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.

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?

* * * * *

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

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

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.

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

The PCA and The Nashville Statement

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

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

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

Jake Meador

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

When the word loses its dignity

Among a handful of classic books I try to re-read ever few years is Josef Pieper’s Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power.

Today was my first re-reading post-Trump. It’s not a perfect fit because Donald Trump, whatever he is, is not a skilled sophist. He’s more a purveyor of word salads and transparent, self-contradictory lies.

But it’s still worth pondering a few nuggets from Pieper’s discussion.

  • All the evil deeds in this world since Adam and eve have been justified with good reasons. (Hegel)
  • Word and language form the medium that sustains the common existence of the human spirit as such.
  • Can a lie be taken as communication? I tend to deny it. A lie is the opposite of communication. It means specifically to withhold the other’s share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality.
  • Because you are not interested in reality, you are unable to converse. You can give fine speeches, but you simply cannot join in a conversation; you are incapable of dialogue!
  • Mundus vult decipi.
  • The degradation of man through man, alarmingly evident in the acts of physical violence committed by all tyrannies (concentration camps, torture), has its beginning, certainly much less alarmingly, at that almost imperceptible moment when the word loses its dignity.

Abuse of language is a deathwork (“But, hey!: Gorsuch and Kavanaugh!”); Pieper’s unmasking of it a lifework.

* * * * *

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

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

Twiblings

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Yes, there are two buns in hired ovens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

Ephemera, 2/12/19

1

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

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

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

Leah Wright Rigueur

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

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

3

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

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

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

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

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

4

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

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

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

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

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

5

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

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

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

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

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

6

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

Dean: Yes.

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

Dean: Yes, it seems dangerous.

Parent: Then why do it?

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua Gibbs

7

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

8

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

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

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items. Frankly, it’s kind of becoming my main blog. If you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly.