The moral horse and the doctrinal cart

Once again, Fr. Stephen gets my juices going:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Perpetual Catechumen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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First and Lesser Things

First Things

The invisible God painted his own portrait on the canvas of the incarnation.

Father Patrick Henry Reardon, The Visible Revelation of the Father


I’m on the Board of a classical Christian School that my grandchildren attend. I sometimes wonder whether parents substantially understand the ramifications of classical education. A classical educator has stated my concern well, starting with how the misunderstanding manifests in students:

Our students desire to learn the material, gain cursory knowledge, earn a high grade, get into an elite college, receive a lucrative job offer with a competitive salary, all in order to master themselves and the world around them. Classical educators desire for our students to love truth, goodness and beauty. We yearn for them to be men and women of virtue and moral character. We want them to love what God loves and to steward the world gifted to them by their Creator. Wendell Berry, American essayist, describes well the dilemma of modern education:

“Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible… A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.”

… Ours is a counter-cultural revolution, which explains a tension often experienced between classical educators and parents. We not only need classical teachers and classically-minded students; we need classically-minded parents. The job of the educator is not to replace the parent but to partner with them. Partnerships do not thrive if the partners are unequally yoked.

The Formation of Classical Parents | Circe Institute

The essay has three steps for The Formation of Classical Parents.


Donald Trump didn’t invent misinformation and disinformation; they have been around for much of human history. But Trump—by virtue of his considerable skills in this area, aided by social media and capitalizing on “truth decay” and diminishing trust in sources of factual information—exploited them more effectively than anyone else has in American history.

Believing that the toxicity in our politics will quickly and easily be drained would be silly; in fact, in some quarters, things will get worse. (We see this in Trump supporters who are migrating from Fox News to Newsmax and One America News because Fox was deemed insufficiently pro-Trump, as startling as that seems.) But not having a president who wakes up every morning thinking of ways to divide Americans by race, region, and religion, by class and party, will be a move in the right direction.

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command,” George Orwell wrote in his masterpiece 1984.

“[Winston Smith’s] heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s center. With the feeling he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

For four long years, that important axiom was denied by the president of the United States and almost everyone in his party. But last month, more than 80 million Americans declared that enough was enough. What many of them were saying with their vote—what I was trying to say with my vote—was that it’s time to reaffirm that stones are indeed hard, that water is indeed wet, that objects unsupported do fall toward the Earth’s center. That two plus two does make four.

Maybe the road out of the epistemic crisis that Barack Obama correctly identified runs not simply, or even primarily, through the realm of politics or social-media reforms, as important as they are. Perhaps the path requires us to order our lives well, remind ourselves and others to love what is worthy of our love, and affirm that “one word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.” We won’t get there tomorrow. But each of us can begin to take steps on the journey tomorrow, a journey out of mist and shadows toward the sunlit uplands.

Peter Wehner, Trump’s Most Malicious Legacy – The Atlantic. I had it in the back of my mind that history had vindicated the vision of Brave New World over that of 1984, and I still think it does. But I re-read Brave New World a week or two ago and recognized that it, too, does not really fit the condition we’re in.

Walker Percy’s Prescient Dystopia, Love in the Ruins, fits all too well, though it’s a much different sort of dystopia than Huxley’s or Orwell’s.


Lesser Things

  • Fact of the day: “Of the 265 counties most dominated by blue-collar workers—areas where at least 40 percent of employed adults have jobs in construction, the service industry or other nonprofessional fields—Mr. Biden won just 15, according to data from researchers at the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan policy research group.” Lisa Lerer, New York Times.
  • Per David Catanese at McClatchy: “Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has launched an investigation into a collection of groups, accusing the New Georgia Project launched by Stacey Abrams of sending registration forms to people in New York and citing evidence of other operations trying to convince college students to temporarily change their residency to Georgia.”

The Sweep: Georgia Heats Up – The Sweep


Natural law theory has received renewed attention among Protestants in recent years. The natural law tradition posits that a God-given, self-evident universal moral order exists that human reason can grasp. The natural law defines and identifies which actions are reasonable and worth pursuing—even apart from an immediate appeal to divine revelation.

