanization of Religion is not a good thing, just in case you were wondering.

Douthat’s column is so rich that I highlighted most of it and cannot find a satisfactory representative quote. Reading it will take you about 6 minutes if you don’t compulsively highlight and index it.

Religious “secularism”

Along the same lines:

On a daily basis, I have become increasingly aware of the “religious” nature of almost the whole of modern life. That might seem to be an odd observation when the culture in which we live largely describes itself as “secular.” That designation, however, only has meaning in saying that the culture does not give allegiance or preference to any particular, organized religious body. It is sadly the case, however, that this self-conception makes the culture particularly blind to just how “religious” it is in almost everything it does. I suspect that the more removed we are from true communion with God, the more “religious” we become.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Religious Nature of Modern Life

All of today’s observations echo one of the most illuminating books I’ve ever read, Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity. I can’t recommend it too highly if you have any interest in the history of religion — or if you think American popular religion is simply New Testament Christianity.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

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

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Thursday, 9/29/22

Today marks the 24th anniversary of my father’s death and 40 days since the death of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a titan in Anglophone Eastern Orthodoxy.

I’m surprised at how much I’ve aggregated. It definitely was time to get it out of draft and onto the internet.

Rightward swings in the Western World

When Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders

Rapid mass migration, we now know, is arsenic to egalitarian social democracy.

But why turn to the former neo-Nazis? You won’t find an answer to that in woke-captured media either. The answer is similar to the reason Americans turned to Trump: for a very long time, no one in the mainstream parties or media would acknowledge the reality of the migrant crisis or do anything about it, except call those asking questions racists and fascists.

… In the immortal words of David Frum: if liberals won’t enforce borders, fascists will.

Andrew Sullivan on the roots of Sweden’s political swing to the hard right.

Italy’s rightward swing

We’re left with a picture of a country in which the center-left is supported mainly by the educated, secular, and professional classes, while the right appeals to a cross-section of the rest of the country—the working class as well as the middle and upper-middle classes, along with the religiously pious and the large numbers of Italians who treat religion as a symbol or identity-marker without actually believing in or practicing it.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because similar things have been happening in many places over the past decade. The precise political results of these shifts have varied from country to country as they’ve interacted with different electoral systems, but the underlying trends in public opinion can be seen to a greater or lesser extent in France, Great Britain, the U.S., and other countries. In each case, the center-left has gone into decline with the center-right and anti-liberal populist right rising to take its place.

Until the center-left figures out a way to win back the working- and middle-class, as well as the nominally religious, it will continue to lose precious political ground to the populist and nationalist right.

Damon Linker

I’m quite impressed with Linker’s still-newish Substack. He’s been writing almost daily, but I don’t recall any total duds yet, and that’s a bit of a rarity even with writers whose schedules are more relaxed.

Angry Incoherence from the 5th Circuit

“I think passing this law was so much fun for these [Texas] legislators, and I think they might have expected it would get struck down, so the theater was the point.” But she also believes that there is likely some lack of understanding among those responsible for the law about just how extreme the First Amendment is in practice. “Most people don’t realize how much horrible speech is legal,” she said, arguing that historically, the constitutional right has confounded logic on both the political left and right. “These legislators think that they’re opening the door to some stuff that might offend liberals. But I don’t know if they realize they are also opening the door to barely legal child porn or pro-anorexia content and beheading videos. I don’t think they’ve understood how bad the bad is.

Daphne Keller, director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, via Charlie Warzel on NetChoice v. Paxton, a bizarre 5th Circuit opinion upholding a Texas law that, motivated by a perception of liberal bias in moderation, essentially forbade big internet platforms to moderate content — and forbade them from ceasing to do business in Texas to boot! Is This the Beginning of the End of the Internet?.

Domestic Politics

Proxy or Leader?

The flow-with-the-go model of politics is baked into representative democracy. Or, rather, representative democracy invariably is shaped by the tension between the conception of representative-as-proxy—“I’m just here to represent the Will of the People!”—and representative-as-leader, a  role in which a representative will, from time to time, be obliged to ignore or overrule popular sentiment in service to prudence and justice. This is Edmund Burke 101: “Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgement; and he betrays you instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Kevin D. Williamson, Grift 2.0

Burke’s has been my view of representative democracy for longer than I can remember. And his examples of "Grift 2.0" ring true.

Comparative hate

I don’t know a statement more indicative of the character of our moment than this by J. D. Vance: “I think our people hate the right people.”

Alan Jacobs. Sadly, Vance is quite public about his Christian faith. That he should consider hate-promotion a feature, not a bug, is jarring.

Powered by Pure Spite

The cardinal virtue of modern conservative populism is spite. Whatever gambit a populist is pursuing, whatever agenda he or she might be advancing, the more it offends the enemy the more likely it is to be received by the right adoringly. Ron DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt is an efficient example. It accomplished nothing meaningful yet observers on both sides agree that he helped his 2024 chances by pulling it off. He made the right people mad. That’s more important than thoughtful policy solutions.

Why spite has become so important to the right-wing populist ethic is hard to say, as it’s not symmetrical between the parties. The most prominent left-wing populist in Congress is probably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a politician who, despite her many faults, doesn’t want for policy ideas. Ask AOC what her top priority as a legislator is and she might say the Green New Deal or Medicare For All. The most prominent right-wing populist in Congress is likely Marjorie Taylor Greene. Ask Greene what she wants to do with her power as a legislator and she’s apt to say, “Impeach Joe Biden.”

“Impeach Joe Biden for what?” you might ask, as if that matters. …

Spite doesn’t need a reason.

Nick Catoggio (f/k/a Allahpundit), The Wild Ones

True Movements or Mostly Hype?

It is perfectly clear that there is a movement in America of people who call themselves evangelicals but have no properly theological commitments at all. But what’s not clear, to me anyway, is how many of them there are. Donald Trump can draw some big crowds, and those crowds often have a quasi-religious focus on him or anyway on what they believe he stands for — but those crowds are not large in the context of the entire American population. They’re very visible, because both Left and Right have reasons for wanting them to be visible, but how demographically significant are they really?

I have similar questions about, for instance, the “national conservatism” movement. Is this actually a movement? Or is it just a few guys who follow one another on Twitter and subscribe to one another’s Substacks?

