Sunday gleanings 1/9/2022

Popular Christianity

How tragic it is that so much of the popular version of Christianity preaches a secularized message. It keeps God isolated, but popping in from time to time. It has lost the sense of the permeation of matter by divine Grace, the sacramental vision of reality; it insists that the Eucharist is just bread and wine, baptism is just a bath, and the world operates independently of God. It preaches a moralism of being “good,” leading only to obsession with guilt, and then, when that becomes too much, to shamelessness. It preaches that our salvation is acquired by a simple confession, and that it consists of going to “heaven” instead of going to “hell”—not a life lived in cooperation with divine grace…

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

Not what it’s for

I believe in evangelism, but it is not a means of cultural engagement at all.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Epiphany and Theophany

The incorrigible habit in western media of mis-identifying Othodox Theophany as Epiphany is an annual irritant.

I do not know how East and West diverged on the observance of January 6, but they are not the same Christian Feast under different names. Such is the "depth" of religion journalism in the U.S. that a common date and the conceptual similarity of the two names throws journalists off every time.

What is common about them is that both celebrate the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. But:

In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus Christ’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles …

Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God ….

Wikipedia thus gets us in the ballpark. But its initial description of Theophany falls pretty far short of the fullness. Fortunately, it gets much closer further into the article.

Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked [the first of – (Tipsy)] two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor). Thus the holy day is considered to be a Trinitarian feast.

(Emphasis added)

Here’s the hymn of the feast:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
and called Thee His beloved Son;
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself//
and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

We sing it five times in the festal liturgy, just in case one’s mind wanders (which probably isn’t the real reason).

I’m a partisan (and a gentile, no less), but I think the first open manifestation of the Holy Trinity is a weightier matter than gentile kings visiting the Christ Child.

And I know it’s not the same thing.

Where is God when you need Him?

In the wake of the tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean in 2007, major newspapers in America (and elsewhere) asked the question, “Where is God?” Tragedy reminds us of God’s apparent absence, but our cries of abandonment seem empty in light of the demands we make for God’s absence at most other times and places.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

The most thoroughly atheist culture in history?

Has Western society become the most thoroughly atheist in history?

[Augusto] Del Noce’s real genius was his prophetic insight into the rise of Western irreligion. He saw that Marxism “won” the war of ideas, even as it collapsed as a theory, by establishing the economic dimension of man as humanity’s defining reality. For Del Noce, the West “defeated” Marxism not by reaffirming biblical morality or Christian anthropology but by quietly shedding both. Western countries won by outproducing Marxist systems on their own terms, with material results—superior science, superior technology, more and better consumer goods. The dark side of technology, Del Noce argued, is a passion for “total revolution”—permanent revolution against the past doing business as innovation. The byproducts of its success have been religious agnosticism, sexual liberation and radical secularism. By the time of his death, Del Noce viewed much of Western society, despite its Christian residue, as the most thoroughly atheist in history, a feat achieved not by persecuting God, but by ignoring and rendering him irrelevant.

Francis X. Maier, ‌How Marxism ‘Won’ the War of Ideas.

(Serving suggestion: Read my first item again.)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Holiday Ingathering

You can’t patent, trademark, or copyright routine

Yesterday morning we were reading around the fire and started chatting about pastors and the emphasis in the Protestant church on feelings and niche theology. It is sometimes held that if one feels a certain way or espouses certain esoteric ideas, then one is a “mature” Christian. This, of course, is great for Christian publishers and pastors, who produce books and create experiences that promise to lead people to the holy land of Christian maturity, where a select few live with a sense of satisfying superiority. Gnosticism is alive and well.

But isn’t action essential for holiness—especially repetitive action, like regularly taking the sacraments and doing a daily office? It’s harder (though not impossible) to build a marketable brand on these things, which is perhaps why there are so few celebrity pastors in churches that emphasize routine.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock for December 23 (emphasis added)


Donald Jr.

Emissary to MAGA world

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power …

And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.

Decency is for suckers.

He believes, as his father does, that politics should be practiced ruthlessly, mercilessly, and vengefully. The ends justify the means. Norms and guardrails need to be smashed. Morality and lawfulness must always be subordinated to the pursuit of power and self-interest. That is the Trumpian ethic.

Peter Wehner, ‌The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

And the assembled hoards at Turning Point USA ate it up.

If the GOP wants to be the party of normals

The Republican visage of the Janus-faced Hulk is investing in stupid as if it were Bitcoin … I’m enjoying the political beclowning of wokeness on the left, but the right’s embrace of jackassery is legitimately bumming me out, because it’s driven by people trying to claim the conservative label.

Consider AmericaFest. For several days now, I’ve been subjected to clips from Charlie Kirk’s confab. If stupid were chocolate, he’d be Willy Wonka, albeit with a revival tent vibe.  Whether it’s his comparison of Kyle Rittenhouse to Jesus or his claim that their election “audit updates” come from a “biblical framework,” he’s peddling snake-oil-flavored everlasting gobstoppers of idiocy.

Before you get offended at me mocking people for declaring their Christian faith, consider that what I’m really mocking is their understanding of Christianity. Here’s Donald Trump Jr.:

““We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference,  I understand the mentality, but it’s gotten us nothing, … It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

My favorite part is the “sort of.” “Turn the other cheek” is “sort of” a biblical reference? What other kind of reference could it be other than some obscure instruction from a photographer to some butt model or what a tattooist says when he’s done with the left side?

… Donnie thinks a core tenet of Christianity needs to go if it doesn’t yield political power (for him). It should not fall to a guy named Goldberg to point this out, but from what I know about Christianity, this is pretty frick’n Roman.