The Gospel and the Natural Law | Andrew Walker | First Things


In 2017, the situation was different, but in its own way dire. I testified:

“I have sharply criticized President [Barack] Obama’s policies, but my concerns pale in comparison with the sense of alarm I feel about the judgment and dispositions of the incoming White House team. In such a setting, there is no question in my mind that a Secretary Mattis would be a stabilizing and moderating force, preventing wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening, and over time, helping to steer American foreign and security policy in a sound and sensible direction.

Marshall did indeed reassure the American people, and Mattis did indeed block, or at least slow down, some of the wild fancies of Donald Trump.

Eliot Cohen, This Is No Job for a General – The Atlantic


Nothing is sadder than the question posed indignantly, “Do you know who I am?” I first heard it when I was 17, on a flight back from Europe (my mom had won a trip in a church raffle, and sent me). I was seated near the back row, and heard a man from Louisiana arguing with a flight attendant, who kept telling him not to hang out near the galley.

“Do you know who I am?” the man huffed. I thought, wow, a real celebrity, I wonder who he is? I learned from their touchy dialogue that the supposed dignitary was a friend of the Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner’s, who had been leading a tour of Europe with his political supporters, and was seated up in first class. Here was this guy telling a Delta Airlines attendant on a flight to Atlanta from Brussels that she’d better back down, because he’s a friend of a provincial minister of agriculture. It’s a thing of beauty, if you look at it from a certain angle.

Thoughts About Celebrity | The American Conservative


In 1908 G.K. Chesterton penned Orthodoxy to confront the idiocy of the motto “Believe in yourself”:

“Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Supermen. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”

Through a Looking Glass Darkly | Comment Magazine


If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.

Justice Antonin Scalia via Josh Blackman, Why rewrite Brown, Roe, and Obergefell?


“Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principle of journalism and what do we do about that,. As reporters, we kind of march into this war with our facts nobly shouldered as if they were going to win the day and what we’re seeing that is because of the scale of this alternative reality that you’ve been talking about, our facts, our principles, our scientific method–it isn’t enough. So what do we do?”

Jonathan Turley, “Free Speech Is Being Weaponized”: Columbia Dean and New Yorker Writer Calls For More Censorship

The elite consensus is rapidly repudiating free speech, which bodes ill for the future.


The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 335-78, a wide enough margin to override the veto President Trump has telegraphed. The bill, which directs military spending for the upcoming year, includes pay raises for troops and is filled with bipartisan priorities, but Trump has demanded an unrelated provision—the repeal of tech platforms’ Section 230 liability protections—be included.

The Morning Dispatch: House Powers Through Veto Threat on NDAA


Seriously, the main use of Bitcoin is to allow people to smuggle money, buy illegal items like kiddie porn, and speculate on the price of Bitcoin. They had to create an entire new Stable coin class just to get around how slow Bitcoin is when actually used. The energy use to run the system is amazingly awful. The entire market is beset with crooked exchanges and a million different Ponzi schemes. But other than that, sending your cash to strangers on the internet for beanie baby equivalents is a great idea.

Poliorcetes, commenting on Bitcoin Is Back and Booming. Will the Rally Last? (The Dispatch)

I’m 90%+ sure that Bitcoin is an hysteria, a bubble inflating (though the bursting point is uncertain), because we’ve collectively lost touch with reality.


[T]o understand how social conservatives feel about [HHS nominee Xavier] Becerra, imagine if a Republican president elected on a promise to heal partisan wounds and deal with a pandemic nominated Rick Santorum as his first secretary of Health and Human Services.

Rod Dreher quoting Ross Douthat who’s quoting John McCormack of National Review in turn.

More:

there is a chasm between what Trump’s team is telling the public about the case, and what is actually in their legal filings. The court filings are pathetic, the lawyers said. Clown-car stuff. But see, this is the kind of thing that ordinary people — that is, people without legal training — can’t easily understand. One of the lawyers said that voter fraud might well have happened, but if you can’t show evidence in court, you’ve got nothing. That is the problem here, for Team Trump.

Unlike Eric Metaxas, I don’t believe that it is clear that God is on Trump’s side, I don’t believe that Trump will be inaugurated, and I certainly don’t believe that Trump is worth dying for.

