The Vincentian Canon

I long ago committed to memory — in Latin, no less — quod semper, quod ubique, et quod ab omnibus creditum est. I also made sure I knew the English meaning, since I don’t speak Latin (and nobody has set that to music so could sing it).

I probably was introduced to it by C.S. Lewis, but just learned today that this distillation leaves out an important premise: the scopes of semper, ubique, and omnibus.

The noble intention of C.S. Lewis’s famous book Mere Christianity was to defend not this sect or that sect, but rather those teachings which had been held by almost all Christians in almost all times and places.

Though Lewis himself proceeded differently, the idea itself goes back to a criterion of orthodoxy proposed by St. Vincent of Lerins in his famous Commonitory. Here are St. Vincent’s own words:

“I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or anyone else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

“But here someone perhaps will ask, ”Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation?” For this reason — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

“Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.”

J. Budziszewski (emphasis shifted).

“Catholic,” of course, does not exclude Orthodox in this context. St. Vincent was born more than 600 years before the Great Schism, and is venerated by Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican alike. He was untainted by the Reformation solas, but tacitly allows (in theory) much of the premises of sola scriptura:

… the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything …

But then he takes back with his reality hand what he’d given with his theoretical hand:

… owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.

Surely this is an undeniable empirical fact, is it not? I don’t want to bear false witness, but I’m pretty sure that more than 10,000 denominations have been counted, and I frequently hear multiples of that number. Luther had barely put his hammer away after his visit to the Wittenburg Door when he was forced to fight against Anabaptists, and the beat goes on, and on, and on.

That being so, the Protestant notion of perspicacity of scripture seems empirically false. The only alternative to that, I think, is that hundreds of millions are interpreting the perspicacious scriptures in bad faith. It really is necessary to read “in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.”

Moreover, the tacit principle of antiquity absolves me for disbelieving Roman Catholic innovations since the Great Schism, conventionally dated 1054 — which innovations particularly multiplied in the 19th Century (for reasons I may some day apprehend; I’m assuming it arose from something putting particular pressure on the Roman Church).

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Countless unseen worshipers …

I was walking along Buckingham Palace Road, close to Victoria Station in central London, when I passed a nineteenth-century Gothic church, large and somewhat dilapidated, that I had never noticed before. There was no proper notice-board outside it — public relations have never been the strong point of Orthodoxy in the Western world! — but I recall that there was a brass plate which simply said “Russian Church.”As I entered St Philip’s — for that was the name of the church — at first I thought that it was entirely empty. Outside in the street there had been brilliant sunshine, but inside it was cool, cavernous and dark. As my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, the first thing that caught my attention was an absence. There were no pews, no chairs in neat rows; in front of me stretched a wide and vacant expanse of polished floor.Then I realized that the church was not altogether empty. Scattered in the nave and aisles there were a few worshipers, most of them elderly. Along the walls there were icons, with flickering lamps in front of them, and at the east end there were burning candles in front of the icon screen. Somewhere out of sight a choir was singing. After a while a deacon came out from the sanctuary and went round the church censing the icons and the people, and I noticed that his brocade vestment was old and slightly torn. My initial impression of an absence was now replaced, with a sudden rush, by an overwhelming sense of presence. I felt that the church, so far from being empty, was full — full of countless unseen worshipers, surrounding me on every side. Intuitively I realized that we, the visible congregation, were part of a much larger whole, and that as we prayed we were being taken up into an action far greater than ourselves, into an undivided, all-embracing celebration that united time and eternity, things below with things above….

… Before the service had ended, I left the church; and as I emerged I was struck by two things. First, I found that I had no idea how long I had been inside. It might have been only twenty minutes, it might have been two hours; I could not say. I had been existing on a level at which clock-time was unimportant. Secondly, as I stepped out on the pavement the roar of the London traffic engulfed me all at once like a huge wave. The sound must have been audible within the church, but I had not noticed it. I had been in another world where time and traffic had no meaning; a world that was more real — I would almost say more solid — than that of twentieth-century London to which I now abruptly returned.

Everything at the Vigil Service was in Slavonic, and so with my conscious brain I could understand not a single word. Yet, as I left the church, I said to myself with a clear sense of conviction: This is where I belong; I have come home. Sometimes it happens — is it not curious? — that, before we have learnt anything in detail about a person, place or subject, we know with certainty: This is the person that I shall love, this is the place where I need to go, this is the subject that, above all others, I must spend my life exploring. From the moment of attending that service at St Philip’s, Buckingham Palace Road, I felt deep in my heart that I was marked out for the Orthodox Church.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware via Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Doors of the Heart.

Merry Christmas!

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Potpourri, 12/17/18

1

Here’s the racket that you should have gone into. You’re selling something, a college diploma, that’s deemed a necessity. And you have total pricing power. Better than that: When you raise your prices, you not only don’t lose customers, you may actually attract new ones.

