Sunday, 6/5/22

The silver lining of collapse and defeat

[Gerhart] Niemeyer, in his typically tough and unsentimental fashion, was much less inclined to see signs of such spiritual recovery in the West, precisely because we have experienced neither the extremity of suffering, nor the shock of societal collapse and defeat.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age, Kindle Location 4090.

Theological liberals unawares

A political ecumenism that pushes back against woke lunacy but causes Christians to adopt or excuse the disposition of cruelty and licentiousness is its own compromise. This is why it’s ever so important for religious conservatism to keep their modes distinct. A subtle but gradual shift that normalizes the ethos and pathos of secular conservatism is but another manifestation of theological liberalism.

Andrew T. Walker. I will be blogging about secular conservatism in my next posting.

Was there ever a "positive world" for Christianity?

I’ve become very suspicious of accounts of Christianity’s place in American life that leave out questions related to justice. Issues of justice, especially as they relate to race and class have vexed the church for nearly our whole history in these lands. Indeed, they have vexed the church to such a degree that many Christian critics—Frederick Douglass, David Walker, Martin Luther King Jr., Wendell Berry, Jemar Tisby, etc.—have suggested that it is more accurate to call the prevalent forms of Christian practice in America something other than plain Christianity. Douglass called it slave-owners Christianity. Tisby uses “compromised Christianity.” Whatever term you prefer—I talked about “white evangelical crap” last year—I think the point here is significant.

It would be news to Christians during the antebellum years who sheltered fugitive slaves at considerable risk to themselves that they were living in a “positive” world. They were obviously behaving Christianly, and yet doing so put them at great risk relative to their supposedly Christian nation. Similar problems pop up elsewhere as well. Consider slaves themselves, many of whom were Christian but whose marriages were not respected and whose baptisms were often delayed or modified to accommodate the vicious slavery regime. What would they say if you told them they were living in a Christian nation or a nation friendly to Christians? Would Native peoples whose children were taken from their homes believe they lived in a nation where “Christian moral norms are the basic moral norms of society”?

Jake Meador, on why he has changed his opinion on the usefulness of Aaron Renn’s The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism.

It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that … ummm, enforcement

I’ll grant that the UMC [United Methodist Church] is more traditional than before, at least it is on paper. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how traditional our Book of Discipline is because we have no mechanism or process for ordering our ecclesial life in a way that reflects what is found in our documents. You can write anything you want in the Discipline, but if those responsible for administering it only enforce the parts with which they agree, then it doesn’t matter.

Matt O’Reilly, The UMC is More Traditional than Ever, but it Doesn’t Matter

Pre-Roe

… an earlier, pre-Roe tradition, in which liberal clergy helped women obtain abortions.

The Economist

Wow! Deja vu! It has been five decades now, but I am reminded by this on Friday that I once attended a United Presbyterian Church where one of the younger ministers was engaged in abortion referrals.

Live and learn. But when I think why I attended there regularly (i.e., excellent music and more thoughtful preaching than I was accustomed to), I sympathize more with orthodox Christians who remain in liberal churches like TEC (Episcopal) or ELCA (Lutheran).


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.

It’s Havel’s Greengrocer Month!

SBC’s numbers fetish

“a satanic scheme to distract us from evangelism.”

Augie Boto, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Council general counsel and former vice president, characterizing reports of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and church employees.

Evangelicalism, of which the SBC is a member in very good standing, had a problem with seeking numerical growth above all else for as long as I was part of it. Psychological trickery and deception were part of the deal (e.g. "Every head bowed and every eye closed. … I see that hand. Is there another?" when nobody had raised a hand.)

The EC’s publishing arm, the Baptist Press, “was also used to portray victims in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse,” according to the report. For example, in 2019 Jennifer Lyell—an abuse survivor and employee of SBC-affiliated Lifeway—was asked to write publicly about her sexual abuse by an SBC seminary professor, but the article was changed before publication to suggest a consensual relationship and only corrected months later.

(Emphasis added)

Hauerwas strikes again

Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens.

Not-quite-rank speculation

Maybe Mainline Protestantism is less prone to pervasive sex abuse partly because it has far fewer young people for predators to target. Not many Mainline churches have vibrant youth ministries or large programs for children. But Mainline churches do have a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability that are likelier to address sexual abuse.

In contrast, most of evangelicalism is effectively congregationalist with fewer authoritative structures beyond the local church. Self protective pastors or congregational governing boards can more easily evade accountability than congregations within denominations. Mainline denominations have bishops, superintendents, presbyteries and synods that oversee congregations and clergy. Often this oversight fails to work effectively, but it can be better than no oversight at all.

Perhaps more importantly, there is culturally less deference toward and trust for clergy and for church governance in Mainline Protestantism. As I recall growing up Methodist, critiquing and tearing down the pastor is often the local church’s most fervent sport, sadly. Preoccupation with pastoral flaws obviously is deeply unhelpful and may help explain part of Mainline Protestantism’s dysfunction. But Mainliners are typically not intimidated by clergy or distorted ideas about pastoral authority.