Look, I believe that soft totalitarianism is coming, and though I believe Covid is a real crisis, I also believe that powerful people are going to take advantage of it to push for bad things. But the idea that Donald Trump is our only hope — really? Really? The idea that he has the mandate of heaven, and that Christians should be prepared to see the Constitutional order destroyed for the sake of Donald Trump — it’s just beyond crazy. I would never, ever submit to the dictatorial rule of Donald Trump, and it is utterly appalling that Christians would say that doing so is what God would have us do.

Yappy Catholic crazy person John Zmirak likens me and other Christians who don’t sign on to the Trump post-election crusade to Nazi collaborators. And Eric Metaxas, who has been a friend of mine for over 20 years, promoted that column to the skies. This is where the heads of a lot of Christians are these days: Donald or death.

I think the “Stop The Steal” movement is mistaken, but I would not be so alarmed by it were these leaders not tying it to fidelity to God. The progressive Left in this country is bonkers; that we know. Must we on the Right show ourselves to be every bit as shipwrecked on the reef of ideology? Every minute we spend on trying to salvage Trump’s pride is a minute we are not spending on building a meaningful, substantive resistance. And it is de facto helping people like Xavier Becerra by neutralizing conservatives and Christians who would be open to fighting against whatever the Biden administration attempts, but who don’t want to be associated with sedition and religious extremism.

I never thought that yappy Christianist right-wingers like Zmirak would be the first to loudly label sane, observant traditional Christians as traitors.


Kelly’s lawsuit raises an interesting question of Pennsylvania law: Were the commonwealth’s 2019 election reforms that expanded mail-in voting consistent with the Pennsylvania constitution? But note the date of the reforms. Kelly could have raised his challenge well before the election. He should have raised his challenge before the election. So it was no surprise that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected his lawsuit as filed too late.

It was even less surprising that SCOTUS refused to engage. Why? Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the final authority on the meaning and interpretation of Pennsylvania law and the Pennsylvania constitution, not SCOTUS.

Everything I’m telling you in this newsletter is elementary. It represents basic election law, basic constitutional law, and basic rules of evidence. So why does the GOP belief that the election was stolen persist even through repeated, decisive legal defeats?

There’s a complicated answer and a simple answer. Let’s ignore the complicated answer for the moment—it’s based in the enduring human vulnerability to conspiracies compounded by widespread and increasing distrust in institutions. In short, to greater and lesser degrees conspiracy theories will always be among us.

In this case, however, the challenge of human nature is compounded by the fact that multiple trusted conservative and Republican voices are making arguments they know—or should know—aren’t just wrong, but frivolous.

In normal circumstances, a legal personality like Mark Levin would shred the arguments in the Pennsylvania case. Instead, he promoted it. Ted Cruz has the legal skills to know the case has no hope. He offered to argue it at the Supreme Court. And I know the attorney general of Texas well enough to know that this lawsuit is far beneath his level of legal expertise.

In other words, lawyers who should know better are conning their own fans and constituents. Credentialed charlatans are telling frightened and sad Americans exactly what they want to hear about topics they have no reason to understand. Is it any wonder they believe?

The Kraken Is Lackin’ – The French Press


Texas’s stunningly stupid statistical proof that the election result can’t be right:

That, believe it or not, is it. (A) If the 2020 voting population had precisely the same party preferences as the 2016 voting population, Biden could not possibly have won; and (B) if the mail-in and in-person voters had precisely the same party preferences, Biden could not possibly have won.

Wow! Man bites dog!! Who would have believed it!! If the 2020 voting population had the same Repub/Dem split as it had in 2016, Trump must have won!! If mail-in voters had the same preferences as in-person voters, Trump must have won!! And if my aunt had four wheels, she’d be a motorcar!!

Dr. Cicchetti, in other words, has falsified two hypotheses that nobody in his/her right mind could possibly have believed might actually be true. Garbage in, garbage out.

I would remind Dr. Cicchetti—and, more importantly, Texas AG Paxton—that we periodically conduct “elections” precisely because voter preferences may change over time, and some people who voted for the Democratic candidate in one election might choose the Republican in the next, or vice versa. Were this not the case, I suppose we’d still have a Federalist as Chief Executive. [“Your Honor, the chance that Thomas Jefferson carried Maryland in 1800, as has been reported, is less than one in 8 million billion quadrillion!! (assuming that voter preferences haven’t changed since the 1796 election …)”]

David Post, More on Statistical Stupidity at SCOTUS


Eventually, her beliefs radicalized further: She became convinced that trans women are men ….

