Church and State, but not Church/State

Where religion and politics meet

David French is not happy with his co-religionists, who he provincially calls “the Church”:

… core biblical values are contingent, but support for Donald Trump is not …

We’re way, way past concerns for the church’s “public witness.” We’re way past concerns over whether the “reputation” of the church will survive this wave of insanity. There is no other way to say this. A significant movement of American Christians—encouraged by the president himself—is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic.

It’s clear now that when many of those people declared Trump to be “God’s anointed” they did not mean that his presidency was “instituted by God” in the same manner as other governing authorities, as described in Romans 13. (By conventional Christian reasoning, Joe Biden’s upcoming presidency is also instituted by God.)

No, they believe that Trump had a special purpose and a special calling, and that this election defeat is nothing less than a manifestation of a Satanic effort to disrupt God’s plan for this nation. They were not “holding their nose” to support him. They were deeply, spiritually, and personally invested in his political success.

We know that mainstream American Christian leaders can unite to condemn secular and progressive movements and ideas they find biblically problematic. For example, late last month the presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries united to declare that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”

As I’ve written, critical race theory has its uses and its flaws, but I wonder—how many critical race theorists are in conservative Christian pews? But how many more election conspiracy theorists and Christian nationalists are sitting right there, including in my own denomination, fervently believing lies and fervently praying for actions and outcomes that are fundamentally unjust?

Simply put, there should be at least as much concern about injustice and sin from the religious right as from the secular left.

David French, The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism

French’s column (along with Damon Linker’s gimlet-eyed identification of Trump as “demonic”) has me musing about whether Donald Trump qualifies for the title “AntiChrist” according to the standards of those who obsess over identifying AntiChrist.

And French’s labeling of Christianish Trumpists as part of “the church” reinforces my skepticism about Evangelical ecclesiology (French is Evangelical or at least Evangelical-adjacent; I think he’d choose the former) — about the possibility of Christ’s Church being so expansive as to take in delusional political freaks whose main interest in Christ seems to be His political utility.

Sigh! It’s none of my business to stake out the boundaries of the Church, but I can understand the reflex “if this is Christianity, I want no part of it.” I wish I could say “this is not, in any sense, Christianity,” but I can’t. I can (and do below) say something else that’s just as decisive for me.


Evangelicalism has figured out how to avoid the numerical decline besetting many religions: become so identified with Republican politics that people whose Lord and Savior is the GOP will self-identify as “Evangelical,” albeit without darkening the doors of church. For instance,

for 2008, 2012, and 2016 low attending evangelicals all start in basically the same spot – 35–40% conservative. But look at the solid pink line representing the data from 2019. Nearly half of self-identified evangelicals who never go to church identified as conservative (a jump of basically ten points).

the most religiously devout evangelical in 2019 is a bit less likely to be conservative than a devout evangelical from 2008.

Ryan P. Burge, So, Why is Evangelicalism Not Declining? Because Non-Attenders Are Taking On the Label (Religion in Public).

Burge, by the way, is becoming huge in social scientific scrutiny of American religion.


I left frank Evangelicalism in my late 20s over the issue of dispensationalism, which I perceived as so pervasive as to almost define Evangelicalism. (I left basically as soon as I discovered that my skepticism about dispensationalist prophecy porn — “Rapture crap” — was shared by others, serious Calvinists, who were not compromising with unbelief.)

At age 49, I was Orthodox, no longer Calvinist, and thus not even “Evangelical-adjacent.”

So I cannot begin to persuade Evangelical Trumpists to repent their folly.

So why do I rail against them as if I could change their minds?

Partly because I persist in the increasingly-implausible instinct that some of them are sane and sincere. But probably a bigger part is performative: I want the world to know that I am not an Evangelical, that Evangelicalsm is well out of the historic Christian mainstream (in its prophecy obsession, yes, but more in its rejection of liturgy and sacrament), and that disgust with Evangelicalism (and Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse, for that matter) does not necessitate rejection of Christianity or adoption of some sort of me-and-Jesus-who-needs-Church delusion.

I other words, when all else fails, consider Orthodoxy. If there’s no Orthodox Church nearby, that’s curable in many cases.


I include this from Evangelical-leaning Anglican Alan Jacobs because he identifies an ascendant Evangelical vice:

There is no infallible means for discerning when a religious believer has been spoken to, directly and personally, by God. However, there is a reliable way to disconfirm such a claim. When a person demands that other people immediately accept that he has been spoken to by God, and treats with insult and contempt those who do not acknowledge his claim to unique revelation, then we can be sure that no genuine message has been received, and that the voice echoing in that person’s mind is not that of God but that of his own ego.

Alan Jacobs again, testing the spirits.

I suspect this has to do with Saturday’s “Jericho Marches,” which started with some guy who claimed that God told him to do it. I don’t recall whether he claimed that God told him that all Real Christians® must join him.


Evangelicals aren’t the only ones mucking about in political matters.

With America facing a bitterly divisive election, Episcopal Church leaders did what they do in tense times — they held a National Cathedral service rallying the Washington, D.C., establishment.

This online “Holding onto Hope” service featured a Sikh filmmaker, a female rabbi from Chicago, the Islamic Society of North America’s former interfaith relations director, the female presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a Jesuit priest known for promoting LGBTQ tolerance and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Our ideals, values, principles and dreams of beloved community matter,” said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the church’s first African-American leader. “They matter to our life as a nation and as a world. Our values matter!”

This was the kind of rite – think National Public Radio at prayer – a church can offer when its history includes 11 U.S. presidents and countless legislators and judges from coast to coast.

Continuing its recent trends, “relevance” isn’t working for the ECUSA much better in 2020 than in other recent decades — witness the title Terrifying statistics from 2019 offer another Groundhog Day jolt for Episcopalians — GetReligion

Law and politics, straight up

When conservatives defend their fight to overturn the election as an answer to the way Democrats reacted to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, they are correct in the sense that most of their arguments and proposed tactics have antecedents on the liberal side …

The difference, though, is that the right’s fantasy has been embraced from the start by a Republican president (Hillary Clinton was a follower rather than a leader in calling Trump “illegitimate”), and it has penetrated much faster and further into the apparatus of Republican politics. In January 2017, only a handful of Democratic backbenchers objected to Congress’s certification of Trump’s election. But you can find the name of the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, on a brief supporting the ridiculous Texas lawsuit.

The Texas lawsuit didn’t torch any city blocks, but all those congressional signatures on the amicus brief did make it feel like something more than just another meme. The crucial question it raises is whether people can be fed on fantasies forever — or whether once enough politicians have endorsed dreampolitik, the pressure to make the dream into reality will inexorably build.

