Ephemera, 2/12/19

1

Apropos of gazing on the Jeff Bezos crotch selfies and suchlike, past and future:

[H]aving a gander at the daily catch of ill-gotten erotica seems hard to fit into any preexisting category of wrongdoing. After all, looking at it doesn’t make you responsible for the initial invasion involved in stealing it. Not looking at it won’t put it back where it was, so to speak: What’s public is relentlessly public. Looking also doesn’t mean you have to participate in any kind of public shaming or pile-on. So what’s the harm in simply knowing what somebody texted to somebody else?

When it comes to viewing leaked sexual ephemera, the knowing is its own harm. This doesn’t necessarily count for every kind of secret; being aware of somebody’s private dislike of a mutual friend, for instance, doesn’t represent the same kind of violation as having ungranted sexual knowledge of them, because sex is different from other things. The exclusivity, the secrecy, that’s all part of the point — they’re the essential ingredients of intimacy. And simply knowing the details without invitation jeopardizes that.

Elizabeth Breunig. This principle can be extended to pornography generally, but I won’t go there just in case some reader believes in “ethically-sourced porn.”

2

For over 50 years, the Democratic Party has carried the banner of racial and gender equality, and all the more so during the Trump era. In contrast to an increasingly dystopian Republican Party, Democrats from the left and the center have united behind an idealistic image of their party as a rainbow coalition of resistance against racism and sexism.

The last 10 days in Virginia have thrown all of that into disarray — and demonstrated that political power will always trump political idealism.

For the Democratic Party, the recent series of blackface and sexual assault scandals at the top of the state’s leadership at first seemed like a moment for a thorough house cleaning. By the standards of an institution that has recently redefined itself in part by what Donald Trump and the Republicans are not, we would expect Democratic politicians to call for everyone’s resignation. Racism should have no quarter in the Democratic Party. Neither should sexual assault.

But reality, as the party is once again learning, is never that simple, especially where power is involved.

Leah Wright Rigueur

Note the tacit admission: It was never about purity. It was always about political posturing (and, thus, pursuing power).

I’m especially amused that “an assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government” should find herself bereft of enough insights to populate a guest column without repeating the same points in very thin disguise.

3

Identity politics is the key to understanding the ACLU’s apparent change of heart. The antiboycott laws the ACLU has defended are meant to protect gays and lesbians, an identity group they favor. The ACLU acknowledges that in many states it is “legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation,” but argues that companies that do so “must not be allowed to do so with taxpayer dollars.” It inexplicably ignores that the logic of those antiboycott laws applies equally to Israel.

The ACLU may think that refusing to do business with people because of their sexuality is immoral while refusing to do business with people connected with Israel is a blow for justice. That’s an intelligible political position, but it’s lousy First Amendment jurisprudence. First Amendment protections are the same regardless of what one thinks of the underlying conduct.

I played a role in developing the state anti-BDS laws, submitting testimony to legislatures and advising private groups that supported the measures. To avoid any constitutional doubts, I stuck to the model of antiboycott laws that the ACLU supports, comfortable in the knowledge that their constitutionality was unquestioned. I underestimated how much changes when sexual identity is replaced with Israeli identity.

There is more at stake here than hypocrisy. The ACLU’s enthusiasm for Israel boycotts has led it to take legal positions that threaten to undermine the antidiscrimination norms it has worked for decades to achieve. Now it is prepared to risk legal protections for sexual minorities for the sake of creating a constitutional right to boycott Jews. The ACLU probably hopes to have it both ways, arguing that boycotts of Israelis are “political” and boycotts of gays and lesbians are just mean. But courts won’t maintain one standard for boycotts of progressives’ favored targets and another standard for everyone else.

Eugene Kontorovich. A very interesting point I hadn’t seen made before. I consider vindicated my opposition to anti-BDS law and my opposition to indiscriminate extension of anti-discrimination laws.

4

Mr. Cuomo is blaming the state’s $2.3 billion budget shortfall on a political party that doesn’t run the place. He says the state is suffering from declining tax receipts because the GOP Congress as part of tax reform in 2017 limited the state-and-local tax deduction to $10,000.

“What it does is it has created two different tax structures in this country,” Mr. Cuomo said Monday. “And it has created a preferential tax structure in Republican states. It has redistributed wealth in this nation from Democratic states” to “red states.” In reality, the once unlimited deduction allowed those in high tax climes to mitigate the pain of state taxes. It amounted to a subsidy for progressive policies.

… The Tax Foundation reported last month that repealing the cap would “almost exclusively provide tax relief to the top 20 percent of income earners, the largest tax cut going to the top 1 percent of earners.” The government would lose $600 billion over 10 years. This must be the first time in years that a Democrat has said the government needs less money, or that the rich need a tax cut.

The real problem is New York’s punitive tax rates, which Mr. Cuomo and his party could fix. “People are mobile,” Mr. Cuomo said this week. “And they will go to a better tax environment. That is not a hypothesis. That is a fact.” Maybe Mr. Cuomo should stay in Albany and do something about that reality.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. Cuomo’s complaint about people leaving the state now vindicates the Editorial Board’s characterization that the unlimited deduction amounted to a subsidy for [big-spending] progressive policies.

5

Meghan Murphy, a gender-politics blogger, alleges that Twitter violated unfair-competition law when it changed its hateful-conduct policy late last year. Under Twitter’s new policy, users can be banned for calling a transgender individual by their pre-transition names or referring to them with the wrong pronouns

Ms. Murphy says that Twitter locked her account on Nov. 15, telling her that to regain control of her account, she would need to remove two tweets she posted the prior month. One tweet stated: “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?” The other said: “Men aren’t women.”

Ms. Murphy deleted the tweets, and posted a response to Twitter, saying, “I’m not allowed to say that men aren’t women or ask questions about the notion of transgenderism at all anymore?” The post went viral, according to her suit, receiving 20,000 likes. Days later, Twitter informed Ms. Murphy that she needed to delete this tweet as well ….

I’m glad I left Twitter. Any platform that hostile to reality is nowhere I want to be.

But a coin just dropped: trans women are nominalist women but realist men. An awful lot of what ails us in Nominalism in one drag or another.

6

Parent: Are you worried that students will be suckered by the seductiveness of figures like Rousseau?

Dean: Yes.

Parent: Does it not seem dangerous to expose students to figures like Rousseau?

Dean: Yes, it seems dangerous.

Parent: Then why do it?

Dean: Because I am far more worried that students who never encounter Rousseau will get suckered by the delicious mediocrity of the world and be mindlessly swept along with the spirit of our age …  Classical schools tend to teach books which require a tutor or a guide. Rousseau requires a guide, as does St. Augustine, say.

Parent: So you’re not opposed to new things?

Dean: Heavens, no. I want to be patient, though, and I want to second guess myself. A great many “life-changing” bestsellers are read once, then shelved, never picked up a second time, and summarily forgotten by the time the next life-changing bestseller comes out.

Parent: So what books would you advise someone like myself to read?

Dean: I would advise you to read books which are good for your soul, and to force yourself to read classics as often as possible.

Joshua Gibbs

7

Rod Dreher’s test kitchen is starting to get feedback on his newest recipes.