TERFs and The Donald: The Future of Reddit’s Banned Groups – The Atlantic

Oh: biological fact is now “radical”?


Perennial wisdom:

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

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Single standards

I commented just a bit earlier about the good news for religious freedom out of Michigan, courtesy of Masterpiece Cake Shop.

But now, I must quibble about my second encounter of the story:

For those who don’t recall, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips [proprietor of Masterpiece Cakes] in large part because a commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’s claim that he enjoyed a religious-freedom right not to be forced to design a custom cake for a gay wedding a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The commissioner also denigrated religious-liberty arguments as being used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

While all agreed that it would have been preferable had the court simply ruled that creative professionals could not be required to produce art that conflicted with their sincerely held beliefs, the question was whether Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong condemnation of anti-religious bigotry would resonate beyond the specific facts of the case.

David A. French (italics added)

David French is a very good lawyer and a steadfast friend of both free speech and the free exercise of religion, but he blew this one (I suspect a bit of cerebral flatulence; I doubt that he would disagree with me if he caught wind of my existence).

I, too, know something about the law in this area and I do not agree that it would have been preferable to carve out special immunity for creative professionals with sincerely held beliefs. I wanted the court to rule “that creative professionals could not be required to produce art.” Period. Full stop.

Carving out a exemption only for sincere religious belief is a retreat from the sound principle of artistic freedom and would, I believe, perversely feed into the designer narrative that “religious freedom is just an excuse for bigotry.”

Yes: because nobody should be able to coerce an artist to produce something he doesn’t want to produce for whatever reason, spoken or unspoken, I want a creative professional to be able to say to me “I’m an ardent atheist, hater of all things and all peoples religious, and I won’t create art for Christians. If you don’t like it, put it where the sun don’t shine.”

He’d be smarter to “just say no, thank you,” but polite bigots don’t deserve special exemption from legal coercion.

I do not mean to imply that bigoted utterances are completely harmless. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can bruise feelings. But as a general rule I think the harm of disrespecting someone, even openly, is lesser than the harm of coercing artistic expression — and we need to make laws for general cases, not rare exceptions. Coerced expression, after all, profoundly disrespects the artist.

A fortiori, I’d support the atheist if, for instance, he was a florist and we wanted him to deliver flowers to our Church early every Sunday morning, designed to complement our liturgical calendar or the sermon themes the pastor phoned in. Or a baker, and we wanted a “Jesus Loves Me” inscribed sheet cake.

I wouldn’t even call him a bigot for that: How is an artist supposed to artistically express something he thinks is at best hocus pocus, likelier an opiate of the people?

No doubt some can do it (I suspect impiety in some composers of great 20th Century English language religious choral works, the art form I know best, for instance), and I’ll leave it to them to deal with qualms of conscience. But I don’t expect, let alone want the law to compel, artists to prostitute their art.

This hypothetical atheist florist is very, very close to a reverse mirror-image of Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman and other artisans who have been punished (in Stutzman’s case, obsessively pursued by an evil elected official) for refusing orders to adorn same-sex weddings — the lightning-rod du jour.

Phillips and Stutzman both served gays gladly, but drew a line at celebrating by tangible proxy a “wedding” they considered something on the lines of wicked, or impious mummery.

For what it’s worth, I doubt that the law would punish the atheist florist for declining weekly expressive bouquets to a church. There has been a double-standard that could well be dubbed “the LGBT distortion factor,” to go along with the “abortion distortion factor” (normal legal rules suspended in the presence of abortion) and the lesser know “creationist distortion factor” (any science teacher who both attends church and exposes evolution to critical examination loses and gets branded with a scarlet “C”).

I don’t like legal double-standards, which is precisely why I don’t like David French’s presumably inadvertent expression of what Jack Phillips’ partisans were hoping for in Masterpiece Cake Shop. I don’t doubt that there are some protections that free exercise of religion affords where free speech falls short, but compelled artistic expression surely isn’t one of them.

* * * * *

I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

* * * * *

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Taking the bait

Some people are taking Farhad Manjoo’s slow-day op-ed exscrecence more seriously than I did.

