Saturday 10/8/22

Personal

On a personal note, I am excited and optimistic about something, and that doesn’t happen very often.

Late Monday afternoon, a package arrived in the mail. I opened it, watched a YouTube video on getting started one more time, and attached a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) to my upper left arm. Two hours later, after warming up, the monitor began sending information to my smart phone — and my life may have changed.

What I discovered starting with a snack Monday evening was that what I considered a fairly healthy snack or meal could produce alarming blood sugar spikes — spikes that had never shown up on a fasting blood panel and were much higher than the blood sugar levels reflected in my A1C. Such spikes promote responsive insulin spikes, fat storage, and more, in a vicious circle.

Tuesday and Wednesday were eye-openers, too.

Until recently, CGM has been associated mostly with controlling blood sugar levels for Type 1 diabetics and for Type 2 diabetics who have had unusually great difficulty controlling their blood sugar. But I’m neither of those. I am wearing CGM as part of a metabolic study.

But being part of that study is not what motivated me. I’m not altruistic enough for that. What motivated me is the knowledge that I have had metabolic syndrome for more than 30 years, I have been as much is 100 pounds overweight, and my septuagenarian body is starting to feel very vulnerable. My participation in the study, at my own not inconsiderable expense, is motivated by the desire to lose maybe 55 pounds (I’ll settle for 90 pounds!) from my current weight and otherwise to heal my metabolic system so as to slow the aging process.

Essentially every credible thing I have read about metabolic syndrome over the past 30 years has convinced me that uncontrolled spikes of serum glucose (blood sugar) is a root cause of many if not most of America’s chronic health problems, and that the medical profession’s ability to medicate my blood pressure, lipids, and blood sugar “successfully,” grateful as I am for it, is no assurance of true metabolic health. Much of what I have read also has convinced me that metabolism varies quite a bit between individuals, and that what my wife may eat safely may be quite bad for my health.

30 years ago, I lost 35 pounds on a very low carbohydrate diet, but that’s not a diet for a lifetime, and I gradually put it all back on — plus a 30 pound bonus.

But for the last 48 hours or so, I’ve kept my blood sugar in control — no big spikes — without elimination of carbs. Indeed, a favorite bread (Great Harvest’s Dakota Seed bread) is not a real disrupter. Blood sugar’s still too high, but at least it’s stable at “a little too high.” And a few pounds seem to have come off.

Seeing in real time what that food 30 minutes ago is doing to me now now is very empowering. Getting context-sensitive feedback on the app from the study sponsor (which knows my personal goals) multiplies that. I’m pumped!

Now onto the customary kvetching.

Culture

Not the ideology you think

People who think that leftist agitators for gender fluidity are driven by ideology are correct, but it’s probably not the ideology they think it is: it’s good old capitalism — capitalism extended into the deepest recesses of personal identity. We can create that for you wholesale.

Alan Jacobs.

Metaphysical capitalism at work.

Success looks like kin to slavery

Wendell Berry has a new book, The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice. My copy is on the way, but reviews precede it.

[Wendell] Berry reports on an 1820 exchange between the Southern apologist and politician John C. Calhoun and future President John Quincy Adams … During a walk together, Calhoun praised Adams’s principles regarding free labor as “just and noble.” However, he added, in “the Southern Country…they were always understood as applying only to white men.” Hard domestic and manual labor was reserved to black slaves, an approach that was actually “the best guarantee to equality among the whites.” Adams denounced “this confounding of the ideas of servitude and labor,” this “perverted sentiment…mistaking labor for slavery and dominion for Freedom,” as a terrible consequence of slavery.

Adams indirectly affirmed here the immense value to American democracy of the simple freemen who toiled for subsistence on their own family farms or in their own shops. Berry argues, though, that “Calhoun’s values” have in fact won out in America. Success today means to go to the university and so be lifted above the “mind numbing” work of the body and the hands, no matter who gets hurt by the individual’s climb upward. Bluntly put: “We all, black and white together, [now] want to be John C. Calhoun,” leaving the hard and essential work to lesser men and women.

Allan Carlson (emphasis added)

And as lesser the untermenschen do the hard and essential work, we can wank away at bullshit jobs.

Truths that dare not speak their names

An excerpt from Berry’s new book via Katherine Dalton’s review:

I have received a number of warnings of the retribution that will surely follow. But I wonder if they have considered well enough what they have asked of me, which amounts to a radical revision of my calling. They are not asking me for my most careful thoughts about what I have learned or experienced. They are asking me to lay aside my old effort to tell the truth, as it is given to me by my own knowledge and judgment, in order to take up another art, which is that of public relations.

How common such warnings are, and how priceless is Berry’s refusal to abandon the effort to tell the truth!

[T]he courage to ask for historical understanding, charity, and free political speech from a position that will very possibly be labeled “racist” is rare at the moment.

What will we do without Wendell Berry when the day comes? But I wonder, probably not often enough, whether reading and praising Wendell Berry is some kind of cheap grace for over-educated rich people who sense that all is not well but who act as if it’s good enough. People like me.

Superlatively poor medical performance

America’s superlatively poor performance cannot solely be blamed on either the Trump or Biden administrations, although both have made egregious errors. Rather, the new coronavirus exploited the country’s many failing systems: its overstuffed prisons and understaffed nursing homes; its chronically underfunded public-health system; its reliance on convoluted supply chains and a just-in-time economy; its for-profit health-care system, whose workers were already burned out; its decades-long project of unweaving social safety nets; and its legacy of racism and segregation that had already left Black and Indigenous communities and other communities of color disproportionately burdened with health problems. Even in the pre-COVID years, the U.S. was still losing about 626,000 people more than expected for a nation of its size and resources. COVID simply toppled an edifice whose foundations were already rotten.