The typical Mainline cleric is not invested with the spiritual authority that many evangelicals accord their pastors. And of course Catholic priests have more spiritual authority than do Protestant clergy. The reasons are ecclesiological but also maybe sociological. Wealthy Ivy League educated parishioners at an Episcopal parish who belong to country clubs, have many lawyer friends, and know the mayor, are less likely to defer to their cleric or congregational leaders than maybe less culturally privileged members of an evangelical church.

Evangelicals maybe are more prone to idealize their pastors than Mainline Protestants, who are more prone to see clerics as the hired help.

Juicy Ecumenism, ‌Mainliners, Evangelicals, Catholics & Sexual Abuse – Juicy Ecumenism (Italics added)

This seemed timely, but don’t think that I’m siding with the Mainline. I have history in Evangelicalism, and write reactively against it, but I can’t say one way or the other whether the Mainline is healthier overall. I will, however, unequivocally endorse accountability — be it bishops, synods, presbyteries or whatever — over congregationalism, or what I call "fiefdoms."

Also, for what it’s worth, I’m skeptical of the claim I italicized, but it’s been a long time since I spent time around Protestants talking about their pastors.

Gun nuts, pro and con

Respected philosopher James K.A. Smith emotes:

We’ve taken too long. Habitualities built up over a 200 year history will not be undone by tweaks on policy and half measures.

We need the collective will to repeal the 2nd Amendment and confiscate guns.

Only Mammon and our idols prevent us from doing so.

Burn them down.

But Mark Tooley has some cautions:

Christian realism always counsels against ambitious absolutist solutions that override precedent, ignore human nature, and downplay the complex social factors that foster the conditions for catastrophe.

Tooley also has cautions for gun hobbyists, too (and by implication, for us all):

Christianity traditionally argues not only against malevolent violence, of course, but also against vain amusements. The vast, vast majority of gun enthusiasts are mainly devoted hobbyists. For most, their pursuits are benign. But traditional Christianity cautions against unhealthy enthusiasms for worldly hobbies, however benign. This is especially the case where a prurient fascination with guns bleeds over into the macabre.

For more than 2,000 years, Christianity often has preached against theaters, salacious literature, dancing, festivals, bear-baiting, carnivals, card playing, horse racing, and other recreations that many Christians see as mostly harmless in themselves. The argument against passions for such pursuits is that life is short and that Christians are called to redeem the time and be sober, alert, and focused on God’s work.

Life under soft totalitarianism*

If I gave in to the Inquisitors, I should at least know what creed to profess. But even if I yelled out a credo when the Eugenists had me on the rack, I should not know what creed to yell. I might get an extra turn of the rack for confessing to the creed they confessed quite a week ago.

G.K. Chesterton, The Established Church of Doubt, in The G. K. Chesterton Collection (Kindle Location 19750)

I had to read that a few times to get it when Readwise coughed it up this morning. It’s as true today as when Chesterton wrote it, though the actors have changed:

  • "Conservatives" who abandoned bog standard conservatism for Trumpist populism, but pre-eminently …
  • Wokesters, who positively make a cruel game out of cancelling anyone who still believes, say, that marriage is between a man and a woman (or other offenses again liberal groin pieties or racial identity politics).

* Soft totalitarianism is that totalitarianism that doesn’t command by pointing a gun barrel. Not yet.

Havel’s Greengrocers

Speaking of liberal groin pieties, it’s Pride Month, and more and more restaurants and other businesses are playing Havel’s Greengrocer.

It’s actually kind of nice of them: it tells me who to avoid this June and, conversely, what courageous little dissident shops I might want to patronize.


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.

Mostly political

David Shor

I do hope the Democrats listen to [David Shor] even if it means they do better in elections. Why? Well, for several reasons. First, because if they listened to him, the Democratic Party would move rightward. Second, I think the actual policies associated with “defund the police,” “birthing persons,” “Latinx,” etc. are profoundly bad for America. And third, because if the Democrats stopped talking about ridiculous things, it would deny many Republicans the psychological permission to behave like idiots or support demagogic buffoons.

Jonah Goldberg, That Shor Sounds Good

So what’s Shor saying that the Dems should listen to?

At its most basic, Shor’s theory goes something like this: Although young people as a whole turn out to vote at a lower rate than the general population, the aforementioned type of young person is actually overrepresented within the core of the Democratic Party’s infrastructure. According to Shor, the problem with this permanent class of young staffers is that they tend to hold views that are both more liberal and more ideologically motivated than the views of the coveted median voter, and yet they yield a significant amount of influence over the party’s messaging and policy decisions. As a result, Democrats end up spending a lot of time talking about issues that matter to college-educated liberals but not to the multiracial bloc of moderate voters that the party needs to win over to secure governing majorities in Washington.

Ian Ward, ‌The Democrats’ Privileged College-Kid Problem

David Brock

(David Brock left the GOP long before Donald Trump:)

Issues like racial justice, the environment and immigration are already resonating online with audiences Democrats need to win over, such as young people, women and people of color. Democratic donors have long overlooked efforts to fund the media, but with so much of our politics playing out on that battlefield, they can no longer afford to.

David Brock

It would be interesting to hear the two Davids, Shor and Brock, debate Democratic Party messenging.

