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)

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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.

Housekeeping

I have been migrating selected records from an obsoleting database manager (Bento, a flat-file dBM for Mac from FileMaker) to DEVONthink. I’ve been unable to figure out a way to mass-migrate 4000+ records.

It’s surprising how little from 20-30 years ago feels worth copying-and-pasting for preservation. But I’ve preserved quite a few things from the period when I was learning a lot online about Orthodoxy (not recommended, by the way).

And then there was this:

Kenneth Offner works with Intervarsity Christian fellowship at Harvard. He has his work cut out for him. But recently he’s been wondering whether evangelicalism is up to the task.

In his newsletter he says he finds himself enjoying First Things ever so much more than Christianity Today, and is intensely interested in books from Ignatius Press while having zero interest in the Top Ten Evangelical Books of the Month.

Is Offner on his way to Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy? Not necessarily, but he thinks American evangelicalism is in deep detritus. “We are drifting so far from our Reformational roots that were Luther or Calvin to appear today they might see more things they recognized in Catholicism than in evangelicalism. (Which is not to imply that they would become Catholics!)”

Offner includes his own taxonomy of what is meant by evangelicalism today. It is a question often asked. Most students of the subject come up with at least three criteria that define evangelicalism: belief in absolute authority of Scripture, a born again experience, an eagerness to evangelize others. But Offner says there are twelve different evangelicalisms, although not all of them have a brand name. Here they are, followed by the themes that characterize them.

(1) Reformed Evangelicalism — thinking Christianly, transforming culture, changing institutions, opposed to dualism.

(2) Anabaptist Evangelicalism —  community, countercultural, pacifist, servanthood vs. authority.

(3) Neo-Orthodox Evangelicalism — knowing God vs. knowing about God, narrative theology vs. propositional theology.

(4) Charismatic Evangelicalism — expecting Signs and Wonders, personal experience, God speaks afresh today.

(5) Theonomist Evangelicalism — God’s unchanging law, salvation as God’s lordship, postmillennial, America as Christian country.

(6) Fundamentalist Evangelicalism — antiliberal, biblicist, seriousness of (external) sin, everything is black and white.

(7) Dispensationalist Evangelicalism — nondenominational, pro-Israel, grace vs. works.

(8) Pro-American Pietist Evangelicalism — America as Christian country, civil religion, personal piety, power of politics.

(9) Anti-American and Anti-Pietist Evangelicalism — sinfulness of capitalism, anti-rules, anti-Right, anti-Fundamentalist, freedom is what counts.

(10) Therapeutic Evangelicalism — inner healing, sin as sickness, evil as dysfunction, self-knowledge.

(11) Social Action Evangelicalism — priority of the poor, physical-spiritual unity, works vs. faith.

(12) Liturgical/Sacramental Evangelicalism — tradition, sacraments, ordered worship, respect for the mystical.

Offner goes on to say that only the last is Trinitarian, the others focusing almost exclusively on the Father or the Son (with the Reformed including both Father and Son).

From Richard John Neuhaus’s “While We’re At It” Coda to his monthly rambling First Things review of the cosmos, this time from the November, 1993 issue (reformatted for readability, emphasis added).

That was about 3 years before I discovered Orthodoxy, which is Trinitarianism’s ne plus ultra. I had no recollection of this item, though I recorded it contemporaneously with the magazine’s arrival.

To say that only Liturgical/Sacramental Evangelicalism is Trinitarian surely is a statement about the reality of Evangelical praxis, not about the content of its nominal doctrine. But it is a true statement about praxis, or so close to categorically true that any orthodox Evangelical should feel a sad recognition upon reading it.

I wonder if it was working at me during those 3 years?

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Sometimes, serendipity!

I blogged just yesterday, on the occasion of his death, about the odd metanarratives of “religion” Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens gratuitously spun in some of his religion clause opinions. I acknowledged (boasted?) that nobody else had noticed the falsity of his metanarrative.

And the response to yesterday’s blog seems to be that nobody noticed. Or they noticed and averted their eyes from my nakedness.

Today, in heat indices forecasted to reach 109° F and with a diagnosis of a torn ankle tendon requiring immobility, I decided to (among other things) catch up on some blogs I set aside because the author is always too substantive for a quick read.

And boy, was I ever rewarded! Sometimes, serendipity!