But it’s not just the religion stuff. Sarah Palin, without a hint of irony, says she’ll get vaccinated “over my dead body.” (“Your terms are acceptable”—COVID.) … Madison Cawthorn, who makes Watters seems like Aristotle, told a group of mostly college students (at an event that makes its living feeding off of college students) that most of them should drop out of college. And, of course, Tucker Carlson doled out the usual boob-bait about the Capitol riot.

… I could go on. But the point is that if the GOP wants to be the party of normals, it can’t just take advantage of Democratic abnormalcy. It actually has to be, well, normal.

Jonah Goldberg


Dysfunction-making habits

Famous experiments on animals demonstrate that artificial isolation from their own kind produces dysfunction. We need to understand that humanity is running an analogous experiment on itself. The revolution ushered in facts of life that had never before existed on the scale seen today. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the imploding nuclear family, the shrinking extended family: All these phenomena are acts of human subtraction. Every one of them has the effect of reducing the number of people to whom we belong, and whom we can call our own.

Mary Eberstadt, Men Are at War with God


Suffering for the common good

[I]t does strike me as odd that many American liberals seem ideologically committed to being miserable all the time. But this is also understandable in light of prevailing moods. Feeling like you’re a victim even if you’re not is the dominant cultural sensibility of the day.

Anthropologically, the need for an “anchor” or “pivot” (to use the Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s term) is something that all humans appear to need across space and time …

This innate disposition can cause problems when denied its natural outlets. If a particular segment of the population, on average, is less likely to believe in God, belong to an organized religion, have children, or be married, then they will, on average, need to look elsewhere for anchors and pivots. And we know that meaning can be derived from panic, fear, and even illness, particularly if you believe your suffering is in the service of the common good.

Shadi Hamid, Omicron Panic and Liberal Hysteria


Is the essence of conspiracy theorizing denial of Occam’s Razor?

A group of unvaccinated people who attended a huge conspiracy conference in Dallas earlier this month all became sick in the days after the event with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. Instead of blaming the global COVID pandemic, however, the conspiracy theorists think they were attacked with anthrax.

This far-right conspiracy claim began after a dozen people spent time together in a confined space at the ReAwaken America tour event in Dallas over the weekend of Dec. 10. And the fact that this was likely a COVID outbreak and superspreader event has been almost entirely ignored.

David Gilbert, People Got Sick at a Conspiracy Conference. They’re Sure It’s Anthrax..


… rituals of ideological one-upmanship

The forces at work in healthy party politics are centripetal; they encourage factions and interests to come together to work out common goals and strategies. They oblige everyone to think, or at least speak, about the common good. In movement politics, the forces are all centrifugal, encouraging splits into smaller and smaller factions obsessed with single issues and practicing rituals of ideological one-upmanship.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal


Frolicking in 2022

A Facebook name change? A colossal global chip shortage? Digital art selling for millions? No crystal ball could have shown us what 2021 in tech would look like.

Opening paragraph to Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2022 – WSJ

To give them credit, the authors’ very next thought was that their annual prognostications are very much a lark.


Ambivalence

I couldn’t bear much more than the first five minutes of Netflix’s Emily in Paris (which I set out to watch because … Paris, of course), but maybe I had it all wrong:

[M]any of the haters were also fans. A tweet by the comedian Phillip Henry summed up the dynamic: “1) Emily In Paris is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. 2) I finished it in one sitting.”

Netflix’s ‘Emily in Paris’ Is the Last Guilty Pleasure – The Atlantic

I went back and endured 15 minutes. I guess I’m not a very masochistic personality, because that’s enough and more than enough.


Long on emotion, short on facts

I predict mass communication technology and theory will be further weaponized to the point where increasing numbers of people suffer from a Matrix-like existence; “fake news” leading the way, long on emotion, short on facts.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency.

"Long on emotion, short on facts" describes a lot of what I find frustrating about even the more balanced, non-ideological news these days. For just one instance, I think we all now know that hospitalizations has become a better Covid metric than new cases, but you’ll be lucky to find hospitalization numbers in most daily Covid updates. It’s mostly "new cases up; feel bad" or "new cases down; chill a little — until we whipsaw you again."


People who changed their minds in 2021

Because the personal has become political, and because politics has swallowed everything, to change is to risk betrayal: of your people, your culture, your tribe. It is to make yourself suspicious. If you change your mind on something, can you still sit with those friends in the endless high school cafeteria that is modern life? Often, the answer is no.

A year ago, I still believed very much that the best use of my energy was to try to work to shore up the old institutions from the inside. I was wrong. My readers know: This newsletter would not exist if I hadn’t changed my mind.

And once I changed my mind, once I stopped trying to repair a decayed thing from within and set out to build something new, I was suddenly waking up peppy at 5 a.m., no alarm needed. I think that’s because changing your mind is a hopeful act. It means you think there’s a better path forward. It means you’re not done becoming.

Bari Weiss, who proceeds to share some very short essays from people who’ve changed or changed their minds recently.


Shorts

Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero


A sentence that would have been gibberish twenty years ago (and isn’t much better today):

Tesla has agreed to modify software in its cars to prevent drivers and passengers from playing video games on the dashboard screens while vehicle are in motion, a federal safety regulator said on Thursday.


None of the Civil War amendments established a right to be free from private-sector discrimination.

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!