Alan Jacobs

Culture

I dread our being too much dreaded

I must fairly say I dread our own power, and our own ambition; I dread our being too much dreaded. . . . We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing, and hitherto unheard-of power. But every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.

Edmund Burke via Michael Brendan Dougherty, defending himself and Christopher Hitchens against charges of being Putin apologists for long opposing our policies in Ukraine, almost none of which charges are made in good faith.

Dougherty continues:

To [Peter] Hitchens, whom I have admired greatly for some time, I say now is the time to apply realism to the trolls and demagogues and even to many of the think-tankers and mandarins on the other side. Our case is that they are mishandling grave matters, that they are hubristic and deluded about their own nations and about grand strategy. We think they are casting themselves, absurdly, as great statesmen like Churchill. You and I, having read just a little more history than can fit into a two-hour movie, don’t even belong to that cult in the same way they do. Why, then, should we ever have expected them to treat their powerless critics fairly?

Realism means admitting that our leadership is unworthy, deluded, and stupid. Really they are unprepared, or unfit for their roles. They have led us from one disaster to the next for over two decades. But we may avoid the worst calamity in spite of their failures. We may be saved the miscalculation of others. Or our salvation may be that the huge treasury of power and advantage bequeathed to our nations by previous generations cannot be wasted entirely, even by foolish heirs like these. Or it may be by pure dumb luck, or the grace of God.

White Liberals

I love WL’s [White Liberals], love ’em to death. They’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches.

Paul Farmer via Alan Jacobs

Invisible infrastructure

Our immigration system is broken, and relies on the invisible infrastructure maintained by non-profits and religious groups.

Leah Libresco Sargeant (italics added).

I think everyone knows the system is broken, but I had not been award of the invisible infrastructure. Maybe Paul Farmer wasn’t completely right about white liberals.

Because I say so. That’s why.

Over two decades ago, when I was getting to know Eric [Metaxas], we had a friendly argument over something theological, as we walked around Manhattan. When I challenged something Eric said, he replied that God had told him it was the thing to do. “How do you know that?” I asked. Because he did. The argument went nowhere. I remember it so clearly because that was the first time I had ever had a conversation with someone who asserted that something was true not because God said it — all Christians must believe that, or throw out Scripture — but because God had said it to them personally.

Rod Dreher, What I Saw at the Jericho March (MAGA at prayer event a shocking display of apocalyptic faith and politics — and religious decadence)

Apple pulls back from China

Apple announced Monday it has already begun manufacturing its new iPhone 14 in India, just weeks after the updated product launched and months earlier than previously expected. Production of the company’s newest line of phones typically begins in Chinese factories because of existing supply-chain efficiencies, with some of it shifting to India after six to nine months. The move is likely indicative of Western companies’ newfound desire to limit reliance on China amid economic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions.

The Morning Dispatch for Tuesday, 9/27/22

Battling Amazon in France

France introduces a delivery charge for books: The “minimum charge of €3 will help small independent booksellers struggling to compete with Amazon and other giant online retailers.”

Micah Mattix

The New Economy

Financialization itself, at the grand scale, was a racket—substituting swindles and frauds for the old economy of industrial production.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency

Journalism, traditional and new

Toxic News Swamp

[H]ow could MSNBC and CBS News have both purported to “independently confirm” a CNN bombshell that was completely false?

Glenn Greenwald, How Do Big Media Outlets So Often "Independently Confirm" Each Other’s Falsehoods?

Oases of Sanity

If you’re tired of tearing your hair out over political writing, Alan Jacobs has the cure: an array of sane writers who are not carrying water for anyone or any cause:

  • Leah Libresco Sargeant
  • Noah Millman
  • Damon Linker
  • Zeynep Tufecki
  • Yair Rosenberg
  • John McWhorter
  • Freddie deBoer
  • Jonathan Rauch
  • Jonathan Haidt
  • Jesse Singal
  • David French
  • Andrew Sullivan

Wordplay

Shameware

Software voluntarily installed on a smartphone to allow someone else to monitor, and challenge, one’s internet browsing. One group of Churches in particular is using it.

Similar to surveillance software like Bark or NetNanny, which is used to monitor children at home and school, “shameware” apps are lesser-known tools that are used to keep track of behaviors parents or religious organizations deem unhealthy or immoral. Fortify, for instance, was developed by the founder of an anti-pornography nonprofit called Fight the New Drug and tracks how often an individual masturbates in order to help them overcome “sexual compulsivity.” The app has been downloaded over 100,000 times and has thousands of reviews on the Google Play store.

Wired

My first reaction was “maybe some people really need this to straighten out.” But the security holes it creates are technically worrisome apart from spiritual or psychological concerns.

Mechanical Jacobins

Automobiles, in the lexicon of Russell Kirk

Fractally wrong

Techdirt founder Mike Masnick’s summary of the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholding Texas’ ban on big sites moderating content (see above). In greater detail…

made up of so many layers of wrongness that, in order to fully comprehend its significance, “you must understand the historical wrongness before the legal wrongness, before you can get to the technical wrongness.”

Via Charlie Warzel, Is This the Beginning of the End of the Internet?.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Sunday 9/18/22

Liturgies

How Elizabeth experienced her coronation

Over here, people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the by the sacramental side of what we going on.

C.S. Lewis on the 1953 Coronation of Elizabeth II Regina, attributed to a personal letter.

In contrast to sacramentality, America developed …

Proto-Populism in the Pews

Simply put, the Antichrist now worked his evil machinations through elites of all kind, particularly the clergy.

Nathan Hatch, Thundering Legions in The Democratization of American Christianity

Or so Americans leaned to think. Bereft of sacrament, they invented tawdry substitutes, personal and collective:

C.S. Lewis on Christian patriotism

From Screwtape Letters:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

I think things would be better if supposedly serious Christian people stopped talking like demons, don’t you?

