What’s wrong with this picture?

More dramatic than I imagined:

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.29 PM

(link) and

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.55 PM

(link).

Those are stunning contrasts. So why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?

A superficial answer would be that for a conservative, I rate shocking low on loyalty in Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. But I’m almost positive there’s something more important than that.

First, a distinction.

Dissatisfied with my superficial reading habits, I am currently reading Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book (revised and updated 1972). Chapter 8 is titled “Coming to Terms with an Author”:

[I]n the analytical reading of a book, coming to terms is the first step beyond the outline. Unless the reader comes to terms with the author, the communication of knowledge from one to the other does not take place. For a term is the basic element of communicable knowledge.

A term is not a word–at least, not just a word without further qualifications … [A] word can have many meanings, especially an important word. If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms.

Second, a story, which may be apocryphal, but I did not make it up.

A conservative returned to his alma mater for a commencement address and opened thusly:

By a strange coincidence, I am a graduate of a vastly different institution which occupied this very site 40 years ago and even bore the same name …

For some 23 years now, I’ve been an adherent of a religion called “Christianity,” based on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorious second coming of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. It was once, under the necessity of distinguishing it from a particular heresy, partially summarized in a Creed. To distinguish it from other versions, it’s called “Orthodox,” with a capital-O.

Meanwhile, my country is breathing the last few whiffs of an empty bottle labeled, by a strange coincidence, “Christianity,” which apparently is based on the intuition that God wants us to be nice and happy or, in its robust “Evangelical” versions, that Jesus Christ was very special and died a horrible death so that God would get over his anger issues with us and we could get on with being nice and happy.

Its proper name is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Although we share a mostly-overlapping vocabulary of words, I cannot come to terms with it, except in relatively brief and exhausting bursts of attempted empathy.

I remember from some 55 years ago an even more rigorous version, to which I then and for several more decades adhered, but it lives on today mostly notionally, in the scribblings of über-fissiparous “discernment bloggers.” I stay as far from them (and it) as I can, because I’m recovering from a mild-to-moderate case of that mindset and I’ve seen the harm it can cause, including when someone brings that mindset into Orthodox Christianity.

There were and are some other versions of “Christianity,” with some of which I have more or less come to terms, but they are not all that easily pigeon-holed politically.

So back to the question:  “why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?”

First, because it forfeited any claim to my loyalty:

In 2000 and 2004, it was Dubya. He was, we were told, a good Evangelical Christian. He cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher. He talked about America walking humbly in the foreign policy world.

Then 9-11 came, and he turned into a fierce Commander In Chief …

And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declared as U.S. policy the eradication of tyranny from the world and the planting of democracy. If you don’t understand how delusional that is, read it again: eradicating tyranny from the world. As national policy.

(Conscientious Objector to the Culture Wars | War Correspondence ن)

Second, I have no confidence that was a blip, a lapse. In fact, the ensuing years have confirmed that endless war truly is the position of the party insiders (even though party voters chose a putatively antiwar mad, toxic and incompetent man for President in 2016).

Third, the Churches these Republicans so assiduously attend engage in worship that’s pure glucose and teach religion(s) with which I cannot come to terms sufficiently to form any kind of alliance. That Republicans are so much likelier to attend Church weekly is not all that interesting considering the Churches they attend.

I knew that 10 years ago (if not earlier, but I drove a stake in the ground then — a blog that’s held up surprisingly well) and they drove a stake though whatever remained of “Republican” in my heart on November 8, 2016.

That’s why.

* * *

Perhaps some day I’ll post a more nuanced version of why it’s difficult for a former-Evangelical, former-Calvinist, now-Orthodox, to “come to terms” with typical versions of contemporary American “Christianity.” I acknowledge painting here with a broad brush, but if there’s no glimmer of recognition, then you may to inattentive, gentle reader.

* * * * *

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

Psalm 146:3

* * * * *

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.

Same God?

Hang on here. I purposefully meander a bit today, which is a fitting way of sharing a little epiphany I had while reading un-Christmassy stuff (Thomas S. Kuhn and Ian Hacking, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition) on Christmas Eve.

Do we, however, really need to describe what separates Galileo from Aristotle, or Lavoisier from Priestley, as a transformation of vision? Did these men really see different things when looking at the same sorts of objects? Is there any legitimate sense in which we can say that they pursued their research in different worlds? Those questions can no longer be postponed, for there is obviously another and far more usual way to describe all of the historical examples outlined above. Many readers will surely want to say that what changes with a paradigm is only the scientist’s interpretation of observations that themselves are fixed once and for all by the nature of the environment and of the perceptual apparatus. On this view, Priestley and Lavoisier both saw oxygen, but they interpreted their observations differently; Aristotle and Galileo both saw pendulums, but they differed in their interpretations of what they both had seen.

(Page 120, Kindle edition)

These sorts of questions could be extended to other areas, which was why Stanley Fish so insistently schooled Nico Perrino, on one So to Speak podcast:

[Stanley]: Do you believe in the distinction between faith on the one hand and reason or empirical investigation on the other?

Nico: Yes.

Stanley: Yes, I thought you would.

Nico: Of course, I do. So, I’ve fallen into your trap.

Stanley: Because I don’t. I taught a course yesterday on Inherit the Wind. It’s a movie about the Scopes Trial in the early part of the 20th century.

Nico: Yeah, Scopes Trial.

Stanley: That’s a movie produced and directed by Stanley Kramer who is a stalwart First Amendment liberal. The entire dramatic rhetoric of the movie depends on the distinction between faith on the one hand and reason, especially reason associated with scientific experiments, on the other hand. That distinction doesn’t hold up for a second. That distinction doesn’t hold up. What’s you’re dealing with in science as opposed to let’s say orthodox Christianity or something else are two different faiths.