Ross Douthat, The Texas Lawsuit and the Age of Dreampolitik


On Saturday, a federal district court judge in Wisconsin issued an opinion explaining why, on the merits, Texas’s substantive arguments were without merit. And, as occurred on the Supreme Court, a judge appointed by President Trump, Brett Ludwig, ruled against him.

Some Trump supporters are inclined to suggest the campaign’s court losses are the result of progressive judicial activism or #Resistance judging. This is nonsense. Dozens of election suits have been filed, and dozens of judges of all political stripes and judicial philosophies have ruled against the claims put forward by the Trump campaign and its allies. In this case, the opinion was written by a judge appointed by President Trump in September. Trump and his allies claim they want their legal claims heard by judges who will apply the law. They have been.

Jonathan Adler, Another Court Loss for Trump Campaign in Wisconsin


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

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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

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).

Brave New World and its enemies

COME AND TAKE MY TURKEY, Ted Cruz exclaimed in one of the most asinine tweets ever shared on a platform that specializes in asininity. Dan Crenshaw said that Thanksgiving COVID restrictions should be met with organized resistance from individuals and businesses that feel unfairly oppressed. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) echoed this call to flout the law, applauding a sheriff who is choosing not to enforce it. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) wanted to prove that he could put on his big-boy pants by himself this year, saying “I will do whatever I want on Thanksgiving.”

Well here’s the deal, Chip and Lee and Dan and Ted: We all want to do what we want this Thanksgiving. But one thing that most people have learned by the time they are adults is that they don’t get to do whatever they want whenever they want. And this year, we are in the middle of a fucking pandemic that has killed over 260,000 people and is once again starting to overwhelm hospitals around the country, so our wants and desires conflict with the broader interests of our nation. It’s a concept that grown men would understand.

There’s No War on Thanksgiving – The Bulwark


[Aaron] said that he and his wife don’t allow their children to have smartphone access, and are criticized for it by others in their community. It’s as if the adults have decided among themselves that protecting their children from the basilisk is too hard, so they’ve agreed, however subconsciously, to shame any parents who don’t surrender.

Aaron told me that he is grateful to this blog for many things. One thing he said stuck with me: that it reminds him that he is not crazy, that the things he sees really are happening, that he is a sane man in a world gone mad.

Rod Dreher, A Sane Man In A World Gone Mad


What happens when Biden reaches the White House? That’s a doctrinal, as well as political, question. The debate centers, in part, on a Catholic Catechism statement: “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.”

“Grave” is a crucial term, since Catholic Canon Law states that those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The current Catholic leader in Washington, D.C., is Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who on Nov. 28th will become the first African-American cardinal. He told Catholic News Service that Biden received communion during his years as vice president and, “I’m not going to veer from that.”

Gregory pledged to maintain a dialogue in which “we can discover areas where we can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree.”

Biden and the US bishops: Compromise crafted by ‘Uncle Ted’ McCarrick still in place — GetReligion

Parody

Wilton D. Gregory, the new cardinal-designate of Washington, D.C. said he would not prevent Joseph Biden, the Catholic president-presumptive who promotes abortion, from receiving Communion in the archdiocese.

“Hey, I’m a bureaucrat,” said the cardinal-designate. “It’s not as though I were a shepherd of souls or anything. If the gentleman is in peril of damnation, it’s no skin off my nose.” A twinkle in his eye, he added “We call that being pastoral.”

The cardinal-designate continued, “I don’t highlight one issue or another. It’s no different than if he supported, say, infanticide or the sexual abuse of minors.” He said that disagreements about such things as are part of “being a family, a family of faith.”

“Informed Catholics won’t be confused,” he asserted. “They’re smart. They don’t need me to tell them what the Church teaches.” When the interviewer asked about canon law, which specifies that anyone who facilitates abortion automatically incurs excommunication latae sententiae (just by the fact of doing so), the cardinal-designate replied “See? Like I said. You knew that already.”

The cardinal-designate declared, “The difficulty is that too many people want to call some Catholics unfaithful just because they discredit the faith of the Church. Like the Pope says, who am I to judge?”

“Besides,” he concluded, “non-Catholics and uninformed Catholics will respect the Church more if it doesn’t stand for anything.”

(See: In Washington, With New President, Cardinal-Designate Hopes For Dialogue)

J. Budziszewski, Parody: Cardinal-Designate Hopes for Dialogue with President-Presumptive | http://undergroundthomist.com


I just re-read Brave New World, which I consider a far more prescient dystopia than 1984.

It must have been decades since I last read it — time goes fast at my age — because I remembered so little of it. For instance, I did not remember the story of Linda and John — a big omission — or the Fordian Mass, a Neo-pagan mash-up of eucharistic worship and orgy.

In the revelatory meeting of the Savage and his fordship Mustapha Mond, I found again and again intimations of contemporary arguments I’ve read recently. Our society doesn’t look much like Huxley’s in many ways, but there are a few similarities.

“Have you read it too?” he asked. “I thought nobody knew about that book here, in England.” “Almost nobody. I’m one of the very few. It’s prohibited, you see. But as I make the laws here, I can also break them … “But why is it prohibited?” asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else. The Controller shrugged his shoulders. “Because it’s old; that’s the chief reason. We haven’t any use for old things here.” “Even when they’re beautiful?” “Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.” “But the new ones are so stupid and horrible. Those plays, where there’s nothing but helicopters flying about and you feel the people kissing.” He made a grimace. “Goats and monkeys!” Only in Othello’s words could he find an adequate vehicle for his contempt and hatred.

The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.” “Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.” “But they don’t mean anything.” “They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.” “But they’re . . . they’re told by an idiot.”


Even more than its dramatic and mystical worship, Orthodoxy is most at odds with this world in its fasts. The fundamental orientation of our modern Western world is: more, faster. There are left-wing versions of this and right-wing versions of this, and you can find them within plenty of churches. My own biases — in both my convictions and my instincts — pull me to the right, which means that I tend to be moralistic and intellectual in my Christianity. There is nothing wrong with having strong morals and cultivating the mind, but Christianity cannot be summed up in either a moral code or a philosophy (though there is a Christian moral code, and there are Christian approaches to philosophy). But that is not the whole of the Christian life and calling …

Similarly for those Christians whose biases draw them to what we identify as the political left, it is good to stand up for the weak (as Christ did), and to bring skepticism to the way we apply traditional moral codes (as Christ did, for example, when he challenged the mob about to stone the adulteress). But if we make idols of the weak and oppressed, forgetting that they too are sinners in need of a life-transforming encounter with the Word Made Flesh, or if we forget that Christ did not negate the Law, but rather fulfilled it, then we will fall short of the harmony to which we are all called.