8

My Church doesn’t use name tags, but if it did, one could do worse than this.

One also could do better, like “I once was dead but now I live.” (As Fr. Stephen Freeman truly says, “Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.”)

* * * * *

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Clippings, 12/7/18

1

Republicans tax churches to help pay for big corporate giveaway.

You would be forgiven for thinking this is a headline from the Onion or the fantasy of some left-wing website. But it’s exactly what happened in the big corporate tax cut the GOP passed last year.

Now … embarrassed leaders … are trying to fix a provision that is a monument to both their carelessness and their hypocrisy.

The authors of the measure apparently didn’t even understand what they were doing — or that’s their alibi to faith groups now. It’s not much of a defense …

At stake is a provision in the $1.5trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that directed not-for-profits of all kinds — houses of worship but also, for example, universities, museums and orchestras — to pay a 21 percent tax on certain fringe benefits for their employees, such as parking and meals.

GOP leaders have told representatives of religious organizations that they had no intention of taxing them. They were focused on what they saw as liberal bastions in the third sector: universities, foundations and the like.

But this excuse only makes the story worse. It shows how slipshod the architects of this tax bill were, and it demonstrates their deeply partisan motives. After all, limiting the state and local deduction raises taxes far more on middle-class and well-off taxpayers in Democratic states than on their counterparts in Republican states. No wonder blue states such as California, New Jersey and New York evicted so many House Republicans last month.

E.J. Dionne Jr..

This delightful egg-on-their-partisan-faces story doesn’t quite add up. It’s awfully hard to imagine the religious lobbying groups themselves not noticing this unintended consequence. But I have no better story.

2

This points to the idea that, on another level, our present crisis is really one of consciousness. When faith suddenly “drops out,” an abscess forms in our self-perception. We find that faith isn’t so much something we “have,” but something that shapes and even creates the “I” we inhabit.

Losing faith doesn’t mean that the propositions of faith no longer make sense to us—that Jesus is the Son of God, or that Mary is the immaculate virgin mother of God. Losing faith means that these propositions no longer help to form our perspectives on other propositions: e.g., that belief in divine causes is more sane than reductive materialism, or that the Church is a culturally important, even indispensable institution.

Andrew M. Haines, How to Understand the Catholic Sex Abuse Crisis.

I skipped over this when I first saw it, figuring (wrongly) that it was another “Ya just gotta believe because only the Catholic Church has the precious and life-giving body and blood of Christ” apologetic. But then Rod Dreher quoted part of all of what I’ve now quoted, which I thought evokes the faith part of an integrated life—and how a loss of faith really is a personal crisis, as it entails dis-integration.

3

Do you think [Trump] has kept his promises? Has he achieved his goals?

No.

He hasn’t?

No. His chief promises were that he would build the wall, de-fund planned parenthood, and repeal Obamacare, and he hasn’t done any of those things. There are a lot of reasons for that, but since I finished writing the book, I’ve come to believe that Trump’s role is not as a conventional president who promises to get certain things achieved to the Congress and then does. I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system. I don’t think the Congress is on his side. I don’t think his own agencies support him. He’s not going to do that.

Tucker Carlson, of all people, being interviewed by the Swiss weekly Weltwoche (emphasis added). H/T Rod Dreher.

Watching our President sulking into George H.W. Bush’s funeral at the National Cathedral, holding Melania’s hand (“to watch grown men cry” as he once put it) and perfunctorily shaking hands with the Obamas, I was struck again at what a total clod he is, lacking almost completely all “social graces.” He make me look like Fred Astaire.

But my countrymen elected him, and even if I were to hide behind the mythical “popular vote,” a big chunk of my countrymen preferred him.

4

The media does not believe that Christians can be hated in the same way as other groups. Media members may have been sympathetic to Christians as individuals but are very hesitant to say that they are victims of hate. This may explain why church shootings are rarely described as a hate crime unless the church is black ….

George Yancey, stating one of the conclusions from his new book about media bias, based on an “audit study” of media.

5

“If more than half of us are sick, what does it mean to be normal?” (From the New York Times obituary of iconoclast Dr. Lisa Schwartz)

6

Today is my late father’s 99th birthday (yes, he became 22 the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor) and events have converged to make it a propitious day for me to finally and officially retire from the practice of law by signing an “Affidavit or Retirement” and sending it in to the Admission and Discipline Office—which I shall do within the hour.

My pseudonym here has worn thin, but I see no need to out myself completely. All my opinions have been my own, with none of them censored or cleared in advance with my law partners. By the same token, I’ve imposed no self-censorship for the sake of protecting the firm my Dad founded, either.

There are, indeed, a few opinions I hold that just aren’t spoken in polite society. I’ve spoken a few of them anyway, if I thought it was important enough. Others I’ve held back because it wasn’t worth the fallout. Those instinctive rules of thumb, too, will continue.

* * * * *

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The Very Structure of Reality©

Rod Dreher blogged Friday about a young, mentally ill woman down under who is interrupting her “transition” to “male” (breasts gone, but they didn’t get the uterus soon enough I guess) with a pregnancy. I wouldn’t comment on it except for this:

Why should this matter so much to Christians? Because our religion is incarnational. Traditional Christian teachings says that matter matters. Matter has implicit meaning. The divine logos is embedded in Creation, and finds its most complete expression in the Incarnation of God Himself in the form of a man, Jesus Christ. Because of the Incarnation, we cannot separate the body from God. The human body is part of the meaningful cosmos …

This is why the battle against the body is a cosmological war. Most Christians in the West today, having fully absorbed nominalism, don’t understand that. Once, in a conversation with a group of Christians about LGBT issues, one frustrated participant said, “When can we stop talking about this and get back to talking about the Gospel?!” As if the Gospel were somehow separate from the body, and from creation itself! For her, no doubt, the whole of Christianity was about assenting to a proposition (“accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior”) and rearranging one’s emotions. But that’s a counterfeit Christianity. You sever the connection between the Bible and the body, the metaphysical link between God and Creation ….

That brought back to mind two perennial errors or heresies that seem to me to be related: gnosticism and nominalism.

Gnostic because the body doesn’t really matter. Nominalist because the body-that-doesn’t matter is sexed arbitrarily. I regret that my auto-didacticism hasn’t carried me far enough to permit elaboration on the connection.

Rod continues to have some of the smartest comments on the internet, partly because this tireless man moderates them carefully. Comments to this particular blog ranged fairly far afield, but I found these particularly perceptive or informative:

Really, do what you like to yourself; and if you want to chop your breasts off then somehow still “chest feed” your kid… good luck to you. And especially the kid. And all the therapy both will require down the line.

But don’t include me in this. Don’t require me to support your personal beliefs or delusions. I’m not religious, but if I was, this would be like me saying, “You not only have to respect my belief in God, you must also believe in God as I define him because you need to affirm my reality.”

I am not interested in affirming anyone’s reality. Affirm your own damned reality. And if that sends the LGBQWERTY crowd to the fainting couch or worse, it isn’t my problem. I do not exist to validate anyone’s view of him, her or “them”self.

(kgasmart) That one got a lot of endorsements.


The “Experts” (and boy do I use that term loosely) merely do what “Experts” have done through the ages, and that’s make sure the evidence fits the desires of those who get invited to all the best palace parties.