It would be nice to say that the pandemic revealed deep-seated problems that we had managed to avoid facing — but now we must face them! Nah. We mustn’t, and we probably won’t. It turns out that reality has limited power over an infinitely distractible and distracted society.

Alan Jacobs, block-quoting Ed Yong

First, they cheated at chess …

A cheating scandal has rocked the professional fishing world after two men competing in a tournament Friday were caught stuffing their fish with golf ball-sized weights and fish fillets to, er, tip the scales in their favor.

The Morning Dispatch

The world of Irish step dancing convulsed with cheating allegations after evidence surfaced this week that teachers have been fixing competitions for their students.

The Morning Dispatch

News and not

[T]he third openly transgender actor isn’t news.

Kevin D. Williamson

Award-Winning photo

I always enjoy Atlantic’s photo collections:

“On either side of a highway, gullies formed by rainwater erosion span out like a tree, in Tibet, an autonomous region in southwest China. To capture this image, photographer Li Ping slept alone in a roadside parking lot overnight before using a drone in the early morning hours.”

Politics

Involuntarily moderate

Last month The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published a fascinating interview with Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid. … “Everybody is stuck in this left-versus-right traditional dynamic,” he said. “But today, all over the world, it’s centrist versus extremist.”

I wanted to stand up and cheer. Now, to be clear, this is a strange position for me. I’ve always been conservative. In the left versus right context, I’ve always considered myself a man of the right—the Reagan right. But when the extremes grow more extreme, and the classical liberal structure of the American republic is under intellectual and legal attack, suddenly I’m an involuntary moderate.

… [O]utside of criminal law, it’s difficult to think of an exercise of state power more raw, immediate, and devastating than the use of state power to sever the bond between parent and child [as both California and Texas do on adolescents with gender identity issues].

David French.

“Involuntary moderates” indeed. Parents care more about their own kids than do California or Texas, to whom the kids are mere political pawns.

Hecklers, trying to veto SCOTUS

Justice Elena Kagan has warned repeatedly about the risk of courts becoming politicized, but others seem less concerned. “The court has always decided controversial cases, and decisions always have been subject to intense criticism, and that is entirely appropriate,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in September. “I don’t understand the connection between opinions that people disagree with and the legitimacy of the court.”

“A lot of the criticism of the court’s legitimacy is basically a heckler’s veto,” [Adam White of AEI] said. “You now have waves of Democrats and progressive activists denouncing the court as illegitimate and then pointing to complaints about the court’s legitimacy as proof of their own accusations.”

The Morning Dispatch

Nobody today is heckling louder than the New York Times:

Re-Christianizing America

You would think that the most controversial claim made at the recent National Conservatism Conference—that the re-Christianization of American culture is the greatest hope for preserving the republic for future generations—would have been made by a Christian.

It wasn’t. It came from Yoram Hazony, chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, who argued that, despite being an Orthodox Jew, he believes Christianity to be the only force strong enough to defeat leftist authoritarianism in America.

Delano Squires, Drag Queen Conservatism Is the Real Threat to Religious Freedom.

Did you catch the meaning of that consequentialist opening: we should re-Christianize American not because Christianity is true but because it’s anti-woke. I do not wish to be governed by consequentialist pseudo-Christians, so I’m still in center-right classical liberal camp.

Why should we support the GOP?

Nobody on the right seems able to stop and ask: “Why? Why do we want a party whose leading lights are such figures as Donald Trump and Herschel Walker to control the Senate? Why would we want such figures as Lindsey Graham or Josh Hawley to control anything?”

Maybe there is a case for that. But I spend a lot of time around politicians, especially Republican politicians, taking copious notes on their emissions, and I have not heard a case for Republicans worth repeating in years—only a case against Democrats.

Democrats, for their part, are in essentially the same rhetorical position.

… Mitch McConnell, shrewd carnivore that he is, has tried to dissuade Republicans from producing any kind of legislative to-do list at all, and his argument for that—Why give the Democrats something to run against?—gives away the game: McConnell knows that Republicans are, at this curious political moment, entirely incapable of producing a positive agenda that is anything other than a net loss for them politically. …

The argument ends up being ridiculous for Republicans: Vote for Donald Trump so that he can snog with Kim Jong-un because Joe Biden is a … socialist? Communist? Fascist? Stalinist? Whatever. Trump was buddies with pretty much every extant Stalinist wielding real political power today, while Biden spends his days mumbling into his tapioca about the glories of the WPA.

Kevin D. Williamson

The tiresomeness of it all

There are times, I confess, when I decide to pass on writing another column on how degenerate the Republican Party is. What else is there to say? It’s not as if the entire media class isn’t saying it every hour of every day.

Andrew Sullivan

This was not a day when Sullivan or I could pass on that topic.

Georgia Senate

Noonan

[V]oters don’t expect much. They’ve had their own imperfect lives, and they long ago lost any assumption that political leaders were more upstanding than they. We are in the postheroic era of American politics. What voters want is someone who sees the major issues as they do. Conservatives especially see America’s deep cultural sickness and wonder if the country is cratering before our eyes. In such circumstances personal histories don’t count as once they did.