Full disclosure for invitees

Alan Jacobs has a modest proposal:

This is related, in a way, to my previous post: After reading yet another invitation-disinvitation story, I think every university should – in the interests of full disclosure, honesty, and charity – prepare a list of Topics On Which Dissent Is Not Permitted and send that list to everyone who is invited to speak. That way prospective lecturers will know in advance whether they hold views that are not tolerated at those universities and can decline the invitation immediately rather than having to be canceled later on.

When Pandemic becomes Endemic, can we take off our masks?

I didn’t have much hope for ‌How Will Blue America Live With Covid? but it raises good questions.

As we saw after Sept. 11, certain forms of security theater, once established, become extremely difficult to dislodge as long as there is still any arguable threat. So as long as Covid stays in the news, it’s not hard to envision masking requirements for airplanes and trains persisting far into the future, much as we still try to foil Al Qaeda by taking off our shoes for airport security lines. It’s also possible to imagine a future in which the weird emergent norm of “masks for the help but not the V.I.P.s” — visible everywhere from the Met Gala to political fund-raisers to posh hotels — becomes an expected feature of life among the blue-state upper class (as well as a potent symbol for its critics).

Then there are blue-state elementary schools, where some of the constituencies that support mask requirements may not be assuaged even after vaccines are available for younger kids. At that point, according to both polls and personal experience, there will still be lots of vaccine hesitancy among even liberal parents — and you could imagine a coalition of more Covid-fearing parents and teachers’ unions demanding masking requirements until a school hits a vaccination threshold that remains perpetually out of reach.

Endemic Covid ensures that this dynamic will never simply vanish … deep-blue America will have to decide, in a world that’s postpandemic but not post-Covid, whether it wants to become the safety-above-all caricature that deep-red America has made of it — or if it can settle instead on masking a little more every December and January, a reasonable adaptation to the coronavirus experience, while otherwise leaving the age of emergency behind.

Ross Douthat

I’m seeing signs of this division among my acquaintances. And I suspect that public schools that veer into safetyism will find that a straw that breaks the camel’s back and sends more students off to private schools.

… boring me to death

Roughly a half decade or so ago, I started noticing that everyone began to believe that their political opinions were the most interesting thing about them.  When it’s usually exactly the opposite.  As a journalist, I always found that talking to people about their actual lives – their hurts, ambitions, failures, families, amusing asides – produced infinite and pleasant surprises. Only when they started talking politics could I finish all their sentences.  As a right-leaning person throughout my life, I became unwittingly involved in more and more conversations, feeling like a trapped rat all the while, in which my conversational companions gave me their harangues on how biased the liberal media was.  In fairness, the mainstream media does lean liberal, and often is biased.  (Who isn’t, these days?)  But if every other sentence you utter ends in the refrain “liberal media bias,” it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lying or wrong, just that you’re boring me to death over dinner. I get it. But that’s been settled law for decades. Try to be more interesting.

Besides, achieving equanimity isn’t just a natural state, but a choice.  These days, it very much involves swimming against the tide. You nearly have to choose not  to get riled by all the manufactured outrages, Kabuki-theater conflagrations, and faux-Twitter fights that are conducted by catty people, for catty people.  The rage merchants abound, and are all too willing to make a buck from stoking your anger and wet-nursing your resentments  over  “issues” you’d never even heard of five minutes prior.  Don’t be such an easy mark.

Matt Labash

No senses

I’ve long known that ultra-progressives have no sense of humor. Now it appears that perhaps they have no sense of chronology, either:

When I appeared on Megyn Kelly’s podcast, she shared an anecdote (at 46:00 minute mark) about a friend of hers who worked as an editor at a major publishing house. The editor had received a manuscript of a historical novel, based on a true story, of a woman who had to pose as a man in order to receive a medical education and become a surgeon in the 1920’s1. The editor admired the novel and circulated it for feedback from some junior editors.

Perhaps you can anticipate what happened next. The book was attacked by other staffers for its failure to portray the woman who posed as a man in order to practice medicine as transgendered. The author had failed to frame her story through an anachronistic projection of today’s gender ideology onto a past in which the ideology did not yet exist. This meant her work was therefore “transphobic.” The editor was reported to HR for forcing them to read the book and subject to a disciplinary process. He was unable to move forward with the acquisition he had intended.

J.K. Rowling, Joe Rogan, Dave Chappelle. They exist in a strange form of cossetted duress. They are still beloved by millions, wealthier and more widely exposed than ever before. But they are pariahs from the official pseudo-consensus that the Successor Ideology has captured and that a growing body of the gullible and the opportunistic alike have signed on to join with the forces that they anticipate will be in the ascendancy soon.

Wesley Yang, Cancellation, or Cultural Change

How do you marginalize normalcy?

No amount of effort at revising my attitudes (not that I’m especially inclined to try, sorry) would do much to change the fact that however effete and aloof and sensitive I may be, (and I am surely in the 95th percentile among men along both of these dimensions), I am nonetheless, for better or worse, unambiguously a cisgendered, (a term that the late comedian Norm MacDonald characterized “a way of marginalizing a normal person), heterosexual man, and all that entails.