(Dave Griffey) Much truth, distilled. See these experts, for instance.


McCormick47 says:

November 16, 2018 at 11:17 am

Just a question, when you say “our radically individualist society…is allowing her to bring a baby into the world” how do propose stopping her? Mandatory abortion, forced sterilization for the mentally ill?

As civilized people, we don’t take children away from their parents without some substantial evidence that the children are being abused (unless they’re brown children who can’t prove their citizenship). Is the state supposed to assume the child is being abused because of her illness, or because she’s transgender?

How then does society disallow her?

Others commented later that society should forbid surgeons to mutilate bodies in the way they’re mutilated in surgical “transitions.”


Hmmm says:

November 16, 2018 at 11:59 am

We (traditionalist Christians included) need to find a way of opposing the celebration of these things in ways that are not explicitly religious. Otherwise the entire opposition will simply be branded as retrograde Bible-thumpers. I understand the need to bear witness and be honest and open about one’s faith. But outside of intra-Christian discussions, I think calling upon St. Paul and Biblical anthropology and so on as the basis for “gender” sanity will only be counter-productive.

Fair enough, but a starting point, surely, is getting Christian heads on straighter. Rod does preface the comment I found important with “Why should this matter so much to Christians?” as he throws down the gauntlet about counterfeit Christianity.


Rusty Shackleford says:

November 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm

I used to be a seventh grade teacher. I’ve observed what your Baltimore interviewee has experienced.

We’ve built a society that is pushing all of those kids mentioned (I’ll bet it’s at least 80% girls) to classify themselves as bi.

Children have been told that they are sexual beings – that sexual exploration is a wonderful thing and that it is how they find their true selves. Their music and Netflix shows and snapchat celebs celebrate it. But what these kids see in the media about how freeing sex is doesn’t conform to their daily life. What do 13 year old girls see when they look around? 13 year old boys.

We know know that girls mature faster than boys physically, mentally, and emotionally. A 13 year old girl (let’s call her Anna) sees her male peers and is repulsed – they stink, they’re hooked on video games and cartoons (and probably porn), and show no interest in anything of meaning. However, Anna has been told that she is a sexual being (at 13) and should be exploring her sexuality. The problem must not be with the boys (she thinks) – it must be with her. She must be either bi or a lesbian. (In the past 3 years, transgender has also become an option for her if she isn’t a stereotypical “girly-girl”.) All of this because she finds 13 year old boys repulsive – which she should!

Meanwhile, we’ve pathologized same sex friendships to the extent that if Anna has a deep connection with another girl, the only vocabulary she has to express it is either romantic or sexual.

Middle Schools in deep, deep red areas have Gay-Straight Alliance groups (though they’re only publicly referred to as GSA when parents peruse the school website). Parents complain about normalizing homosexuality when the biggest issue is that we’ve sexualized middle school. Anna ought to be learning the clarinet and reading about the Battle of Shiloh and playing volleyball. Instead, she’s on Snapchat all day, receiving harassing messages from her male classmates to “send nudes”, and is preoccupied with who she is or isn’t attracted to.

(Emphasis added) What would we do without perceptive teachers?


Lori [expanding on Randy Shackleford] says:

November 16, 2018 at 12:57 pm

“We know know that girls mature faster than boys physically, mentally, and emotionally. A 13 year old girl (let’s call her Anna) sees her male peers and is repulsed – they stink, they’re hooked on video games and cartoons (and probably porn), and show no interest in anything of meaning. However, Anna has been told that she is a sexual being (at 13) and should be exploring her sexuality. The problem must not be with the boys (she thinks) – it must be with her. She must be either bi or a lesbian.”

I think it’s worse than that. I have seen numerous accounts by young women who “realized” they were either lesbian/bi or asexual when they watched porn or received an unsolicited picture of male genitalia and felt repulsed. They truly believe their revulsion at what not only does but should cause revulsion in most women means they are not heterosexual, because they think that women should be turned on by porn or by looking at some guy’s junk. We have made porn the norm and what used to be the norm (women being repulsed by porn, women refusing sex outside of a committed relationship) into something weird and other.

Along with the crazy-high numbers of teens identifying as bi (especially, as you note, among girls–not being bi is in and of itself evidence of being a bigot in some circles of girls at this point), we also have huge and growing numbers of teens identifying as asexual. Because we are telling them that normal sexuality means that you desire sex with any hot person you see. We are telling them that if you actually only want sex within a committed, loving relationship, you are a “demisexual” (it’s an actual word and they actually believe this, that only desiring sex within a relationship makes you only kinda sexual). “Demisexual” bothers me more than maybe any other label, because it’s taking what is for many if not most women the norm–only wanting sex with somebody you care about who cares about you–and making it some sort of minority sexuality.

It’s all madness. What we are doing to this generation of young people is cruel and exploitative and disgusting. We are feeding them lies not just about the world but about who they are fundamentally.

(Emphasis added) Sigh.Kids watching porn and sharing crotch shots.

Demisexual” is a term I’d not heard before, and its meaning, sadly, is congruent with  Lori’s description.


Anne B says: November 16, 2018 at 1:07 pm

My 13 year old daughter tells me that, while it used to be that coming out as bi was a sign of being progressive and open minded, as of this month, bis are getting the stink eye. You see the prefix “bi” means two, implying that there are only two genders, which the kids have now noticed is transphobic. So now there is pressure on the bis to relabel themselves as pansexual. Or to admit to being bigots who only like cisfemales and cismales and not the other genders.

You probably think I’m joking, but no. Apparently it’s all over YouTube.


Kent says:

November 16, 2018 at 2:00 pm

“Three months after our conversation, that woman’s daughter came home from high school with the news that she is really a boy, and demanding that her family treat her as such.”

In my household, I’d immediately send little Susie out to mow the yard. Then she’d be helping my rotate my tires, followed by dirt bike racing.

By the next morning, she’d be little Susie again.


Lori says:

November 16, 2018 at 2:27 pm

This woman is 22 years old.

I guarantee you that if she were a young Christian woman still in school (as this woman is) married to a young Christian man who was expecting her first baby with excitement, many of the same outlets and people cheering this as amazing would be talking about how the Christian woman was ruining her life and wasting her potential and stupid for not waiting another 10 years or so. That is how crazy things have become. What would have been commonplace 40 or 50 years ago (a married 22 year old having a baby) is seen as something shameful while something unthinkable even 10 years ago is celebrated.

Sad, but I fear it’s true.


Turmarion says:

November 16, 2018 at 4:21 pm

A lot of socons want to use the Very Structure of Reality© argument against various LGBT issues, which is fine, if they want to go there. However, I assert that the underlying logic of those arguments doesn’t stop with LGBT issues, but also has logical implications for straight gender relations–e.g. discouraging women from higher education or working outside the house, restricting the areas of society in which women’s participation is considered appropriate, etc. I contend that these socans are reluctant–or outright refuse–to follow the logic of their own professed arguments. Matt says that gay male sexuality is a mess, and it ought to be cleaned up; and he’s honest enough to say that the only way to do so might logically imply things that would mess up his own life; and that therefore he’s not willing actually to do that. Which I can respect–my favorite Whitman quote is, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then; I contradict myself.”