A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

The Price is Right, on the tube for 60+ years now, must be the most cynical show on television.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Hodge-Podge

Spengler on Afghanistan

When David P. Goldman is in the mood to write grimly realistic assessments of our present difficulties, he adopts “Spengler” as his pen name, a hat tip to the German author of the early-twentieth-century apocalyptic best-seller The Decline of the West. And when Goldman feels the situation especially dire, Spengler consults the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu, one of history’s most thoroughgoing realists. Here is what the shrewd cardinal had to say about the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan:

America set out to create a modern democracy out of a tribal society, an enterprise as likely to succeed as the attempt to breed a griffin by mating a lion with an eagle. It poured US$2 trillion into Afghanistan, or one hundred times the country’s gross domestic product. It paid Afghani politicians, generals and warlords to play-act at democracy in a revolting, silly masquerade.

Whatever was not corrupt before America came in became corrupt in the maelstrom of American money. Meanwhile, American soldiers and bureaucrats made fortunes as consultants, contractors, sutlers and armorers to the dream palace of Afghan democracy.

Because the entire project was a monstrous hoax to begin with, everyone associated with the project lied—lied about the state of Afghan government forces, lied about the disposition of the Taliban, lied about the robustness of supplies to Afghan troops, lied about their dependence on airpower.

Afghan officials lied to their American paymasters, American commanders on the ground lied to their superiors and American generals lied to the politicians. The key to promotion, and to wealth, lay in perpetuating the ridiculous fiction that motivated the occupation of the country in the first place.

Where did $2 trillion go? The Taliban offensive began in April after the Americans announced their intent to depart. No one fought for Afghanistan because there was no Afghanistan to fight for. Within weeks the Afghan army had no ammunition, no food and no air support. Whoever could steal from the Americans did so. The Afghanistan government collapsed in a matter of days because it was never there to begin with.

The ghost of Richelieu gets it pretty much right.

R.R. Reno in First Things

Manchin and Sinema, designated drivers

Dear Senators Manchin and Sinema,

Whether the occasion is social or political, the hero of the party is the person who’ll grab the keys before the drunks can get behind their wheels.

This week, it falls to the two of you to be that person. The progressives in your party think you’re all that stands in the way of their expensive utopia, and they’re willing to hold a popular infrastructure bill as hostage in order to get their wish …

This is dumb. The likeliest way for President Biden to fail — and for Democrats to lose their congressional majorities next year and for Donald Trump to return to the White House next term — is for the spending bills to pass mostly as they are. A Democratic Party that abandons its center (where many congressional seats are vulnerable) for the sake of its left (where the seats are usually safe) is heading straight for the minority come November 2022.

Let them call you names now so that they can thank you for your sobriety later ….

Bret Stephens, ‌Manchin and Sinema Should Just Say No to Big Spending Plans (emphasis added)

What matters in our democracy

The only people in America who didn’t seem to understand that making Trump president was the equivalent of handing a gun to a chimpanzee were the people who voted for him.

And in our democracy, that’s all that matters. Yay people!

Jonathan V. Last, ‌Why Didn’t They Say Something?

I diss Trump a lot, but relatively rarely say "I told you so." But my major, overarching, distilled objection to Trump before the 2016 election was that his epic narcissism would one day dangerously distort his apprehension of reality.

I didn’t foresee just how and when the distortion would come. Indeed, as the 2020 election approached, I was in the camp that said he would turn over power peacefully as had all his predecessors. That’s what most of the "experts" and pundits I trust were confidently predicting, but frankly, the alternative was so ghastly that I probably would have believed it all by my lonesome, unbidden.

So offensive I’m tempted to become antivax-adjacent

[L]iberal elites continue to call anyone who is unvaccinated "stupid,” ignorant and immoral. On Sunday, New York’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, when announcing her intent to use National Guard soldiers to replace health care workers fired for refusing the vaccine, told her audience: “yes, I know you’re vaccinated, you’re the smart ones.” She then said those who refuse to get the vaccine are not just stupid but have turned their back on God: “there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants.” Gov. Hochul added that the vaccine “is from God to us and we must say, thank you, God,” and said to her "smart” vaccinated supporters: “I need you to be my apostles.”

Glenn Greenwald.

Her statement was offensive because (1) it’s cringe-worthily condescending (as if she reasoned "the stupid ones, the ones who aren’t vaccinated, are probably religious so I’ll try a faux-religious approach") and (2) I thought God-talk was forbidden in the public square.

Gov. Hochul’s rhetoric has little of his hectoring tone, but her substance is maybe even more condescending and insulting than was Al Gore’s during the 2000 Election season.

Democratic contempt for the demos

When they were young, these leaders were believed to be the architects of the new world that was to emerge as a result of the revolution; now, being old, they claim to be the authors of the institutional system they think is the greatest political success in history. The attitude in both cases is the same: a hasty and arrogant dismissal of what stands in their way and what they readily qualify as prejudice and anachronism. In this respect, the EU leaders and bureaucrats are no different from other enlightened governments of the past, except perhaps that they manage to conceal their contempt for the demos.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon In Democracy

No GMOs

The very premise for relying on the mass and crass forms of Christianity that flourish in the United States runs on the fuel that the spiritual crisis of our age is so great that it demands genetically engineered spiritual nourishment.

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

I’m not so sure I’m cool with "premise … runs on the fuel …", but "genetically engineered spiritual nourishment" gets two thumb up as a formulation, two thumbs down as actually nourishing.

The Orthodox Church has no GMOs, by the way.

For the flourishing of all

Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron” pictures a supposedly utopian version of the United States in which strict equality is enforced through the use of mandated handicaps such as earpieces that transmit piercing sounds to disrupt thought for those with above-average intelligence. Few of us would take our commitment to equality to such lengths. Yet many of us do view equality – of opportunity and outcome – as something worth approximating as a benchmark for justice in our society. But is such equality achievable, and is it even necessary for the well-being and flourishing of all?

… DeBoer asserts that if we are serious about justice, we need to take seriously the fact that natural intelligence is not equally distributed. Given this inequality, one’s degree of natural intelligence is not an appropriate basis for assigning value or determining who gets to live the good life any more than race or some other contingent factor of human existence.

Anthony M. Barr, reviewing The Cult of Smart in Plough.

Two observations:

  • Harrison Bergeron is one of my all-time favorite short stories.
  • I have maintained for 50+ years that human equality does not require fictive interchangeability or blinders about differences.

Epic political malpractice

  • Tyler Cowen pointed something interesting out in his Bloomberg column on Wednesday: Democrats aren’t really making a proactive policy argument in favor of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan. “Crazy as my hypothesis may seem, given all the stuff about Biden’s agenda on the internet, there has been remarkably little policy debate about it, and remarkably little attempt to persuade the American public that this spending is a good idea,” he writes. “My colleague Arnold Kling put it well: ‘With the reconciliation bill, there is no attempt to convince the public that it is desirable to enact an enormous child tax credit or to mandate ending use of fossil fuels in a decade. Instead, what we read is that if you’re on the blue team you want the number to be 3.5, but a few Democrats are holding out for something lower.’”

  • Peter Suderman took the Biden administration’s reconciliation sleight of hand to task in his latest for Reason. “The simplest way to understand economics is that it is a reckoning with unavoidable tradeoffs. If you spend money on something, you may obtain something in return—but you lose the ability to use those resources on something else,” he writes. “Under President Joe Biden, however, Democrats in Washington have decided that they can simply wish those tradeoffs away by declaring that they do not exist. Over and over again, they have argued that their policies do not or should not have any costs whatsoever.” The reconciliation package, for example, “is a plan that, in its broadest form, calls for spending $3.5 trillion. Even in the unlikely event that such a plan turns out to be truly fully paid for, it would still spend $3.5 trillion. Those economic resources would be used to do some specific things, which in turn would reduce the ability to do other things. In other words, there would be costs and tradeoffs.”

Adjacent items in Thursday’s Morning Dispatch

Biden does seem to be doing his best to re-elect Donald Trump in 2024. One can be pretty confident that’s not his intention. I’ll leave it at that and let you draw your own conclusions (or theories, or hypotheses) about why he subverts himself.

Three-dimensional chess?

On Orange Man back-handedly endorsing Democrat Stacey Abrams over Republican Brian Kemp:

A former Republican president, one who appears eager to run again in 2024, attempting to torpedo a Republican and endorsing a progressive Democrat in his place? That Abrams is best known for combatting the very forms of voter suppression that Trump’s constantly champions only makes the gesture more absurd — a form of political madness bred by spite and stupidity.

What if instead of trying to win the most votes, Trump’s goal is to remake the GOP into a party that doesn’t particularly care about being declared the official winner because those who oversee the official count are untrustworthy, and because a Republican, by definition, can never legitimately lose?

In that case, Brian Kemp and others in the Republican Party who follow the democratic rules even when they deliver a loss — like, for instance, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and the other members of the House and Senate who voted to impeach and convict Trump after the insurrection of Jan. 6 — are a two-fold problem. They are a problem, first, because they stand in the way of delivering the party’s inevitable victory in particular cases; and second, because, in displaying such recalcitrance, they deny the definitional principle that losing is impossible for a Republican.

That’s why Kemp and everyone else who stood in the way of Trump’s strenuous effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election must be defeated and eliminated, even if it is accomplished in some cases by endorsing Democrats. Because that’s the path to inevitable victory: the creation of a party that, from top to bottom, believes it is always and everywhere destined to win power and that the denial of this principle in all cases is irrefutable evidence of cheating, fraud, and illegitimacy.

Damon Linker

No-brainer

Religion Clause: Russia Labels Church of Scientology As "Undesirable" Organization

If a government is to have a category of "undesirable organizations," then Scientology should be a shoo-in.


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.

It’s Time to Talk About Violent Evangelical Extremism

I began the draft of this blog quoting well-framed criticism of political figures you’d recognize if you haven’t been living in a cave. But I suspect they thrive on any publicity, even bad publicity, so in a rare act of self-control, I deleted it.

You’re welcome. I need a drink.


In the original Star Trek series, there was an episode in which M-5, a revolutionary computer created by Dr. Richard Daystrom, is designed to handle all ship functions without human assistance.

It’s thought to be an impressive achievement—until M-5 takes total control over the USS Enterprise and begins to attack other Federation ships. Captain Kirk tells Daystrom to disengage the M-5 unit, but it proves to be impossible. M-5 has grown far more powerful and dangerous than anyone could have imagined; the crew scrambles to shut it down.

“Reverse thrusts will not engage, sir,” the chief engineer, Montgomery Scott, tells Kirk. “Manual override isn’t working either.” Mr. Spock, the first officer, chimes in: “No effect on any of the M-5 controls, Captain.” And then the chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy, utters this line: “Fantastic machine, the M-5. No off switch.”

Peter Wehner, The Moral Inversion of the Republican Party, thinks the GOP may have created an M-5.


David French sets the record straight not only on Robinhood/GameStop but also on Parler: The Fog of War Shrouds the Battle Over Online Censorship.

A named Republican politician who knows better has shouted out hasty bullshit versions of each — think of it in terms of rightwing demagogues racing to stupid conclusions much as CNN and Washington Post did on the Covington Catholic story two years ago. But since he hasn’t defamed any fresh-faced boys, he’ll never be called to account with money damages and an apology.