For lack of objective measures, people associate the sticker price with quality: If school A costs more than B, I guess it’s a better school. A third-party payer, the government, funds it all, so that the customer—that is, the student and the family—feels insulated against the cost. A perfect formula for complacency.

The acquisition of Kaplan was, as he puts it, a “matter of kismet.” Mr. Daniels was determined to enhance Purdue’s online educational offerings but frustrated by his inability to do so. “Every year, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I write a little self-evaluation and give it to the board,” he says. “Three years in a row, the worst grade I gave myself was for online education.” Purdue faced a make-or-buy decision: “Should we invest and build an online presence internally, or should we try to acquire it?”

In early 2017, a common friend connected Mr. Daniels to Donald Graham, chairman of the Graham Holdings Co. , which had sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos in 2013 and still owned Kaplan University. “Don called me,” Mr. Daniels recalls, “and he said to me, ‘This will probably be the shortest call of your day, but I don’t suppose, by any chance, you want to buy Kaplan.’ ” Fifteen minutes later, “we had a deal.”

“The most innovative university president in America,” Mitch Daniels in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Interview, 12/15/18, College Bloat Meets “The Blade”.

I’m near the epicenter of Daniels’ doings, just across the Wabash, and it is stimulating.

2

A rather harsh assessment:

I’ve only been around Phil Anschutz a few times. My impressions on those occasions was that he was a run-of-the-mill arrogant billionaire. He was used to people courting him and he addressed them condescendingly from the lofty height of his own wealth.

I’ve never met Ryan McKibben, who runs part of Anschutz’s media group. But stories about him have circulated around Washington over the years. The stories suggest that he is an ordinary corporate bureaucrat — with all the petty vanities and the lack of interest in ideas that go with the type.

This week, Anschutz and McKibbin murdered The Weekly Standard, the conservative opinion magazine that Anschutz owned. They didn’t merely close it because it was losing money. They seemed to have murdered it out of greed and vengeance.

John Podhoretz, one of the magazine’s founders, reports that they actively prevented potential buyers from coming in to take it over and keep it alive. They apparently wanted to hurt the employees and harvest the subscription list so they could make money off it. And Anschutz, being a professing Christian, decided to close the magazine at the height of the Christmas season, and so cause maximum pain to his former employees and their families.

David Brooks. If Brooks is right, I hope it stings Anschutz quite bitterly.

3

Don’t take our freedom of speech for granted.

“Australia is the only Western democracy without an explicit constitutional protection for freedom of speech,” Matt Collins, a defamation lawyer and the president of the Victorian Bar, told me. “People say that Sydney is the libel capital of the world,” he added.

The upshot: Not only is it easier for a plaintiff to win a defamation suit in Australia, but people are far less likely to blow the whistle on misconduct, knowing what the legal (and therefore financial) consequences might be.

“The use of defamation cases against women with sexual harassment complaints is having a huge chilling effect,” said Kate Jenkins, the Australian government’s sex discrimination commissioner. “Women I speak to all over the country are absolutely adamant that they cannot complain because it risks absolutely everything for them.”

An Australian filmmaker named Sophie Mathisen put it more bluntly: “The question in our current context is not, Do you want to come forward and speak on behalf of other women? The question is, Do you want to come forward and set yourself on fire publicly?”

Bari Weiss.

4

Megan McArdle, investigating a scientific taboo on research on intelligence, hits a wall and finds herself vilified for even asking questions. Along the way, she makes an interesting case that there are good reasons for the taboo:

There’s a history, I said, of scientists finding whatever they expect, from scientists insisting that humans had 48 chromosomes, even as their experiments kept showing 46, to the eugenics that fueled the Holocaust. One of Jussim’s own papers shows that left-leaning social psychologists have long been inadvertently biasing their research toward answers the left finds congenial.

Given flawed scientists and imperfect scientific methods, and given the fraught history of Western racism, isn’t the likelihood of getting it wrong just too high? And the potential cost of those particular errors simply too catastrophic to risk? All societies place some questions out of bounds because they’re too toxic; we don’t debate whether child molestation or spousal murder is acceptable.

Without hesitation, Jussim agreed. Carl wasn’t endorsing a link between race and IQ, Jussim pointed out, just starting a discussion about whether we should study it. “If we had that discussion,” he said, “I would personally advocate for a moratorium for all the reasons you just described.”

How the social science community built the wall she hit is an interesting story, too. It’s an example of ad hominem and guilt by association replacing refutation.

5

There’s an interesting Catholic/Orthodox dialogue going on, again between theologians. And some of them have agreed that basically they agree on so many things. They’re really the same. Leave out the political aspect of this, but even from the point of view of the average believer, if you spend ten minutes at the Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox church and ten minutes in a Roman Catholic mass, you understand these are totally different pieties. And whatever the theologians have decided is the same, the little old babushka who kisses the icon knows that what she does is different from the Catholics down the road. So I think in answer to your question, the denominational divisions basically define theology, and for most lay people, the theological distinctions are not terribly real.