Some commenters here in the past actually have argued for the logic of women staying out of the workforce, prioritizing children over careers, etc., and while I wouldn’t agree with them on much, I can respect the integrity of the argument, and if they and their wives follow such a plan, I can respect that they walk the walk, even if it’s not something I’d like to walk.

So it would be nice if every once in awhile Rod or some of the others would say, “You know, the model of gender roles I support would, if I were totally consistent, imply things for my wife and daughter that I actually wouldn’t want for them; and that’s inconsistent; and thus I either need to change what I want for them, or I have to admit that I’m inconsistent, own that, and live with it.”

….


Turmarion says:

November 16, 2018 at 4:30 pm

At the risk of running my mouth too much, this is another problem, which I haven’t discussed before, of the cosmic, Very Structure of Reality© arguments that socons make. In the past, I’ve argued that such arguments are way over-intellectual, unlikely to be understood by almost anyone, and not obviously true even to those who do understand them, but who think they are in error. I still maintain this.

However, let’s say, arguendo, that such arguments are actually right. They still fail, because they don’t give consistent results. In short, the exponents of such arguments disagree as to the actual concrete actions that should follow from such arguments.

For example, let’s agree, for the sake of argument, that it is correct that, on the basis of cosmic metaphysical principles, that gay sex is morally wrong by its very nature. Fine. The problem comes when you ask several people that agree on that what comes next. A says, “This is why we need to revive anti-sodomy law, chase gays out of the public square, and bring back the closet”. B says, “No, that’s cruel. What we need to do is emphasize gay conversion therapy.” C says, “No, no, that doesn’t work. What we need to do is convince gays to lead chase lives.” None of them, of course, ever says anything about the corollaries of the Very Structure of Reality© arguments for straight people.

So if metaphysical arguments can’t give us any idea as to what we should actually, you know, do, then what the heck good are they, anyway?

* * * * *

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Hauerwasian “modernity” today

We disagree. In truth, we not only disagree about conclusions, we disagree about the facts, about how the facts are to be considered, what, indeed, constitutes a fact, what constitutes considering, and so on. We are a fragmented society whose fragmentation is becoming a major spiritual force in the lives of its people.

The fragmentation of the modern mind (even within itself) is just that – modern. Of course, a new consensus has been suggested: that we all agree that not agreeing is normal. Stanley Hauerwas places this at the very heart of the meaning of modernity:

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.” Wilderness Wanderings, 26

This is proving to be the most destructive aspect of the modern world. “To have a story” requires that someone else consent to the story – we do not live alone (even when we pretend that is our story). The only means of generating a consensus that has no basis other than “the story I choose,” is coercion. The social cohesion of consensus is being replaced by various versions of coerced agreement. We are angry.

This is not a game Christians can win, nor is it a game Christians should want to play. The Christian witness is not to a story we choose ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Consent to Reality.

Hauerwas’ definition of modernity (emphasis added) is priceless:

  1. It echoes or anticipates Justice Kennedy’s “Mystery Passage”: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
  2. It distills the essence of attacks on the sexual binary, whereby 50 or more fanciful and/or ineffable “genders” (with corresponding pronouns) have been invented.
  3. Our consent to the gender-multiplying gaslighting is indeed being coerced. We would, after all, be committing the ultimate dignitary assault, denying the storytellers’ very existence as they’d put it, were we allowed to say “That’s bullshit!” or even “Very nice, dearie. Run along now.”

I’ll try not to forget Hauerwas’ definition again.

UPDATE: Point 1 on Hauerwas’ definition of modernity included “I don’t know when Hauerwas first wrote it, but I’m 99% positive it was before the collection Fr. Stephen cites and I suspect it was before Planned Parenthood v. Casey (the source of Kennedy’s maudlin philosophizing).” I had seen the date of a second or subsequent addition of Wilderness Wanderings. The first edition, I now noticed, was 1998, and I suspect it was the first publication of that definition.

* * * * *

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

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Encore!

This morning, I read an outstanding Rod Dreher blog that used the passing phrase “conscientious objector in the culture war.”

More than eight years ago, I wrote a long blog with almost exactly that phrase as its title, bearing this preface:

This may be the most controversial and polemical thing I’ve posted. I’ll tell you in advance, and in conclusion, that I’m disinclined to be dogmatic about most of it. Your mileage may vary.

Well, Dreher prompted me to find it and re-read it, and I would no longer endorse that preface:

  1. I have written much more controversial and polemical things since then.
  2. While “dogmatic” may not be the right word, the blog — almost every word of it — now reflects well-settled convictions, tested by eight years and buttressed (especially point 3) by the election of Donald Trump.

Everything else, I’d still endorse, So I’m indulging myself by re-publishing myself — a rare step that I don’t intend to repeat often.

* * * * *

One of the minor irritants in my life is Franky Schaeffer. I’ll go long spells without thinking of him, and then I get a catalogue from his publishing company, or maybe he pops up in the news (having once again found limelight). And I seethe.

But lots of people love limelight. Why does he, of all people, irritate me? Probably because his life is so parallel to mine, through all the twists and turns.

  • Evangelical: Check.
  • Produced the movie Whatever Happened to the Human Race; watched the movie as a turning point.
  • Now Orthodox: Check.
  • Religious Right activist: Check.
  • No longer Religious Right activist: Check.
  • 60-something years old: Check.

But he’s too strident and angry. He’s sort of a Christian James Howard Kunstler (another approximate contemporary of mine) but without Kunstler’s ubiquitous F-Bombs. Kunstler acknowledges that his speeches are a form of theater (listen to Kunstlercast #103 here); I think that’s true of Schaeffer, too, though he’d probably deny it.

I sense, too, that my reasons for dropping out of the culture wars are different than Schaeffer’s. I sense that partly because he seemingly just changed sides, now inveighing against his former friends, writing screeds, kiss and tell books, dubious fiction (his Calvin Becker fiction trilogy was quite calculatedly ambiguous about the extent to which it was autobiographical), paranoid apologies for Barack Obama, and sucking up to media personages who call him things like “a former leader of the anti-choice movement.” (They just love to get some sound-bites from an angry ex-whatever.)

But I really dropped out because:

  1. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms.
  2. I suspect that the strident tactics make most things worse rather than better.
  3. I don’t really trust my former allies.
  4. I don’t really trust the candidates we’re supposed to vote for.
  5. I still don’t trust my former adversaries.
  6. If I’m a prominent culture warrior, it will spill over harmfully into other areas.
  7. Maybe I’m just a worn out old hippie pacifist.

1. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms. We may get a majority vote for the “right” side on this issue or that, but that will not end the war. There will be other battles. There will be guerilla warfare. There will be no peace, and there’s only a minimal chance for the “Right” to win. Not until the Right’s own culture changes.

Changing culture is the work I’m about now – feeling my way rather than barreling ahead. That’s much subtler work than culture war. I’m not sure how good I am at it. But I’m convinced, to take just one Culture War example, that we won’t stop abortion until we change the toxic combination of unchastity and avarice that gets women pregnant and then justifies aborting the innocent child to maintain prosperity (greater or lesser).