Sometimes a piece of writing so perfectly distills a cultural moment and mood that it deserves to be given outsized attention. That’s very much the case with Farhad Manjoo’s op-ed column in Thursday’s New York Times, “The Perfect Pronoun: Singular ‘They’.”

Little in the column is original to Manjoo. In 2019, one encounters similar arguments, assertions, and assumptions every day in published essays, on social media, in lavish advertising campaigns, and increasingly in the literature produced and enforced by corporate HR departments. Yet Manjoo’s column is worth focusing on because it presents such a concise and cogent statement of the emerging elite-progressive consensus.

… There is almost no chance at all that the Farhad Manjoo of 2009 sat around pondering and lamenting the oppressiveness of his peers referring to “him” as “he.” That’s because (as far as I know) Manjoo is a man, with XY chromosomes, male reproductive organs, and typically male hormone levels, and a mere decade ago referring to such a person as “he” was considered to be merely descriptive of a rather mundane aspect of reality. His freedom was not infringed, or implicated, in any way by this convention. It wouldn’t have occurred to him to think or feel otherwise. Freedom was something else and about other things.

The emergence and spread of the contrary idea — that “gender is a ubiquitous prison of the mind” — can be traced to a precise point in time: the six months following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Almost immediately after that decision was handed down, progressive activists took up the cause of championing transgender rights as the next front in the culture war — and here we are, just four short years later, born free but everywhere in chains.

[A]ll societies — as collectivities of individuals sharing a common culture as well as common laws, rules, and norms (including linguistic rules and norms) — invariably constrain individuals more than they would be if they lived in absolute isolation from others. Any one of those limits on the individual will can feel as if it’s an intolerable constraint, and the principle of individual freedom can always be invoked in order to combat it.

This is how a progressive in 2014 can consider it an unacceptable limitation on individual freedom for gay couples to be denied the right to marry — and base that argument on the claim that a gay man’s love and natural desire for another man, like a lesbian’s love and natural desire for another woman, is irreducible and ineradicable — and then insist just five years later that it is an unacceptable limitation on individual freedom for anyone to be presumed a man or a woman at all.

As Andrew Sullivan has powerfully argued, the two positions are fundamentally incompatible. The first, which morally justifies same-sex marriage, presumes that biological sex and binary gender differences are real, that they matter, and that they can’t just be erased at will. The second, which Manjoo and many transgender activists embrace and espouse, presumes the opposite — that those differences can and should be immediately dissolved. To affirm the truth of both positions is to embrace incoherence.

But that assumes that we’re treating them as arguments. If, instead, we view them as expressions of what it can feel like at two different moments in a society devoted to the principle of individualism, they can be brought into a kind of alignment. Each is simply an expression of rebellion against a different but equally intolerable constraint on the individual. All that’s changed is the object of rebellion.

Damon Linker.

See Alan Jacobs, too.

UPDATE:

And see Michael Brendan Dougherty and Rod Dreher and who knows how many more before it’s over.

Dreher:

Does this seem overwrought to you? After all, we’re just talking about a dopey column by a sweet, nerdy Millennial NYT columnist, right? See, though, this is exactly how this stuff gets institutionalized. As Linker points out, four years ago, what Manjoo claims in his piece is arbitrary and oppressive was so normal that nobody even thought about it. Now this kind of thing is quickly becoming orthodoxy within the Inner Party leading progressive circles.

Manjoo engages in a classic piece of left-liberal rhetoric here, saying he wishes that our world were one

… in which we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs

See what he does here? The people who object to his absolutely radical proposal to alter English as it has been spoken for centuries, so that it can fit a bizarre model of biology that only a relative tiny elite of progressives accepts — hey, they’re the ones who are “obsessed” by meaningless flesh in people’s crotches. Fifteen years ago, progressives taunted those who questioned the wisdom of smashing the traditional model of marriage as being “obsessed” with what other people did behind closed doors, etc. The idea is to stigmatize norms as being arbitrary, irrational, and even immoral, as a way to pave the way for the uncompromising introduction of new norms … which are presented as obviously true and good.

(Emphasis added)

Dougherty:

Writing in the New York Times, tech writer Farhad Manjoo says that we ought to eliminate “gendered” pronouns. Manjoo wants to eighty-six “he” and “she”; “him” and “her.” Our techie isn’t for some of the newly proposed pronouns like “ze,” because studies have shown people don’t know what or who ze is. Perhaps ze should be left to gender nonconforming people. That’s ze truth.