Wesley Yang, ‌Preface to a 20-volume Dave Chappelle Review

Pregnant women at SCOTUS

SCOTUS is going to hear the Texas abortion law case on its "rocket docket;" briefing next week, argument November 1:

Justice Sotomayor wrote a six-page dissent. She repeatedly referred to pregnant "women," without a footnote about gender identity. Call the cancellation squad.


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.

Ye olde variety store

Reminder to self

I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations lately that various conservatives are white supremacists, or, somewhat more narrowly, that they are adherents of "white replacement theory." My initial reaction was to treat this as a way of mainstream media saying that conservatives have cooties.

But when it comes to white replacement theory, there’s a very important line: it is on one side of the line to think that there is a conspiracy to replace white people with darker skinned people, and that the southern border (for instance) has been thrown open by the Democrats as part of that conspiracy. It is on the other side of the line to note that much of our immigration is darker-skinned people, and that white folks have sub-replacement fertility levels, and that as a matter of fact we are on track for white people to be outnumbered by the year 2050 — without carrying on luridly about how that, ipso facto, will be "the end of America.”

My personal history of dismissing warnings too casually is cautionary. I was slow to see that the charges of anti-Semitism against conservative columnists Joseph Sobran and Samuel Francis were not just epithets thrown by liberals, but true. (Both were brilliant, but both really were antisemitic, though Sobran at least wrote a lot that was not tinged with antisemitism.) I was also slow to see that Patrick J. Buchanan was coming unhinged, as I think he was (and is).

So in dealing with charges of white replacement theory, and giving due allowance to the possibility that somebody like Tucker Carlson is insincerely talking about it just to attract viewers, I need to be aware that even if the comments, prima facie, fall on the right side of the afore-described line, bringing the subject up obsessively is a very bad sign. That’s what should have tipped me off earlier on Sobran.

Meatloaf on side constraints

The Federalist Society is committed to advancing the rule of law, which is why many of its members, in their individual capacities, have worked so hard for the appointment of judges who believe in the rule of law. And many of those judges, in ruling against meritless election challenges brought by the man who appointed them, stood up for the rule of law in the past few months, to their great credit.

But to sacrifice the rule of law as a value, in the hope of getting four more years of a president who might appoint good judges but is otherwise anathema to the rule of law (sic), is simply perverse. I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, ‌The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?. Lat was commenting in the second paragraph on some individual Federalist Society members. The Society itself cannot lawfully back a candidate, nor did it do so unlawfully.

On choosing to cease choosing

[H]uman flourishing depends, [Antonio García Martínez] says, on the acceptance of various "unchosen obligations" (to family, to community, to God) that form the backdrop of a morally and spiritually satisfying life. Hence his attraction to Judaism, an ancient, communally based system of laws that seems far more secure than our confusingly fluid world of freely choosing individuals.

Which means that García Martínez is converting to Judaism in order to escape secular modernity — but isn’t his own decision to convert itself an individual choice? And as such, isn’t it just as much an expression of the modern mindset as any of the trends he denounces here and in his broader social media commentary?

Yes, it’s a choice to stop choosing, but that still grounds his conversion in an act of the individual mind and will. García Martínez will always know that what can be chosen can also be unchosen — that he can choose to leave Judaism with an ease that would have felt quite foreign to a premodern Jew.

This doesn’t mean that García Martínez is making a mistake in becoming Jewish. (I have my own complicted history with Judaism, Catholicism, and conversion.) But it does mean that doing so isn’t likely to liberate him from modernity, returning him to the premodern world as conservatives like to imagine it — a world defined by fated obligations individuals have no choice but to take on and accept with gratitude and fulfillment.

Choosing is the destiny of human beings, from which we will never be rescued.

Damon Linker

I wish Antonio García Martínez were choosing Orthodox Christianity instead of Judaism, but I had the same types of taunts tossed at me as I approached Orthodoxy: "So, you’re choosing to stop choosing, huh?! Har-de-har-har-har!"

I gotta live in the world as it is. In American law and the American mind, one’s church is a "voluntary association." You can opt in; you can opt out. Nobody can stop you legally and few will try socially*. But I can choose wisely and resolve to let the faith, in that chosen setting, do its work on me, not looking for greener grass elsewhere.

Or looking for sheer novelty, as if it doesn’t matter:

To assert that all religions are really just different paths to God is a denial of the central tenets of these religions. The Hindu Yogin trying to achieve oblivion and utter absorption into the faceless universe is not on the same path as the Jew bowing down before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Scientologist working to become “clear” of alien beings called “thetans.” To suggest that all these believers are really on the same path is to do damage to their theological systems—to assert that somehow we know better than these people do what their teachings really are.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

[* The late Jaroslav Pelikan, perhaps the greatest Anglophone church historian of the 20th Century, left his natal Lutheranism for Orthodoxy very late in life. A Calvinist friends who had studied at Yale said that would "shake Yale up." "Why?" I asked. "I didn’t think Yale still had strong religious identity." "It doesn’t," he replied, "and it will shake them up that one eminent among them cares enough about religion to actually change his."]

I just can’t figure this out

New York Times’s criteria for considering a story religious continue to baffle. Why, for instance, is a call for blessing same-sex couples, from German Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, not there?! It clearly is a religion story and it even flatters the Times’ notion of how arc of history is bending!

My, we are hard to please!