Jake Meador

What happens to churches that forsake liturgy

What strikes me about certain low church communities is that they sometimes imagine themselves to have no liturgy at all. In some cases, they might even be overtly hostile to the very idea of a liturgy. This is interesting to me because, in practice, it is not that they have no liturgy at all as they imagine—they simply end up with an unacknowledged liturgy of a different sort. Their services also feature predictable patterns and rhythms, as well as common cadences and formulations, even if they are not formally expressed or delineated and although they differ from the patterns and rhythms of high church congregations. It’s not that you get no church calendar, for example, it’s that you end up trading the old ecclesial calendar of holy days and seasons, such as Advent, Epiphany, and Lent, for a more contemporary calendar of national and sentimental holidays, which is to say those that have been most thoroughly commercialized.

L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society

What happens to politicians formed spiritually in such churches

When Vice President Mike Pence delivered his speech at the Republican National Convention, it was like witnessing a Walker Percy satire. Pence remixed Hebrews 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:17, by replacing “Jesus” with “Old Glory,” the “saints” with “this land of heroes,” and even interjected his own biblical gloss—“that means freedom always wins.”

In Love in the Ruins, the Roman Catholic Church has split into three groups, one of which is the American Catholic Church, whose new “Rome” is Cicero, Illinois. The protagonist Tom More attends church there with his mother to celebrate Property Rights Sunday, a major feast day for the church.

Unlike its forebear, the American Catholic Church “emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin Mass, and plays ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the elevation.”

In response to Pence’s speech, some Christian leaders denounced his idolatry, a great start to warding off Percy’s “Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world.” However, if we want to avert the American apocalypse, we need better readers and thinkers of the Word. As Americans, we should prioritize reading well, learning what words mean, why context matters, and how to be comfortable with mystery.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, Percy and Pence and the American Sense of Scripture

The Religion of American Greatness

Paul D. Miller, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University, recognizes that most of the existing works on Christian nationalism “are rather extreme and almost comical examples of beating up on straw men—or would be, if they weren’t also fear-mongering scurrilous libel masquerading as scholarship.” In The Religion of American Greatness, Miller, who identifies himself as a “Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer,” proposes to offer a “detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism.”

Mark David Hall, Christian Nationalism: An Existential Threat?

Deja Vu

I guess it’s time for somebody to mention, and even to elaborate upon, white Evangelicalism’s pathetic, unbiblical obsession with celebrities: Richard Ostling Is celebrity culture eroding American evangelicalism? This publishing insider says ‘yes’

Yes, I send “unbiblical.” Elevating novice Christian celebrities is pathetic and it’s dangerous to the celebrities themselves.

None of the periodic commentary on this weakness has changed a damned thing, of course.

Hidden life

Enough of my rough and critical thoughts on American religious life.

God Saved the Queen

In all of human history Queen Elizabeth II is the single person who has been most prayed for. From her birth in 1926 she was included in a petition myriads of people prayed day after day: It called upon the Almighty to bless and preserve “all the Royal Family.” From her accession to the throne in 1952, millions began to pray for her daily by name: “That it might please thee to keep and strengthen . . . thy Servant Elizabeth, our most gracious Queen and Governor.” A modern form introduced during her reign that is often used today pleads, “Guard and strengthen your servant Elizabeth our Queen.”

Prayers Answered: God Saved the Queen via Alan Jacobs. The author goes on with other notable things about the late Queen.

Learning to Let Things Be

We seem to be on the verge of choosing what and whether human life—and with it, all life—will continue to be on this planet. Whether science fiction or not there are a lot of brainy people with a lot of money behind them trying to turn us into something quite different than what we have been. I think they will fail. But I don’t really know, maybe they won’t. They will likely do tremendous of damage in the process regardless. Yet nobody is able to give a fully coherent explanation of what we are doing or why. Instead, we are drowning in partial, often unhelpful explanations. I have to wonder whether our situation even can be understood. Have we reached our cognitive and moral limits? Or are the cacophony of reasons we give merely an implicit way of admitting we don’t really know why we do what we do? Admitting our fundamental ignorance would at least be refreshing in its honesty. Instead, it is not unusual to find various deep, sincere, erudite, and eloquent views of our situation that are in nearly complete contradiction with one another. It actually is quite common. Many of them are done with the same air of certainty—where there likely is none.

I myself offer only the Arsenios Option, i.e., fleeing the world of distraction and ambition, being silent, and dwelling in stillness. I don’t offer it as way to understand our situation. It’s what you do when all explanations have failed and when talking turns to gibberish … It is the hope that we can go deeper than the problem itself. In silence, stillness not-knowing, we might possibly learn to stop trying to fix everything. Maybe thereby we can avoid the inevitable catastrophe our solutions themselves are causing. We can learn to accept that we don’t see things clearly and that we probably never will. We can accept that we don’t really know and that not-knowing is actually the better and more human way to live. We can live humbly with each other and upon the earth and with the Divine. We can finally learn to simply let things be.

For although at certain times and in certain circumstances it is necessary and useful to dwell on the particular situation and activity of people and things, during this work it is almost useless. Thinking and remembering are forms of spiritual understanding in which the eye of the spirit is opened and closed upon things as the eye of a marksman is on his target. But I tell you that everything you dwell upon during this work becomes an obstacle to union with God. For if your mind is cluttered with these concerns there is no room for him.

—The Cloud of Unknowing

Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden (footnotes omitted)


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Wednesday, 7/6/22

Eye of newt, toe of frog: what’s cooking in Nashville?

“The greatest danger to America is not our enemies from the outside, as powerful as they may be,” said former President Donald Trump, who delivered the keynote address at the event. “The greatest danger to America is the destruction of our nation from the people from within. And you know the people I’m talking about.”

Katherine Stewart, Christian Nationalists Are Excited About What Comes Next

Because Trump’s words are in quotation-marks, I trust Stewart on the quote. (Otherwise, she’s prone to reckless hyperbole.) Can we agree that "you know the people I’m talking about," coming from the mouth of the man who’d have been glad of the lynching of Mike Pence on 1/6/21 for frustrating his coup attempt, is legitimately chilling?

But, ironically, he almost spoke the truth for once: the greatest danger is within, and a big part of it was listening to him with rapt attention.

The "theology of dominionism — that is, the belief that “right-thinking” Christians have a biblically derived mandate to take control of all aspects of government and society" (Stewart’s pretty accurate summary) is deeply unchristian, and I don’t mean that it isn’t nice enough or sweet enough. I’m using Christian in a, well, Christian sense, not as a synonym for "mensch." (There are nasty Christians in this world and admirable non-Christians.)