Manjoo’s truth is that he wants us to use “they” as a singular pronoun. “It’s flexible, inclusive, unobtrusive and obviates the risk of inadvertent misgendering.” Manjoo personally wants to be referred to as “they.”

Well, here goes.

Only two types of people object to Farhad’s proposal, they (Manjoo) writes. They (the types) are the grammarians and “the plainly intolerant.” They (Manjoo) has two children, a boy and a girl. They (Manjoo) says they (Manjoo) has been watching them (their’s children) grow up and adapt themselves (their’s children) to roles prescribed by their (all of the above) society. This horrifies them.

By “them” I mean them (Manjoo).

Okay, I can’t do this anymore …

Manjoo writes of his children:

From their very earliest days, my kids, fed by marketing and entertainment and (surely) their parents’ modeling, seemed to hem themselves into silly gender norms. They gravitated to boy toys and girl toys, boy colors and girl colors, boy TV shows and girl TV shows. This was all so sad to me: I see them limiting their thoughts and their ambitions, their preferences and their identity, their very liberty, only to satisfy some collective abstraction.

To Manjoo, this looks like oppression. To conservatives, it looks like the joyful early days of assimilation and appropriation ….

This led to a Twitter exchange:

FM: “This criticism of my column has this interesting bit. personally I can’t understand anyone who doesn’t question every inherited part of the culture and seek to justify it. That’s the point of reason, I feel ”

MBD: You can’t understand *anyone* who doesn’t question *everything?* Maybe other people are both more humble about their reasoning ability, and more grateful that hundreds or thousands of years of human practical experience supplies answers where individual abstract reasoning fails.

Dreher weighs in:

Manjoo seems oblivious to the ideological privilege he has. Try questioning publicly “every inherited part of the culture and seek to justify it” when the inherited part of the office culture is the standard progressive roster of Thou Shalt Nots — including questioning the abandonment of the gender binary.

 

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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).

The PCA and The Nashville Statement

[The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)] endorsing the Nashville Statement was an odd move. The Statement itself is a jumble. It purports to be a broad account of Christian teachings on sexuality, but has nothing to say about divorce, contraception, or biomedical tech, and says very little about procreation as an essential good in Christian marriage. This makes the statement lopsided in its teachings about sexuality in ways that are evangelistically disastrous where the [Tim Keller and Reformed University Fellowship] wing of the PCA tends to be most active.

… The right … needs to recognize that what they confuse for progressive drift is usually the more banal work of finding ways to present the faith to people with minimal knowledge of Christianity, or with some deep hostility to orthodoxy …

Contrary to some hyperbolic claims, there is no serious movement in the PCA to reject historic teachings about sexuality. Those who dissented on Nashville did not do so because they are progressive on sexual ethics, but because of the procedural and pastoral issues cited above—as well as the lopsidedness of the statement itself.

Jake Meador

Apart from garbling a little denominational history (the PCA did not exist in the late 60s when the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy was issued — but then neither did Jake), Jake nails this.

I read the Nashville Statement and many reactions to it when it was issued (I clipped 20 items on the topic), and it was both sloppy (e.g., what’s the “homosexual self-conception” Christians should not adopt?) and lopsided (what about the sexual sins and dubious practices of heterosexuals? [Crickets.])

I often object to “whataboutism” as a rhetorical ploy to defend the indefensible, but the Preamble of the Nashville Statement does indeed promise “a broad account of Christian teachings on sexuality,” whereas the Statement is negative only on homosexuality, with flaws both rhetorical and pastoral, and without coming anywhere near stepping on any heterosexual toes about un-natural practices that have been adopted wholesale and uncritically.

People should not feel compelled to endorse sloppy and lopsided statements to prove their orthodoxy.

[This post is not categorized “lifework” or “deathwork,” just to prove that I maintain some sense of proportion. But had I waded in on the topics about which the Nashville Statement is silent, the “deathwork” category probably would have been invoked.]

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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.

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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.

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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 (mostly political) 9/25/18

1

I apologize if I’ve quoted this before, but I’m a retired lawyer, I’ve watched SCOTUS for decades, and I can’t stop mulling this over.