Shifting a bit, I note that Politico interviewed Elizabeth Neumann, who was raised Evangelical and who was high up in the Department of Homeland Security. Neumann gave insight into a religiosity that proclaims itself Real Christianity® but suffers from undiagnosed theopenia:☦︎

[They conclude] that eventually, pastors will not be able to preach against homosexuality or abortion, and if [they do], they’re going to end up arrested and unable to preach. I’ve heard that argument made multiple times over the last 10 years. The irrationality is the idea that there are no protections, that the courts wouldn’t step in and say, “No, the First Amendment applies to Christians as well.”

It tries to assert that they are losing power and must regain that power by any means necessary — which is why you can justify voting for Trump, so that we can, for God’s purposes, maintain this Christian nation.

The article, titled It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism, really should be titled It’s Time to Talk About Violent Evangelical Extremism. The interview subject was raised Evangelical and that movement, and its vulnerabilities to Christian nationalism, apocalypticism, authoritarianism and violence, was her entire focus. There was no effort to implicate any other Christian traditions in violent extremism.

More:

She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same.

Do you see anything about the evangelical tradition that could make its believers more susceptible to QAnon?

I really struggle with this question. I’ve been trying to figure out how it is so obvious to me …

There is, in more conservative Christian movements, a strong authoritarian streak, where they don’t believe in the infallibility of their pastor, but they act like it; they don’t believe in the infallibility of the head of the home, but they sometimes act like it; where you’re not allowed to question authority. You see this on full display in the criticisms of the way the Southern Baptist Convention is dealing with sexual abuse, which is so similar to the Catholic Church [sex abuse scandal]. There is this increasing frustration that church leaders have [this view]: “If we admit sin, then they won’t trust us to lead anymore.” But if the church is not a safe place to admit that you messed up, then I don’t know where is — or you clearly don’t believe what you preach.

The authoritarian, fundamentalist nature of certain evangelical strands is a prominent theme in the places where you see the most ardent Trump supporters or the QAnon believers, because they’ve been told: “You don’t need to study [scripture]. We’re giving you the answer.” Then, when Rev. Robert Jeffress [a prominent conservative Baptist pastor in Dallas] says you’ve got to support Donald Trump, and makes some argument that sounds “churchy,” people go, “Well, I don’t like Trump’s language, but OK, that’s the right thing.” It creates people who are not critical thinkers. They’re not necessarily reading scripture for themselves. Or if they are, they’re reading it through the lens of one pastor, and they’re not necessarily open to hearing outside perspectives on what the text might say. It creates groupthink.

Another factor is Christian nationalism. That’s a huge theme throughout evangelical Christendom. It’s subtle: Like, you had the Christian flag and the American flag at the front of the church, and if you went to a Christian school, you pledged allegiance to the Christian flag and the American flag. There was this merger that was always there when I was growing up. And it was really there for the generation ahead of me, in the ’50s and ’60s. Some people interpreted it as: Love of country and love of our faith are the same thing. And for others, there’s an actual explicit theology.

There was this whole movement in the ’90s and 2000s among conservatives to explain how amazing [America’s] founding was: Our founding was inspired by God, and there’s no explanation for how we won the Revolutionary War except God, and, by the way, did you know that the founders made this covenant with God? It’s American exceptionalism but goes beyond that. It says that we are the next version of Israel from the Old Testament, that we are God’s chosen nation, and that is a special covenant — a two-way agreement with God. We can’t break it, and if we do, what happened to Israel will happen to us: We will be overrun by whatever the next Babylon is, taken into captivity, and He will remove His blessing from us.

What [threatens] that covenant? The moment we started taking prayer out of [public] schools and allowing various changes in our culture — [the legalization of] abortion is one of those moments; gay marriage is another. They see it in cataclysmic terms: This is the moment, and God’s going to judge us. They view the last 50 years of moral decline as us breaking our covenant, and that because of that, God’s going to remove His blessing. When you paint it in existential terms like that, a lot of people feel justified to carry out acts of violence in the name of their faith.


☦︎ So far as I know, theopenic and its cognate theopenia are my coinage.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Potpourri 11/11/20

Audacious Plaintiff gets aptly smacked down.

If you want privacy, folks, you don’t go to court. You especially don’t go to court with a lurid complaint and then ask for privacy because the defense might be lurid, too.


Against fierce cultural and social pressures, you strive—with the help of grace, your pastors, and each other—to live the Catholic ethic of human love even as you experience same-sex attractions. Your efforts at fidelity bespeak deep faith, a powerful hope, and authentic love.

Living chastely—living what John Paul II called “the integrity of love”—is not easy for anyone in our licentious culture …

… unlike some others, you do not demand that truth bend to desire. With Flannery O’Connor, you know that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.” …

Just as importantly, you do not treat chastity as an ecclesiastical “policy issue” and you do not lobby within the Church for a change in “policy,” because you know that what is at stake here is truth: a truth that makes for happiness, genuine friendship, and, ultimately, beatitude ….

George Weigel, An Open Letter to the People of “Courage”.

I generally am not a fan of George Weigel, but to patronize First Things is to run into him constantly, and he does occasionally say something I agree with, as he does here. I do not endorse, though, some other parts of the same little piece; specifically, I’m not prepared to exonerate Pope Francis from charges of mischief.


My favorite “spy podcast” is Intelligence Matters. Today’s weekly was probably the best I’ve heard, not about spying so much as strategic intelligence about relations with China.

As Great Britain had to gingerly make room for the United States a century ago, so we may need gingerly to make some room for emergent China. New superpower, old analogies.


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.

The sharpness of the observation isn’t immediately obvious to a lazy read. It fits today’s abandonment of churches by social climbers quite well.