I mean that grasping for political power through threat of violence is demonic, not Christian. I don’t care what kind of half-assed "Seven Mountains Dominionism" you can brew up from eye of newt, toe of frog, tongues of glossolalia and Calvin’s sting to justify it.

No, the problem isn’t wanting to win. The problem is the unwillingness to lose. That is, the problem is the impossibility of imagining that certain forms of losing might be preferable to certain forms of winning – that some things might not be worth doing even if not doing them would entail losing.

Brad East, Another Option for Christian Politics.

The Rise and Fall of Nondenominationalism

Christianity Today had an excellent podcast series, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, with Mars Hill being a Seattle-area megachurch led by its founder named Mark Driscoll. Driscoll was autocratic, toxic, and had some weird obsessions. The Church finally exploded, for reasons you can learn by listening to the podcast series.

Or, in my opinion, you could listen to one of the follow-on episodes, specifically a new interview with Tim Keller. Keller has tremendous insight, but you need to listen closely because he doesn’t say narrowly and judgmentally "this what went wrong with Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll." What he does say has to do with the weaknesses of nondenominational Evangelicalism.

It’s not that hard to connect the dots from there. And in the end, that’s far more important than the weaknesses of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill.

Stories

Stanley is convinced that at least part of a theologian’s job is to tell stories, and stories should be entertaining. Though some might take this as a sign of unsophistication, Stanley would argue that Wittgenstein and others have cured him of theology’s self-defeating post-Enlightenment attempt to ground itself on anything but the biblical narrative.

Stanley Hauerwas, John Berkman, Michael G. Cartwright, The Hauerwas Reader. Or, as Fr. Hans Jacobse said, "We are not in a post-Christian age, but in a post-Enlightenment age. The reason why these Christianities are collapsing is that they were rationalized."

Blinking in shock at a different kind of midlife crisis

Like me, Martin recently found himself blinking in shock as he was dragged unexpectedly towards Christianity in midlife, after a career as a storyteller, mythologist and wilderness rites-of-passage guide. Wondering what we can do about our mutual weird journey, we’ve put our heads together to organise a day-long event of stories, talks, workshops and other bits and pieces, aimed at reviving the wild, ancient Christian legacy of the West.

It’s quite a legacy, too. Once upon a time these islands were sprinkled with cave-dwelling monks, forest Christians, old stone monasteries, wandering fools-for-Christ and stories of faith wound deep in the woods and the wild. It’s a deep liturgical, mythological and wild legacy that most of us have forgotten, and we’re going to spend a day and a night talking about it.

Paul Kingsnorth. The "Martin" is Martin Shaw (The House of Beasts & Vines and Amazon).

These aren’t, I think, kinds of stories Stanley Hauerwas was referring to (above), because they’re not exactly biblical. But they’re very good.

I’d give a lot to hear these two together, but not as much as transatlantic air fare.

Humility Today

Ever notice how the people who mention humility the most tend to have it in the shortest supply? Citing a tweet from European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde—that she was “humbled to be awarded an honorary degree by the London School of Economics”—David Brooks dives into the false modesty phenomenon, and why it’s found such a natural home online. “If you’ve spent any time on social media, and especially if you’re around the high-status world of the achievatrons, you are probably familiar with the basic rules of the form,” he writes. “The first rule is that you must never tweet about any event that could actually lead to humility. Never tweet: ‘I’m humbled that I went to a party, and nobody noticed me.’ Never tweet: ‘I’m humbled that I got fired for incompetence.’ The whole point of humility display is to signal that you are humbled by your own magnificent accomplishments. We can all be humbled by an awesome mountain or the infinitude of the night sky, but to be humbled by being in the presence of yourself—that is a sign of truly great humility.”

The Morning Dispatch

Pride is generally thought a, if not the, cardinal sin. Humility is its opposite. When people turn "humbled" into the equivalent of "proud", we’re in a world of hurt — worse by far than when they turned "literally" into another word for "figuratively."

David Brooks is one of a handful of reasons I renewed my New York Times subscription after they offered another year at 75%+ discount. Ask and ye shall receive, I guess.

School Shootings (and likely more, but tacitly)

The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

Malcolm Gladwell via David French, on school shootings as slow-motion riots (among other things).

French:

[T]he “ideology of masculinity” is more dysfunctional than I’ve ever seen. It’s trapped between two competing extremes, a far-left version that casts common male characteristics as inherently toxic or unhealthy and a right-wing masculine counterculture that often revels in aggression and intimidation. One extreme says, “Traditional masculinity is toxic,” and the other extreme responds, “I’ll show you toxic masculinity.” In the meantime, all too many ordinary young men lack any kind of common vision for a moral, meaningful life.

The Supreme Court’s War on Life, the Universe and Everything

From the first full term of a high court whose majority is committed to interpreting the law rather than making it, we know definitively it is for many Americans a revolutionary concept tantamount to an act of aggression. The left and its standard bearers in the media have become so inured to the idea of the judicial branch as an additional arm of the legislature that they regard any departure as an act of hostility.

For that half-century, judges have been allies in the progressive struggle to remake America—either as friendly facilitators of the aims of Democratic presidents and lawmakers or as useful bulwarks against the efforts of Republicans.

The left has surely been encouraged in this belief by the apparently bipartisan nature of the progressive, activist interpretation of the judiciary’s role. Justices appointed by presidents of both parties, have affirmed it. If Anthony Kennedy could reaffirm Roe and John Roberts could uphold ObamaCare, then this is surely the settled and universally agreed-on function of the court: to align itself efficiently with the dominant ideology of the times.

This ideology requires the judiciary to view its role not as the independent interpreter of law in the light of what the Constitution as written permits, but as supplier of a spurious legal authority for explicitly political goals that have no constitutional justification.

Gerard Baker, The Supreme Court’s War on Life, the Universe and Everything


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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

Independence Day 2022

I have no flag-waving enthusiasm for you, but nothing too dark, either.

Trying to post daily isn’t a habit that comes easily. I’m dropping this one Monday morning, whereas my intent is to put a bow on my posts the prior evening.