So much of our religious anxiety is really about having to figure out how we can avoid doing the things we know we must, while still being obedient to God. We become religious minimalists, giving God only as much as we need to do to appease him, while keeping as much as we can for ourselves. This, as opposed to desiring as God himself desires. This, as opposed to living in reality.

Reconciling With The Really Real


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

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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

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).

Catch-up collation, 11/22/20

She deserves to be confirmed—not least because of the ugly campaign against her.

Judy Shelton’s Heresy – WSJ

Sorry, guys, but this is the kind of dumbass argument that would have resulted in Trump’s re-election because he, too, vile though he be, suffered ugly, delusional and obsessive Resistance.

“Owning the Libs” isn’t a good enough reason to confirm her if she is a flake.


With the country’s polarization deepening and Congress likely gridlocked, presidents on both sides of the aisle have relied on executive orders (EOs) to push key parts of their agendas. According to the American Presidency Project, President Bill Clinton averaged 46 executive orders per year during his term. President George W. Bush averaged 36, Obama 35, and Trump 51. (All of these figures are down dramatically from the mid-20th century, when President Herbert Hoover averaged 242 EOs per year and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt averaged 307.)

The Morning Dispatch

That Presidents are using fewer Executive Orders than in the past surprises me quite a lot.


As of Tuesday night, the Trump campaign and its allies were—by Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias’ count—1 for 26 in their post-election lawsuits; the vast, vast majority of their claims of widespread voting irregularities or fraud have been rejected or dismissed by judges across the country.

The president’s main problem? He’s got his order of operations backward. Typically in litigation, plaintiffs will carefully and thoroughly collect evidence and build a compelling narrative that supports their case. Trump, conversely, started with the conclusion—that the election was stolen from him—and now his (dwindling supply of) lawyers are scrambling to backfill that claim with evidence that, thus far, does not exist.

One Pennsylvania lawsuit looking to stop the certification of results in the state, for example, was filed with only the promise of unearthing evidence of massive amounts of voter fraud at some point in the future. “Voters are currently compiling analytical evidence of illegal voting from data they already have and are in the process of obtaining,” the plaintiffs write. “They intend to produce this evidence at the evidentiary hearing to establish that sufficient illegal ballots were included in the results to change or place in doubt the November 3 presidential election results.”

Because Trump and his allies are working backward from his “stolen election” claim, no amount of evidence to the contrary will shake them. On November 12, Trump asserted that, once Georgia underwent a recount, he would win the state. Well, Georgia election officials ordered a recount, and Biden is still going to win the state. So now Trump is adamant that the “Fake recount going on in Georgia means nothing” and the real problem is a consent decree about ballot signatures that both parties agreed to back in March. Once that inevitably fizzles, it’ll be something else.

At some level, Trump’s self-deception is both entirely expected and entirely meaningless. Joe Biden will be sworn in on January 20 and the world will move on.

But the president’s refusal to budge from his conspiratorial alternate reality is wreaking havoc in its wake—and not just by grinding the transition process to a halt. Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, said on November 8 that his office has received death threats for not buying into widespread election fraud conspiracies. Trump targeted him on Twitter three days later. After Trump—and GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue—went after Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, he and his wife have been dealing with death threats, too.

And on Tuesday night, one of the most widely respected members of the Trump administration—CISA Director Chris Krebs—got the axe for doing his job: Protecting the integrity of the election and debunking misinformation about the electoral process, both foreign and domestic. The “Rumor Control” and “#Protect2020” websites his agency spearheaded have, by all accounts, been nothing but successful. “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history,” a joint statement from the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee read last week.

Krebs’ reward? “Effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency,” Trump tweeted just after 7 p.m. Tuesday. Krebs’ deputy reportedly resigned after the move as well, leaving Brandon Wales—a Krebs ally—as likely acting director.

The Morning Dispatch


[C]anceling student loan debt would be a massive unforced error for the newly minted Biden administration. It would show that one of the new Democratic president’s highest priorities during a pandemic and a destabilizing economic shock is to provide a bailout to people who are overwhelmingly likely to end up as members of the upper-middle class. It would amount to a transfer payment from contractors and service workers to high-earning knowledge workers and other white-collar employees. As such, it would also accelerate trends in the Democratic Party that would leave it vulnerable to a Republican Party increasingly trying to rebrand itself as a champion of the working class.

As economist Thomas Piketty and others have pointed out in recent years, center-left political parties suffer at the ballot-box when they come to represent the interests of the upper-middle class at the expense of the working class, allowing the nationalist-populist right to make inroads with the latter. This has happened in a series of European countries in recent years, and it’s happening in the U.S. as well, with the Democrats enjoying surging support in inner-ring suburbs but losing ground in working-class, exurban, and rural areas.

Damon Linker, The class folly of canceling student loans

I cannot endorse Linker’s view heartily enough. The Democrats need not only to avoid too hard a swerve leftward, but they need to avoid clamorous calls like this that will more securely lock workers into an increasingly insane GOP. But considering how little of the progrressive left is “POC”, how much white college grads, I may be repeating myself.


The fact that such a proposal would disproportionately benefit high-earning professionals does not make it a bad one. But it should be expanded into a debt jubilee that would cancel all obligations up to the same five-figure sum proposed by Schumer: credit cards, auto loans, remaining mortgage balances, and, especially, medical debts, which should be discharged without any limit.

Matthew Walther, America needs a real debt jubilee

I haven’t kept score, but it seems to me that, like Babe Ruth, Walther always swings for the fence and thus whiffs a lot.


It would take a heart of stone not to laugh as Trump finally turns on the real Judas in his eyes: Fox News (where I’m a contributor). The network, Trump tweeted, “forgot what made them successful, what got them there. They forgot the Golden Goose. The biggest difference between the 2016 Election, and 2020, was @FoxNews!”

Never mind that Fox was No. 1 in every time slot more than a decade before Trump descended that escalator in 2015. Never mind that for four years, Trump began his day with his Presidential Daily Brief—Fox and Friends—and ended it with the primetime gang. And never mind that Trump and the opinion side of the network remain in a deeply codependent relationship.

Trump didn’t get the unwavering, full-throated praise he needed, so now he’s thinking about creating a competing network, one without all the obvious anti-Trump bias!

[T]he one thing we won’t ever feel about the Trump presidency is nostalgia—not least because he won’t really be gone. Even after he leaves the White House, he’ll be fighting for himself—and making sure we hear him—for the rest of his days.

