Theology vs. Academic Theology
Theologians, like all academics, have to keep coming up with original things to say. If you just kept repeating the words you received from your old professors, it would get you nowhere. What you need is fresh, even daring, new material. And that means theology will always be in flux.
A venerable Catholic theologian once told me, with great irritation, “Lay people don’t understand what theology is!” They think it’s set in stone, he said, but it’s always evolving and progressing. He seemed to think that theology was something lay people could never hope to keep up with. Their meddling was annoying. They should get out of the way, and wait for the professionals to tell them what the new thinking is.
Theology has a completely different basis in Orthodoxy. It doesn’t change, because it is the faith taught by the Apostles themselves; Orthodoxy is the unbroken continuation of the Church founded by Christ, and carried by the Apostles into the world. We do keep repeating the words we received from our teachers and elders in Christ. Orthodoxy doesn’t need updating, because it provides everything a person needs to be saturated with the presence of God (a process called “theosis”). It fits the needs of every human being like water and air do, no matter what culture or time.
Do take note of that first paragraph. Heresy is baked right into the cake of academic theology as presently structured. And that’s an insight that is baked pretty deeply into my bones now. Calling a theological writing “novel” is generally a powerful insult in Orthodoxy.
Not following which faith?
People often talk to me about their adult children who are not following the Lord. I think they want to introduce them to me, as if my brand of wacky Miss Frizzle theologian would inspire them to follow Jesus (reader, I am not that compelling). I have started to ask these folks, which faith do you think your children are longer following? Tell me about it. Was it perhaps one that promised that Jesus would be primarily a place where they got their psychological needs met? Did you raise them to believe that middle-class respectability and good religious feelings were the goal of following Christ? Did you teach them how to suffer?
Classical Liberalism or Postliberalism?
Over a busy weekend (my final choral concert of the Spring), I almost forgot to share two very civil and worthwhile (opening?) arguments on how conservative Christians should behave in 2022:
- The Opening Volley: James R. Wood, How I Evolved on Tim Keller
- The Response: David French, A Critique of Tim Keller Reveals the Moral Devolution of the New Christian Right
Apart from the response’s resonance with my lifelong habits of thought, I think the response convincingly shows that the opening volley’s premise that we’ve recently entered “negative world” (cultural hostility to Christianity, which the coiner of the term thinks follows a long stretch of American approbation of Christianity and a few decades of neutrality) is dubious if not mythical. The folks who are more openly hostile now were just subtler before. I fear I greeted the original “negative world” theory with a lot of confirmation bias.
And of course, this debate, nominally about Tim Keller’s approach to politics, is a microcosm of the much larger argument, widely contested among self-identified Christians, about classical liberalism (French) versus some manner of postliberalism (Wood). Don’t cabin this argument.
Update: Rod Dreher weighs in against French, failing badly if he was trying to cover himself in glory instead of just waving the tribal flag. I wonder if American Conservative would give him a sabbatical while he works through a few things? I wonder if it would really make things better if they did.
The impending “reversal of Roe“
The salutary political consequences
Peggy Noonan goes a bit meta on the consequences if SCOTUS “reverses Roe“:
[Roe] left both parties less healthy. The Democrats locked into abortion as party orthodoxy, let dissenters know they were unwelcome, pushed ever more extreme measures to please their activists, and survived on huge campaign donations from the abortion industry itself. Republican politicians were often insincere on the issue, and when sincere almost never tried to explain their thinking and persuade anyone. They took for granted and secretly disrespected their pro-life groups, which consultants regularly shook down for campaign cash. They ticked off the “I’m pro-life” box in speeches, got applause and went on to talk about the deficit. They were forgiven a great deal because of their so-called stand, and this contributed, the past 25 years, to the party’s drift.
Abortion distorted both parties.
Advice now, especially for Republican men, if Roe indeed is struck down: Do not be your ignorant selves. Do not, as large dumb misogynists, start waxing on about how if a woman gets an illegal abortion she can be jailed. Don’t fail to embrace compromise because you can make money on keeping the abortion issue alive. I want to say “Just shut your mouths,” but my assignment is more rigorous. It is to have a heart. Use the moment to come forward as human beings who care about women and want to give families the help they need. Align with national legislation that helps single mothers to survive. Support women, including with child-care credits that come in cash and don’t immediately go to child care, to help mothers stay at home with babies. Shelters, classes in parenting skills and life skills. All these exist in various forms: make them better, broader, bigger.