But I see the [Herschel] Walker story differently and expect a different outcome.

“The question going forward is how transactional is the average voter going to be?” If you’re sincerely pro-life, how does the Walker story reflect on the pro-life movement?

Peggy Noonan, quoting former DeKalb County GOP Chairman Lane Flynn. Noonan’s focus is not on Walker paying for an abortion, but for his failure to father any of his four (or more) children.

Power, with or without virtue

Conservative radio host Dana Loesch: “I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only, at this point. So I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles — I want control of the Senate.”

Sahil Kapur on Twitter (H/T The Morning Dispatch)

Well! That settles that! (What were we talking about again?)

At one time, science said that man came from apes, did it not? But if that’s true, why are there still apes? Think about it.

Herschel Walker, Republican Candidate for the Unites States Senate, via Andrew Sullivan

All Things 45

Writing for the Ages

Kevin D. Williamson’s Bye, Donald Trump — Witless Ape Rides Helicopter is writing for the ages, even if it is going on two years old:

Let me refresh your memory: On the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Republicans controlled not only the White House but both houses of Congress. They were in a historically strong position elsewhere as well, controlling both legislative chambers in 32 states. They pissed that away like they were midnight drunks karaoke-warbling that old Chumbawumba song: In 2021, they control approximately squat. The House is run by Nancy Pelosi. The Senate is run, as a practical matter, by Kamala Harris. And Joe Biden won the presidency, notwithstanding whatever the nut-cutlet guest-hosting for Dennis Prager this week has to say about it.

Donald Trump is, in fact, the first president since Herbert Hoover to lead his party to losing the presidency, the House, and the Senate all in a single term …

“But the judges!” you protest. Fair point: Trump’s absurd attempts to overturn the election through specious legal challenges were laughed out of court by the very men and women he appointed to the bench. Even his judges think he’s a joke.

Everybody has figured that out. Except you.

Seemingly a new point about Trump

Ms Haberman makes a particular contribution with this book by describing how the annealing interplay of politics and commerce in the New York of the 1970s and 1980s equipped Mr Trump with the low expectations and cynical convictions that would carry him so far: that racial politics is a zero-sum contest among tribes; that allies as well as enemies must be dominated; that everything in life can be treated as a transaction; that rapidly topping one lie or controversy with the next will tie the media in knots; that celebrity confers power; that not only politicians but even prosecutors are malleable.

Yet these same convictions would also carry Mr Trump only so far. They doomed his presidency. After Mr Trump was elected, James Comey, the FBI director, warned him that a dossier was circulating that alleged Mr Trump had compromised himself in Russia. New York had taught Mr Trump that damaging information was a means of leverage, and so he assumed Mr Comey was threatening him. “Comey was blind to the depths of Trump’s paranoia and to his long history of gamesmanship with government officials,” Ms Haberman writes. Mr Trump would later fire Mr Comey, with disastrous repercussions for himself. The first exchange “set the terms” for Mr Trump’s subsequent interactions with intelligence and law-enforcement officials, according to Ms Haberman.

What Donald Trump Understands, a review of Maggie Haberman’s new book The Confidence Man (emphasis added).

Eating crow

Hunter Baker voted for Trump in 2016.

A binary system dictates binary choices. The Democrats were out for me. Donald Trump was the alternative.

He privately despised the never-Trumpers:

My judgment of colleagues and of various conservatives who opposed Trump was privately severe. On the surface, I fully granted the strength of their concerns. But in the confines of my mind, I concluded that they were moral free riders.

He eventually came to his senses:

I don’t apologize for the votes I cast after careful (indeed, searching) consideration. However, I do have to apologize for my view of the never Trumpers whom I found to be histrionic and unrealistic. They saw further that there were significant risks involved with Donald Trump that could very well outweigh the policy outcomes. They were right about that, and they deserve an apology from me (and perhaps others who saw it the way I did) for not perceiving that their concerns were grounded in reality, not merely some idealistic moral fragility. They perceived a legitimate threat, which did come to significant fruition.

When Pragmatic Politics Goes Bad: An Apology to the Never-Trumpers

I probably haven’t said this in months, so consider this a reminder. I could, given time, come up with thousands of reasons why I can never vote for Donald Trump (if nothing else, I’d chronicle some of his tens of thousands of lies). But the bottom line for me, from the very beginning, was his narcissism along with his sociopathic abuse of people who crossed him. That narcissism sooner or later was going to lead him to dangerously misjudge reality, which does not revolve around him as the planets around the sun. Either he’s lying (again) or it did lead him to his inability to admit losing the 2020 Election.


[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.

Wednesday, 7/20/22

You didn’t miss anything. I didn’t publish yesterday because I just didn’t have enough material. That’s likely to recur, as I’m gradually correcting my incorrigible habit of poring over news that seems especially shareable.

Polling

The survey also found that 32% of Latino Catholics said their religious faith dictates their views on abortion, compared to 73% of white evangelical Protestants.

A new survey found Latino Catholics overwhelmingly support abortion rights. Here’s why.

I would be a pollster’s nightmare, as I find so many polling questions unanswerable if not unintelligible.

Orthodox Christianity is opposed to abortion, but I was anti-abortion before I became Orthodox, and (heaven help me, for this may mean that I’m an American individualist) I would affirm that at no time in my life has my religious faith "dictated my views" on abortion.

I have difficulty getting into the mind of anyone who would listen to that polling question, note the import of "dictate," and then answer in the affirmative. Thus the question is a — what? litmus test? ink blot test? I certainly don’t see useful information coming from it.