The Centers for Disease Control updated its guidance on masks to indicate that masks protect the individuals wearing them, not just those around them. “Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC’s website reads. “The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and personal protection for the mask wearer.” The number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 hit an all-time high yesterday, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The Morning Dispatch

The disparity between the science on face masks and the political posturing about them frustrates me a lot. My common sense tells me they should help. The science seems to say they help, but a lot less than I’d have guessed. One of my scientifically smartest friends is not convinced that they help at all (and, scientist or not, is almost mystical about “face-to-face” encounter. No reductionist he.).

I wear one in many situations that make me look like a liberal (how weird to correlate things so!). I leave it off, even when singing as cantor at Church, if nobody’s within ten feet or so of me and I can sing away from the congregation (except for mask-mandatory liturgies, which we’ve added twice mosthly for the elderly or extra-cautious).

But the pandemic locally is the worst ever. Yesterday’s new-infection rate would have meant almost a third of the county getting Covid within a year if it continued unabated.


Here beginneth political punditry. If you are “soooo done with that”, or “just can’t even”, you may stop reading.

If you’re wondering why so many prominent elected Republicans are standing by TrumpWorld’s increasingly untethered to reality conspiracies about widespread voter fraud and election theft, Burgess Everett offers one explanation in Politico. “The party needs President Donald Trump’s help to clinch two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 that will determine the fate of the Senate GOP’s majority,” Everett writes. “And accepting the presidential results ahead of Trump, a politician driven by loyalty, could put Republicans at odds with the president and his core supporters amid the must-win elections down South.”

The Morning Dispatch

I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. “Some things,” as Antonin Scalia said of his friendship with Notorious RBG, “are more important than votes.”


The day after the firing of the secretary of defense who resisted the use of troops against peaceful American protesters is probably not a great time for the secretary of state to joke about a transition to a “second Trump administration.” If he was in fact joking. Welcome to what the Republican party is in 2020—a threat to democratic order.

Mona Charen, There Is No Return to Normalcy – Ethics & Public Policy Center She delivers the goods, too.


[I]t’s … possible to make use of the [Devil] as a metaphor, an idea, treating it as the fanciful creation of culture as it tries to make sense of something real in human experience.

What is this something? It’s more precisely a someone — the kind of person who delights in wreaking havoc, who acts entirely from his own interests, and whose interests are incompatible with received norms, standards, restraints, and laws. Someone who actively seeks to inspire anger and animus, who likes nothing more than provoking conflict all around him, both to create advantages for himself and because pulling everyone around him down to his own ignoble level soothes his nagging worry that someone, somewhere might be more widely admired. This is a person who lives for adulation without regard for whether the glory is earned. The louder the cheers, the better. That’s all that counts. And so the only thing that’s a threat is the prospect of the cheers going silent — of someone else rightfully winning the contest for public approval.

Donald Trump is the demon in American democracy.

What makes Trump demonic? One thing above all: His willingness, even eagerness, to do serious, potentially fatal, damage to something beautiful, noble, fragile, and rare, purely to satisfy his own emotional needs. That something is American self-government. Trump can’t accept losing, can’t accept rejection, and savors provoking division. He wants to be a maestro conducting a cacophony of animosities at the center of our national stage because it feeds his insatiable craving for attention and power — and because, I suspect, he delights in pulling everybody else down to his own level.

That is a satanic impulse …

… He’s asserted that the Democrats stole the election without providing a shred of proof in even a single state to back up the incendiary accusation. The result? Seventy percent of Republicans are already prepared to say that the election wasn’t free and fair. Which means they are inclined to believe that the Biden administration is illegitimate even before it starts — because, as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina put it on Monday night on Fox News, the Democrats are only able win power by cheating.

Damon Linker has been on a roll. I agree with Trump is a demonic force in American politics completely (except that I am a believing Christian, as Linker used to be, and so believe an an actual Satan).

It bothers me less that 70-some million voted for Trump than that some bitter-ender Christian-adjacent folks (i.e., heretics) believe “stolen election” and the prosperity gospelers’ maniacal insistence that this demonic man is God’s choice for America.


President-elect Joe Biden projected calm on Tuesday despite President Trump’s continued refusal to concede the election. “The fact that they’re not willing to acknowledge we won at this point is not of much consequence for our planning and what we’re able to do between now and January 20,” Biden said. He called Trump’s post-election behavior an “embarrassment,” adding that it “will not help the president’s legacy.”

The Morning Dispatch

That kind of heated rhetoric has just got to stop. I’ll give Biden 50 months to cut it out.


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

What do the two major parties really stand for?

There have been so very many arguments along the lines of the title of Politics Is More Than Abortion vs Character that I quickly abandoned it as unpromising.

Specifically, I stopped right after this:

The root problem is not that Trump is mean. The problem is that he is a nationalist, a problem that infects much of the right and thus will outlast Trump himself. Much of his meanness is not a character flaw so much as an ideological choice. Trump is mean because of what he believes about the world, about American identity, and about his fellow citizens.

I tend to disagree with that. I wouldn’t call it Trump’s meanness, but I think the “root problem” of the last four years has been Trump’s character, more specifically his toxic narcissism, which put us at risk of his fundamentally misunderstanding existential threats to the nation — understanding them in terms of how they make him look.

But then Winston Hottman, a thoughtful Baptist I’ve been following on micro.blog, quoted the conclusion:

The most urgent and most moral necessity in American politics is to dismantle the two-party system that artificially forces us into an impossible choice between two immoral options, neither of which represents a majority of Americans, embodies the aspirations of the American experiment, or articulates a vision of ordered liberty and human dignity. The American experiment is a miracle of political order, a miracle that is increasingly fragile and has no champions, no defenders, and no partisans in our contemporary political landscape except for the large and growing number of voters who reject the two parties who claim to govern in their name.

As an early recruit to the American Solidarity Party, I found that arresting enough to revisit the article.