Jonah Goldberg, Donald Trump Will Never Stop Fighting—For Himself – The Dispatch (emphasis added)


Since 2016, America’s international reputation has been transformed. No longer the world’s most admired democracy, our political system is more often perceived as uniquely dysfunctional, and our leaders as notably dangerous. Poll after poll shows that respect for America is not just plummeting, but also turning into something very different. Some 70 percent of South Koreans and more than 60 percent of Japanese—two nations whose friendship America needs in order to push back against Chinese influence in Asia—view the U.S. as a “major threat.” In Germany, our key ally in Europe, far more people fear Trump than fear Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, or North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Anne Applebaum, The Post-Trump World Will Never Go Back to Normal – The Atlantic

How sad is that.

Related topic: As we once surpassed Great Britain, so China appears destined to surpass us economically. What are we going to do to maintain leadership in other realms?


I keep forgetting to acknowledge that the “Evangelicals” who deeply drank the Trump Kool-Aid would not even have been considered Evangelicals in my youth. They are Prosperity Gospel pentecostals, arguably heretics, the closest analogy in my youth being Oral Roberts — who we did not then consider Evangelical in my circles.

This is not, of course, an endorsement of what I consider true Evangelicals. American Evangelicalism at its very, very best — far better than I experienced growing up — was described by the late Tom Howard in his spiritual biography, Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament. Though Howard walked the Roman road, I  to Constantinople (Orthodoxy), the arguments for either are almost indistinguishable when it comes to the superiority of liturgy and sacrament over Evangelical worship variations.


I have been an engaged Christian for over half my life now, but I have never once tried to evangelize directly. Some people have that gift; I do not. I have not ever been offended when someone tried to share their faith with me, but I have also resisted those conversations. Why? Because fair or not, I have always regarded them as people trying to befriend me for instrumental reasons. They’re not interested in me as I am; they are only interested in me as a potential convert. It’s like they’re trying to secure my vote for Jesus, or something.

Again, I have never held it against them; how else would you evangelize if you didn’t take the risk of coming off that way? But I was also not the slightest bit interested in what they had to say. Had we become friends first, and I had come to trust in their care for me, then I might have been open to hearing them out. Not before, though.

A reader e-mailed the other day to say he is not a Christian, but asked why I became one … I seem to recall that he wasn’t asking me to tell my conversion story …, but rather to say why I think he should become a Christian.

I don’t want to make an apologetic argument. There are many of those, done by people far better at that than I am. The reader’s query has bobbed to the surface in my mind over the past few days, and made me think more deeply about what it was that made me feel that if I was going to live in truth, I had to become a Christian — and not just a Christian, but the kind of Christian I became. What I’ll say here is not intended to be an apologetic, but just some musing on what seized my imagination, and compelled me to convert. I’m not interested in offering propositions and syllogisms. I only want to talk about the core experience that opened my eyes, and then my heart, to God.

It begins in awe. That is the primordial experience of religion: becoming intensely aware of the numinous realm, and one’s need to establish a relationship to it …

“When I saw God, as religions seemed to want me to see God, as an all-seeing supernatural entity with a great personal interest in my life and behaviour, laying down laws, demanding worship and promising me an afterlife in return, I had no interest, and still don’t. I don’t believe it. But when, later, I began to see that perhaps this was a common human interpretation of an experience of something greater than the individual ego – when I began to understand that all religions and all spiritual traditions have their mystics who had interpreted this great spirit, this Dao, this experience of the divine, very differently – then I began to see that perhaps it was something I could understand after all. I began to see that perhaps what some people call God, or the sacred, or the divine, was what I experienced as some power, some strange greatness, immanent in the wild world around me.

“In other words, perhaps I do after all understand the perpetual human search for the sacred, whether I can adequately explain it or not, and I think I may know why it still matters, despite my culture’s frantic attempts to convince me otherwise. I have experienced the feelings that charge the concept with so much electricity. It’s just that I have never experienced them in places that people designate as holy.”

The Rose Window & The Labyrinth – Daily Dreher (embedded quote by Paul Kingsnorth)

I addressed Evangelicalism above, but it now occurs to me that it rarely “begins in awe … the primordial experience of religion: becoming intensely aware of the numinous realm, and one’s need to establish a relationship to it.” Evangelical conversions are almost always directed more toward eternal self-preservation, since there’s little awesome or numinous in Evangelical life.


When I speak to former colleagues of mine who are—or were—in the Republican sphere that includes Graham, the conversation about “what happened to Lindsey Graham?” usually ends with the conclusion that he is scared to death of what life would be like if he wasn’t a U.S. senator.

In an interview in February 2019, Graham was asked why he had such a dramatic shift of allegiance towards Donald Trump. His answer: “From my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this.” When asked what “this ” meant, he said “try to be relevant.”

It seems that for Graham, changing one’s operational code to fit the political climate so as to stay close to power is not just acceptable—it’s part of his inherent identity ….

Nicholas Connors, Lindsey Graham Is the Worst – The Bulwark


The true threat for the Church … comes … from the universal dictatorship of apparently humanistic ideologies. Anyone who contradicts this dictatorship is excluded from the basic consensus of society. One hundred years ago, anyone would have thought it absurd to speak of homosexual matrimony. Today those who oppose it are socially excommunicated. The same holds true for abortion and the production of human beings in the laboratory ….

Antonio Socci, Benedict XVI Warns of a New Totalitarianism (OnePeterFive)


What we are witnessing is a power grab carried out chiefly by some white Americans against other white Americans. The goal of the new woke national establishment, the successor to the old Northeastern mainline Protestant establishment that was temporarily displaced by the neo-Jacksonian New Deal Democratic coalition, is to stigmatize, humiliate and disempower recalcitrant Southern, Catholic, and Jewish whites, along with members of ethnic and racial minorities who refuse to be assimilated into the new national orthodoxy disseminated from New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the prestigious private universities of New England. Properly understood, the Great Awokening is the revenge of the Yankees.

Michael Lind, The Revenge of the Yankees – Tablet Magazine


Another claim Mr. Giuliani referenced related to the delivery, in the middle of the night after Election Day, of boxes of ballots to the counting headquarters—several affidavits in the state lawsuit claimed these boxes were unmarked and unsealed. Judge Kenny dismissed those allegations as “generalized speculation.”

Mr. Giuliani was joined at the news conference by Sidney Powell, an attorney who has represented Michael Flynn, the former Trump administration national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now trying to reverse the plea.