One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (a delightful book, but not Orthodox-with-a-capital-O; it’s Roman Catholic, but in a sort of anticipation of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity).

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

"A recent survey by the American College Health Association showed that, in 2008, one in 2,000 female undergraduates identified as transgender. By 2021, that figure had jumped to one in 20."

But any suggestion that there’s a social contagion involved is a Hateful Transphobic Lie.

The surge doesn’t exist, and it exists because Republicans are adding testosterone to our public water supplies to try to shore up the Eurocentric Heteronormative Patriarchy, and the one in 20 were there all along, but just too embarrassed to say it. Yeah! That’s the ticket!

[In this mad age, I probably should note that this was sarcasm.]

Zeal has its limits

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

St. Isaac of Syria, quoted here

And again:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

How we live today

“After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth,” we use our bodies “only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work."

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

No tribe wants him

I grow weary of the Covid discourse. So, so weary. I am particularly exhausted by the fact that the side that is more correct on the epidemiology, the pro-vaccine side, is also worshipful of expertise, incurious about basic questions, contemptuous of good-faith questions, and shrill in all things. I hate it all.

Freddie DeBoer, reprising this blog

Practicing silence

Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day, not to become more "productive", but to become more human and, ultimately, more Christlike.

This is advice to myself.

Silence?! 20-30 minutes of silence!? It’s so terrifying that I must try it.

UPDATE: A 300- knot prayer rope helps. I couldn’t imagine remaining silent for that long without my scattered mind going hither, thither and yon. But the same faith that (through one of its wise priests) counseled sitting in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day knows how to do that: repetitive prayer — not, I hasten to add, that God will hear me because of repetition, but that my heart (and who knows what else) will be changed by it.

The nice thing about this gigantic rope is that praying the full rope takes me about 21 minutes, and if I add another hundred knots (to the first bead, which is a tactile clue) I’m at almost 28 minutes. I don’t have to try to remember how many times I’ve prayed a 50-knot rope — which is itself a distraction from "silence."

Just for fun

I don’t know if I want to cheer or jeer Dutch artist Jens Haaring.


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

Sunday Potpourri, 10/3/21

Religion

A voice crying in the wilderness?

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

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Rawls’ secular convolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had not heard of his loss of faith.

Good news, fake news

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

Rod Dreher, ‌Into The Darkness

Politics

For your prayerful consideration

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

New York Times Editorial Board (italics added).

Consider adapting that italicized clause for your daily prayers.

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

Chutpah

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

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

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

Mutually-profitable kayfabe

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

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

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

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

Perspective

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

‌Biopolitics Are Unavoidable

Just a little quibble over whether one human can own another

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

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

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

What if there’s no omelet?

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

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

David French, ‌A Whiff of Civil War in the Air

Culture and Culture War

Some limits of liberalism

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

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

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

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

Tacit misogyny?

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

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

Uprooted

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

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

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

Paul Kingsnorth

Plus ça change …

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

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

More:

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

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

What could possibly go wrong?

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

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

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

A relatively harmless polarity

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

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

David French, ‌American Higher Education, Ideologically Separate and Unequal

Miscellany

I’ll have to take a pass

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

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


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

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.

Three shorts

Our society has attached a meaning to greatness that is not as far away from Hitler’s as it would like to believe, despite our cant about democracy and freedom. Our idols today are economic conquest, unending ‘growth’ built on turning all life into ‘resources’ for human consumption, scientism disguised as objective inquiry, manic forward-motion, and the same old quest for perfectability.

We in the West invented this thing called ‘modernity’, and then we took it out into the world, whether the world wanted it or not. Once we called this process ‘the white man’s burden’ and exported it with dreadnoughts. Now we call it ‘development’ and export it via the World Bank. But – and here is the point so often missed, especially by the ‘progressives’ currently leading the charge in the culture wars – before we could eat the world, we first had to eat ourselves. Or rather: our states, our elites, our ideologues and power-mongers, had to dispossess their own people before they could venture out to dispossess others. We were the prototype; the guinea pigs in a giant global experiment. Now we find ourselves rootless, rudderless, unmoored in a great sea of chaos; angry, confused, shouting at the world and each other. We have made of our world a nihil. We are both perpetrators and victims of a Great Unsettling.

[P]eople don’t tend to talk much about their ‘identity’ unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, the more you have lost. Once an entire country is talking about nothing else, that’s a pretty good sign that the Machine has sprayed the roots of its people with Roundup and ploughed the remains into the field.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Great Unsettling (The Abbey of Misrule)


[T]he most remarkable thing about Great Hearts’ college-admissions culture is its lack of emphasis on elite universities. Kathryn LeTrent, a drama and poetry teacher at Glendale Prep, reflects: “We ask our students to reflect and write on the connection between virtue and happiness. If we emphasized that they needed to attend an elite college, that would be very hypocritical.”

Max Eden, Great Hearts Academies Charter School Network Gets Results


Nobody is going to cancel a Christian for his or her traditional beliefs and practices regarding luxury, avarice, gluttony, or any of the other so-called “deadly sins”. But resist the world’s view on lust, and you find yourself in a world of trouble.