Here goes:

I can imagine two operative standards for a nominee in Kavanaugh’s shoes. One is what we might call the minimally convincing standard—which we can loosely define as a showing just powerful enough to align the few uncommitted Republicans with the already-declared Republicans and thus assure confirmation.

The other let’s call the no-asterisks standard—that is, a showing sufficiently powerful that a reasonable person will not spend the years of Kavanaugh’s service mentally doubting his integrity or fitness for the role he is playing. It is a showing sufficient for a reasonable pro-choice woman to believe it legitimate—if not desirable—for Kavanaugh to sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade, or for a sexual-assault victim, whatever she may think of his views, to believe it legitimate for him to hear her appeal.

Putting it all together, Kavanaugh’s task strikes me as an unenviable one. He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.

Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic.

I have called this article “clarifying,” and I particularly had these passages in mind. But now I’m wondering.

We’re all aware of the high levels of polarization in the country. Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono says she disbelieves Kavanaugh’s denial of Dr. Ford’s accusation because she doesn’t like his ideology. On the other side, we have Donald Trump predicting he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it.

Consider Hirono and those blasé Times Square bystander archetypes. Where is the archetypal “reasonable person” (or “reasonable pro-choice woman”) who hasn’t already made up his or her mind on the Kavanaugh nomination, or whose opinion of his qualifications (not some political calculus) has materially changed because of the accusations against him?

If you were already inclined to trust Kavanaugh, the evidence against him is weak enough to justify rallying to his side. (“How dare these liberals engage in dirty tricks against this smart, decent family man who’s devoted his life to the law!”) But if you were already inclined to distrust him, the evidence against him is strong enough to justify feeling vindicated. (“You mean the guy who seems eager to gut women’s reproductive rights shows a pattern of misogyny and violence againéé women? No kidding!”)

Damon Linker.

Who thinks that they’ll watch Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh without a glimmer of confirmation bias?

Can any justice be confirmed in this toxic atmosphere without an asterisk by his or her name? (“Hey! I’m reasonable! I think he’s guilty as hell! He’s just the type!”)

Can any conservative man be confirmed without accusations of sexual improprieties? If it comes from an old acquaintance rather than a total stranger, won’t it always come packing an asterisk?

There’s an aphorism about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s on my mind these days.

2

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently told an audience that there must be a way that cryptographers hadn’t thought of yet to securely guarantee that law enforcement could unlock encrypted devices. He proclaimed “We put a man on the moon” in trying to make the point that if mathematicians and scientists could do that, surely they could find a way to build a secure encryption backdoor. But after decades of research and debate, the experts overwhelmingly agree: trying to build a secure backdoor would be like asking NASA’s to safely land a human on the sun. It’s not possible.

Robyn Greene

3

If Trump fires Rosenstein, he gets rid of the guy who has been Robert Mueller’s main protector at Justice. Yet firing him on charges of insubordination means believing that the Fake News got the story about Rosenstein’s 25th Amendment musings right. This may be the ultimate Trumpian dilemma.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

4

The clear implication of the [ad’s] sumptuous red lipstick and the impossibly tall high-heel is that a woman’s womb, ovaries, and breasts are recreational equipment which it would be unthinkable to waste on nurturing a new human being. Maybe when these organs are older and starting not to work so well, they can be used for making and nourishing babies—after a few rounds of chemical fertility treatment, of course. But right now, it’s party time. It’s me time. It’s little black dress time.

Because sex is fun, right? And it’s even more fun when there’s an edge of risk in it, which is why we end up with “emergency contraception” ads in the Underground and an epidemic of STDs. But what’s the purpose of all these cocktails and clubbing? Why do people devote so much of their lives to finding someone with whom to rub bodies if they’re not interested in what body-rubbing was designed to create?

Or take for example this WebMD article about “emergency contraception,” which suggests a woman might want to use it if she had sex and “something went wrong.” Could you run that by me again? In what other instance do we describe body systems accomplishing their intended functions by saying “something went wrong”? ….

G. Shane Morris, If You Don’t Want Kids, Don’t Have Sex (or Get Married).

Caveat: Do not ever think that my quoting something from Shane Morris implies that I agree with him more than about half the time. Some day, I may even unload on him about something in the other half.

5

… I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough … Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.