Ms. Powell aired accusations of foreign interference in the election, which she also claimed had been rigged by “communist money” from Cuba and China and through a plot concocted by Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader who died in 2013, and the financier George Soros.

Mr. Giuliani said he had viewed hundreds of affidavits in Michigan and Pennsylvania that proved fraud, though he said he couldn’t reveal most of them because the accusers wanted to remain anonymous.

Trump Legal Team Claims Broad Conspiracy to Manipulate Election – WSJ


No hard evidence of widespread fraud, no success in the courts or prospect of it. You can have a theory that a bad thing was done, but only facts will establish it. You need to do more than what Rudy Giuliani did at his news conference Thursday, which was throw out huge, barely comprehensible allegations and call people “crooks.” You need to do more than Sidney Powell, who, at the same news conference, charged that “communist money” is behind an international conspiracy to rig the U.S. election. There was drama, hyperbole, perhaps madness. But the wilder the charges, the more insubstantial the case appeared.

More than two weeks after the election, it’s clear where this is going. The winner will be certified and acknowledged; Joe Biden will be inaugurated. But it’s right to worry about the damage being done on the journey.

What would have happened if the John Birch Society had been online, if it had existed in the internet age when accusations, dark warnings and violent talk can rip through a country in a millisecond and anonymous voices can whip things up for profit or pleasure?

It wouldn’t have faded. It would have prospered.

Peggy Noonan, A Bogus Dispute Is Doing Real Damage – WSJ


Thursday morning, President Trump teased an “Important News Conference” happening later in the afternoon in which his lawyers would lay out a “clear and viable path to victory” because the “pieces are very nicely falling into place.” The only accurate part of the tweet was that a news conference did, indeed, occur. It was just under two hours, and the Trump administration’s recently fired CISA Director Chris Krebs called it “the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history.”

In a statement provided to The Dispatch, Sen. Ben Sasse said that “based on what I’ve read in their filings, when Trump campaign lawyers have stood before courts …, they have repeatedly refused to actually allege grand fraud—because there are legal consequences for lying to judges.”

The Morning Dispatch: Farcical (But Dangerous) Conspiracies From Trump’s Legal Team – The Morning Dispatch


The substitution of the word pendentem for ascendentem occurs only in the later medieval devotional texts of the prayer, and it transforms its whole theological resonance. The Crucifixion is now something which happens to Christ, rather than his triumphal act: he does not ascend the cross, he hangs upon it ….

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars


I strongly believe that George W. Bush was a worse president than Donald Trump, even if we restrict our analysis to his first term. While Trump is more chaotic, Bush was more ideological, was better able to surround himself with staffers competent enough to carry out his worst policy wishes, and simply did considerably more harm to considerably more people.

Many, many people I respect and care about disagree with me about this, quite strongly. In my view, they have a tendency to overweight the importance of mean words and breaches of etiquette relative to actual policy. And surely Bush is better than Trump if the metric is rudeness.

On Donald Trump, George W. Bush, And Moral Luck – Singal-Minded

Count me among those who disagree, though it was Bush’s conversion from “walk humbly” conservatism to hawkish and utopian democracy-spending that led to my leaving the GOP.


We may think that we prefer that the royals can be more informal, more human, what we may get is someone as vulgar as Prince Andrew, with his womanizing and gallivanting with the odious Jeffrey Epstein. Or, to switch to another monarchy, consider Pope Francis, who brought marked informality to the papacy, which, if you ask me, was doing just fine with the papal pomp.

[H]aving made unwise vows, ought [Charles and Diana] both have kept them, at the expense of their happiness[?] I think yes. It is more important that they live out their duty to be what they promised to be, rather than to be what they wanted to be. What if that meant they were miserable together? No one wants a couple to suffer, and certainly no spouse should suffer abuse, including repeated and unrepentant infidelity. But following Dante’s wisdom, if people are not willing to suffer to be faithful to their vows (marital and otherwise), society will disintegrate.

One of the most stunning things anyone ever said to me came a few years ago when I traveled to a Christian college to give a talk about one of my books. I was talking over a meal with some professors, and asked, as is my habit, what are the greatest challenges they see facing their students. I’ll never forget what the professor sitting on my left said: that he did not think many of his students would be able to form stable families.

“Why on earth not?” I asked.

“Because they have never seen one,” he replied. Nods all around the table.

That floored me. These were students at an Evangelical Christian college, yet most of them, according to their teachers, came from broken families. The professors went on to explain that most of the students they talk to about it want to marry and have children, but they are filled with radical doubt about their ability to sustain marriage and family. And why not? Most of the adults in their lives have failed to live up to their marriage vows. They did not believe it was possible.

Rod Dreher, The Pity Of The Royal Marriage – Daily Dreher (commenting on the new season of The Crown on Netflix).


In his interview with Dreher, Vance warned — prophetically — that while Trumpism offered a cheap thrill, the man himself offered nothing to treat the root causes of American despair. He’s the OxyContin of Presidents. At best, he made people understand that their pain was economic as much as cultural. But Vance’s real disappointment with Trump — “the tragedy of his presidency” — is that he encouraged white working class voters to blame others for their problems … But the fact that Vance only made it out by the skin of his teeth — and hillbilly [venture capitalists] remain a rare breed — suggests that merely exhorting the people of Middletown, Ohio, to make better choices isn’t going to do much. As his book makes clear, a poor kid only needs to make a handful of bad choices to fail and 100 good choices to become a success. The opposite is true for rich kids: three of four decent choices all-but guarantee success; you need to continually mess up to truly mess up.

Hillbilly Elegy resents ‘white trash’ – UnHerd


Many readers outside of California will not have heard of Governor Gavin Newsom. But if you need to summon up a mental image, imagine Marie Antoinette without that late Queen’s sense of self-awareness.

That Douglas Murray sure knows how to write an opening paragraph.


the CIA’s “most endangered employee for much of the past year” was the whistleblower who helped launch the impeachment proceedings against the president.

I’ve … never seen anything like the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that’s reigned on the right from the moment that Donald Trump seized the commanding heights of the GOP. I strongly believe this reality explains a great deal of public Republican silence and compliance in the face of even obvious and egregious Trump deceptions, incompetence, and misdeeds. The Trumpist wing of the GOP wields a big stick even as it also offers a rather tasty carrot … if you yield.

… “only cowards don’t conform” is an odd way to define bravery.

Let’s Talk About Fear – The French Press


What I see, and Muñoz seems not to see is that the threat to fundamental American values is not an exclusively radical-left enterprise. A right captured by cruelty and illiberalism is not building a better America, and it’s certainly not building a governing majority. Moreover, it is curious to see Muñoz blithely assert that the radical left is overtaking the Democratic party when large segments of the Democratic party are not only in open revolt against the radical left, the moderate faction soundly defeated the radicals in the Democratic presidential primary—and the radicals know it.