Politics

From the Department of I Wish I’d Written That

I’ve been thinking about the weird intense hatred many conservatives feel for people like David French and Liz Cheney — for anyone they think isn’t “fighting.” Here’s my conclusion: The conservative movement has too many sheepdogs and not enough shepherds.

Sheepdogs do two things: they snap at members of the herd whom they believe to be straying from their proper place, and they bark viciously at wolves and other intruders. Sheepdogs are good at identifying potential predators and scaring them off with noisy aggression. (Often they suspect innocent passers-by of being wolves, but that just comes with the job description. Better to err on the side of caution, etc.)

What sheepdogs are useless at is caring for the sheep. They can’t feed the sheep, or inspect them for injury or illness, or give them medicine. All they can do is bark when they see someone who might be a predator. And that’s fine, except for this: the sheepdogs of the conservative movement think that everyone who is not a sheepdog – everyone who is not angrily barking — is a wolf. So they try to frighten away even the faithful shepherds. If they succeed, eventually the whole herd will die, from starvation or disease. And as that happens, the sheepdogs won’t even notice. They will stand there with their backs to the dying herd and bark their fool heads off.

Alan Jacobs

When abortion wasn’t a partisan issue

Abortion was not always a partisan issue:

Both before and immediately after the Roe v. Wade decision, many prominent Republicans, such as First Lady Betty Ford and New York Gov. and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, supported abortion rights.

At the same time, some liberal Democrats spoke out against abortion rights, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver and his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.

The anti-abortion movement was strongest in the heavily Catholic, reliably Democratic states of the Northeast, and its supporters believed that their campaign for the rights of the unborn accorded well with the liberal principles of the Democratic Party.

By the time the Supreme Court reversed Roe, the anti-abortion movement had become so thoroughly allied with conservative Republican politics that it was difficult to imagine a time when liberal Democrats who supported an expanded welfare state were leaders in the movement.

Daniel K. Williams, Before Roe, anti-abortion activism included liberals inspired by Catholic social teaching. In that ellipsis lies some interesting stuff, so read the whole thing.

It always puzzled me that abortion had become so partisan an issue. And gradually, it horrified me that abortion opponents felt obligated to vote for the creepiest, most implausible Republicans as long as they said they’d work to overturn Roe. Some of them plainly had not internalized the meaning of "pro-life."

I suppose there was an analogous process on the side of abortion supporters. Lord knows, the Democrats have some creepy people in high places.

We’ll see how, or whether, Dobbs changes that. The liberal Democrats who oppose abortion and haven’t died off should find the American Solidarity Party most congenial.

Jonah discerns a bit of hypocrisy

Definitions vary, but I think we can all agree that giving voters and their representatives power to make decisions is part of any serious understanding of democracy. I know that totalitarian and authoritarian countries like to call themselves democracies too. But such claims are what you might call “deceptive advertising” or “false branding” or “lies.”

As the English setter said when making a big fuss about a quail, here’s what I’m getting at: A lot of people described the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade as a blow to “our democracy.”

But let’s move on.

Nach maga, kommen wir.

There’s one area where I agree with Democrats about the threat to “our democracy.” All of the hardcore MAGA candidates championing the stolen election lie are a real threat to democracy. I may not agree with progressives about the scope or scale of the threat (I suspect our democracy can survive the election of a bunch of Trumpian Mini-Mes). But that, too, is beside the point. You don’t have to buy the argument that these bozos, grifters, useful idiots, and poltroons pose an existential threat to democracy to still think they pose a serious threat.

More importantly, I’m not the one saying they pose an existential threat. Last November, leaders of 58 of the most influential progressive groups wrote an open letter to Congress saying that, “Our democracy faces an existential threat—the very real possibility that the outcome of an election could be ignored and the will of the people overturned by hyperpartisan actors.”

So what have Democrats—who often echo this rhetoric—done to thwart these hyperpartisan democracy assassins?

Fund them to the hilt!

Jonah Goldberg, Democrats Have a Funny Way of Expressing Concern About ‘Our Democracy’

Legalia – Waffling on Coach Kennedy

As I’ve said, I’m not all that impressed by Coach Kennedy, the 50-yardline-post-game-prayer guy who won in the Supreme Court last week. In fact, I would have been okay with it if he had lost on the theory that his prayers, in the total context of his history of post-game prayers, was excessively (if subtly) coercive (which is more or less what the dissent argues).

Now, Prof. Josh Blackman (No Offense, But It’s Just A Prayer) has given me second thoughts about whether there ought to be any cause of action for "coercion" so subjective as the facts here shown.

Naturally, Mr. Kennedy’s proposal to pray quietly by himself on the field would have meant some people would have seen his religious exercise. Those close at hand might have heard him too. But learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is "part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society," a trait of character essential to "a tolerant citizenry." Lee. This Court has long recognized as well that "secondary school students are mature enough … to understand that a school does not endorse," let alone coerce them to participate in, "speech that it merely permits on a nondiscriminatory basis." Mergens. Of course, some will take offense to certain forms of speech or prayer they are sure to encounter in a society where those activities enjoy such robust constitutional protection. But "[o]ffense … does not equate to coercion." Town of Greece.

Justice Gorsuch in Kennedy v. Bremerton (emphasis added).

Sometimes, I just need a good whack up side-o-the-head.

(I am not friendly, by the way, to what I take to be the Coach’s version of Christianity; that is almost invariably true of religious freedom cases in the U.S. because the U.S. has, in Ross Douthat’s words, so much Bad Religion. So don’t give me the "How’d ya like it if he was praying a Muslim prayer, huh?!" bit.)

Miscellany

Funning

I was told some decades back that the word "fun" has no real equivalent in other languages/cultures. That possibility was so much fun that I didn’t risk spoiling it by checking out the claim.

I also couldn’t define "fun." Now, at the end of his guest post The Holy Anarchy of Fun at Bari Weiss’s Common Sense, Walter Kirn gives it a shot:

Fun is abandonment. “Don’t think. Do.” It’s a form of forgetting, of looseness and imbalance, which is why it can’t be planned and why it threatens those who plan things for us. Fun is minor chaos enjoyed in safety and most genuine when it comes as a surprise, when water from hidden nozzles hits your face or when the class hamster, that poor imprisoned creature, has finally had enough and flees its cage.