I don’t consider myself a rebel against my Church. I don’t think it has ever said what an Orthodox political position on abortion should be, though in my parish we especially pray regularly for an end to abortion through changed hearts.

My religious faith does "dictate" some things — say, my rejection of monothelitism and monoenergism and suchlike — important Christological questions of import on which the Church’s position is longstanding and plausibly reasoned (e.g., those teachings effectively denied the full humanity of Christ by saying that He had no human will or energy). Countermanding what the Church says about such theological nuances is above my pay grade and, unlike David Bentley Hart, I’m not arrogant enough to "go there." (I was a Protestant for two-thirds of my life and don’t care to try it again.)

But abortion? Capital punishment? Euthanasia? Eugenics? I can’t help but form my own opinions on those, informed by the Church but not dictated to.

Notes from a roving raconteur

I beat myself up because I’m an old fundamentalist and self-mortification is our specialty. And I’ve been having too much fun lately, which confuses me, doing shows in red states to crowds that include a good many Republicans who voted for the landslide winner in 2020 but nonetheless were warm and receptive to me who voted for the thief. In blue states, audiences are listening to make sure you check the boxes of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism. These are people who don’t mind that many theaters refuse to do “Our Town” because the “Our” does not acknowledge that Grover’s Corners was stolen from indigenous people. I use the possessive pronoun in singing “My country, ’tis of thee,” which audiences in red states enjoy singing with me, and also our national anthem, ignoring the fact that Francis Scott Key did own slaves.

Back in the Sixties, when I was in my twenties, we sang “We Shall Overcome” and clearly we did not overcome, we only created new hairstyles. So we pass the torch to the young, some of whom feel the word “person” shows gender bias and want to change it to perself. To which I say, “Good luck with dat.”

Garrison Keillor, national treasure.

Vignettes

There’s no apparent common theme to this two vignettes, but I thought each of them was interesting in different ways:

  • A young Hungarian academic I dined with last evening told me how jarring it was to get his master’s degree at a western European university, and to be congratulated by fellow grad students on how lucky he was to have grown up in a country that had been blessed by Marxist government. His own family had had everything taken from them by the Communists, yet these privileged nitwits could only imagine that life had been glorious under Communism. This has something to do with the fact that he’s living back in Hungary now, though he could make a lot more money working in the West. He can’t bear to deal with such ignorant people.
  • [A correspondent was one of] a bunch of very conservative Catholics who wanted to live rurally, and went out and bought land in the same area. This reader said he has been mostly grateful for having had the chance to live there and raise his kids there, but he’s not sure he would do it again if he had the chance. The reason, he said, is that he was too optimistic about how life would be there. He says he had not counted on the fact that the kind of Catholics who would make such a radical choice — strong-willed Catholics like himself, as he conceded — would find it unusually hard to get along. The reader told me that there were frequent disputes within the community over purity — not strictly sexual purity, but over whether or not it was licit to do things like let your daughters wear pants, or keep them in skirts and dresses. He said it got to be exhausting, dealing with these communal neuroses.

Rod Dreher’s Diary, Sisi, Queen Of The Magyars

Indestructible lies

… There in Boston is a monument to the man who discovered anesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t discover it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah, no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years ….

Mark Twain via Alan Jacobs

When Wystan met Hannah

“I met Auden late in his life and mine—at an age when the easy, knowledgeable intimacy of friendships formed in one’s youth can no longer be attained, because not enough life is left, or expected to be left, to share with another. Thus, we were very good friends but not intimate friends.”

Hannah Arendt, explaining (it seems) her refusal of a marriage proposal by the poet and friend W. H. Auden (via L. M. Sacasas). I was unaware of that episode, which rather complicates my recollection that Auden eventually gave up trying to resist his homosexuality.

Sacasas continues on other topics:

The examples I have in mind of this receding of materiality arise, not surprisingly, from the most prosaic quarters of daily life. As a bookish person, for example, I think about how the distinct material shape of the book not only encodes a text but also becomes a reservoir of my personal history. I remember where I was when I read it. Or I recall who gave it to me or to whom I have lent it. In other words, the presence of the book on a shelf recalls its contents to mind at a glance and also intertwines an assortment of memories into the backdrop of my day-to-day life. At the very least, it becomes an always available potential portal into my past. I don’t mean to be romantic about any of this. In fact, I think this is all decidedly unromantic, having to do chiefly with the meaning and significance of the stuff that daily surrounds us.

The digitized book by contrast may have its own advantages, but by being the single undifferentiated interface for every book it loses its function as a mooring for the self. It’s not that the e-reader has no materiality of its own—of course it does. Perhaps the best way of conceptualizing this is to say that the device over-consolidates the materiality of reading in a way that smooths out the texture of our experience. Consider how this pattern of over-consolidation and subsequent smoothing of the texture of material culture recurs throughout digital society. The smartphone is a good example. An array of distinct physical objects—cash, maps, analog music players, cameras, calendars, etc.—become one thing. The texture of our experience is flattened out as a result.

He’s not wrong about this (insider joke to one of my readers). Yet, because of the Readwise service, I’m developing a preferential option for eBooks. That and my shelves having filled to overflowing with regular books several times.

It’s helpful to be reminded of what’s lost, though. I hope Warren Farha of the world’s greatest brick and mortar bookstore, Eighth Day Books in Wichita, will forgive my my opinion if he’s reading this.