Two different kinds of faiths undergirded by radically opposed assumptions and presuppositions. But it’s presupposition and assumptions which are generating the evidence and facts on both sides. Again, you have – I can tell and say this with all the generosity – you are deeply mired in the basic assumptions and presuppositions of classical liberalism. Anything else that is brought to you, anything that is brought to you by some kind of retrograde sinner like me sounds outlandish and obviously perverse.

Nico: No, not necessarily. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you.

Stanley: Good point.

Nico: But, you know, we’re at the corner of what? 5th and 12th Avenue. Are you telling me it’s not a fact that we’re at the corner of 5th and 12th Avenue?

Stanley: Oh, come on. Come on. Look, have you ever read The Structure of Scientific Revolution?

Nico: I have not.

Stanley: Okay. Do you know what it is?

Nico: No.

Stanley: Okay. It’s a book that is probably the most influential book in the social sciences and humanities for the past 75 years. That’s not an understatement. That is not an overstatement. Kuhn, his project, is the history of science as his title suggests. What he does is challenge the picture that I’ve already referred to where he says that science is not an activity in which one generation because of using its powers of observation and experiment adds to the details of the description of nature that was begun by previous generations.

What he’s saying is that scientific knowledge is not cumulative in the way that the usual picture of science suggests. Instead, scientific knowledge, that is the establishment of scientific fact, depends on what he calls paradigms. What’s a paradigm? A paradigm is the set of in place assumptions and authorized methodologies that govern and are in fact the content of scientific investigation at any moment. Paradigms rather than any direct confrontation between the observer and the world. Paradigms are what produces evidence and interpretations.

Finally, interpretations that are persuasive and successful for a while until that paradigm, for reasons that he details, is dislodged by another. When that happens, when the paradigm within which scientific observers work Kuhn says changes. One might say without exaggeration that without the world in which the scientific practitioner works has itself changed.

Nico: See, I don’t buy it though because there are things that scientist do maybe through this paradigm that produce a tangible result that only come as a result of. Changing the paradigm won’t change the result.

Stanley: Tangible result is itself along with other talismanic phrases like that – tangible result will be recognized as one depending on what pragmatic point of view you are situated. What Kuhn would say, he’s not the only one and I’m not the only one, is that any conclusion that you might reach and be confident in is not supported by some correspondents between your methodological, descriptive protocol and the world. Rather it’s produced by the paradigm within which you are ensconced and of which you are in some sense an extension.

I really urge to read this book because he considers – he’s not debunking science. He’s not debunking scientific achievement. He’s just giving a different picture of it which challenges what he thinks of as the over simplified picture, again, of a world out there waiting to be correctly described. We, as rational observers, having the task to describe it.

Having now read a bit more than half of Kuhn, I understand what Stanley was saying, and I’m less inclined to agree with with Nico.

Anyway, one extension of the “paradigm” (or “gestalt,” as Kuhn so often has it) is the continually vexed question of “whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” which I have visited several times in the past (here, here, and even here in passing).

My paradigm, which led me to say “of course they do“ is monotheism strictly and literally speaking: There is only one God, howsoever He may be misunderstood. Those who say they do not worship the same God strike me as tacitly embracing henotheism, usually with some vehement tribal pride thrown in about the superiority of our God.

But in fairness, the paradigm of the “different God” folks is perhaps doctrine, and “common parlance” rather than strict and literal monotheism. A sufficiently different understanding of God (as the Islamic understanding differs from the orthodox Christian) is, figuratively, “another God,” much as scientists after a gestalt shift are figuratively in “a different world,” according to Kuhn (and Fish?).

Further, my paradigm is apparently flexible. I sometimes ruminate on how the “loving God” I met in bedtime Bible stories as a child, and in childhood Sunday School, got displaced by an “angry God,” prickly, even furious, at how our screwups besmirch His dignity, as if He were a feudal lord. They do indeed feel like different Gods. (I found the loving God again, once and for all, in Orthodox Christianity, but that story is too tangential today.)

Likewise, a “progressive Christian” profession that Matthew 25 is the “heart of the Gospel” arises from a different hermeneutic than mine and, I suspect, is a convenient way of making Christ’s incarnate deity an optional doctrine and doing away with “the scandal of the Cross.” In their paradigm/gestalt, Matthew 25 being the heart of the Gospel is almost axiomatic, and the stupendous paradox we celebrated yesterday is at best tangential, likelier credulous or even incomprehensible. They and I are divided by our nominally common (“Christian”) faith. (It also makes Christian sexual morality, which rivals the Cross for scandal-giving these days, optional.)

And then there are the Jews. I and they, too, worship different Gods if you want to be very figurative about it, though their non-Trinitarian God is pre-Christian rather than anti-Christian. I wonder, though, how many of the “Muslims-worship-a-different-God” folks even think about the Jews when blasting the Muslims?

So what? So can we, on this second day of Christmas (indeed, on all days) be less hasty with expressions that needlessly divide us with intimations that The Other believes as he believes because he’s pure evil rather than out of a very different, good faith, perspective?

That doesn’t mean we all unequivocally worship the same God, for God’s sake, but might our divisions can produce yearning instead of angry denunciations?

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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.

Subliminal religion in politics

“Chase religious ideas out one door and they inevitably come in another — because the human mind naturally rebels against a worldview as incomplete, as manifestly threadbare, as pure materialism.” Ross Douthat

* * *

I used to say “I’m not religious. I’m a Christian,” which was not entirely misleading about Evangelicalism: Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio Journal once referred to Evangelicalism, in its doctrinal diversity if not chaos, as orthopathos, “right feeling,” rather than orthodoxy, “right belief.”