… [T]he fundamental materialism of our consumerist, hedonistic society is profoundly anti-Christian. This challenge to fidelity would exist even if the Sexual Revolution had never happened.

The ugly truth is that far too many of us conservatives — Christian and otherwise — are not really conservatives, but anti-liberals.

Rod Dreher, What’s The Source Of The Church’s Problems

I enjoy David French quite a lot on legal analysis, but the more he writes about religion, the more I recognize a gulf between his version of Calvinism and Orthodox Christianity. Rod Dreher apparently noticed something like that, too.

If I were to summarize, I’d make up a quote and put it in French’s mouth: "Original sin! Total depravity! Now what’s your question?"

(Inspired by this misfire).


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.

Meanderings 4/8/21

I did an interview today with someone in London whose final question contained within it a statement. He said that he is a “cultural Christian” — he doesn’t believe, but he considers himself an ally of the church, and wants to see it thrive. He told me that more and more, he’s having conversations with people who aren’t believers, but who “are saying things now that they never would have said.” He explained that they are saying that the insanity overtaking our civilization has them thinking maybe they should look closer at the Church, and be more than fellow travelers.

I was taken aback by that remark … I [brought] up Auden’s return to Christianity after going to the movie in Manhattan … The English poet was living in New York when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. He went to see a movie at a theater in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan, which was heavily German at the time. As a newsreel showed images of German troops brutalizing the Poles, members of the audience stood and began screaming bloody murder, demanding the slaughter of Germany’s enemies.

Auden left shaken, and resolved to return to the faith. Only the Christian faith could muster the force to defeat evil so pure, he reckoned.

Maybe that’s what’s going on with people like my interviewer. Maybe they see that things are falling apart quite rapidly, and are feeling in their bones that they can no longer be free riders on what Christianity has built. I told the man that he could not believe because it seemed like a good thing to do, or because it supported the right things. Jesus is either Lord, or he’s not. But I told him that Christ stands at the door of his heart, and knocks.

Social Credit Bunnies – Daily Dreher

I have no particular bone to pick with Dreher’s response to this remark, but I think I would have been less taken aback by it. In fact, my reflex would probably be "what an opportunity for the Church!"

That would be my reflex because I spent nearly 50 years in Christian traditions that were obsessed with numerical growth, and we were always tempted to generate it with gimmicks. In other words, my response would be perverse.

Every church loves to get new members, of course, and I would be thrilled if American turned en masse toward Christian Orthodoxy.

But if it were up to me, I would try to structure Orthodox Christian catechesis in a way that would flush out real versus notional (or even ulterior) conversions to the Orthodox Christian faith.

Here’s the sort of thing I’m concerned about.

  • In 2016, Matthew Heimbach was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church, which he apparently had joined because of what he thought was an ideological traditionalism. Matthew Heimbach is a pretty nasty piece of work.. In fairness to the Southern Indiana parish that received him into the Church, I don’t think they remotely saw such a thing coming, and he wasn’t even nominally Orthodox for very long before they found out and took care of it.
  • Any number of people who (understandably) have problems with developments in the Episcopal Church (or other Protestant Churches) express interest in the Orthodox Church, when what they really want is a nostalgic, early 20th-century version of the tradition they’re pissed off at. Maybe Orthodoxy would work out for them in the end (i.e., they’d be drawn into something they never imagined when they switched), but even our Western Rite Liturgies are expressing a much different faith than anything in Western Christendom.
  • Joining a Church because of concern over "the insanity overtaking our civilization" could work out, as it apparently did for Auden, but I fear it would further politicize the Church rather than making solid Christians of the new members.

I had a client once, a genteel Episcopalian Republican, who was disgusted with the political liberalism in the Episcopal Church, and kept expressing, on her own behalf and that of a like-minded friend, interest in my Orthodox Church. In my notional catechesis, anyone like that who came and sought catechesis would be kept in catechesis until they reached the point where they wanted to be Orthodox because that’s where they find Christ. That’s the only valid reason for an adult conversion.


Words cannot convey how chilling and authoritarian this all is: watching government officials, hour after hour, demand censorship of political speech and threaten punishment for failures to obey. As I detailed last month, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the state violates the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee when they coerce private actors to censor for them — exactly the tyrannical goal to which these hearings are singularly devoted.

There are genuine problems posed by Silicon Valley monopoly power. Monopolies are a threat to both political freedom and competition, which is why economists of most ideological persuasions have long urged the need to prevent them. There is some encouraging legislation pending in Congress with bipartisan support (including in the House Antitrust Subcommittee before which I testified several weeks ago) that would make meaningful and productive strides toward diluting the unaccountable and undemocratic power these monopolies wield over our political and cultural lives. If these hearings were about substantively considering those antitrust measures, they would be meritorious.

But that is hard and difficult work and that is not what these hearings are about. They want the worst of all worlds: to maintain Silicon Valley monopoly power but transfer the immense, menacing power to police our discourse from those companies into the hands of the Democratic-controlled Congress and Executive Branch.