Who represents the greater departure from American political norms? Joe Biden or Donald Trump?

Let’s Talk About Fear – The French Press


I’ve enjoyed the NYT The Argument podcast for a couple of years, but it seems to me that Michelle Goldberg is getting loonier and loonier since Frank Bruni left.


Similarly, Jim Wallis, a patriarch of the Religious Left, was cancelled this year because he declined to publish in Sojourners a hysterical piece accusing the Catholic Church of white supremacy. All of Wallis’s work meant nothing to these zealots. He’s just another old white male who is insufficiently woke.

‘Triumph Of The Hillbilly’ | The American Conservative

Jim Wallis not woke enough for Sojourners?! We are doomed.


The most surprising thing about Liberty’s dream season, however, may be the string of scandals that form the foundation for the school’s success. McCaw resigned from his last job at Baylor amid allegations that his department mishandled sexual-assault allegations involving football players. Head coach Hugh Freeze came to Liberty after resigning at Mississippi over “conduct in his personal life” involving escort services.

Both men were brought to Lynchburg, Va., by Jerry Falwell Jr., the former Liberty president who resigned earlier this year amid a series of scandals that included allegations, which Falwell denied, that he for years watched his wife have sex with another man.

College Football’s Biggest Upset: Liberty University Is Undefeated – WSJ

And fundamentalist parents pay money to send their kids to this fundamentalist school! Any resemblance between postmodern Protestant fundamentalism and “the faith once delivered” is purely coincidental.


Sorry, Jonathan Rausch. You’re a good writer, but Trump’s Firehose of Falsehood is just Steve Bannon’s “flood the zone with shit” cleaned up for family consumption.


One nice thing about the current situation is that it’s making the difference between extremely partisan but fundamentally honest folks like Dreher and Erickson and utter hacks like Metaxas extra clear.

Andrew Egger on Twitter, after Rod Dreher called out Eric Metaxas for breathlessly Tweeting a link to an “actual newspaper” with details of the “election fraud” — a newspaper Dreher knew to be a grocery-store-giveaway from a GOP hack.

There’s a lot, by the way, I don’t like about many of Dreher’s postings at his American Conservative blog, but I don’t think he qualifies as “extremely partisan.” He has worn his ambivalence about the GOP on his sleeve for more than a decade. In the back-and-forth on this Tweet, Egger eventually concedes that.

I also don’t think he’s “far right,” but as (1) that’s the zeitgeist and (2) it’s almost as meaningless as “poopy-head,” I’m not going to die on that hill.


A week ago, we got a complementary copy of an unfamiliar newspaper, the Epoch Times. It seemed conservative in orientation, a bit eccentric in story selection, and anachronistically anti-Communist. I was considering a 3-month subscription as a trial.

Googled it and found that it’s a Falun Gong operation.

I have nothing in particular against Falun Gong, but I refuse to fall into the thought-pattern that the dissidents within an adversary are ipso facto friends. I also don’t seek out the Christian Science Monitor or trust the Washington Times, an operation of the Unification Church.


Republicans are united in the idea that it’s intolerant to attempt to exclude traditional conservative Christians from public office because of their religious beliefs—or even to condemn them as extremists or immoral. To turn around a demand that a Christian pastor of a different church with different beliefs withdraw from politics because of his theology and his sermons are outside of the mainstream in a way that favors the GOP is indeed hypocritical.

But that’s not the end of the inquiry. There still remains the rather important reality that religious beliefs can drive both policy and conduct in office. We all ground our policies and conduct in a particular world view, whether it’s located in a secular philosophy or a religious theology. So if there are unfair ways of evaluating a person’s faith, there are also fair questions we can ask.

So yes, ask Pastor Warnock about American military spending, American military policy or about support for veterans. Ask him if his beliefs would require him to vote against military intervention no matter the stakes. But don’t assume you know the answer to those questions based on 26 seconds of a single sermon—especially when those 26 seconds easily match with conventional Christian beliefs.

It’s a simple reality that religious beliefs often seem strange or inexplicable to those outside the faith (or even outside a specific denomination). And when you’re not steeped in a specific theology, you often have no idea how it will play out in political philosophy. I’m a Christian in the Calvinist reformed tradition, for example, yet I have vigorous public policy disagreements with many of my Calvinist friends.

David French, ‘America, Nobody Can Serve God and the Military’, calling out Republican bullshit like this contemptible Marco Rubio tweet.


Dog bites man isn’t news. Man bites dog is news.

University gets free speech right, even when it’s speech of Republicans, is also news.


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

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 11/17/20

Wisdom of the Ages

We can endure neither our vices nor their cure.

Livy


This acceptance of the classical tradition, even in so partially and fragmentarily recovered a form, was a course completely at variance with one type of Christian teaching, influential to varying degrees throughout the middle ages, which dismissed all pagan teaching as the devil’s work and sought to find in the Bible an all-sufficient guide. Luther indeed was the heir of this medieval tradition.

Alasdair MacIntyre, After virtue

I do not reject all pagan teaching as demonic, and neither do the Eastern Church Fathers.


The assumption behind systematic theology is that the universe is actually a “uni-verse” – that is, it has a unity throughout …

This consistency and stability across creation is what is meant by “system” in “systematic theology” …

I recall someone presenting a paper on the doctrine of God in the writings of the radical feminist Catholic, Rosemary Radford Ruether. When the student finished reading the paper, there was a dead, stunned silence in the room. Finally, a sheepish voice piped up, “Isn’t that the Force in Star Wars?” We broke out in laughter because it was precisely what she had articulated. It might make for interesting reading, but it certainly could not be called “Christian.”

Orthodox theology is not studied or written in the manner of Protestant systematics. Orthodox thought is largely what has been traditioned and is drawn from the Fathers and our liturgical life ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Orthodoxy, Systematic Theology, and Music – Glory to God for All Things

Crooked Hearts

Here’s a quote for you:

“This crisis is more important than any crisis we’ve had in my time. Our people are waiting for the bishops to say, O.K., we’ve got it under control, we’re on the same page, we hear you and we’ve listened to you and now you can be sure that this will never happen again.”

Know who said that? Cardinal Ted McCarrick, on June 12, 2002.

I’m writing this to you, young man, but I’m also writing it to myself. You cannot imagine how much I need to believe this, to know that it is true. That sentimental saying you see on coffee mugs at gift shops? ‘Be Kind, For Everyone You See Is Fighting A Great Battle’?