Awkward

Barton and WallBuilders argue that Jefferson and the Founders, outside of some exceptions, meant for the “wall of protection” to operate in one direction. It also, the group and its founder suggested, applies mostly to the federal government, not the states.

Jack Jenkins, The activist behind opposition to the separation of church and state

Well! This is awkward! I have a bad impression of David Barton, who I’ve understood as a grifter, dining out on "America is a Christian Nation."

But Barton is almost completely correct in what I first quoted. What Thomas Jefferson called a "wall of separation" was meant to protect the churches (I’d prefer "religion," though both terms have shortcomings in this context) from the state; and it was, at the time the First Amendment was ratified, intended to apply only to the federal government ("Congress shall make no law …"). Heck, Massachusetts had an established Congregational Church for 30 more years after Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, and that letter was well after the Bill of Rights!

Where Barton may be wrong is in in the report that he thinks that amendment "applies" rather than "applied" mostly to the Federal Government. The First Amendment has been incorporated in the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment and thereby made applicable to the states. Thus Saith the Courts.

Thus, it seems to me, Barton may be telling half-truths to embolden crypto-theocrats by whose concepts of Christianity I have no desire to be governed — unless the alternative is the Wokeworld religion. I would almost certainly pick the Bartonites in that contest.

Like I said: awkward.

Is the tide turning?

… there is something undeniably more powerful about reading critiques of contemporary sexual morality that arise not from traditional religious spaces, but from within secular feminism and and from elite media. That’s when you know the tide might be turning.

I bring this up because in every single argument and controversy under the sun, reality gets a vote. Culture wars are ultimately won or lost not by online arguments but through their real-world consequences, and the position that leads to greater human misery tends to lose.

To connect with the issues at the start of this piece, when speaking about the wave of intolerance that’s swept the academy, philanthropy, Hollywood, and much of mainstream media, I’ve told conservative friends that they have no idea how miserable it was making most of the people in those organizations. Something had to give, and the immiserated majority is going to be intimidated by the motivated minority for only so long.

When speaking of the reality of porn-influenced consent culture, there’s a similar dynamic in play. It’s immiserating people by the millions.

David French, in an encouraging column: we seem to have hit bottom and started back up in several ways. At least that’s what French thinks.

Imagine my arse

Comments such as these convince me that John Lennon captured a common liberal dream in his haunting song “Imagine.” Imagine if there were no countries, and no religion too. If we could just erase the borders and boundaries that divide us, then the world would “be as one.” It’s a vision of heaven for liberals, but conservatives believe it would quickly descend into hell. I think conservatives are on to something.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind.

I absolutely hate that song, and I was glad to learn I’m not alone.


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.

Sunday, 7/17/22

Poetry and Myth

Christianity and Poetry

The Incarnation requires an ode, not an email.

Poet Dana Gioia, Christianity and Poetry commenting on the poetry of the Magnificat.

More:

  • For most believers, the truths of their faith have become platitudes taught in catechism or Sunday school. The mysteries of faith—those strange events such as the Incarnation, Transfiguration, and Resurrection—have lost their awe and wonder and become replaced by sensible morality and proper reverence. There is nothing wrong with morality or reverence, but pious propriety is a starvation diet for the soul. Modern versions of the Bible, which translate verse passages into prosaic language for the supposed sake of clarity, are mistranslations, since they change the effect of the text.
  • When Jesus preached, he told stories, spoke poems, and offered proverbs. The Beatitudes are a poem about the merciful Kingdom of God in contrast to the selfish world of mankind. Jesus was not much concerned with theology. He left that to posterity. He did not ask his listeners to think their way to salvation; he wanted them to taste and see the goodness of God. He told them stories in which they could see themselves. He spoke to people as creatures with both a body and soul. He addressed them in the fullness of their fallen humanity, driven by contradictory appetites, emotions, and imagination.
  • When the Second Vatican Council dropped these sequences from the Catholic missal, it demonstrated how remote the Church had become from its own traditions. The new Church wanted to reengage the broader world and get rid of the musty traditions of the past. Vatican II wanted to be practical, positive, and modern; its motto was aggiornamento, Italian for “bringing things up to date.” The poetic sequences, which had seemed so splendid to the old Church—rapturous artistic vehicles for the contemplation of divine mysteries—felt too pious, formal, and elaborate for modern worship.
  • William Wordsworth was a religious man who saw the poet’s role as prophetic, but his Christianity expressed itself most eloquently in pantheistic Deism. He grew more devout and conventional in middle age, to the detriment of his verse. His pious Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822) marked the lowest point of his career. Read any page of it outdoors—the stupefied bees will stop buzzing and the birds fall senseless from the trees.
  • Minor poets with major minds, Chesterton and Belloc were smart, brash, and wickedly funny. Unintimidated by their intellectual foes, they swaggered when others would have taken cover. For the first time since the Elizabethan Age, there was an outspoken Catholic presence in English verse.