I can’t say I find Kirn’s elliptical definition anything better than evocative, but now that he puts fun under my nose again, I find that feel less censorious toward it than I once did.

We spend too much time in the left hemisphere, "murdering to dissect" as Wordsworth put it. "Fun" could be at least a waystation on the way to

… a heart
That watches and receives.

Eine Kleine Structural Racism

Here is an example, not necessarily huge, of "structural racism": Brian Sawers, What Lies Behind That ‘No Trespass’ Sign – The Atlantic. It’s also an interesting historical story even apart from its ongoing effects. Suffice that keeping freed slaves in a deeply subordinate position was a substantial part of the motivation for closing formerly open lands.

For a few years in my childhood, my Dad owned maybe ten acres of country land, mostly woods. The idea was we’d build a custom home there some day. Dad posted "No Trespassing" signs, which found themselves peppered full of 22 caliber bullet holes. We even caught a squirrel hunter in flagrante delicto one time. It never occurred to me until now that maybe Dad shouldn’t have posted those signs, but should have expected hunters to visit, which really did him no harm. (This was an era where a landowner wouldn’t get sued if someone invited himself in a got hurt accidentlally.)

I don’t suppose there’s be a lot of people opting for a subsistence diet of squirrels, rabbits and more exotic critters, hunted on open lands, so I don’t know how lingering is the oppressive effect of these laws. But suffice that lands were legally open, and trespassing wasn’t a thing, until slaves got legally emancipated.

Both sides

There are some really crazy ideas out there, and not just on the QAnon Right:

Someday I will do this long-form and with a lot of sources and such, but I’m writing at the moment out of considerable annoyance. In short, I am so sick and tired of being told by leftists that our mental illness problems (my mental illness problem) are the fault of capitalism, or perhaps some such vague and useless thing as “the system.” Sometimes they say this specifically about suicide as well. I would like to ask compassionate people to stop doing this, and I have the following questions and complaints.

Freddie deBoer, My Brief Brief Against "Mental Illness is Just Capitalism, Man, the System".

Because what Freddie is responding to seems so outlandish to me, I’ll leave you with that teaser and link rather than quote more.

On B1G "stealing" USC and UCLA

College sports are so shameless that when anyone else does anything shameless in the world, they have to pay college sports a sizable royalty.

Jason Gay, My Big Ten Welcome to…USC and UCLA.

I talked to a sports fanatic at Church coffee hour yesterday. This move portends a lot more than I realized.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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

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.

Sunday Edification

It’s a commonplace, I think, that if you don’t have a word for something, it’s hard to think about it.

Fr. Stephen Freeman points out that we have no good English words for three things vital to Orthodox spirituality: nous (adverb noetic), hesychia, and nepsis. The consequence of our ignorance of the nous is that we try to use the wrong "tools" to know God:

… [W]e have narrowed the focus of our attention and are probably among the least aware human beings to have ever lived.

Our narrowed focus is largely confined to two aspects: the critical faculty and emotions. The critical faculty mostly studies for facts, compares, judges, measures, and so forth. Emotions run through the varieties of pleasure and pain, largely pairing with the critical faculty to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This way of experiencing the world is largely the result of living in a consumerist culture. We not only consume things – we are constantly under a barrage of information geared solely towards consumption. We consume everything. Information is more than information – it is information for the purpose of consumption. Even religious notions are governed by consumption. We “like” or “don’t like” Church. We find it useful, or of no interest. People are even known to “shop” for Churches.

The nous is not a faculty of consumption. It is a faculty of perception, particularly of spiritual perception. The modern struggle to experience God often fails because it is carried out by consumers. God, the true and living God, cannot be consumed, nor can He be known by the tools of consumption. Consumerist Christianity peddles experience and ideas about God. It has little or nothing to do with God Himself.

I can recommend no better Sunday reading than the full blog post, ‌A Noetic Life.

Raging against the Machine

Raging against the Machine

  • Jyoti [the writer’s wife] was a psychiatrist who earned actual money. But psychiatry was killing her, her role was not to cure people but to medicate them, to stick plasters on the wounds the Machine had gouged into the people at the bottom of the pile. There was nothing she could do about the wounds, and they kept coming.
  • My culture comes, most recently, from the southeastern suburbs of England. It’s a culture of hard work, of ‘getting on,’ of English Protestantism channeled into secular ambition. It’s about settling down and having a family, contributing, progressing, climbing up; not bad things, necessarily, not for a lot of people. But it’s also about selling up, moving on, about property ladders and career ladders, about staking your place on the consumer travelator that represents progress in a burning world. It’s about feeding the Machine that rips up the people and rips up the places and turns them all against each other while the money funnels upwards to the people who are paying attention. This is the crap our children are learning. There is not much sign at all that the tide is turning.
  • The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of ‘legitimate’ thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people. … Newton, for example, ‘revolutionized’ physics and the so-called natural sciences by reducing the physical universe to a linear mathematical equation. Descartes did the same thing with culture. John Locke did it with politics, and Adam Smith did it with economics. Each one of these ‘thinkers’ took a piece of the spirituality of human existence and converted it into a code, an abstraction … Each of these intellectual revolutions served to abstract the European mentality even further, to remove the wonderful complexity and spirituality from the universe and replace it with a logical sequence: one, two, three. Answer! (Quoting Russell Means)
  • ‘In Western Civilization,’ says the poet Gary Snyder, ‘our elders are books.’ Books pass on our stories. Books carry the forbidden knowledge and the true. Books are weird things, inhuman things, abstract things, but they are gateways, at their best, to the world to which the drum and the fire and the sweat lodge used to take us. The Otherworld. At her best, the writer is a shaman, a priestess, a summoner.

Paul Kingsnorth, in Savage Gods.

Hungary

Tucker in Hungary

Of Tucker Carlson in Hungary, Bill Kristol says out loud what others have been insinuating:

The New American Right is now explicitly embracing the Old European Right. Not to put to fine a point on it, the New American Right is…anti-American.

Rod Dreher is having none of it — from Kristol the rest of the Sacred Confraternity of Circle-Jerking Pundits:

Is anybody really moved by an older man calling a younger man “anti-American” because he goes to a NATO country and American ally, and speaks well of it? Isn’t that, you know, nuts?