And as I have repeatedly documented, it is not just Democratic politicians agitating for greater political censorship but also their liberal journalistic allies, who cannot tolerate that there may be any places on the internet that they cannot control. That is the petty wannabe-despot mentality that has driven them to police the “unfettered” discussions on the relatively new conversation app Clubhouse, and escalate their attempts to have writers they dislike removed from Substack. Just today, The New York Times warns, on its front page, that there are “unfiltered” discussions taking place on Google-enabled podcasts:

New York Times front page, Mar. 26, 2021

We are taught from childhood that a defining hallmark of repressive regimes is that political officials wield power to silence ideas and people they dislike, and that, conversely, what makes the U.S. a “free” society is the guarantee that American leaders are barred from doing so. It is impossible to reconcile that claim with what happened in that House hearing room over the course of five hours on Thursday.

Glenn Greenwald. This is the conclusion to the latest of Greenwald’s very, very good work on the specter of government-coerced "private" censorship on the internet.


3. Real creativity will die out. Instead, we shall get a multitude of mediocre pseudo-thinkers and vulgar groups and organizations. Our belief systems will turn into a strange chaotic stew of science, philosophy, and magical beliefs.  “Quantitative colossalism will substitute for qualitative refinement.” What is biggest will be regarded as best. Instead of classics, we shall have best-sellers. Instead of genius, technique. Instead of real thought, Information. Instead of inner value, glittering externality.  Instead of sages, smart alecs. The great cultural values of the past will be degraded; “Michelangelos and Rembrandts will be decorating soap and razor blades, washing machines and whiskey bottles.”

Morris Berman, discussing Pitirim Sorokin’s predictions on the collapse of our sensate culture, in 2012.

For more on Sorokin, a fascinating figure, 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.

We knew full well he was a snake

I suggested soon after the 2016 elections that something big was happening, though I’d barely began to understand it. It feels timely to take another look now.

Trump has co-opted “movement conservatism” almost completely. Former “never Trump” conservatives in many cases have become his sycophants. The three Republicans who want to replace moderate Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly in Indiana are generally trying to out-Trumpify one another (here, here and here). To speak any criticism of Trump, howsoever true (e.g., he’s a lout sexually), is to invite boos and hisses, as Mona Charen learned at CPAC last week.

I detest the media’s reckless use of the term “far right,” but a telltale sign that “far right” may indeed be what’s happening to movement conservatism is that CPAC invited Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. As Mona Charen later noted, Mademoiselle LePen holds no public office or particular prominence in France, but her aunt Marine and grandfather Jean-Marie are, respectively, far-right secularists and extreme far-right, even crypto-Nazi. In short, she was invited for the far-right frisson of her family name, like inviting Milo to your campus only with genuinely sinister undertones instead of just mindless iconoclasm.

UPDATE: I intended to acknowledge that CPAC almost certainly got more than it bargained for from LePen, who did not dish up a racist anti-immigration rant and actually pushed some conservative themes that few American conservatives are ready to hear sympathetically. Rod Dreher discusses this well enough that I’ll link to his blog and quote this:

Do not take me as endorsing Marion Maréchal-Le Pen! I honestly don’t know enough about her to do such a thing, and I certainly condemn the racism and anti-Semitism of her grandfather — and, if she espouses it, then her own racism and anti-Semitism. However, I generally don’t trust the US media’s reporting on her, or on the European anti-liberal right.

And Trump himself gave a CPAC speech that included a poem (actually song lyrics), based on one of Aesop’s fables, which I didn’t know had become part of his schtick. He explicitly makes immigrants the treacherous snake in the doggerel.

During the campaign,

Trump left the stage soon after finishing “The Snake” — and it acted as a sort of lens through which the evening’s hatred and xenophobia and racism could be focused and made clear. Those howls of approval? That’s the sound of thousands of hateful worldviews being confirmed all at once by a single work of art.

(Paul Constant, What Donald Trump’s favorite poem tells us about Donald Trump)

Do you miss mere “dog whistles” yet, progressive Americans?

But Constant continues, elaborating what hit me when I heard Trump read that poem:

Recently, Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter who worked on Donald Trump’s book The Art of the Deal, pointed out that the key to understanding Trump is this: when he tosses around insults, he is really talking about himself. With this insight in mind, you can see all Trump’s insecurities swirl to the surface in his attacks: he’s called Hillary Clinton “a lose [sic] cannon with extraordinarily bad judgement [sic] & insticts [sic],” he’s labeled Elizabeth Warren a “racist,” said President Obama “doesn’t have a clue,” and he loves to call the press “dishonest.” It’s like he’s performing advanced psychotherapy on himself by projecting his self-loathing onto the world.

And so with that discovery in mind, consider what Trump might find so compelling about “The Snake.” Audiences seem to interpret the poem as a charge against kindness. Trump supporters like to say that we can no longer afford to accept immigrants because our generosity has been taken advantage of again and again. The implication is that we need to get our house in order before we open our doors again. But that’s a misreading of “The Snake.” Instead, “The Snake” is about believing against all evidence to the contrary that someone’s nature will change in different circumstances.

For the last few months, Republican leaders have tried to assure the electorate that Trump would pivot during the election, that he would start calming down and presenting as a more reasonable candidate when we got closer to the general election. Trump himself has said that he would act presidential if he won the election. We have repeatedly been told — by Trump’s family at the Republican National Convention, by Trump himself, by Trump’s running mate — that we are not seeing the real Donald Trump.