I am fortunate that I was kidding myself about the “not religious” part, and that the truth finally manifested itself. With my religion now being capital-O Orthodox Christianity, I have no hesitation calling myself “religious” (and for today, at least, I have no interest in quibbling over the etymology of the word).

I still casually follow doings in the Evangelical and Calvinist Christian traditions, but even someone who is “interested in religion” as well as “religious” cannot keep up with every tradition other than his own. Part of what I can’t keep up with is the menagerie of people today who earnestly deny being religious (my old denial was playful) while clearly toying with ideas that do not enjoy a Neil deGrasse Tyson Seal of Approval.®

So I was grateful for today’s Ross Douthat column on The Meaning of Marianne Williamson, which was extremely stimulating for anyone who acknowledges that religion is both consequential and ubiquitous. He helped me place Williamson, heretofore only very vaguely known to me, in a religious neighborhood to which I’ve at least paid a little attention in the past.

Douthat’s point is not that Williamson is a serious contender for the Democrat nomination or election in 2020 (though she might be a forerunner in something of the way Pat Buchanan foreshadowed our Very Stable Genius). I would have been a very hard sell on that, as are the pollsters so far.

Rather, I’d call Douthat’s perspective “meta,” in the the sense that he uses Williamson partly as a springboard into the sometimes conflicted psyches of people who fancy themselves staunch adherents of reason and science, and specifically the possible development of a “Religious Left.”

An appetizer:

A recurring question in American politics since the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition has been “where is the religious left?” One possible version has been hiding in plain sight since the 1970s, in the form of Williamson’s style of mysticism, the revivalism of the Oprah circuit, the soul craft of the wellness movement, the pantheistic-gnostic-occultish territory at the edges of American Christianity’s fraying map. We don’t necessarily see it as a “left” only because it has acted indirectly on politics, reshaping liberalism and the wider culture from within and below, rather than acting through mass movements and political campaigns.

Certainly in the eternal pundit’s quest to figure out what a “Donald Trump of the left” would look like, a figure like Williamson is an interesting contender. If Trumpism spoke to an underground, often-conspiratorial populism unacknowledged by the official G.O.P., Williamson speaks to a low-on-data, long-on-feelings spirit that simmers just below the We Are on the Side of Science and Reason surface of the contemporary liberal project.

It’s not a coincidence, against this background, that some of the refugees from contemporary progressivism who form the so-called Intellectual Dark Web or publish in journals like Quillette have commonalities with the Bush-era new atheists who once bashed right-wingers for their religiosity — or indeed are Bush-era new atheists, in the case of Sam Harris, born again as an I.D.W. eminence and scourge of the progressive left. In this trajectory you can see one potential arc for proudly secular liberals, if the left’s future belongs to woke covens and progressive pantheism …

… but then it’s also not a coincidence that perhaps the most popular of the Intellectual Dark Webbers, Jordan Peterson, talks about Enlightenment values in one breath while offering Jungian wisdom and invoking biblical archetypes in the next. Chase religious ideas out one door and they inevitably come in another — because the human mind naturally rebels against a worldview as incomplete, as manifestly threadbare, as pure materialism.

It would take the entire course in miracles to put Williamson in the White House, but she’s right about one big thing: There’s more to heaven and earth, and even to national politics, than is dreamed of in the liberal technocrat’s philosophy.

At this level of abstraction and speculation, other approaches probably are plausible, but by all means read Douthat all if his approach intrigues you. I think you’ll find it rewarding.

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Forsaking lunacy, again and again

I have long thought that the best critique of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option is that he’s just asking Christians to actually act like Christians, and asking the Church actually to do the work of the Church. (Long? Well, the book has barely been out for a year, hard as that is to believe, but I watched it gestate on his blog.)

I also have long thought that the best defense of the Benedict Option is that Dreher’s just asking Christians to actually act like Christians, and asking the Church actually to do the work of the Church.

Dreher’s seemingly anodyne requests are important in part because too damned many professing Christians are interested in God’s minimum requirements, when His minimum requirement is, and always has been, everything. Too many Churches (I didn’t use scare quotes. You’re welcome.) are interested only in institutional survival, and will pander to the basest fads to keep the coffers full and tushies in the pews.

Maybe just-enough-to-not-go-to-hell Christianity is nothing new. If not, that would explain the emergence in so many ages of prophetic voices. Alan Jacobs makes the same substantive prophetic point as Dreher in rather unprophetically winsome garb, coming at it from a much different direction, too. I cannot improve on Jacobs, so I’ll not try. Just go read it.

But I’m persuaded that to become an idiot rather than a lunatic (and I’ve demonstrated my lunacy today by spending too much time on the ramifications of Julian Assange’s indictment), I must read Jacobs’ beloved Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, toward which I have taken the necessary first step of getting it onto my Kindle.

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Twiblings

As if on cue, an example of today’s version of satanic banality. I’m really sticking my neck out on this, but here goes.

But first, remember the conclusion to my latest blog when you parse “satanic”:

The man who approaches Paradise Lost expecting to find the same Satan venerated by Scandinavian black metal bands and Anton LaVey will turn the final page of the poem and suffer sore disappointment. Milton’s Satan never kills anyone, neither does he rape, steal, or utter vulgarities. He does not kidnap children, establish cults, teach magic, participate in Halloween, or teach teenagers to play Led Zeppelin records backwards. He is not even terribly interested in conning others into such foul activities. Rather, one could triangulate the personality of Milton’s Satan using just three figures from popular culture: singer Katy Perry, fictional boss Michael Scott, and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

* * *

I have no reason to think that Dr. Robert Luo or George Arison rape, steal, utter vulgarities, kidnap children, establish cults, teach magic, participate in Halloween, or teach teenagers to play Led Zeppelin records backwards. They’re just in love, and love is love, and they’re living the American dream. They’re just so gosh-durn normal (in a way that only gay couples with $300,000 to spare can be) that “‘We got pregnant before we were married …,’ Dr. Luo said.”