Yeah, it’s true.

The Hidden Heroes – Daily Dreher

The one person you don’t see is fighting a great battle, too. Auden captured it:

You shall love your crooked neighbor
with your crooked heart


The number of people coming forward with sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was approaching 90,000 by the Monday deadline for filing such claims against the organization.

The Nov. 16 deadline was established by a Delaware bankruptcy court, where the BSA had filed as it sought to cope with lawsuit damages and to restructure.

The BSA spent millions of dollars advertising the deadline across the nation, and the claims have poured rivaling sexual abuse claims against the Catholic church. Abused in Scouting, a group of over 8,000 men who say they were abused in the Boy Scouts, said experts had expected over 50,000 claims.

“I knew there were a lot of cases,” Paul Mones, an attorney involved in BSA sexual abuse cases for nearly 20 years, told The New York Times. “I never contemplated it would be a number close to this.”

How much money claimants will eventually receive from the Boy Scouts will depend on the size of a compensation fund the bankruptcy court will establish and the length and severity of the abuse suffered by the individuals making claims against the organization.

The BSA national organization, insurers, and local councils will all contribute to a compensation fund for victims.

The BSA said it was “devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting and moved by the bravery of those who came forward.”

“The BSA bankruptcy is an unmasking of … its decades’ long problem of sexual abuse that they deliberately concealed,” Mones said on Twitter when the BSA filed for bankruptcy in February.

Knowhere News

I will not wallow in this news, but how can we learn from it? Is it as simple as “Do not entrust the formation of your children to others”?

Carpe diem

An Arabian proverb of our time goes something like this: “My father rode a camel, I drive a Rolls-Royce, my son flies a jet airplane, and his son will ride a camel.”

James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency

Perhaps those Arabian boys will ride the Hendricks High-Wheel. (H/T Like Peloton but Analog, and With Alcohol – WSJ)

Politics

If you’re still doing a political purge after our four-year binge, you may stop here.

[I]t is fair to say that, despite what his critics on the left have said to the contrary, Obama did succeed in his stated ambition of fundamentally transforming the United States, albeit through inaction. Every bit as much as the conservative public intellectuals of the last two decades, Obama’s failure was not the result of Eliotic fatalism but (to quote his own letter) of ignorance. Even today he resembles them in his instrumentalization of religion, as a tool that will “restore a sense of meaning” to public life rather than as the activity of a body of believers undertaken for its own sake, as a divine mandate.

Matthew Walter, Barack Obama, failed conservative


… the occasional rapper who supported Trump. I have to remind myself that if you listen to rap music, it’s all about the bling, the women, the money. A lot of rap videos are using the same measures of what it means to be successful as Donald Trump is. Everything is gold-plated.

Barack Obama in Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic

A great interview with a serious man who once, believe it or not, occupied the highest elective office in the land.


Obama is actually nicer to his enemies than Trump is to his friends. (Jeffrey Goldberg’s observation in Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic)

Can anyone deny the truth of this?


No major American political figure in my lifetime has triggered the moral revulsion I feel toward Donald Trump; it explains why I was one of his earliest and toughest critics. (I continue to believe that moral revulsion was the proper response to Trump’s tenure.) So I understand how, in the twilight of his presidency, with the president engaging in a series of final civic desecrations, it’s easy to react with indignation one more time. And the fact that Trump supporters like Lindsey Graham and countless others are complicit in those desecrations shouldn’t vanish down the memory hole.

But Trump has dominated too much of our thinking for too long; his transgressions, provocations, and sheer abnormality have made him an omnipresent figure in our lives. Time and time again I’ve spoken with people who are not particularly political yet feel not only deeply unsettled by Trump but enveloped by him. He’s had too much power over too many of us. It’s time we move on from him.

> “My entire personality is hating Donald Trump,” Melissa Villaseñor’s character puts it in a Saturday Night Live political ad parody, “Trump Addicts for America.” “If he’s gone, what am I supposed to do? Focus on my kids again? No thanks.” (“You know he’s bad for you,” the ad concludes. “But it’s hard to imagine life without him.”)

Peter Wehner, Choose Repair, Not Revenge – The Atlantic.

Life without Trump will mean, for me, many more books read. Because, yes, he dominated too much of my time, this Orange Man. (What was his name?)


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).

Another curated collection

There’s another strange point that I would add, and maybe we’ll talk about this a little bit more because it does touch on broader issues, but it would be a strange doctrine indeed [if] every time the government takes over a new function and starts to contract about it, the scope of free exercise or free speech rights just automatically shrinks. Because that would mean that in order for the government essentially to do what it wants it just has to occupy the field on any particular field …
The growth of the administrative state has been putting a lot more pressure on the exercise of religion, and this would be a good example of that. And this came up in oral argument: Justice Barrett asked this question at one point, “well could the city just take over running all the hospitals and then say that ‘we’re going to contract it out and everybody has to agree with our terms’?”

Marc O. DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian, respectively, Legal Spirits Episode 028: Oral Argument in Fulton v. Philadelphia – LAW AND RELIGION FORUM, starting at about the 12:05 mark (hyperlink added).

Fulton is last Wednesday’s SCOTUS oral argument over Philadelphia taking over foster care and then banning Catholic Social Services because, had a hypothetical gay couple (or any unmarried couple) shown up seeking to foster or adopt, CSS would have referred them elsewhere. Oh, the horror!

It was a strange oral argument, though, as noted both by these two and by David French and Sarah Isgur last week on Advisory Opinions (starting at 49:00).


“There’s a lot of parallels between a community that’s 96% Hispanic and a community that’s 96% white,” said Freddy Guerra, a former mayor of nearby Roma[, Texas]. “Racism is not something that people deal with in Starr County because everybody’s brown. Climate change isn’t something they feel. They prefer bread on the table.”

Elizabeth Findell, How Democrats Lost So Many South Texas Latinos—the Economy – WSJ

This reminds me of my six weeks in Europe and the British Isles in 1968, touring with the Wheaton College Men’s Glee Club.

When we were in Belfast and Northern Ireland more generally, I (good Protestant boy though I was) was appalled at the anti-Catholic bigotry. I was not surprised when the Catholics started fighting back the next year — The Troubles.

Ireland to the south, in contrast, was tolerant of its Protestant minority.

Seeking some explanation other than intrinsic Catholic tolerance (an answer that I’d have found most uncongenial at that point in my life), I was told that it was pretty simple: Protestants were too few in Ireland to worry about, while Catholics were a very large part of Northern Ireland.