But what Trump is telling us with “The Snake” is that he is the snake in that story, and that he will never stop spreading his poison. Trump’s whole pitch is that he’s been an asshole his entire life, and that he’s willing to be the asshole on our behalf for a change. He’s proud of his bankruptcies, his tax-dodging, his dishonorable business practices. Many of his followers argue that he’s just the kind of monster we need to even the playing field with international competitors. But in his speeches, Trump himself keeps urging us to believe the evidence before our eyes: we know damn well he is a snake, so why would we take him in?

(Emphasis added) There’s plenty of other commentary on Trump and this poem, too.

Yet the Democrats thus far will not moderate to seize disaffected conservatives, now read out of their former party and movement. The near-term future thus looks as polarized or even more polarized (“paralyzed,” I typed initially in a Freudian slip) than the present.

In my post-election suggestion of big ferment, I quoted Michael Lind of Politico that what we were seeing was actually the end of a partisan realignment:

The partisan coalitions that defined the Democratic and Republican parties for decades in the middle of the twentieth century broke apart long ago; over the past half century, their component voting blocs — ideological, demographic, economic, geographic, cultural — have reshuffled. The reassembling of new Democratic and Republican coalitions is nearly finished.

What we’re seeing this year is the beginning of a policy realignment, when those new partisan coalitions decide which ideas and beliefs they stand for — when, in essence, the party platforms catch up to the shift in party voters that has already happened … The future is being built before our eyes, with far-reaching consequences for every facet of American politics.

That still rings very true to me, and I am coming to detest the ideas and beliefs of the new Republican party as much as I’ve long detested the deal-killer abortion stance of the Democrats. Maybe, pace Lind, the increasing frank and unapologetic racism of the GOP is the eventuality of the “dog whistles” of which progressive America complained: the kennel’s full now, and the occupants nominated the snake.

But it’s not all bad.

  1. Neal Gorsuch.
  2. The death of Zombie Reaganism as the GOP’s mantra. (Unfortunately, Living Trumpism is far worse than Zombie Reaganism.)

Seriously, within the last two years or so, I’ve affiliated with the American Solidarity Party. Its platform is far enough out of the current mainstream that it feels utopian. In some ways, it’s my ideological placeholder: “not Republican, not Democrat, but flirting with this kind of Christian vision for our common life.”

Over the weekend, I discovered, subscribed to, and delighted in American Affairs, a journal explicitly founded because “the conventional partisan platforms are no longer relevant to the the most pressing challenges facing our country.”

In short, I don’t yet see any place for me emerging from either the Republicans or the Democrats, and I think the interesting discussions are happening in places like American Affairs, with its welcoming conservative atmosphere but no dogmatic positions that I’ve seen.

I’m still not quite sure what’s up, but I’m seeing glimmers that it actually might not be some “rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouch[ing] towards Bethlehem to be born.” But maybe that’s just the sunshine and hints of Spring deceiving me.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Toxins and antidotes

I encountered one of this quotes before and may have shared it, but now I’ve read the whole article:

When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let me end with a few rays of hope and some thoughts about what can be done. I began this lecture with a discussion of the fine-tuned liberal democracy, which is the hypothesis that human beings are unsuited for life in large diverse secular democracies, unless we can get certain settings finely adjusted. I think this hypothesis is true, and I have tried to show that we have stumbled into some very bad settings. I am pessimistic about our future, but let me state clearly that I have low confidence in my pessimism. It has always been wrong to bet against America, and it is probably wrong to do so now …

[I]f you want more hope, let me tell you why I think things are going to start to improve on university campuses, beginning in the fall of 2018: because as things get worse on campus, more people are beginning to stand up, and more people are searching for solutions. Some college presidents are starting to stand up. They all know they are sitting on a powder keg, and they want to defuse it. Also, they are generally liberal scholars, deeply opposed to illiberalism …

Professors are starting to stand up, too. At Heterodox Academy, we started with 25 members two years ago; now we have over 1,400, evenly balanced between left and right. We got a big surge of members after the violence at Middlebury because that was a tipping point. Professors are overwhelmingly on the left, but they are mostly liberal Left, not illiberal. My field—social psychology—for example, is quite sane. I have been raising the alarm about political imbalance and orthodoxy since 2011, and so far nothing bad has happened to me …

And most importantly, some students are beginning to stand up. At Reed College, one of the most politically orthodox schools in the country, social-justice activists had been protesting and disrupting the first-year humanities course for more than a year. They called the course an act of white supremacy because it focused on dead white authors. They said the course was traumatizing to non-white students. They brought their signs and chants into the classroom every day, making it hard for professors to teach or for students to learn. Many Reed students and professors objected, but none dared to do so publicly, lest they be called racist themselves. Finally, this fall, several Asian students stood up, criticized the protesters, and asked them to stop interfering with their education. Once these students stood up, support for the protesters collapsed. Many people had been going along out of fear, rather than conviction.

(Jonathan Haidt) This edited transcript of Haidt’s Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute, delivered on November 15 has much more of worth than I have quoted, including analysis of how we got so polarized. A hint: I left the GOP in 2005, but there was handwriting on the walls ten years earlier (which I did not notice.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.