Scratching your head about that? Wondering if one of these men might be suspected of being a woman?

Nay, nay! It’s just that before they enjoyed their first-world destination wedding in Bora Bora and their legal-positivist union at San Francisco City Hall, they enjoyed the WEIRD perk of “engineering” a family.

Yes, there are two buns in hired ovens.

Their story is a veritable rats-nest of ARTsy deathworks, howsoever winsome and seductive.

Yes, I’ll admit it’s winsome and seductive (maybe I should be viscerally repulsed, but I’m not). Still:

  • They’re not really married. (I say that as someone who thinks he knows what marriage is, and this isn’t it.)
  • Their pseudo-marriage is inherently infertile.
  • They’re “commodifying” wombs to bear children that would be the product of high-tech, white-smock adultery (There! I said it!) if only they were really married.
  • They revel in all this and engineer their way into the fawning New York Times Weddings section.
  • Society apparently has already coined a term for children like the boy and the girl currently being gestated by the women they’ve commodified: “twiblings.”

So am I saying these two guys are evil all the way down?

Not at all — if only because then I’d have to think the same sort of thing about personal friends of mine who are, variously, gay, or who are in “same-sex marriages,” or who have resorted to questionable reproductive technologies in the face of infertility.

Indeed, I’d like to think that, even if I didn’t have such friends, I could (1) remember that I’m not the ultimate judge and (2) take an empathetic trip along the imaginative path from a prototypical fecund conjugal marriage to the surrogacy simulacrum thereof in a rich gay couple “getting pregnant.”

For instance, their respective desires for the quasi-normalcy of children made them pariahs in the gay dating scene until they found each other. There’s the seed of something good there.

The Church has been too reticent about addressing these issues. The ethical principles are not right there on the surface, in the classical forms of decalogue sins.

And it wouldn’t necessarily dissuade anyone if the church did address them, as the sexual revolution is a juggernaut, and there’s nobody here but “consenting adults. Mr. Arison is ethnically Georgian, yet dismisses the Georgian (Orthodox) Church as “espous[ing] homophobia.” He’s living according to his own principles, and we have fashioned a world to “enable” him and his boyfriend — or we’d call if “enabling” if this wasn’t all so fashionable.

As it is, I’m oddly grateful for the obscurity of this blog, and understandably grateful that I have no job anyone can take from me. I doubtless have unpersoned some certified victim groups by this paroxysm of phobias.

* * * * *

You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Potpourri 2/22/19

1

“We’re in a cage match,” said Rob Renfroe, a conservative pastor in Texas who believes the denomination should break up. “The loser can’t get up off the mat. The winner is beaten up, bloody, battered.”

Frank Schaefer, a Methodist pastor who was defrocked and then reinstated after officiating his son’s same-sex wedding, is in full agreement. “It’s better for our LGBTQ community if we split,” he said.

… [M]any congregations object to allowing such differences on an issue they consider central to their faith, and are preparing for divorce—and for the disputes over church property that will inevitably follow.

“All of this comes down to money,” said Mandy McDow, the pastor of Los Angeles First United Methodist Church and a supporter of LGBT rights. “If people wanted to leave, they would have left a long time ago, but they would have had to give up their buildings and their pensions.”

Ms. McDow said she would be in St. Louis to see “the great divorce of my denomination. It’s going to be awful.”

Ian Lovett for the Wall Street Journal on United Methodists.

It boggles my mind, and should serve as a cautionary tale about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that both sides think the deep integrity of the Christian faith is at stake — especially when one side is thus tacitly condemning 20 centuries of its spirtual ancestors to the status of inferior pseudo-Christians.

But I agree with Mandy McDow. I’ve seen quite a few clergy who waited until retirement to follow their changed convictions into different Christian traditions, and had personal communication with one who was frank about the financial straits earlier “conversion” would put on his family.

I’m thankful that I did not have direct financial ties to the Christian Reformed Church (of course, one tends to do business with people one knows from Church) when, unbidden, my investigation into the falsity of a new Orthodox Church in town persuaded me of Orthodoxy’s truth.

2

Mr. Smollett deserves to be punished for his hoax to deter others. The media’s punishment will be its continuing loss of public credibility.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

Yes, but what of us putatively innocent bystanders, who’d like reliable news? Are we deluded about what we really want? Or have the appetites of our countrymen for sensational confirmation of their biases driven legitimate news out of the market?

I caught a few minutes of the CBS national news last night and quickly caught them eliding legitimate issues to fit complex stories into their narrative and their time-per-story constraints.

For instance, they tried to make sure that viewers would “see” a rifle’s crosshairs, oddly placed in the corner of a picture motormouth Roger Stone posted of Judge Amy Berman Jackson, when the lines were way too thick and too long, the placement was certifiably weird if a threat was intended, and the accompanying tweet was a plea for defense funds:

DzthWx-VAAAaYtR

Had I not listened to a legal podcast, All The President’s Lawyers, I probably would have fallen for that spin, for spin it was, becoming one of the semi- and mis-informed with a cartoonish notion of what’s going on, and who the good guys and the bad guys are.

And that’s probably what I am.

It’s impossible to read/view/hear and evaluate all world news at length. The sweet spot is knowing what matters, and that’s probably mostly local news, even as local media sink into insolvency that not even sensationalism can fix.