And then, in conclusion:

Christianity has survived into the twenty-first century, but it has not come through unscathed. It has kept its head and its heart—the clarity of its beliefs and its compassionate mission. The problem is that it has lost its senses, all five of them. Great is the harvest, and greater still the hunger it must feed, but its call into the world has become faint and abstract. Contemporary Christianity speaks mostly in ideas. Potent ideas, to be sure, but colorless and hackneyed in their expression …

A major challenge of Christianity today is to recover the language of the senses and to recapture faith’s natural relationship with beauty. There is much conversation nowadays about beauty among theologians and clergy. They seem to consider it a philosophical problem to be solved by analysis and apologetics. Those are the tools they have. Their relation to beauty is passive rather than creative. Even the clearest thinking can’t close the gap between how people experience their existence—a holistic mix of sensory data, emotions, memories, ideas, and imagination—and how the Church explains it—moral and spiritual concepts organized in a rational system. The theology isn’t wrong; it’s just not right for most occasions. It offers a laser when a lamp is what’s needed.

These things matter because we are incarnate beings. We see the shape and feel the texture of things. We instinctively know that the form of a thing is part of its meaning. We are drawn to beauty, not logic. Our experience of the divine is not primarily intellectual. We feel it with our bodies. We picture it in our imaginations. We hear it as a voice inside us. We are grateful for an explanation, but we crave inspiration, communion, rapture, epiphany.

It probably will come as no surprise to you that I do not think that Orthodoxy has "lost its senses."

But I am one man, formed in the West, which has lost its senses, so I face extra hurdles acquiring the mind of the Church.

(A "brilliant and substantive new essay" like this pops up just often enough that I still subscribe to First Things.)

Deep magic

I read more on Saturday of his first book, A Branch from the Lightning Tree, and it was so overwhelming that despite having had two giant cups of coffee, I had to come back to the room to sleep. There is deep magic in his words. I see now why Guite, an Anglican priest, told me that only Orthodox Christianity will be able to contain the immensity that is Martin Shaw’s imagination and sensibility.

Rod Dreher.

I’m experiencing Martin Shaw that way, too, though I’ve only caught snippets and haven’t yet read the book I bought.

C.S. Lewis, reacting to the claim that society was returning to paganism, said something to the effect of "Would that it were so! The pagan is an eminently convertible man." Paul Kingsnorth and Martin Shaw may be the first fruits that add "prophet" to Lewis’ encomiums.

What Athos has on offer

Why have western scholars virtually ignored this experiential form of mystical Christianity at a time when numerous Westerners have turned their gaze toward Hinduism and Buddhism? What does Mount Athos have to offer to the Western world today that is not available within the mainstream churches?

Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence

What myths mean

However nonrational myths were, they betrayed man’s urge to explain what he found in himself and in the world, as well as his belief that explanation was somehow possible.

David V. Hicks, Norms and Nobility

Analysis

Hypocrisy or Mimesis?

Remember that old saw "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue"?

Gilbert Meilander, with help from C.S. Lewis throughout, reminds me that a charge of "hypocrisy" ought to be used very sparingly. Excerpt from the introduction:

Discussing his experience as a soldier in the Great War, he writes of a fellow soldier who was not only (like Lewis) a scholar from Oxford, but also—alarmingly to Lewis—“a man of conscience,” committed to adhering to taken-for-granted moral principles.

Embarrassed by the contrast with his own life, Lewis did his best to conceal the fact that he himself had not taken moral obligations so seriously. “If this is hypocrisy,” Lewis writes:

then I must conclude that hypocrisy can do a man good. To be ashamed of what you were about to say, to pretend that something which you had meant seriously was only a joke—this is an ignoble part. But it is better than not to be ashamed at all. And the distinction between pretending you are better than you are and beginning to be better in reality is finer than moral sleuthhounds conceive. . . . When a boor first enters the society of courteous people what can he do, for a while, except imitate the motions? How can he learn except by imitation?

Belonging, truthing

For human beings, the ability to belong is more [evolutionarily] adaptive than the ability to see what’s true.

Alan Jacobs citing Jonathan Haidt.

I’m thinking of an American-made religion with (1) what strikes me as an unusually implausible founding story, but (2) a very strong sense of community. That religion was still growing rapidly last time I looked at the stats (though that has been a while). Score one datapoint for Haidt and Jacobs.

Tonic

You’re churches, for God’s sake. Quit fighting for social justice. Quit saving the bloody planet. Attend to some souls. That’s what you are supposed to do. That’s your holy duty. Do it. Now. Before it’s too late. And the hour is nigh.

Jordan Peterson via Aaron Renn

Well, that’s bracing — unless your church was already doing that.


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.

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.

Saturday, 4/2/2022

The Ivies

Academic blinders

Fred Smith decided to step down as chief executive of FedEx, which he founded 50 years ago. Mr Smith came up with the idea of a logistics firm based around transport hubs in an economics paper when he was a student at Yale in 1965. The paper received a poor grade from his professor; FedEx is now a global giant with annual sales of $84bn.

Item in the Economist

Selling out

Kids say the darndest things:

Princeton sophomore: "I don’t want to sell out by doing something like going to McKinsey when I graduate."

Princeton senior (on her way to Goldman): "It won’t be selling out if you put a Black Lives Matter sign up on your lawn."

Robert P. George on Twitter

Ruso-Ukrainian war

End of History

Every time something dramatic happens in the world, someone feeling clever tweets “remember the end of history?” But the actual thesis of the book was that communism was the Final Boss of global ideology and that from there on out, the struggle for democracy would be just a fight against not-democracy — people who want to rig elections or crack down on opposition parties for squalid self-interested reasons — rather than against conflicting ideologies.

Matt Yglesias

What Putin is doing to Russia

Russia’s potential is being set back by decades; the young, educated and creative are leaving; and the hard men are ascendant. Once again, Russia has become a pariah spreading lies and death.