The Right is not with us on that. Fox Radio recently aired an ad, between Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly, for an online service for married men seeking adulterous affairs. (I didn’t hear it, but read about it from someone who didn’t note the incongruity of this appearing on a putatively conservative news source.)

Whaddya think? I’m betting that the ad wasn’t there for the 13 liberals who were eavesdropping on Fox that day, but for the red-meat, red state regulars.

TownHall.com syndicated columnist pages every day have ads for “conservative” slogan t-shirts draped on attractive young lasses, selling conservative politics, like everything else, with sex. Today there’s a sexy avatar for some video game, too. It’s all a racket.

This could as well go under the caption “I don’t really trust my former allies.” But on present terms I think the idiocy of modern pseudo-conservatives belongs in this “unwinnable” category, if only because their position on the sexual side of the culture wars seems to be “anything goes, so long as it’s not gay.” That’s a losing position long-term as well as being a sign of untrustworthiness.

2. The Culture Wars are unwinnable on present terms partly because stridency and contempt beget stridency, contempt and alienation.

Whichever side of the Culture Wars you’re on, think about the fundraising letters you get. Are you edified by their tone? Do you appreciate the sober, educational emphasis? Do you find yourself walking away with something of substance to ruminate on?

If so, I’ve got bad news for you: you’re an idiot. (Shall I write that slower? You. Are. An. Idiot.)

The groups who used to send me fairly sober letters have gone strident. The groups that used to send me strident letters are now frothing at the mouth. And I’m sure the other side is doing the same. Shrill is the new green.

I don’t care who fired the first volley. That’s lost in the mists of history like the instigation of the Hatfields versus the McCoys. I’d like the shooting to stop. I’d like artificial divisions to end. I suspect there’s more common ground than either side presently will admit because of how things have been framed. Let’s tone it down a bit and then explore what the real divisions are. The more we insult the other side, the more we paint both sides into corners from which dialog, let alone truce, is impossible.

[Update: We now teeter on the brink of civil war. I had no idea it would get so bad so fast. I commend Better Angels]

3. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms, too, because there’s darned little difference between the two sides on some of the deep presuppositions.

They’re both, ironically, secular. One side is secular because they don’t believe in any divine rules. You know which side I’m talking about. (Hint)

The other side – my side – is mostly secular because they functionally believe that God’s only presence in the world is His rules. They “honor” Him by keeping his rules – sort of the way a rank amateur “paints” by number. That’s why I don’t really trust them. The tranformative significance of the Incarnation: God the Son, Who took on our flesh forever – qui sedes ad dexteram patrem (who sits at the right hand of the Father) in resurrected human flesh – is lost on them. God is up to something more than commandment monitoring and forgiving transgression of the commandments. The incarnation changes everything. [Update: The seeds in this paragraph have grown into my episodic forays into the realism/nominalism distinction and explicit scorn for sub-Christian anthropology.]

“Love God and do as you will” would strike them as modern relativism. They’re very anti-relativist. Except on Ecclesiology. Then they’re apt to utter Babbitry like “Isn’t it swell that there’s a church for every taste!

At the other end from the relativist “conservatives,” there’s a Protestant Church in my home town that produces a disproportionate share of Religious Right activists. Several of them have been elected to public office. But they’re theonomists, or more specifically Reconstructionists. If they had their way, there would be 18 Old Testament Capital Crimes in our law books – including sassing parents. They’d shut down my Church and desecrate its icons. They might, for all I know, execute me for one of those 18 capital offenses for the icons in my home prayer corner. [Update: One of their ideologues brought disgrace upon himself and his wife via their religious “covenant” without a marriage license. I must spare you details of the breakup.]

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of …” the folks I encountered who dreamed of kingdoms, feigned righteousness, broke promises, shot off their mouths, tried to set fires, escaped the edge of euphemisms …. (Cf. Hebrews 11:32-34) These are the folks with whom I’d be a “co-belligerent” (Francis Schaeffer’s coinage to distinguish temporary and unreliable political friends from reliable “allies”) were I to continue in the culture wars. And they outnumber many-fold any well-formed Christians of historical and liturgical bent.

We Orthodox have been here before. After the attempted union with the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Florence (see also here), the Orthodox decided they’d risk rule by Sultan over rule by Pope.

That is not a throw-away line: I’m not so sure a secularist regime would be worse than what Christian Reconstructionists would bring upon me and my fellow Orthodox Christians that I’m willing to be bedfellows with Recontructionists.

4. In the current terms of the Culture War, the highest form of involvement, other than sending money in response to strident or frenzied letters, is to vote for Republicans. Any Republican.

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, oddly, Imam-In-Chief, as he assured us that “true Islam is a religion of peace.” (Well I’m glad he cleared that up!)

And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declare 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.

Many Religious Right figures in 2008 backed Mitt Romney, Mormon and heir of a 50s moderate Republican, George Romney. Mitt was, deep down, one of us – despite his left-leaning administration as governor of Massachusetts – they assured us. Now they’re pushing Sarah Palin, about whom I’ll not say much except that I do not now support her and see no sign that she has the goods to gain my support later. (I don’t even think she’s all that “hot,” for whatever that’s worth.)

I’m not gonna play Charlie Brown the placekicker to the GOP’s Lucy Van Pelt any more.

[Update: Do I really need to belabor how right I was?]

5. I still believe pretty much what I believed before on what makes for good living and a just society. I’ve even kept a hand in the debates by writing letters to the editor on a few hot-button issues. Those letters are far less demonizing of the opposition than the sort of letters I used to write. But I check the online comboxes and see that the other side has no lack of equally-but-oppositely mad partisans of its own, leveling vitriolic attacks on me, no matter how reasoned my argument, just because I reach conclusions they don’t like.

But even at more elite levels than smalltown cyberpaper comboxes, I’m still convinced that the other side is untrustworthy. One occasionally will catch one of them committing candor, as has Chai Felblum of Georgetown law school. Imagine a constitutional case with this issue:

Whether the inferred right to marry a member of the same sex, which is inferred from the right to engage in homosexual sodomy, which is inferred from the right to privacy, which is inferred from penumbra of he 4th, 9th, 10th, 14th and other consitutional amendments, is of sufficient constitutional gravity to warrant compromise of the explicit constitutional command against laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

Chai Feldblum would answer “yes.” I’m not making up her response (though I did make up the highly tendentious – but brutally accurate – faux issue statement). I appreciate her candor.

But her candor tells me that there’s no home for me in the left where Frank Schaeffer has seemingly pitched his tent.

The Orthodox Wedding service includes, for just one example, “grant unto these Your servants …a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, offspring long‑lived, fair fame by reason of their children, and a crown of glory that does not fade away.” You can’t pray that with integrity over a same-sex coupling, whatever you might think of it otherwise.

So while the Chai Feldblums of the world might not smash my icons like the Reconstructionists, they’ll soon enough take away my Church’s tax exemption, or otherwise put on the squeeze, because they’ll consider us a hate group for continuing the two-millennia-long practice of connecting marriage to procreation.