It may become necessary for local news to get its funding from patrons, not just from readers and advertisers, perhaps on the public radio model. We’re on terra incognita.

3

Should corporations, especially big, megarich ones, be given tax benefits for locating in a city or state? No, actually. They should come in simply as grateful and eager new citizens, especially in a place like New York, since there’s nothing like us. But that is not the world in which we live. In this world politicians are desperate to expand the tax base and brag about creating jobs. Companies can and do press every advantage.

Here is the truth: New York’s progressives weren’t tough, they were weak. They don’t know how to play this game.

You want to be tough and mean, get what you want, and keep those jobs for your constituents? Here was the play:

You don’t unleash the furies and hold hearings where crowds jeer, hiss and chant “GTFO, Amazon has got to go.” You don’t put stickers on every lamp pole saying “Amazon crime.” You don’t insult and belittle their representatives. You don’t become Tweeting Trotsky.

You quietly vote yes, go to the groundbreaking, and welcome our new partner in prosperity. Then you wait. And as soon as the new headquarters is fully built and staffed, you shake them down like a boss.

Peggy Noonan

4

A tax preparer in Russiaville, Indiana declined to do a repeat customer’s return when she showed up with her new “spouse,” also a “she.”

My first thought was that the culprit drew a dubious line. But then I thought back to the days after the Supreme Court littered same-sex marriage onto the nation’s legal landscape. I believe there were pledges circulating to “never recognize same-sex marriage in any way,” which was a tempting bit of proposed civil disobedience and which might fit doing a joint tax return.

The pair was able to get it’s “married filing jointly” return done elsewhere, of course.

In Indiana, there’s no law against what he tax preparer did.

Because her beliefs warrant respect, too, I’m content with Indiana’s status quo, the only argument against which is that it’s vitally important to Corporate America (and some United Methodists, but I digress) that sex trump all countervailing considerations and that we’ll be on its “naughty list” until our laws say so.

* * * * *

I left Twitter and I’m leaving Facebook, but you can read other stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im, at both of which I blog shorter items. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly.

Clippings 12/20/18.

1

I don’t share the anxiety many conservatives have about Islam in America (Islam in Europe is a different matter, for particularly European reasons). For better or for worse, post-Christian America is going to turn Islam into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism too.

Rod Dreher, stating as expectation what I somewhat suspected. Read the linked blog and you’ll see why.

2

Viktor Orban is not making it easy to believe that a civilized but illiberal democracy is coming to Hungary:

More than 400 private news outlets have been brought under the control of a holding company run by close allies of Mr. Orbán, including his personal lawyer and a lawmaker from his party, Fidesz. While proponents defend the move as promoting “balance” in Hungarian media, critics say it amounts to a thinly veiled return to a communist-style centralized state-media system. Adding credibility to the objections, Mr. Orbán issued a decree exempting the holding company from scrutiny by the agency charged with protecting competition against excessive concentration. Meanwhile, one of the two remaining major opposition newspapers shut down after the government ceased advertising in it.

Mr. Orbán has also appointed Maria Schmidt … as head of a new Holocaust museum designed to depict Hungary’s role in a more favorable light than does the existing museum, which acknowledges the Hungarian state’s collaboration in deporting more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

Ms. Schmidt has … said the extermination of the Jews represented a marginal point of view not among the Nazis’ principal war aims. When the Hungarian Jewish community criticized her, she responded that “some groups would like to consider their ancestors’ tragic fate an inheritable and advantageous privilege.” In so doing, she declared menacingly, “they exclude themselves from our national community.”

William A. Galston.

3

It was an enormous heroic undertaking that if I told you the whole story, you’d be breathless with admiration, so I will just say this: my wife and I — mostly my wife but I was there, too — have moved from a three-story house in St. Paul to a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. We did it, shed ourselves of truckloads of material goods, and now enjoy the gift to be simple and the gift to be free. Period. End of story.

We did it because it dawned on us that we were two people living in a few corners of a house for ten and that if we didn’t move, the county would send social workers who specialize in dementia issues.

But the beauty of the move is psychological, how it puts dead history behind you and opens up vistas shining and new. This is the American solution to just about any problem: get out of town. I worked in St. Paul for forty years and got sandbagged a year ago and felt bad about it and now I’m in Minneapolis and am over it. So there.

Glad to hear that Gary. Of all the #MeToo tales, yours seemed the most improbable.

Cos? His was bitterly disappointing, but somehow not improbable.

4

There is almost nothing that our mainstream media will not celebrate if it is labeled pro-LGBT.

This and its followup story are very disturbing: An eleven-year-old transvestite boy dancing provocatively in gay bars for bills handed up from the audience, enabled by his parents (bad) and valorized by ABC’s Good Morning America (horrifying).

As one comment to the source blog said, “Where’s Fred Phelps when you need him?”

5

The precedent of Clinton’s acquittal is Trump’s greatest shield. The hard political lessons Republicans learned along the way — especially during the 1998 midterm elections, which saw the Democrats pick up five House seats after a year of GOP attacks on Clinton (no change occurred in the Senate) — should also caution the Democrats.

But it won’t. The difference now is the militarized industrial news complex that simply must be fed. It will gorge itself on impeachment. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will be the new Peter Rodino for those old enough to recall the Nixon impeachment drama. Rudolph W. Giuliani will be reprising the role played by James Carville in the Clinton impeachment drama, going after critics and prosecutors of Trump the way the Ragin’ Cajun went after independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and team.

It will be a ratings bonanza. Who likes ratings bonanzas? Who can command the media — or any particular outlet — and appear on 10 minutes notice? Who, in short, might learn to love “the process”? Trump, of course. It isn’t a normal presidency seeking normal historical achievements. He already has some of those in his massive tax cut, his two justices on the Supreme Court, a much-needed military rebuild and a new realism regarding China. This president can look at his markers already down on the table and actually come to relish the battle.