Reports from Russia, and from some friends I’ve reached, speak to a widespread dismay and shame among younger, educated, urban Russians …

A growing number of educated Russians began flowing out of Russia, some to Kyiv. When I visited there some years ago, I met several prominent Russian journalists who were, in effect, living in exile …

When the word spread that the invasion had begun, the brain drain became a rush for the doors. With flights to more than 30 countries now stopped, the twice-daily trains to Finland have been full, and many more Russians have being fleeing south to Georgia, where they don’t need a visa, or through Gulf States.

Serge Schmemann, ‌Putin Is Setting Back Russia’s Potential By Decades

134,499 smart young Russians emigrate

Reuters reported Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order drafting 134,500 new conscripts into the Russian army, a move the Kremlin claimed was routine and unrelated to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. “Most military personnel will undergo professional training in training centers for three to five months,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. “Let me emphasize that recruits will not be sent to any hot spots.”

The Morning Dispatch

Exoneratring Ginni Thomas

This is unlike anything else I’ve read about the Ginni Thomas (Mrs. Justice Clarence Thomas) Tweets on on around January 6. 2020:

Ginni Thomas’ texts were bonkers, and not just Japanese game show bonkers. They were legitimately disturbing. But a lot of people seem to miss the point. There’s a lot of talk that she was part of a coup. And in one sense she obviously was. But a plain reading of the texts shows that she didn’t think she was. She thought—wrongly!—that she was on the side preventing a coup. You can argue—easily and persuasively—that she was duped. But where is the evidence that she didn’t believe what she was saying to Mark Meadows in private text exchanges? You gotta pick a theory: Was she a willing and knowing participant in an effort to illegally steal an election, or was she effectively brainwashed by the people trying to steal it? Both can’t be true. So far, all of the evidence points to the latter. After all, this is a woman who couldn’t understand why Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani had become liabilities for the cause. And almost as bizarre, she believed a conspiracy theorist’s report that the “Biden crime family” was being arrested for treason and heading to prison barges off the coast of Guantanamo. Again, she wasn’t saying this on TV, she was saying it privately.

Ginni Thomas is not Roger Stone. I think it’s obvious that Stone is a liar and fraud who deliberately spun bogus claims to help Trump steal the election. Ginni Thomas is simply guilty of thinking that Stone and his imitators were serious people. It doesn’t reflect well on her. But until new evidence is provided, I think she’s guilty of being a true believer, not a cynical plotter. This is important for all sorts of reasons, not least that all of the people going after her husband need her to be a knowing villain rather than a victim of the villains. Distinctions matter.

Jonah Goldberg

I intend for this to be my last blog post about Mrs. Thomas, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first, too.

Modern Monetary Theory lives in the hearts of its True Believers

Remember MMT? Modern Monetary Theory was the notion, advanced by a small but influential group of very smart people, that our government can just keep printing money, traditional concerns—deficits, inflation—be damned. This view was advanced by Bernie Sanders’s economic advisor and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, whose policy dreams required the government to print trillions of dollars for every social cause under the sun (Green New Deal! Medicare for All!) and by Goldman Sachs, which loved the idea of a hot economy and cheap money. Covid relief was to be the big tryout. The enemy was that old man Larry Summers, trying to ruin all the fun. The Times’s Ezra Klein slips a small mea culpa in this week in an interview with Summers: “There was a reason the Biden administration wanted to run the economy hot. . . .  It felt, finally, like we were reaching people on the margins,” Klein said. “We were putting a lot of firepower to do that,” he said. “And then for that to then turn into this horrifying inflation problem.”

One of MMT’s original economist proponents is now saying Biden did it wrong with the Covid spending and, therefore, true MMT has still never been tried.

Nellie Bowles. "X hasn’t failed; X hasn’t really, properly, been tried" is the last refuge of almost every ideologue.

A book I really need to read

[Julien] Benda introduced Treason with a story about Leo Tolstoy. When Tolstoy witnessed a fellow officer beat a man who fell out of marching ranks, he asked the officer if he had never heard of the gospels. The officer, in reply, asked if Tolstoy had never heard of the army regulations. For Benda, it was reasonable that the officer replied as he did, but it was nonetheless crucial that there be men like Tolstoy to protest. These men were the clercs—loosely translated, “scribes” with the hint of ecclesiastical status. “It is thanks to these scribes … that humanity did evil for two thousand years but nonetheless paid tribute to the good,” Benda wrote. “This contradiction was an honour to the human race, opening up the crack whereby civilisation could occasionally slip through.”

… For Benda, intellectuals should stand athwart history yelling “No” when they saw the “transcendental values” of truth, beauty, and justice traduced. Paradoxically, they fulfilled their role as intellectuals when they engaged in political protest. Benda cited several exemplary cases of such engagement: Émile Zola’s intervention in the Dreyfus affair; Voltaire’s defence of Jean Calas; Spinoza’s “ultimi barbarorum” following the lynching of the de Witt brothers. Benda thought thnat Treason was itself a paradigmatic case of intellectual responsibility.

Gustav Jönsson, Treason of the Intellectuals

It seems as if every serious writer I read has read and grappled with Julien Benda.

For what it’s worth

David French

David French increasingly has been getting called out for disloyalty to the Evangelical Tribe, as here for the latest known instance ("uncharitable about the defects of his fellow evangelicals, even as he basks in the approval of writers like [David] Brooks").

I follow French pretty closely, and whatever his shortcomings, I sense nothing but friendly disappointment and a (doomed) effort to see Evangelicals do better.