The idea that an American conservative who admires some of what Viktor Orban does, and believes, is somehow “anti-American” is not only insulting, but is a smear designed to make people believe that to be a real American, you have to endorse selling your country, its institutions, and its traditions out to globalist liberals and American hegemons willing to start wars to turn the whole world into America. Forget it. I love my country, though I don’t love what it’s becoming. If I can learn from the Hungarians how to better resist what the people who are ruining America are doing, then that’s pro-American to me.

Rod Dreher

Which is less bad?

I would rather have honest government over dishonest government, but if I had to choose between a corrupt president who rewarded his cronies, and a president who was morally fastidious, but whose administration stopped using the word “mother” in federal documents, substituting instead “birthing people” — well, that’s not a hard choice to make. A society can survive Huey P. Long; it cannot survive losing the meaning of “mother”.

Rod Dreher, ‌Why Conservatives Should Care About Hungary

The last word on Andrew Cuomo

Are you getting tired of news about Andrew Cuomo? Me too.

Peggy Noonan has the mike-drop line:

No one in New York is walking around saying “I don’t believe it” or “That’s not the Andrew I know.” It’s apparently the Andrew Cuomo a lot of people knew.

You may now resume your regularly-scheduled activities.

Another inversion, realignment

I’ve said since Election 2016 that a major political realignment was under way (though I said it much more in the early days, before the daily assaults from Trump became too dominant in my thoughts). Here’s an emergent example:

We’ve come to an odd pass in American politics. The people who have the deepest suspicions about the way government works are increasingly enthusiastic about the use of government power.

Somehow, many of the same folks who say that government authorities shouldn’t be trusted to make sure vaccines are safe or that elections are fairly conducted also say that we should have the government set industrial policy, regulate speech on the internet, or even engineer the size and shape of American families. How can institutions so corrupt as the ones described by right-wing nationalists be trusted with the power to administer matters far more complicated than testing vaccines or counting ballots?

Chris Stirewalt, ‌The Contradictions of Paranoid Nationalism.

This is perhaps hyperbolic, but it is at least directionally right as to some of Rod Dreher’s recent utterances, for instance:

Hungary is an important example for American conservatives in part because it compels us to recognize that the state is the only means we have left to defend ourselves from those who despise us and our institutions, and want to force us to bow to soft totalitarianism. This is a hell of a thing for an American conservative raised in the Reagan era to grasp, but that’s where we are. Just as the king’s role was in part to protect the people from the depredations of the nobility, in this current era of leftist capture of US institutions (including the military!), the state is the only means by which we conservatives can exercise power in our own self-defense.

Sullivan the Prophet

[Andrew Sullivan’s] term “Christianist” felt like a mild slap in the face, right until the afternoon of Jan. 6, when a mob of believers stormed the Capitol on a “righteous” mission to overturn an election — with crosses in the crowd and prayers on their lips.

David French, reviewing Out on a Limb


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.

Biggest sinner on the block

Roosh V was a nasty piece of work, but it’s all cool now

Rod Dreher distills the story of Daryush Valizadeh, a/k/a Roosh V, a red-pill manosphere pickup artist and social media personality who in 2019 stopped all that crap cold turkey, returned to Christianity and eventually (May 2021) entered the Russian Orthodox Church. Valizadeh is full of zeal and has found other men who are full of zeal as well — almost a baptized religious version of the manosphere but without the misogyny.

I found the tale sorta interesting, but found one thing creepily evocative about it: “I was the biggest sinner on the block” testimonies were tiresomely common in Evangelicalism, and this brought back those memories. Those big-sinner-who-got-born-again types seemed to turn into creeps of various sort with suspicious regularity. Part of it was that Evangelicalism just could not help itself; as soon as some celebrity announced getting born again, they’d thrust them in front of their congregations (later their cameras) in contradiction of scriptural warnings.

His history is what it is, and I don’t know how much the foregrounding of his sleazy history is his doing and how much is just thrust upon him by others. I hope it’s the latter and I wish they’d stop.

For Dreher, the tale evoked his own triumphalist zeal for Roman Catholicism — which zeal and faith he lost calamitously 16+ years ago covering the clergy sex abuse scandals as a journalist. Those were not fun, liberating times for Rod, and he cautions Valizadeh to be careful of triumphalism lest he face a similar crisis of faith when first he encounters an Orthodox scandal.

I guess Rod and I share a common theme of concern for Roosh, still a relative novice in a 2000-year-deep faith, that he gets formed well and isn’t exploited for his celebrity.

After lamenting how his personal story dissuades him from aggressively proselytizing for Orthodoxy, or even for Christianity generally, Rod concludes:

Still, there is a particular reason I recommended Orthodox books to the visionary writer Paul Kingsnorth when he first began to inquire about Christianity — and there is a reason he embraced Orthodoxy quickly. There is a reason why Dr. Iain McGilchrist, the author of The Master And His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, told me that he is not a believer, but if he were, he would be Orthodox, because of all forms of Christianity, it is the one that has … maintained the best balance between logical and intuitive modes of knowing). There is a reason why, after sixteen years (next month) of worshiping and praying as an Orthodox Christian, faith in Christ is sedimented into my bones in a way it never was before.

Rod Dreher. I am not surprised at McGilchrist’s observation, having fairly recently finished ‌The Master And His Emissary.

I have no reason to think Rod reads my blog, and there’s no way to comment on his Substack offerings, but I’d like to point out to him that it is difficult to speak eloquently, truthfully and adequately about Orthodox Christianity precisely because of the extent to which it relies on intuitive modes of knowing. Speech is largely a left-hemisphere creation that relies on logic and analysis to make its persuasive points, and intuition translates poorly into the left-brain’s dialect.

Or as Dr. McGilchrist notes in the book:

one feels so hopeless relying on the written [or spoken – Tipsy] word to convey meaning in humanly important and emotionally freighted situations.

and again

It is precisely its accuracy and definiteness that make speech unsuited for expressing what is too complex, changeful and ambiguous.

That, I think, emphasizes why the invitation “Come and see” is as important for making Orthodox Christians today as it was for making disciples at the beginning.

“What we believe” pages

I’ve been off Facebook for several years now (I’ve lost track).