6. If I’m a prominent culture warrior, it will spill over harmfully into other areas of life. I was reminded Sunday how diverse my parish is. We have Romanians and Russians who were born, or even came of age, under communism. We have Greeks who think that 2nd Amendment mania is barbaric (in at least one case with justification that I can’t gainsay – a family member gunned down in cold blood by someone who went postal). We have young people and middle-aged academics who lean left. We have demographically unknown visitors most Sundays. I have something to learn from some of them.

Just as I don’t want someone to ask me “why are you here since you’re not Greek?,” I don’t want people of Right-leaning disposition to come up to me at Church and make some dismissive remark, which they assume I’ll find hilarious or profound, about a Left-leaning idea that may be held by another parishioner within earshot. I don’t want there to be ethnic, racial, socio-economic or political barriers to people. Political trash talk about trifles at Church is apt to drive people away though we have a faith in common and should be together on Sunday.

7. Maybe I should try a bit more empathy. Maybe I’m not angry because, unlike Frank Schaeffer, I have a day job, with a comfortable living, and don’t have to raise a fuss to sell my newest book. Maybe a brain or personality disorder prompted Franky to call Barack Obama’s election “miraculous” and to prophesy epochal political healing on Obama’s watch.

Maybe Frank’s suburban Boston parish (I think he’s in Brookline, Michael Dukakis‘ hometown) has a leftist litmus test and he caved in. Or maybe he’s rebelling against his upbringing in neutral Switzerland as I declare myself a Swiss-like neutral in the Culture Wars.

Or maybe I’m not angry, by and large, because I’m a child of the 60s, a former Conscientious Objector to conventional war, and now old enough that I’m kind of tired of fighting of all sorts – worn out, if you will. Maybe we really need young, testosterone-crazed Christian guys (and gals crazed by whatever crazes women) who still are eager for a fight. I see my role as one to ask questions of any such young hotheads from the perspective six decades gives. Such as the ones implied by what I’ve just written.

[Note: The rest of this is dated or refers to a blog template I no longer use.] So who am I hangin’ out with these days if not with the Alliance Defense Fund and the acolytes of R.J. Rushdoony? Check the bloglinks to the right – Especially Front Porch Republic (“Place. Limits. Liberty.”), Distributist Review  (guardedly). Small Is Beautiful has taken on new meaning for me. (My benighted generation got a few things right before we sold out or got complacent – and appreciating E.F. Schumaker was one of them).

I can’t even rule out Father Stephen. Nothing he writes is “about politics,” but everything he writes is about sane, human and humane living, which surely connects up somehow.

Basically, I’m going back and rethinking all things political and cultural. I’m wisdom-hunting. I read Wendell Berry essays and poetry, Bill Kauffman books, Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind, Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, Scott Cairns’ Poetry, W.H. Auden (“For the Time Being” is now on my list for every Advent).

My conversion to Orthodox Christianity started it in a way. I soon realized that the Church has not always prevailed, and has produced martyrs in every century. And that’s okay. Better we should lose honorably than win by selling our souls.

* * * * *

I heartily recommend the Dreher blog I opened with as a complement to this.

Fr. Stephen snippets

A Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ

My most merciful and all-merciful God, O Lord Jesus Christ! In Thy great love, Thou didst come down and become flesh in order to save all. Again, I pray Thee, save me by Grace! If Thou shouldst save me because of my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. Truly, Thou aboundest in graciousness and art inexpressibly merciful! Thou hast said, O my Christ: “He who believes in me shall live and never see death.” If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and my Maker. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me. May my faith be sufficient for all. May it answer for me; may it justify me; may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory; and may Satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that He has torn me from Thy hand and fold. O Christ my Savior: save me whether I want it or not! Come quickly, hurry, for I perish! Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Grant, O Lord, that I may now love Thee as once I loved sin, and that I may labor for Thee without laziness as once I labored for Satan the deceiver. Even more, I will labor for Thee, my Lord and God Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From the Morning Prayers

I hear the heart’s cry in the prayer quoted above. The depth of its honesty provokes the hearts of those who read it. It recognizes the truth of our will and echoes St. Paul’s observations:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-21; 24)

There is, I think, an abiding temptation towards Pelagianism (the belief that we can will our own salvation). In Orthodoxy, the teaching of “synergy” often runs in that direction. We indeed “cooperate” with God in our salvation (“cooperate” is the Latinized equivalent of “synergy”). But our cooperation is best illustrated in the prayer above. It is the cry for help from the lips of the helpless. This is not nothing – it is synergistic. But it is not the imagined synergy that some profess. We are saved by our weakness, not by our excellence.

(May 2, 2018)

Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being. It is a distorted direction (hamartia: “missing the mark”). It is equally the refusal of Beauty and Goodness, without participation in the Truth. 

When someone asks: “Is it a sin to withhold help from someone in need?” The answer is yes – but not in a merely legal sense. It is a sin – a movement towards non-existence – a movement away from the proper direction of our lives.

[A]ll of this should shed much light on the importance of beauty in Orthodox liturgy and Churches, iconography, etc. It is essential – not a decoration or an afterthought. Much of the modern world sees beauty as a luxury (which it so rarely affords). I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core). 

The apprehension of Beauty is at the very heart of the preaching of the gospel. It is that which first touches the heart and draws us towards Truth. In our over-rationalized world we tend to think that it is reasoning and arguments that draw people to Christ. But this is something that comes much later. First the heart must be drawn – and this happens primarily through Beauty in its broadest sense.

(May 4, 2018)

Could a liturgy be served without vestments? Of course, though a priest would, even in extreme circumstances, try to cobble something together. The vestments themselves are not mere decorations. Can a liturgy be served without icons? Of course, though it would be wrong to do so unless under extreme duress. There was once a liturgy celebrated in the confines of the prison of Pitesti in Romania. The canons require that the liturgy be celebrated in the presence of a martyr’s relic (all altars have such a relic). It was decided to celebrate the service on the body of a deceased prisoner, the only martyr present. Such things are not extraneous. The liturgy should not be subjected to reductionism.

The givenness of the liturgy, in all its aspects, is a proper subject of theoria – contemplation and understanding. It is a mystery that yields itself to the heart. It is not, however, one more cultural artifact to be manipulated in the interests of consumer capitalism and its deformation of humanity. We are fast losing the memory of who and what we are. It is the confusion of Babel.

(May 11, 2018)

Jesus healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, and gave sight to the blind. Such actions are incorrectly described as the “relief of suffering.” In many other cases Jesus specifically asks people to suffer: give away your possessions; forgive your enemies; take up your Cross; turn the other cheek; give without expecting in return. Again, there is no authentic Christian voice that does not demand suffering on the part of its adherents.

More important than this, is the fact that this voluntary self-denial, a willingly embraced suffering for the sake of others, is not a diminishment of our humanity, but a necessity of its fulfillment. It is this reality that modernity, in its truncated account of existence, fails to understand or to describe. The most popular ethic within the modern world entails the relief of suffering. In the name of that ethic, people are put to death. It cannot ask us to suffer without guilt. But if suffering is inherent to our existence, then only that which encompasses suffering is sufficient as an account of being human.

To be truly human is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And not just to the image of Christ, but Christ crucified. Anything less would make a mockery of our existence and a diminishment of the fullness to which we are called.