To appreciate why I was so delighted, you’ll need to go back to yesterday’s blog, painful though that may be, and see the parallels between what I wrote about what I called “integral Christianity” and what I found in The Struggle Against The Normal Life:

  • a better description of classical Christianity (I guess I was becoming a classical Christian long before I became one formally)
  • a contrast between it and modern Christianities (of the sort Justice Stevens had in mind),
  • acknowledgement that modern Christianities are ascendant, if facile and false, and
  • a call to the repentance and asceticism necessary to maintain classically Christian belief amid the hegemony of heterodoxy.

Excerpts (generous, but not exhaustive; this one needs to be read in full, then read again and again):

Within the Christianity of our time, the great spiritual conflict, unknown to almost all, is between a naturalistic/secular world of modernity and the sacramental world of classical Christianity. The first presumes that a literal take on the world is the most accurate. It tends to assume a closed system of cause and effect, ultimately explainable through science and manageable through technology. Modern Christians, quite innocently, accept this account of the world with the proviso that there is also a God who, on occasion, intervenes within this closed order. The naturalist unbeliever says, “Prove it.”

The sacramental world of classical Christianity speaks a wholly different language. It presumes that the world as we see it is an expression of a greater reality that is unseen. It presumes that everything is a continuing gift and a means of communion with the good God who created it. The meaning and purpose of things is found in that which is not seen, apart from which we can only reach false conclusions. The essential message of Christ, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” is a proclamation of the primacy of this unseen world and its coming reign in the restoration of all things (apokatastasis, cf. Acts 3:21).

The assumptions of these two worldviews could hardly be more contradictory. The naturalistic/secular model has the advantage of sharing a worldview with contemporary culture. As such, it forms part of what most people would perceive as “common sense” and “normal.” Indeed, the larger portion of Christian believers within that model have no idea that any other Christian worldview exists.

The classical/sacramental worldview was the only Christian worldview for most of the centuries prior to the Reformation. Even then, that worldview was only displaced through revolution and state sponsorship. Nonetheless, the sacramental understanding continues within the life of the Orthodox Church, as well as many segments of Catholicism. Its abiding presence in the Scriptures guarantees that at least a suspicion of “something else” will haunt some modern Christian minds.

The classical model is, in fact, the teaching found in the Scriptures. It utterly rejects the notion of spiritual knowledge belonging to the same category as the naturalistic/secular world. It clearly understands that the truth of things is perceived only through the heart (nous) and that an inward change is required. It is impossible to encounter the truth and remain unchanged.

The classical model, particularly as found within Orthodoxy, demands repentance and asceticism as a normative part of the spiritual life. These actions do not earn a reward, but are an inherent part of the cleansing of the heart and the possibility of perceiving the truth.

The struggle between classical/sacramental Christianity and modernity (including its various Christianities) is not a battle over information. The heart of the struggle is for sacramental Christianity to simply remain faithful to what it is. That struggle is significant, simply for the fact that it takes place within a dominant culture that is largely its antithesis.

A complicating factor in this struggle is the fact that the dominant culture (naturalistic/secular) has taken up traditional Christian vocabulary and changed its meaning. This creates a situation in which classical Christianity is in constant need of defining and understanding its own language in contradistinction to the prevailing cultural mind. The most simple terms, “faith, belief, Baptism, Communion, icon, forgiveness, sin, repentance,” are among those things that have to be consistently re-defined. Every conversation outside a certain circle requires this effort, and, even within that circle, things are not always easy.

Such an effort might seem exhausting. The only position of relaxation within the culture is the effortless agreement with what the prevailing permutations tell us on any given day. Human instinct tends towards the effortless life – and the secular mentality constantly reassures us that only the effortless life is normal. Indeed, “normal, ordinary, common,” and such terms, are all words invented by modernity as a self-description. Such concepts are utterly absent from the world of Scripture. Oddly, no one lived a “normal” life until relatively recently.

That which is “normal” is nothing of the sort. It is the purblind self-assurance that all is well when nothing is well.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, emphasis added)

So, among other (much more important) things, I should not be surprised that “the sacramental world of classical Christianity” was unknown to Justice Stevens, just as it is “unknown to almost all.”

This does nothing to relieve my concerns about his false metanarrative making its way into Supreme Court precedents. I can only hope that it’s seen as the obiter dicta that it is.

* * * * *

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.

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The PCA and The Nashville Statement

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

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

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

Jake Meador

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

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

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

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

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

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

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