Otherwise, you might say I’m his No. 1 fan.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

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Creed and deed

Is is possible to separate creedal orthodoxy (whole-hearted assent to the Nicene Creed — or possibly the Apostle’s Creed for those Christian traditions that use it) from particular standards of ethics and morality?

That has been under some discussion among smarter people than me, as I watched and listened. It strikes me as relevant if not crucial to the compass of the umbrella of communion — the question of when it’s necessary to excommunicate someone, for instance, or when one must no longer “agree to disagree” within the same ecclesial body. (Sometimes, it seems to me, it may even require a conscientious believer to leave a body that refuses to draw the proper line, despite the seriousness of schismatic behavior. I’ll leave it at that, because I know good people who remain in denominations that both I and they know have failed in key areas.)

I cannot recall anyone raising the creed/morality relationship earlier than Calvin College philosopher James K.A. Smith, and he’s been on my “I’m not sure I can trust him” list ever since he did; not because the question is illicit, but because the answer he seemed to give struck me as wrong-headed.

Today, I came across an answer which I think much better, that of Alastair Roberts via the Davenant Institute (if that link does not work, retrieve it from this page, where it’s titled “Does Creedal Orthodoxy Require Traditional Sexual Ethics?,” sexual ethics being the major if not exclusive battle ground today).

Roberts points out how “liberals” formerly emphasized good, ethical deeds over creeds, whereas now “conservatives” may use “orthodoxy” in polemics as synonymous with traditional sexual ethics. He then discusses five possible configurations of the relation between creed and deed, with his preference apparently being the fifth.

I can call it “much better” because, as I read it, that fifth alternative rejects the premise that ethics are outside the creed. The creed incorporates ethics when it professes “I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Belief in the church entails belief in the church’s ethical teaching.

I agree with that, but that lands us on the contested turf of ecclesiology (a word of which, tellingly, the WordPress spell-checker knows nothing; it is the doctrine of the Church).

I believe I’ve found the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, but I’m aware that other bodies (including one prominent and very upper-crusty one that can lay plausible claim to apostolicity), permit things I think absolutely illicit. Getting the “church” question right is crucial.

Even then, shepherds may fail the sheep, fearing or otherwise failing to communicate the whole counsel of God on matters ethical or, as is far too timely in August 2018, making mockery of it in their own lives. I’ve heard horror stories about failures of Christian formation so abysmal that Christians have no idea that, for instance, the Church forbids fornication, or even that it forbids the current version of promiscuously “hooking up.”

You can’t “church shop” on the superficial basis of whether the clergy are hammering home your personal pet subjects, but you probably can’t rely on clergy for 100% of your own Christian formation, either.

Finally, Roberts illustrates how the creedal affirmations of the Church ramify ethically by briefly scrutinizing the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of sexual sin in the Church at Corinth.

So if you’ve wondered about the opening question, check out Roberts’ answer.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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.

The mind that dare not speak its name

I have a healthy respect for Albert Mohler, but sooner or later a Southern Baptist and an Orthodox Christian will disagree. Mohler:

Christians need to remember that the sufficiency of scripture gives us a comprehensive worldview that equips us to wrestle with even the most challenging ethical dilemmas of our time.

Responding to the Transgender Moment (around 56:31)

That claim was part of his postscript to an interview with Roman Catholic Ryan T. Anderson, who relies heavily on natural law. Mohler’s last three guests have been Catholics. And he had just recommended Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally, for Christians, saying “this book is a very good source, a very good place, to begin thinking through some of these issues.”

Methinks Mohler is a bit double-minded about “the sufficiency of scripture” — and the mind that dare not speak its name at a Southern Baptist Seminary is the mind that gives me my healthy respect for Mohler. (If all he was going to do was stretch scripture, pretending that it is the source of the worldview he has gained by reading and thinking more widely, he wouldn’t be worth bothering with.)

I do wish, however, that Mohler and Anderson had discussed how actual birth anomalies — objectively present and testable, the exceptions that test the rule of sexual dimorphism — would play out in these debates.

I do not think those “hard cases” are where the action is on trasgenderism, but their existence is often an effective rhetorical tool, and with only 24 hours in a day, and with other issues than sexuality to interest me, I haven’t yet nailed down the fallacy in their invocation.

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The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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.