(May 15, 2018)

I have seen, more than once, the favorable outcome of a soul whose deepest hunger has, in an unguarded moment, been exposed to the light of the gospel. I know the case of a woman who found God when a priest called her by name unexpectedly. Just her name. The mercy of God is wonderfully opportunistic. I have often thought, “Give Him an inch and He’ll take your life!”

(May 19, 2018)

As I finished up, deciding what “categories” to assign to today’s blog, the quote “Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being” struck me as an instance of nominalism versus realism, so I applied that category. One characteristic tendency of nominalism was to see sin as sinful because it transgressed an essentially arbitrary divine decree. The consequence of sin was not non-being (spiritual death), but punishment by God. In this sense, the Orthodox understanding of sin is realist rather than nominalist.

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Sins of the fathers

[T]he public debate about how Congress ought to respond to this latest mass shooting is guided by two broad principles. Dubious on their own, they are even more witless when combined. The first is the idea that the most important thing is to “do something.” The second is that we ought to look to high-schoolers for the answer.

This in no way diminishes the barbarity of what happened to the Parkland students. It is, however, to insist on the obvious: As terrible as their experiences were, the attack gives them no special insight into the complex array of public policies that might have prevented the slaughter.

… Is it really so unreasonable to insist that those pushing specific legislation or regulations provide evidence that the something they want done will in fact produce the results they claim?

It’s not just conservatives who have doubts. In an October 2016 article in GQ, the Guardian’s full-time gun-politics reporter conceded she was “shocked by how little evidence there was behind some of the most prominent gun control policies.” The year before, right after the San Bernardino killings, the Washington Post fact checker backed Mr. Rubio’s claim that gun laws would not have prevented any of the major shootings the nation had seen in recent years.

(William McGurn, Our Childish Gun Debate, Wall Street Journal)

I agree with every word of that, but I’ve been disturbed for years by the anti-legislation trope that, in effect, “there’s nothing effective we can do because there already are so many guns out there.” A case against gun control by David French took substantially that tack:

  1. Do people have a right of self-defense?
  2. Does that right include that the self-defense be effective?
  3. If so, you mustn’t ban AR-15s because they are in common use, only law-abiding citizens will yield them up in compliance with a ban, and such a citizen, defending against a criminal’s AR-15, is relatively ineffective if they’ve got something less.

The logic speaks for itself. Few deny the right of self-defense. The whole premise of trying to ban AR-15s is that there are so many of them and they’re so lethal. So only by denying the right to effective self-defense can most people support such a ban.

[Aside: If anyone from the left coast is reading this, I’d also caution you that people who live far from the police station in flyover country, not to mention those who live in rural areas and need to deal with varmints, will not be amused by a ban. Remember “bitter clingers’? Now they’re known as Trumpistas.]

I have no solution to the conundrum, but I now have a convenient myth to explain how we got here (“here” being zillions and zillions of guns protected by the Second Amendment): America’s original sin got us here. It’s especially convenient since, unlike the demonization of the NRA, it’s plausible:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

(Thom Hartmann, The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. H/T Lindsey Nelson on Facebook)

It’s tempting to “go full Jeremiad” and revert to Jonathan Edwards’ “Angry God” as the proximate cause of the gun plague and school shootings.

But I don’t know that we need that hypothesis. Sin ramifies. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Poetic justice.

Pick your proverb. The dots connect intuitively for me, even if it’s difficult to articulate.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

On the other hand …

Two critiques of the newly-reposed Billy Graham, which I note not just for the record, but because I cannot help but agree.

First, a George Will column I passed over, then returned to because, well, it was by George Will: Billy Graham was no prophet.

Because Will is a veteran writer, he tells us right away what he’s going to tell us:

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some, and there are many “miracles around us today, including television and airplanes.” Graham was no theologian.

Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said “a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” Prophets take adversarial stances toward their times, as did the 20th century’s two greatest religious leaders, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. Graham did not. Partly for that reason, his country showered him with honors.

I made the same points — neither theologian nor prophet — yesterday, but not as an indictment, which Will pretty clearly implies.

The problem, to reframe some of the same points Will makes, is that Evangelist Graham often positioned himself in a fundamentally prophetic role by becoming the intimate of powerful men:

Graham’s dealings with presidents mixed vanity and naivete. In 1952, he said he wanted to meet with all the candidates “to give them the moral side of the thing.” He was 33. He applied flattery with a trowel, comparing Dwight Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and calling Richard Nixon “the most able and the best trained man for the job probably in American history.” He told Nixon that God had given him, Nixon, “supernatural wisdom.” Graham should have heeded the psalmist’s warning about putting one’s faith in princes.

On Feb. 1, 1972, unaware of Nixon’s Oval Office taping system, when Nixon ranted about how Jews “totally dominated” the media, Graham said, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.” He also told Nixon that Jews are the ones “putting out the pornographic stuff.” One can reasonably acquit Graham of anti-Semitism only by convicting him of toadying ….

Yes, if you’re going to get that close to power, you’re surely obliged to don the prophet’s mantle, especially if you’re purporting to “give them the moral side of the thing.” To paraphrase Will, we can acquit Graham of dereliction only by convicting him of toadying — or by assuming that quietly, and in private, he did truly “give them the moral side of the thing” in a way that was at least minimally prophetic.

Is there another alternative?

Second, Darryl Hart (who I likewise passed over at first) makes a subtler point, and one that I probably cannot make strongly enough to heal scotomata: Graham’s itinerant evangelism inherently undermined Churches.

Graham’s work, which was completely independent of a church or a communion, undermined implicitly the work of local pastors who were trying to the best of their abilities to evangelize the locals. Along would come Graham and all of a local pastor or priest’s endeavors seemed paltry by comparison. Here I’m reminded of what H. L. Mencken wrote about Billy Sunday and the kind of appeal a popular (and traveling) preacher had compared to the residential and denominational variety:

Even setting aside [Sunday’s] painstaking avoidance of anything suggesting clerical garb …, he comes down so palpably to the level of his audience, both in the matter and the manner of his discourse, that he quickly disarms the old suspicion of the holy clerk and gets the discussion going on the familiar and easy terms of a debate in a barroom. The raciness of his slang is not the whole story by any means; his attitude of mind lies behind it, and is more important … It is marked, above all, by a contemptuous disregard of the theoretical and mystifying; an angry casting aside of what may be called the ecclesiastical mask, an eagerness to reduce all the abstrusities of Christian theology to a few and simple and … self-evident propositions, a violent determination to make of religion a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern.

… Mencken’s point about evangelicalism and the evangelists who benefited from it stands. Your average pastor cannot compete with the bells and whistles of a mass meeting and the publicity that surrounds it. Nor can your average minister disregard preaching through a book of the Bible or fashioning a homily based on the lectionary and situating that relatively learned speech into the fabric of a liturgy or order of service (for the Puritans out there). In other words, theology, church government, and convictions about worship constrain a pastor, not to mention the responsibilities of ministering over time to a variety of congregation or parish members in all manner of walks of life. Graham could simply give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row, with a different musical performance or celebrity interview, and then leave town. Your average pastor doesn’t have that pay grade. And if he is actually preparing his flock for the world to come (read death), then a religion that is “a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern” is not necessarily going to cut the Gordian Knot of how sinners become right with the sovereign Lord of the universe.