To say that’s not what he’s up to because he writes for Atlantic and, sometimes, the New York Times seems more insulting to Evangelicals tacitly (as is "soft bigotry of low expectations") than anything French says outright.

KBJ

Despite what hyper-partisan Linda Greenhouse says, I do not think there’s anything unusually vile, by post-Bork standards, about the behavior of Senate Republicans in the Ketanji Brown Jackson SCOTUS confirmation proceedings.

I wish it were otherwise, but the Democrats, led by Ted Kennedy, fired the first shots in the episode that gave us the term "Borked." Compared to that, nothing Republicans have asked or said is very noteworthy — unless one thinks that the focus on child pornography is consciously playing to the QAnon set.

I expect Jackson to be confirmed and there will be no asterisk by her name in history.

The Best Thing about retirement

Of all social media sites, LinkedIn is by far my least favourite, a prison of mindless platitudes and the worst kind of dreary corporate diversity+inclusion drivel. You can connect to me here — it will improve your career and life not a single bit, but please don’t contact me via LinkedIn. I’d rather you turned up unexpectedly at my front door, naked and screaming passages from the Bible.

So, asks Trung Phan on Substack, Why is LinkedIn so cringe?

Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman has the answer: in a book called The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life, Goffman posits that every person goes through life wearing many “masks”, like an actor in a theatre play. Most people are different personalities at work vs. home vs. happy hour. People wear these different masks to impress or avoid embarrassment with different audiences…

The setup forces everyone on the site to basically wear the professional “CV mask” of their personality. Bland. Buzzwords. Inoffensive. A little exaggeration. Self-promotional (but not too much). Desperate to impress.

It’s ghastly.

Ed West

One of the very best things about retirement was abandoning my neglected LinkedIn account.

Disunification Church

In Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity v. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, Inc., (MD PA, March 30, 2022), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed on ecclesiastical abstention grounds a trademark dispute between the Unification Church (HSA), led by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s wife, and defendant Unification Sanctuary, an organization created by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s son to spread Rev. Moon’s teachings. At issue is the right of Sanctuary to use the trademarked Twelve Gates symbol. The court said in part:

While it is undisputed that the Twelve Gates symbol is registered with the USPTO in HSA’s name, Sanctuary contends that the Twelve Gates symbol is not entitled to trademark protection because the symbol has become generic as a universal religious symbol that represents Unificationism generally….

[T]he implicit question raised … is whether Sanctuary can be classified as a branch of the Unificationist church in light of the apparent fundamental disagreements between the parties relating to the beliefs and practice of this religion. Indeed, while Sanctuary classifies itself as a Unificationist church, HSA vehemently disputes this assertion…. [I]t is well-settled that the court cannot resolve church disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice….

HSA’s registration of the Twelve Gates symbol with the USPTO constitutes prima facie evidence that it owns this trademark right….  However, Sanctuary has contested HSA’s ownership on inherently religious grounds. Specifically, Sanctuary has alleged that Sean Moon is the owner of all Unificationist property as the heir of Rev. Moon, and that he therefore owns the trademark to the Twelve Gates symbol since he controls the Unificationist Church, and by extension, HSA as a branch of same.

Plainly, this is a dispute that the court cannot resolve without venturing into issues of church leadership or organization—an area in which the Southern District of New York and the Second Circuit have already determined is inappropriate in a similar dispute presented by the same parties.

Religion Clause blog.

How delicious is it that the Unification Church has its own internal, familial schism? Couldn’t happen to a nicer novel, audacious cult.

Wordplay

Traditions are the answers to questions we forgot we had.

Nellie Bowles on the Good Faith Effort podcast


Finally, someone has defined "woman":

a mature female who can maintain her composure while being badgered on national television by posturing politicians.

Linda Greenhouse


Laptop Class: My favorite short-hand for the social class to which I admittedly belong, which class has characteristic blind spots and animosities.


Speaking of "classes" that divide us, I heard someone (maybe Os Guinness) suggest that the real divide in America is between those who think our important revolution was 1776 in America and those who think it was 1789 in France.

Being alive

I met a man who came up as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee so I poured him one. He was a soybean farmer who also raised sheep and we talked about that for a minute. Parenting is brief, he said, the lambs are weaned at two months and the rams have no parenting responsibility whatsoever, it’s just hit and run, and by thirteen months, the ewes are ready for breeding. He said that soybean farming is looking somewhat hopeful although a couple years ago he lost his whole crop to a hailstorm and almost had to sell the farm.

“So what is the fun in farming?” I said.

“Being outdoors on a beautiful day,” he said. “Knowing other people are shut up in offices and you’re on a tractor and it’s 75 and sunny and you can smell the vegetation and hear the sheep talking.”

“In other words, just being alive,” I said.

“That’s exactly right.”

Garrison Keillor


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.

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.

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.

Three from today

Schrodinger’s victims

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

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

… This is America, guys.

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

De mortuis nil nisi bonum

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

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

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

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

“That’s not a thing”

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

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

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


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

Backwater news and commentary

A strange story out of Israel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, above)

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

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

Restless Natives In Judeo-Christendom

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

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

Contemptuous Familiarity with a Counterfeit

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

Paul Kingsnorth, The Cross and the Machine

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

The Averted Gaze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s probably more.

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

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

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

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

Tidbits

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

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


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

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

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


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

How Substack Soap Operas Change the Media Business – The Atlantic

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


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