This is an opportunity to change your party’s reputation.
Democrats too. You have been given a gift and don’t know it. You think, “Yes, we get a hot new issue for 2022!” But you always aggress more than you think. The gift is that if, as a national matter, the abortion issue is removed, you could be a normal party again. You have no idea, because you don’t respect outsiders, how many people would feel free to join your party with the poison cloud dispersed. You could be something like the party you were before Roe: liberal on spending and taxation, self-consciously the champion of working men and women, for peace and not war. As you were in 1970.
Or, absent the emotionally cohering issue of abortion, you can choose to further align with extremes within the culture, and remain abnormal.
But the end of Roe could be a historic gift for both parties, a chance to become their better selves.
How will the court “reverse Roe“?
Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast persuaded me, without saying it in so many words, that Alito’s first draft won’t be his last. He has a bit of a needle to thread (the needle is oxymoronically named “Substantive Due Process”) and the first draft doesn’t persuasively thread it.
The main article in Friday’s Morning Dispatch also covers the question of unenumerated rights that might theoretically be at risk if the opinion doesn’t get the reasoning right.
My own opinion (caveat: I’m retired and rusty on legal analysis, and my opinion has been clarified only recently by thinking harder than before about stare decisis) is that:
- almost all the cases recognizing unenumerated rights over the last 60 years have been bogus, the right to marry across lines of “race” (Loving v. Virginia) being the only exception I can think of readily;
- of the remaining bogus decisions (Griswold, Lawrence, Obergefell) I can think of none that require reversal under the considerations that come into play in stare decisis. That’s another way of saying that “wrongly decided” (or “bogus”) doesn’t necessarily imply “should be reversed”; it’s more complicated than that.
The latest theme on the political left is that the Supreme Court Justices who might overturn Roe v. Wade are at war with democracy. It’s a strange argument, since overturning Roe would merely return abortion policy to the states for political debate in elections and legislatures. That’s the definition of democracy.
Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. Most Editorial Board editorials aren’t worth reading, but that first paragraph was at least concise. The rest of the editorial? Meh.
American progressives, and some on the right, have convinced themselves that legal abortion will disappear the moment the Supreme Court reverses its Roe v. Wade precedent. Since the Court is contemplating this, readers might appreciate examples from democracies that have grappled with this difficult issue without nine Justices to tell them what to do.
We mean Europe, where abortion is legal in most countries, usually with limits that are more strict than America’s and generally as a result of democratic choice.
Wall Street Journal Editorial Board separately.
Worth your time
The other stuff
An artefact of sensible times
For those curious, the Fifth Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals] is holding its conference in Nashville because, apparently, there are no facilities large enough in Mississippi to host this confab.
Update: I have since been reliably informed that judicial conferences are not held in Mississippi for another reason: all of the hotels large enough in the state are attached to casinos, and some rule prohibits holding judicial functions in places attached to casinos. As a result, several hotels in Mississippi are large enough, but due to the casinos, none are not suitable.
An interesting rule from the days when people were smart enough to know that casinos are disreputable. They still are — as is commercial gambling on sports.
But we’ve decided to monetize vice, often with the promise that the revenue will fund schools. Monetizing vice does indeed “school” children, but not in any good way.
Surviving big cultural disasters
Having an inner life is how we can survive if the world falls apart … It’s how people have endured and thrived living under authoritarian regimes … If a populist regime … is in the cards, it’s time to become bird-watchers and hikers and readers of classics and take care of our friends and children and ignore the ignorance and cruelty afar.
Garrison Keillor, with some historic particulars elided. Some of the elisions may leave the impression that Keillor is opposed to all populism, though I don’t know that. I’d like to think there could be a populism that isn’t ignorant and cruel, though I see few signs of one yet.
Facing the end of life
I realize that we are all circling around the Airport of Death, but it just seems to me that if you take that step [moving to a retirement community] it means that you are entering your landing pattern. I think that I will rather just live until I die.
At 73, I think I’ve fairly realistically reckoned with my mortality at last.
But that can be dangerous; you mustn’t just sit and wait for the grim reaper when getting up and moving could keep him away a bit longer. Sloth is a sin even for oldsters. And even if moving hurts a bit.
- the right place to be is surely in the woods, or in a monastery. Or in a monastery in the woods.
- All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.