Don’t be surprised. Be prepared.

Hugh Hewitt, who may be, like Brer’ Rabbit in the Joel Chandler Harris stories, using some reverse psychology.

I’m nevertheless inclined to think that impeachment might backfire on the Democrats and that removal by the Senate would be very bad for the country, one-third or more of which would say “See: If you try to drain the swamp, they’ll crucify you.”

Heck, we might even see a new religion, with Trump as its deity. Would even that break the (somewhat oversold) Evangelical thralldom?

6

“I’m not saying it should be a hotel or a party,” former inmate Cecil Fluker told the county council, “but damn, can we come out alive?”

Michael Gerson on the Cleveland penal system, a mere microcosm of our problems.

7

Walk over to your bookshelf and pull off books by three of your favorite Christian writers—old or young. If the person is a pastor, the author’s biography will mention his church’s name. Of course. But if he or she isn’t, there is a 99 percent chance it won’t. It’s just him. Or her. They are a free-floating, self-defining Christian.

Have you ever thought about where James Dobson goes to church? Or J. I. Packer?

It’s the same thing with your favorite Christian artists. Did you ever wonder where Amy Grant attends? Or Lecrae?

I’m not blaming these individuals. I’m just saying that evangelicalism teaches us to think of them as…I don’t know…voices. Celebrities. Hovering-in-the-air personalities. Something. But as local church members? It’s an institutionally clunky and strange thought.

So it is with us non-celebrities. We identify ourselves as “evangelical” before we do “member of Cheverly Baptist Church” or “Covenant Presbyterian.” That church may have shared the gospel with us, nurtured us into the faith, publicly affirmed our profession of faith, fed and strengthened us into maturity, and corrected us when we veered off course, but we still view ourselves independently from it, like the child who goes to college and forgets all about his or her family.

My friend Sam Emadi has noticed that Christians book stores typically separate the “Christian life” section from the “church” section. “Why aren’t those one section?” he asks. Good question.

Jonathan Leeman. I had kind of thought that this sort of “free-floating, self-defining Christian” celebrity was a distinctive of “women’s ministries,” but maybe not.

8

Alan Dershowitz Is Lying To You, says Popehat.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Clippings, 12/12/18

1

Many in the pro-life movement, of which I am passionately a part, will consider the Harvard Law-educated intellectual [Ben Shapiro] a huge get. Not me. Despite Shapiro’s star power and stature, I consider his appearance a serious mistake for the March, one that will move us even further from being understood as the broad-based human rights movement we need to embody in order to go from fringe to mainstream.

Shapiro’s appearance is an especially ominous sign after last year’s appearance via satellite TV of President Trump — the absolute nemesis of more left-leaning pro-lifers like myself.

It was bad enough to have the movement associated with Trump. On his year’s stage, will Shapiro read his show’s regular advertisements for the U.S. Conceal-Carry Association? How will the crowd react when he does his daily promotion of his “Leftist Tears: Hot or Cold” tumbler?

The set of all pro-lifers is huge, politically diverse, and, as I have argued in these pages, more representative of the views of people of color than of white people — especially white liberals.

Unfortunately, while the March features the occasional Democratic politician or openly liberal pro-life activist, the speakers’ list and political tone in recent years have become overwhelmingly Republican and conservative. Increasingly, and especially with Trump speaking last year, those who identity with a different political ideology have been alienated from the most important pro-life march in the country — as well as the most important annual pro-life strategic meetings that surround the March.

This alienation is among the factors pushing non-conservative pro-life organizations such as New Wave Feminists, Rehumanize International, Secular Pro-Life, Democrats for Life, Consistent Life, among others, to hold alternative events at the March. This is a disaster for a number of reasons, among them that the pro-life movement will never meet our goals unless we can be understood as a broad-based human rights movement — and not merely as a Republican or conservative constituency.

Charles Camosy.

2

PETA is all in on Twitter’s hate speech policy:

Calling someone a “pig” or a “dog,” PETA observed, is “supremacist and speciesist.” Additionally, using such language may have the effect of “normalizing violence against animals and desensitizing people to their suffering.” …

On December 4, PETA posted a tweet against using anti-animal language, using its new tagline “Bringing Home the Bagels Since 1980”! Bagels? That was in lieu of the more readily recognizable bacon, which PETA wants to help us remove from our language (“bring home the bacon”), along with all other animal products from our diets and lives as a whole.

PETA also wants us to change our language because, as the tweet stated, “Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Here’s how to remove speciesism from your daily conversations.” To help us “Stop Using Anti-Animal Language,” PETA offered other substitutions …

The Twitterverse erupted in mockery and ridicule, at least according to the mainstream media. The next day USA Today ran the headline, “PETA ridiculed, criticized for comparing ‘speciesism’ with racism, homophobia and ableism.” The Washington Post said, “the Internet thinks they’re feeding a fed horse,” a poke at one of PETA’s suggested replacement phrases.

Mercatornet

3

[P]erhaps instead of secularization it makes sense to talk about the fragmentation and personalization of Christianity — to describe America as a nation of Christian heretics, if you will, in which traditional churches have been supplanted by self-help gurus and spiritual-political entrepreneurs. These figures cobble together pieces of the old orthodoxies, take out the inconvenient bits and pitch them to mass audiences that want part of the old-time religion but nothing too unsettling or challenging or ascetic. The result is a nation where Protestant awakenings have given way to post-Protestant wokeness, where Reinhold Niebuhr and Fulton Sheen have ceded pulpits to Joel Osteen and Oprah Winfrey, where the prosperity gospel and Christian nationalism rule the right and a social gospel denuded of theological content rules the left.

Ross Douthat

4

Those people keep having kids and being happy and ignoring us. Don’t they read? They do read, but the wrong things! Why don’t they read what we suggest? Don’t credentials matter to them?

Smugness is most uncomfortable facing jolly fecundity.

John Mark Reynolds, quoting Salutation.

5

Talk about a twist: He sought the presidency, as so many others surely did, because it’s the ultimate validation. But it has given him his bitterest taste yet of rejection.

Frank Bruni

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Mene, mene tekel upharsin

In a short piece on the conservative Reformed blog The Aquila Report, Dan Winiarski reports from a meeting of All One Body, an activist lobby within the Christian Reformed Church in North America (Dutch Calvinists) that is trying to convince the conservative denomination to affirm homosexuality and transgenderism …

The meeting’s leaders advised those gathered on strategies to undermine and replace the church’s biblically orthodox stance. Excerpt:

… one of the board members of A1B gave the audience a piece of advice: Do not use Scripture to convince your fellow CRC members of the beauty of full inclusion. Instead, rely on personal stories. “Everyone has a story,” she said. “We can argue back and forth all day about Scripture, but we’re never going to win that way. Nobody can argue with your story.”

Another member of the panel shared the focal point of this “personal story” strategy. He said it is all about convincing people, through stories about real people who have embraced the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender lifestyle, that such people bear healthier fruit than those who are non-inclusive. Whereas the panel referred to “the old teachings of the church” as “toxic,” A1B wants the CRC as a whole to accept the new teachings of full-inclusion, yielding good fruit.

… [T]he A1B activists understand well that in our bourgeois society, well being, wealth, and conformity to middle-class norms — and above all, avoiding suffering — are the marks of the church. It’s a false church, one that has turned from the Holy Spirit to the Zeitgeist, but this is how many ecclesial communities roll in post-Christian America.

In the early 1990s, when I was considering converting from non-practicing Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to Catholicism, I went through a period when I tried to reconcile sexual liberty with the Christian faith … It was so clear to me from the very beginning of our courtship that the three years (four, if you count our courtship) that I lived chastely, out of obedience, had been a period of profound purification and maturation. I did not know what was happening to me when I was in the middle of it. I just trudged onward … The thing is, the ascetic desert also prepared me for living within marriage …

These are harder stories to tell in our culture, because they are so countercultural. But we orthodox Christians had better get good at telling them. The other side is good at “narrative theology,” and they have the mass media on their side. Our culture, even the culture within many of our churches, presents the faith as an electric blanket, when in fact it is the Cross (said Flannery O’Connor). Nobody wants to hear that today, but it’s the truth — a truth that saves lives, both here and in eternity.

Rod Dreher, emphasis added.

The Aquila Report is worth reading beyond Dreher’s excerpts because the innovators have a second strategy, beyond storytelling, and that is the “judicial option””

… the panel revealed their preference for a strategy of using “judicial” rulings similar to the way the secular activists won their case at the United States Supreme Court with Obergefell.

A1B’s plan to transform the CRC will proceed as follows. They will identify a current CRC pastor who is sympathetic to their cause, who is willing to perform a homosexual “wedding” ceremony. Or taking another route, they will find a CRC congregation that is willing to elect an elder or deacon who is openly and proudly living in a homosexual partnership. Inevitably, this will cause a firestorm of protest in the CRC. Complaints will be filed. Debate will ensue. The Banner will publish articles both for and against. The great brouhaha will eventually make its way to Synod.

And the hope on the part of A1B is that Synodical delegates will embrace the path of least resistance and rule in favor of the pastor, or the church, or the office bearer. Synod might decide, as it has done with other controversial topics, that the LGBTQ+ question is a matter for each local church council to decide. Or, if the personal story of the individual involved is especially powerful, Synod may embrace empathy as the path toward inclusion. Perhaps a desire to prove the CRC’s relevancy credentials will convince Synod to “get with the times.”

Whatever reasoning Synod uses, the panel members representing A1B were in agreement (and the audience was too) that the “judicial” plan presented their best path to victory.

I’ve seen that strategy at work in many other denominations. The dissident pastor, after all, will have a touching story to tell of how s/he came in good faith to transvalue values, so it would be mean to do anything orthodox in response.

The Christian Reformed Church was my Church for nearly two decades before I entered Orthodoxy. After I left, a member came to me addled about what Orthodoxy was but thinking I’d be a sympathetic ear for his private religious opinions—which were decidedly sub-Christian. He’s still there as has served as an officer in the Church.

The heated debates of my years in the CRC all resolved in favor of the innovators. I have no doubt, barring divine intervention (which I do not expect; mene mene tekel upharsin), that they’ll win again.

The CRC’s professed adherence to Scripture Alone (sola scriptura) is delusional. As Dreher says:

[I]n our bourgeois society, well being, wealth, and conformity to middle-class norms — and above all, avoiding suffering — are the marks of the church.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Politics, I’m sad to say

1

Politics drove me halfway to the Slough of Despond yesterday. Two examples:

  • An old Evangelical friend posted about Brett Kavanaugh “let him who is without sin ….” If that weren’t bad enough, a friend of his jumped in with a litany of lurid innuendo about the accuser. I asked for citations and he snottily referred me to a QAnon YouTube (which I couldn’t find).
  • Then, on the Orthodox side, a priest trolled a sensible friend of mine, trying to change the topic from the patent deficiencies of Trump to the unreliability of Bob Woodward putting flesh on the bones we all can see with our own two (no doubt lyin’) eyes.