The author, Paul D. Miller of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission elaborates his problems with nationalism, and makes plausible his belief that

[t]he political right has been prone to nationalism for decades; Trump only brought it out into the open. Trump’s bizarre and outsized personality make it seem like he is wholly unique and therefore that the nativism, xenophobia, and footsie-with-racism that has characterized his administration will go away when he leaves office …

Nothing in American history suggests that nationalism will simply go away. Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are persistent and strong tendencies in American political culture.

That’s more plausible than I anticipated when I stopped reading the first time. I will add to his comments four of my own:

  • The GOP has been mostly wandering, directionless, since the fall of European communism — trying to find some schtick that will stick with voters.
  • Where did birtherism come from if not from racism — Trump’s own or at least what he assumed about much of America?
  • Why did Trump malign a Hoosier-born judge of Mexican ancestry as ipso facto biased if not from xenophobia — his own or at least what he assumed about much of America?
  • What are the most prominent and vehement Trumpist Congressmen and Senators touting as they vie to become Trump’s successors? Josh Hawley, for instance (what a bitter disappointment he has been!)? Nationalism, that’s what.

As for the Left, its problem is

progressivism. Progressivism, like nationalism, is a totalistic political religion that is fundamentally inconsistent with the ideals of a free and open society.

Progressivism is best understood as a philosophy of history, a belief that history unfolds in the direction of progressive policy preferences. Today’s progressive elites act like a self-appointed vanguard commissioned by history to open up the next chapter in our story. Such a self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing narrative has no moral horizon or framework and no way to justify what its policy preferences are, other than vague appeals to “the children,” “the future,” and “the right side of history,” which means whatever they want those empty phrases to mean on any given day.

Shorn of any fixed moral commitments, the goals of progressivism deteriorate into the lowest common denominator available within the rhetoric of freedom: individual autonomy, personal discovery, self-expression, fulfillment, and empowerment. Progressivism is an endless pursuit of ever-greater liberation, freedom, autonomy, and self-discovery.

That indictment is familiar and comfortable to me, but Miller goes on to elaborate its fundamental problems (just as he did with nationalism — a critique much less familiar and comfortable).

I commend Miller’s article, which you can read in twelve minutes (if Instapaper is right). It further solidified my “none of the above” stance in the last two Presidential cycles (including the one that ends today).

Yes, friends, the two major parties, as avatars of nationalism and progressivism respectively, have served us up a shit sandwich yet again as we vote today with each pretending to represent something other than what Miller identifies and warning of the destruction of America or even the whole world if the other is elected.

I said in 2016, after Trump’s election and probably after his coronation as GOP nominee, that a big political realignment was under way. At the time, I was thinking of what was happening between and within the two major parties, but I see hopeful signs that more and more people are fed up with them both, ready to entertain third parties.

At the same time, I have become increasingly convinced that the Libertarian party is little if any better — and maybe the worst of both. Its laissez faire economics (it seems to me, but perhaps “Libertarian” now is a term of art that designations something miles and miles from Murray Rothbard) will further gut the middle class while its lifestyle liberalism further immiserates the poor by making family formation even harder (with all that entails).

I have too little knowledge, current or semi-recent, to speak of other third parties except my beloved American Solidarity Party, which has made great strides in four years. It was actually on the ballot today in eight states, and certified for write-in votes in twenty-four more. 20 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined supporting some of its positions, had it existed then, but what we’ve got is broken in more ways than I can count, and ADP points the way to something more humane.


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

What’s wrong with this picture?

More dramatic than I imagined:

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.29 PM

(link) and

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.55 PM

(link).

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

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

First, a distinction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, because it forfeited any claim to my loyalty:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s why.

* * *

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

* * * * *

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

Psalm 146:3

* * * * *

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

Entangled musings

So long as worship of the Emperor as a God was required by law of all citizens, to become a Christian meant to become a criminal. In consequence, the Christians of the first four centuries A.D., subject like everyone else to the temptations of the Flesh and the Devil, had been spared the Temptations of the World. One could become a converted and remain a thorough rascal, but one could not be converted and remain a gentleman.

(W.H. Auden, in the Introduction to The Complete Poems of Cavafy)

My former activism on behalf of unpopular causes (e.g., against abortion, against mandatory social leveling on behalf of practitioners of trendy vices) was never a strategy to “get my name out there” so people would seek my legal services. Insofar as it did bring me clients, they strongly tended toward eccentricity if not outright crackpottery.

We were not formally criminals, my clients and I, but we knew that we could not aspire to unequivocal worldly respectability, either. (That is not a characterization of all my clients — just the ones who I knew as co-belligerents in lost causes.)

Most of these activism-related clients were “conservative” Protestants, as was I then. Most of them plainly were either tacitly Nominalists or at least utterly incapable of framing a confident argument in Realist terms. They were the proverbial “Bible-thumpers,” pulling out their favored proof-texts that sodomy is sinful, or that God knows each of us en ventre sa mère. The problem came connecting such things to law.

In a recent podcast, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon opines that Nominalism is probably, “the deepest flaw in the whole Protestant enterprise” (Luther referred to William of Ockham, the Franciscan popularizer of Nominalism, as his “mein meister”, and the Church of England still commemorates Ockham on April 10.) Fr. Pat’s podcast is actually a pretty succinct introduction to the Nominalist-Realist contrast. (Quick: is adultery wrong because God forbade it or did God forbid it because is wrong — contrary to reality as he created it?)

Somehow, I was a Realist, or leaning strongly Realist, even before I knew the Nominalist-Realist distinction and well before Orthodoxy. I frequently lamented, if only in private, the embarrassing and counter-productive arguments of my co-belligerents in the causes we all supported (or, likelier, opposed).