I guess our American polarization could be caused by either of two things:

  • No place is so nearly homogenous as Ireland; there’s no place where a dissident minority can be ignored; or
  • We don’t perceive the United States as a bunch of places, so any dissent from our views anywhere is a threat.

Maybe there are other options, or maybe I’m generalizing too hastily.


A great cry went up from Orthodox throats across the globe earlier this year when the Turkish government repurposed Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. The cry was an echo of May 29, 1453, when the city of Constantinople fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. That day, and its pain, have remained an iconic tragedy of a lost world and an abiding sadness. No one dared ask that the Church be returned to use as a Church – better a museum than a mosque. In truth, even as a museum, the loss remains intense. What is lost is not real estate, a building. It is the right place of beauty in the Christian experience. That loss is repeated in museums across the Western world.

Years ago, as a young Anglican priest, I visited the art museum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC (my home town). With me was an Anglican monk. Together we made our way through a surprising collection of Italian Church art, and, at the time, one of the largest collections of Russian icons outside of the Soviet Union. Guards followed us carefully through the museum – not that we were perceived as potential thieves. Rather, I think, we were perceived as potential idolaters. That “Christian” museum was, in many ways, a parallel of Hagia Sophia.

The Russian icons at Bob Jones were originally created not just as exemplars of an abstract beauty, but as objects of veneration. They were (and are) “windows into heaven.” The Fathers said of icons that they “make present that which they represent.” They are a means of communion. In the museum-world of modernity, what is contemplated is our own feelings and thoughts. Beauty becomes “art,” serving only our self-gratification.

That which is made present in an icon is perceived only in the act of veneration. In that action, the one who sees also participates through the extension of the self towards that which is made present ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Museums, Churches, and My Back Yard – Glory to God for All Things (emphasis added).

The reminder that a lot of museum’s misappropriate stuff (legally) was chastening. And I can’t resist poking a bit at BJU given a legitimate opportunity.


I corrected a shocking omission in my education today by finally reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, A World Split Apart:

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to his readers, or to his history — or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist usually always gets away with it. One may — One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none — and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on in the readers’ memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification.

The press — The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary.

More:

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people giving their contribution to public life … There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of a petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

Still more:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.


I also read some less enduring stuff.

The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.

Former Republican President George W. Bush, in a statement congratulating Joe Biden for winning the presidency, quoted in Knowhere News

Only in the fevered mind of Donald Trump is this statement not admirable, but I’ll be surprised if Trump hasn’t mean-Tweeted it.


The fine print on the campaign’s website shows that 60 percent of contributions to Trump’s new “Election Defense Fund” will actually be diverted toward retiring his campaign’s debt, and Axios reported last night that the president plans to “hold campaign-style rallies … in an effort to prolong his fight against apparent insurmountable election results.”

The Morning Dispatch: Biden Calls for Unity


Did you even read past the first sentence? Or are you just purposely lying so you can talk tough? No one said give up. I literally said investigate every irregularity and use the courts. You’re a member of Congress now, Marjorie. Start acting like one.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw to Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spouted some chest-thumping misrepresentation of Crenshaw on Twitter.

Thank you, Mr. Crenshaw.


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).

Timeless, ever-timely

I got inspired by a teaser for a Washington Post guest column April 11:

Their churches will be closed on Easter. Here’s what they would have said.

Featured were nine “faith leaders”:

You can judge their uneven offerings for yourself.

As we are never earlier in our Orthodox Christian Paschal celebration, and generally one to five weeks later than western Christendom, and are largely invisible in North America, no Orthodox clergy were included. But that’s okay.

It’s okay because I can tell you exactly “what they would have said” (give or take countless languages) every single one of them, this April 19, 2020, and many of them right around now, 1:30 in the morning (give or take 24 time zones).

It would have made no special mention of the current pandemic, and yet …

Well, here’s what they’d have said:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom, delivered in the fourth or very early fifth century, which I submit has never been surpassed. It’s our tradition throughout Orthodoxy to read it verbatim, each Pascha. Because it’s timeless, it’s ever-timely.

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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

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.

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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.

Caveat Emptor

Michael Pakaluk proposes a prefatory disclosure to David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, implying that the book is a sort of theological fraud:

Warning. St. Basil the Great, a doctor of the Church—who loved Origen but nonetheless did not embrace universalism—as early as the fourth century, warned the faithful against teachings like those which you will find in this book by David Bentley Hart.

Basil taught firmly that such views could only be entertained by those who had, as it were, lost sight of the plain and repeated teachings of the Lord. It would be the height of daring to believe such things, he said—and so, obviously, to teach and promote them would be much worse. To do so, Basil would say, amounts to collaboration with the Devil, who, in his characteristically deceitful ways, would like nothing more than for people to suppose that the everlasting punishment of hell does not exist.

Pakaluk is presumably Roman Catholic. Hart, like me, is Orthodox.

But Hart, as brilliant as he is, is an increasingly arrogant and abusive provocateur, and this book is outside the Orthodox consensus, which I take to be that we may hope for the salvation of all, but we should not expect it.

I do hope for the salvation of all. I do not expect it.

It is also worth noting that Hart is an Orthodox layman and a philosopher, with no known credentials as a theologian (though one not infrequently sees him so identified).

Let the book-buyer beware.

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Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

Liturgy, mimesis, humus

I went to a symposium over the weekend, the intimidating theme of which was For I Am Holy: The Command to Be Like God.

Like God?!

But this was my fifth year. I have people who are becoming like family to me. I wanted to see them.

Boy, am I glad I went.

There were no formulae. Holiness formulae can only turn us into delusional, self-righteous Church Lady prigs.

So the emphasis was how the liturgy and encountering great literature (sometimes with holy protagonists) and practicing humility at the most “humus” level can shape us toward holiness.

The Eighth Day Symposia are always ecumenical in the sense that the three main speakers are Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. The commonality comes from moderate to deep knowledge of the Church Fathers.

Christians are divided. This is a fact. We have been since the schism between East and West at the turn of the first millennium and since the Protestant Reformations in the sixteenth century. This is a tragedy. That’s why we believe we have a duty to facilitate a dialogue of love and truth, one that acknowledges our real differences, but one that also seeks to achieve a common mind so we can stand reunited in the One who is the Truth.

There is a separate Florovsky-Newman week to focus on our differences. I’ve never been to one, but I think that’s going to change.

Eighth Day Institute is mutually and enthusiastically supportive of Eighth Day Books, a Christian bibliophile’s “happiest place on earth.”

EDB has just published a paper catalog for the first time in eight years. Get one before they’re gone!

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All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

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.