I’m not bragging. I got on for honorable reasons (to reconnect with high school friends, who since I went to boarding school, were more important to me by far than college friends) and got off it for honorable reasons as well (I didn’t like Facebook turning some of my family members into trolls, nor did I like lining Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets).

But while I was on, I hurt somebody a bit. A high school fried was deeply involved in an Evangelical megachurch in a major city. I visited its website, found a page on “what we believe,” and found a roll-your-own substitute for the historic creeds of the Church. The net effect imbalanced if not heretical. I critiqued it without naming the church or why I’d visited the site.

Unfortunately, my friend figured it out and was wounded by what seemed like a gratuitous insult — even trolling her — the reason for which utterly escaped her.

That incident came back to me recently, and though I regret hurting my friend, I don’t regret calling out the arrogance of churches that think themselves entitled to create bespoke religions for their respective clienteles and call them all “Christian.”

Okay, that was a bit harsh. But consider:

  • First Baptist Church of Dallas (friend of Trump, and of Sean Hannity, it created a choral anthem Make America Great Again) is so big that they have both a “What We Believe” and a “Articles of Faith.”
  • Willow Creek Community Church, imitation of which was a major fad 25 years or so ago (I don’t know if it continues) has a Beliefs and Values page and a lengthy Elder Statements pdf.
  • Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston has, at least on paper, beliefs far less vacuous than what comes out of Osteen’s mouth every time he opens it.
  • The Wheaton Bible Church, where I was baptized about 55 years ago (and where my wife and I worshipped as newlyweds in the Chicago area), has become a full-blown megachurch, and it, too, has an “About” page.

I’m not going to stop to try to analyze and critique these. My point is they inherently confirm that there is no single “Evangelicalism.” Without a strong denominational identity, each local church must decide for itself, and publish, what it thinks the Bible clearly teaches.

The inability of denominations, let alone independent churches/fiefdoms, to agree on that clear (“perspicacious”) message is one of the things I saw one day, can never unsee, and made me forever non-Protestant.

Of course, my Church has a statement of faith, too, which we recite (oftener, sing) every Sunday Liturgy: The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, written not by us but by two Ecumenical Councils of the Church in the Fourth Century (when some heresies (Arianism, Apollinarianism, Macedonianism and Chiliasm) were riling the church and it was imperative to define the true faith in contrast with those heresies).

If you’d care to compare the Nicene Creed to these ersatz “What We Believe” statements, you’ll note that at least one thing in all the ersatz statements gets nary a mention by the historic Church. Can you spot it?

It’s sola scriptura (in today’s hyperbolic marketspeak, “we’re all about the Bible”) and its corollaries, the bedrock of Protestantism.

Interesting, huh? And yet somehow there remains one Orthodox Church and countless big and little churches, each marching to its own drum.

Anti-Promethean conservative

Americans have always had a thing for Prometheus — the Titan god in Greek mythology credited with (or blamed for) stealing fire and giving it to humanity … Today, those ambitions have moved to the private sector, with Promethean billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos working to make space travel far more commonplace … Is Promethean dynamism a good thing for human beings? … But which end is more compatible with happiness understood as human flourishing?

Damon Linker

One big dispositional difference between me and David French is that he applauds, enraptured, these Promethean stunts.

He needs to look more closely at what drives Jeff Bezos, and to re-read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Heck, finish the trilogy: read That Hideous Strength, too, David.

I may have just found the perfect label for my kind of conservatism: anti-Promethean.

[T]he fantasy that humans can somehow shift ‘offworld’ and recreate such systems on Mars or the Moon when we can’t or won’t live with Earth anymore, is just that: a fantasy, peddled as we saw in the last essay, by the likes of Jeff Bezos and his fellow techno-apostles.

Paul Kingsnorth.

Last acceptable bigotry is alive and well and living just about everywhere in the USA

Martin: Cries of anti-Catholicism are too frequent. Anti-Catholicism is nowhere near as prevalent as racism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism. Not every critique of the Church is an offense against religious liberty. And The New York Times is not anti-Catholic. But from time to time, it’s important to remind people that anti-Catholicism is not a myth.

Green: I wonder if there are instances where this has become politically complicated for you. For example, when now–Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was in her hearing for the Circuit Court of Appeals, Democratic senators questioned her about how her Catholic faith would affect her rulings on issues like abortion. Senator Dianne Feinstein famously told her, “The dogma lives loudly within you.”

A lot of people thought that was open anti-Catholic bigotry—a U.S. senator expressing fear that an accomplished legal scholar couldn’t be a fair judge because of her faith. Did you think they had a point?

Martin: Well, first of all, I thought that that phrase was inherently funny. The dogma lives loudly within you. It was just strange—almost nonsensical. But I think it was appropriate for Senator Feinstein to ask, “To what extent will your religious beliefs influence your legal decisions?” That’s not unreasonable.

Green: Do you think so? I mean, the Constitution says that no religious test should be required as a qualification for public office. It’s a founding principle of our country that Americans don’t consider religion when we vet people as public servants.

Martin: I think the difference is that Justice Barrett is well known as a devout Catholic. I didn’t think that was an offensive question. The way it was put was a little ham-handed.

Emma Green, Father Jim Martin on Anti-Catholic Prejudice (the springboard was an issue of the New York Times that “deferentially cover[ed] a language shift meant to show respect for Roma people but … also print[ed] a story that relished a film scene in which a holy Catholic object is defiled.”)

Not a fan of Fr. James Martin, so it’s tempting to add “In other words ….” But I’m going to resist the temptation. You can do your own critical reading (no paywall).

Standpoint

There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the standpoint which we happen to occupy is a universal one.

H. Richard Niebuhr via Lance Morrow

Which reminds me of “what you see depends on where you stand.”

Christian athletes

Soccer

[T]he future of Christianity is going to be black and brown — at least in the UK. The other day I was somewhere in this Central European region, can’t remember exactly where, and was talking to a group of fellow white Christians about migration to Europe. I asked them if they had to choose, would they prefer to live in a Europe that was predominantly black but faithfully Christian, or predominantly white, but atheist. Everyone agreed: black and Christian.

Black Christians, British Football – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher

Basketball

‌Giannis Antetokounmpo As An Orthodox Christian And Star Of The 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Who knew? Or rather, who knew the first part?


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.