My tacit Realism (which I’m fairly sure developed unawares after my adolescence) may have been another factor, along with my earlier-in-life onset of temperamental partiality to contemplation more than action, that made Orthodox Christianity click for me when I finally encountered it. I wish I were confident that North American Orthodox Christians, especially my fellow converts, were solidly Realist, because we’re living in parallel ecclesial realities if they’re not.

But I began talking about “my activism.” Do I contradict myself, interjecting contemplation? I think not. My “activism” was argumentation, verbal and in writing, which is a fairly contemplative form of activism. I’ve never raided a draft board, lain down in a street, or otherwise gotten into the physical scrum.

And is there some latent negativity in my oppositional activism (rather than supportive activism)? Again I think not, though it may, once more, dovetail with an aspect of Orthodoxy: apophasis, known in Latin as the via negativa. More specifically, I’m less confident of the location of the “this is right and good and pure” bullseye than I am about “wherever that bullseye is, it ain’t here.”

After more than 22 year in Orthodoxy, I’m still picking up threads that I think helped to lead me here. Picking them up, and acknowledging their entanglement and, sometimes, ineffability seems true to life — which is notoriously messy — more generally.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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

Same God?

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

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

(Page 120, Kindle edition)

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

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

Nico: Yes.

Stanley: Yes, I thought you would.

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

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

Nico: Yeah, Scopes Trial.

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

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

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

Stanley: Good point.

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

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

Nico: I have not.

Stanley: Okay. Do you know what it is?

Nico: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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

Tragedy and Triumph

Beto O’Rourke says, in the special Thursday Democrat Pander-O-Thon for LGBT votes, that churches, colleges and charities should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

That’s the succinct version. But I wouldn’t blog if that’s all I had to say.

Liberals will say, “Don’t worry about it. Beto is scraping the bottom of the polls. What he says doesn’t really matter.”…

This conservative said that, too, but

… Huh. Don’t you believe it. If this belief isn’t already held by all the Democratic candidates now, it will be. As Brandon McGinley says, there really is no principled reason to resist it, given what the Democrats already believe about the sanctity of homosexuality and transgenderism. Haven’t we all lived long enough now to recognize that the Law of Merited Impossibility — “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it” — is as irrefutable as the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Even at this late date, we hear from many liberals that orthodox Christians are “obsessed” with homosexuality. They can’t grasp why, aside from bigotry, that we are so concerned about the issue. It’s largely because the march of LGBT ideology to conquer our culture tramples over the rights of orthodox/traditionalist religious people, and indeed of anybody who objects to whatever claim LGBTs make.

What Beto O’Rourke said last night is a perfect example of why many orthodox Christians who despise Donald Trump will vote for him anyway. The survival of our institutions depends on keeping the Democrats out of the White House (and Congress) for as long as we can ….

Rod Dreher (emphasis added).

Insofar as Dreher is describing why many Christians will hold their noses and vote for Trump, he is surely right.

Insofar as he is saying that the survival of our Christian institutions hinges on Donald Trump’s reelection, he is selling God short.

But this is admittedly a situation with high stakes, where the horrible terribleness of Donald Trump has emboldened the Democrats to veer sharply to their left and to promise their base the heads of orthodox Christians on a platter.

Trust in God comes hard in these circumstances, and the trusting ones need to abandon any illusion that Romans 8:28 means only good things happen to those who love and are called by God.

I’m still strongly inclined never to vote for Trump, come whatever may.

It’s not just “all things considered and on balance.” It’s a question of my ingrained, pre-theoretical ethical orientation. I just couldn’t vote for Richard Nixon, in my first Presidential election, once I’d concluded he was a crook. 47 years later, with a bit more ethical theory under my belt and a lot less starry eyes in my residual optimism, I still cannot begin to articulate a convincing deontological or virtue ethics argument for voting for Trump, and I reject Dreher’s implicit consequentialism.

I’d encourage any Christian readers inclined to vote for Trump to grapple with articulating at ethical case for voting for Trump, aware that consequentialism squares pretty badly with Christianity.

On the other hand, my scriptures (the Christian scriptures before the Reformers bowdlerized them — see this, for instance) do include this bit of consequentialism:

A large force of soldiers pursued them, caught up with them, set up camp opposite them, and prepared to attack them on the Sabbath.

There is still time, they shouted out to the Jews. Come out and obey the king’s command, and we will spare your lives.

We will not come out, they answered. We will not obey the king’s command, and we will not profane the Sabbath.

The soldiers attacked them immediately, but the Jews did nothing to resist; they did not even throw stones or block the entrances to the caves where they were hiding. They said,

We will all die with a clear conscience. Let heaven and earth bear witness that you are slaughtering us unjustly.

So the enemy attacked them on the Sabbath and killed the men, their wives, their children, and their livestock. A thousand people died.

When Mattathias and his friends heard the news about this, they were greatly saddened and said to one another,

If all of us do as these other Jews have done and refuse to fight the Gentiles to defend our lives and our religion, we will soon be wiped off the face of the earth.

On that day they decided that if anyone attacked them on the Sabbath, they would defend themselves, so that they would not all die as other Jews had died in the caves.

(Emphasis added)

Make of that passage what you will. It does seem a pretty consequentialist, and Judas Maccabeus remains a mythical hero.

Maybe the polls in your state will say, in 13 months, that your state’s a toss-up, so that choosing between evils feels compulsory.

What I make of the passage from I Macabees is that I at least must be gentle with fellow-Christians who vote for Trump or (because of his horrible terribleness) his Democrat opponent — and that I should hope and pray that they will recognize such a vote as at best a tragic, not triumphant.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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