So I’m not feeling all that swell about the political swill I have to share today, but some of it is my own reflection, which was already written (at least in draft) to clarify my thinking, so here it is.

 

2

The current Atlantic asks “Is Democracy Dying?,” by which I think it means, at least in part, is classical liberalism dying? A lot of smart people think it is, apart from the Atlantic crew. Indeed, at American Affairs, they’ve been critiquing Patrick Deneen’s eulogy to liberalism.

Adrian Vermeule was one of the critics — a churl, in his own words. He is a very bright fellow — Harvard-Law-School-Prof bright. He’s also a Catholic convert and an Integralist — a non-liberal or illiberal political theory that I’d probably mangle if I tried to describe it myself.

Wikipedia introduces it thus:

Integralism or integrism is used in the context of Catholicism to refer to an organization of the state which rejects “the separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal.” Though less commonly referred to in modern theology, integralism defines the social order of medieval Christendom and is part of the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

(Footnotes and hyperlinks omitted) Suffice that Integralism is to my right, but not so far to my right that I scorn it reflexively.

Most days, you see, I find persuasive Patrick Deneen’s theory that liberalism has shot its wad, is going away, and good riddance! Integralism’s appeal is that in an illiberal regime, I’d rather have friends in control than enemies.

So I wish I could find plausible Vermeule’s scenario of a bunch of well-formed Christian Josephs and Daniels and Mordecais and Esthers taking charge of the apparatus of the liberal state from inside and putting that apparatus to holy use.

But with Alan Jacobs (through whom I learned of Vermeule’s article — I had neglected my American Affairs subscription), I think we’ve got a good generation of Benedict-Option style Christian formation to do or else we’ll get a takeover by illiberal Christianoids (or illiberal anti-Christians).

Jacobs:

If you need people who are sufficiently skilled in negotiating the liberal order to work effectively within it, but also committed to its transformation, and who can sustain that difficult balance over decades, you have to figure out how to form such people. And it is just this that the churches of the West – all the churches of the West — have neglected to do, have neglected even to attempt. With the (in retrospect quite obvious) result: the accelerating collapse across the board of participation in church life.

What is required, in the face of a general culture that through its command of every communications medium catechizes so effectively, is the construction of a powerful counter-catechesis. Who will do that, and how will they do it? The likely answer, it seems to me, brings us back to the very localism that Deneen and Dreher advocate and that Vermeule rejects. Though I also might reject certain elements and emphases of the communities that Deneen and Dreher advocate, I don’t see a likely instrument other than highly dedicated, counter-cultural communities of faith for the Josephs and Mordecais and Esthers and Daniels to be formed. Those who do see other means of such rigorous formation need to step up and explain how their models work. Otherwise we will be looking in vain for the people capable of carrying out Vermeule’s beautiful vision.

From where I sit, that’s pretty obvious, but not everyone has my perspective. So later, in a micro.blog “conversation” (uncertain how or whether that link will work if you don’t have a micro.blog account), Jacobs responded to a sincere inquiry whether “People who are deeply grounded in and deeply committed to their faith tradition who are also capable of rising to high levels of influence in government and education” doesn’t “describe a solid majority of U.S. elected representatives”:

… I have no doubt that such people are very sincere in their faith, but they aren’t especially well formed by it. You wouldn’t have to be all that well-versed in the Bible and Christian history to know that Jews and Christians have often suffered to the point of martyrdom because they wouldn’t worship the emperor or the gods of the State — and yet many of these professedly evangelical churches hold Make America Great Again rallies and destroy Nike shoes from the pulpit because NFL players “disrespect the flag.” Leading evangelicals say that it’s okay that Trump has done a lot of bad things because “King David was a sinner too” — without noticing that David repented of his sins, whereas Trump has said that he doesn’t repent because he doesn’t do many things wrong. So what we’re seeing here is people who have a sincere profession of faith but don’t know the basic grammar of their religion. It is the civic religion of America, rather, that they are formed by ….

And that’s why I tend to think on other days that liberalism, infirm though it may be, is the least bad option available in a fallen world, and we need to rejuvenate it.

It’s mostly the illiberal comprehensive theories liberalism keeps sneaking in the back door that give me pause, suspecting that the rhetorics of “democracy” and “liberalism” are just secular opiates of the people.

 

3

Why aren’t Western Christians better formed? Here, my imagination took flight.

Isn’t Forensic Justification — basically, that God declares us righteous without making us righteous (or even caring all that much about righteousness) — the perfect doctrine for consoling those who’ve been catechized in the ways of Babylon but want to call themselves Christian?

 

4

Liberty University is an accredited, actual institution of higher education. It’s a real place. People pay real money to go there, receive degrees bearing the school’s name, and take those degrees out into the world, proclaiming their association with it. People take out thousands of dollars in student loans for the privilege of doing that. Really … The average cost of Liberty University, after financial aid, is $24,000 a year.

Fred Clark, The Slactivist. But $24,000 is a bargain, because you get to be forever associated with “firefighter prophet” Mark Taylor, who has gone from extreme to batshit crazy. See here, here, here, here, and here. They’re associated with him because Liberty is making “The Trump Prophecy” based on him.

If I cared about Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University, I would explain “sunk costs” to them and urge them to quit digging (to mix metaphors).

 

5

 

There are two unfair and irrational ways to look at this allegation. One, of course, is simply to decide that because you already opposed or supported Kavanaugh, that should determine whether you think the charge is true (or useful). That’s the partisan route, and it treats individuals caught up in political fights as fungible and disposable parts.

The other is to decide that, because the allegations remind you vaguely of some charge in the past that turned out to be true, or false, or because you want accusers to generally be believed, you should just decide the same has to be true here regardless of the particular facts.

Dan Maclaughlin

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.