In other words, not all Protestants were thrilled by Graham’s ministry. In fact, going back to the revivals of the First and Second Great Pretty Good Awakenings, denominationally and theologically self-conscious Protestants (Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed), have opposed mass revivalism because it undermines the work of the ordained ministry and the local church.

Hart says “undermined implicitly.” I say “inherently undermined.” The two are not the same and I stand by my version, precisely because of two things Hart doesn’t mention:

  1. Graham did not merely “give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row … and then leave town.” He or his aides routinely — in my understanding, invariably — told those who responded to his invitation to go back to their churches, provided only that those churches had Jesus and Bible. That was why he caught flak from Bob Jones and a significant number of others: Catholics were sent back into the maw of the whore of Babylon, as the critics saw it.
  2. But despite #1, Graham’s crusades were ineluctibly parachurch, his Gospel transactional, his salvation forensic. Having lived in his world, I can say from personal observation that a whole lotta folks took their “eternal security” to the golf course or beach on Sunday mornings. That kind of tacit falling away was well known to Evangelists, who lamented it but didn’t know how to deal with it. (Campus Crusade for Christ, n/k/a Cru, came up with a “Spirit-filled life” tract to complement “Four Spiritual Laws,” but even then were frustrated by the crypto-lapsi.)

When I referred to “scotomata,” I was referring to such widespread disregard or disrespect of the “institutional” Church as opposed to parachurch ministries. Of this, too, I have personal experience, even though habitually, and all my life long, I’ve attended church — even when I considered church merely a good idea and in no way salvific.

Those who just bristled at the idea of church being salvific are those with the scotomata. Jesus Christ did not “build [His] Church” just to be the sort of thing you might go for if you go for that sort of thing.

You can look that up.

Hart doesn’t put it that bluntly, but a Calvinistic version of that (i.e., a sensibility that probably doesn’t unequivocally see the Church as salvific) is his sensibility, and I agree that undermining local churches was a weakness Billy Graham’s methods could not avoid.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Equivocal Nominalism

I may be blogging a little extra for a while. I’ve generally been blogging much less because blogging had become a monster devouring chunks of life I now want to use otherwise. I didn’t notice until I retired and still had no time left.

But I’m now working on a project that reminds me of some things written privately in the past that may seem worth sharing. For instance, when I was trying to wrap my head around the “nominalism versus realism” distinction and its importance, I wrote this privately:

  • Evangelical nominalism: It’s not really heartfelt. He’s living in a garage saying that makes him a car. (You’re not a car until you really feel it in your heart.)
  • Philosophic nominalism: There is no dogness, only individual dogs; no human nature, just a bunch of homo sapien singularities.
  • Theological nominalism: God said it; I believe it; that settles it! Right and wrong have nothing to do with created reality; only with propositional divine commandments.
I’m convinced that a lot of “separation of Church and State” talk, including politicians who are “personally opposed” to something their Church opposes, is rooted in a sort of nominalism: that every moral prohibition of their Church is really just a cultic peculiarity, not something rooted in human nature.

Based on long observation, I’m convinced that my formerly inhoate, now explicit, theological Realism:

  1. Is in keeping with the weight of Christian opinion over two millennia;
  2. Makes me an oddball in our debased age; and
  3. Came I know not whence. Just lucky I guess.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

An injustice to people’s full humanity

More thoughts from the Eighth Day Symposium Friday and Saturday, and again from Ken Myers.

I’ll try to distinguish direct quotes from my summaries or paraphrases. I consider none of what’s below today my original contribution, and if something appears plagiarized, it must be because I inadvertently omitted a credit that Ken Myers did give, which credits were given lavishly.

Reminder: The topic was “Cultivating Friendship in a Fractured Age.”

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Plato and Aristotle both agreed that stimulating moral virtue primarily takes the form of conversation, of speaking with one another. The aim of politics in Aristotle is “living well in a polity of justice, which justice is practiced by citizens who live in virtue-forming friendships.” Friendship and politics are thus mutually dependent in Aristotle. Life in the larger community requires virtuous citizens whose affections have been trained to love the good within noble friendships. And the polity was committed to protecting the space for such friendships.

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What Poem or novel since Tennyson’s “In Memorium” has celebrated friendship? Eros has innumerable modern literary examples, while David & Jonathan and other historic examples of friendship have few or none. We admit mens’ need for “a few friends” only grudgingly.

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Aristotle deals with justice in in a single book in the Ethics. Friendship fills two books. It fills less than a page in Kant.

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Modern political theory banished friendship to the private realm so it would have no influence on politics. Our anthropology assumes that humans are such that government exists to protect individual rights to live as we please. In this theory, society is not an integrated body, with its own health.

Government exists, in other words, to protect us from one another. We’re interest-seeking, rights-bearing atoms. That atomistic individualism spills into private life, reconfiguring all relationships. We even approach friendship, when we approach it at all, as if we’re trying to get a good bargain.

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Oliver O’Donovan thinks angry political backlash comes from somewhere deeper than loss of inclusion, but from a perception that modern politics is morally unintelligible, because justice is not being done to people’s full humanity. We’re so tutored in individualism that we lack the vocabulary to describe how politics has abandoned seeking the objective good of communities.

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Christians believe that community is good for individuals, but they do not believe that society exists to serve individuals’ private purposes.

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Once society is thought of s an agreement … between competing wills, the cloud of competition never lifts from it.

(Oliver O’Donovan)

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Speech has lost its orientation toward deliberating about the common good. Political speech is about managing and allocating competing claims about the good.

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“Modern politics is civil war carried on by other means” (I think that’s from Alistair Macintyre) Because we’ve abandoned the idea that communities are bound by common objects of love, modern liberalism tells us that our nature and dignity are honored, and that

“we’ll be happy, when we’re completely from from any constriction on the pursuit of our desires. We’ll be happy when we get to define what happiness is on our own terms.”

If we assume this … then if we find we’re not happy, then we assume we’re just not free enough, and we turn to the government to expand our freedom. “Let us define what marriage is,” for instance …

But what if happiness depends on submitting to an understanding of happiness that we didn’t invent? What if we can only be free when we honor an understanding of freedom rooted in certain truths about our nature, an understanding shared by and received from our community?”

I confess my interest in political philosophy is a relatively new thing. It was energized significantly as we lived through the surreal election year of 2016. And I began asking myself “Is what we’re living through a sign of the failure of our political structures or is it the logical outcome of a system with critical design flaws? Is it actually succeeding, and this is what success looks like?”

I’ve come to believe that a more hopeful future requires the radical revision of some basic beliefs about public life — about the relationship between state and society, the purposes of government and about how the ordering of temporal affairs must account for the full reality of what we are as human persons. And those are finally theological questions.

A number of thinkers much more experienced and wiser than I have suggested that we have a really hard time imagining radically different paradigms for political life.

And I think that what we need to jump start our imaginations is a renewed understanding of, and more importantly practice of, friendship … It is to do with a reciprocal sharing of all that is good. Only secondarily is it about organizing the distribution of material goods and designing laws that are always somewhat arbitrary.

(Ken Myers)

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“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway. (Tipsy)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.