Peter Berger H/T Rod Dreher, who elaborates a bit on the point, as do his readers.

6

I am pleased to report that my Advent/Christmas choral singing is complete, after four extra rehearsals and three concerts in two weeks with Lafayette Master Chorale and Lafayette Chamber Singers (on top of ordinary Church services). My 70-year-old vocal chords are ready for a rest.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Venerating God, Worshiping Nothing

I’ve been an Orthodox Christian now for a bit more than 21 years. During that time, I’ve heard (and enjoyed hearing) some things that struck me as cute quips or snappy evangelistic comebacks.

One, which I thought of as just a snappy comeback to the charge that we Orthodox “worship icons,” went like this:

You just don’t know what worship is. We’re merely venerating the saints or the events depicted in those icons. We worship only God.

Maybe you merely venerate God and worship nothing.

“Venerate God and worship nothing” struck me as true of my former tradition after my experience of Orthodoxy.

The experience of real worship had been a strong draw to Orthodoxy, a fulfillment of a long longing, and the answer to my trouble-making in “Worship Committees” and such, about un-worshipful gospel songs — songs directed to one another rather than to God.

Let’s take just one example, far from the worst:

I serve a risen savior, He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
In all the world around me, I see His loving care,
and every time I need Him, He’s always there.
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s weary way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!

God is third person singular, a topic of discussion, not a second person singular Thee/Thou or You/Your, an object of worship. And there’s way too much “I.”

Hand me a contemporary Christian “hymnbook,” or whatever they call them these days, and I could go on all day and all night.

But my objections to that sort of thing fell on deaf ears because some people liked those songs.

If there is any of that—singing about God to each other rather than singing to God—in Orthodox services, it has escaped my notice for 21 years. And I love that absence.

But given the insensate response to my concerns within my Protestant context, all I felt comfortable saying about Orthodox worship to non-Orthodox was “come and see,” hoping that my invitee would experience the fulfillment I experienced. “Venerate God and worship nothing” was insider talk, not really useful.

Or so I thought. My reticence ended Thursday, December 13, around 5:30 PM.

After running an errand and catching the evening news, I listened to podcasts as I drove to a meeting an hour away. A particular podcast brought home to me that the quip about veneration and worship is literally true in an objective sense, not just as an allegation about subjective intentions.

That was a revelation, though probably not a life-altering epiphany for me as I’m already Orthodox. But it may be a life-altering epiphany for you.

I’ve transcribed much of that podcast for you, though I’d encourage you to pour a coffee (or whatever) and savor the less than 14 minutes it takes to hear all of The Sacrifice of Worship, spoken in Father Stephen Freeman’s deeply reflective, gentle southern drawl.

My convention in transcribing the podcast is that italics represent emphasis in Father Stephen’s delivery, whereas boldface represents my added emphasis:

… Sacrifice itself was part of the universal language of of ancient religion … This was worship.

Today, “sacrifice” has passed into more generalized cultural metaphors that have nothing to do with worship, and “worship,” the word itself, has become a vague concept, generally associated with prayer and praise and hymn-singing. And as such, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish what many contemporary Christians describe as worship from the treatment of various rock, sport and entertainment stars, or patriotism and ideological fetishism.

At a large gathering of some tens of thousands, hands are lifted in the air, people are singing, the music swells — and if I stop the description at that point, it is possible that this is a moment of praise and worship. But if, however, I note that the venue was a concert, then it’s mere adulation of a celebrity. But … the bare bones, what I call the “grammar” of the action — is utterly the same …◊

So fast-forward now to the setting of an Orthodox Church. Here, there are numerous icons of holy men and women, saints, adorning the Church. Candles and lamps burn before them. A non-Orthodox contemporary Christian, visiting for the first time, becomes distinctly uncomfortable and thinks to himself “they are worshiping saints!

Somehow, the psychological confusion that is contemporary culture can distinguish between the worship of God and the adulation of celebrities, but accuses traditional Christianity — that is, Orthodox Christianity — of violating the second and third commandments.

What we have is a clash of grammars.

So I suggest a working definition for contemporary worship. It would be this. It would mean “any number of activities, including singing, dancing, waving hands, shouting, weeping, when in a religious setting. The same actions in a non-religious setting are not worship.

But in the grammar of Orthodoxy — and, may I say, in the grammar of scripture — worship has a different definition. Worship may be defined, just as it was in Abraham’s day [when Abraham progressed toward sacrifice of Isaac], … as the offering of a sacrifice to a deity.

The trouble comes when one grammar seeks to understand the other. That which the Orthodox render to saints and holy objects, such as relics, the cross, icons and such, is understood to be honor or veneration, for no sacrifices are ever offered to saints as though they were gods. Note this carefully

This distinction is difficult for contemporary Christians because the notion of sacrifice in its original meaning has been lost. It is certainly the case than honor and veneration are given to God, but they do not of themselves constitute worship.

The contemporary road map of religion consists almost exclusively of various psychological states. The honor given a rock star is understood to differ from that given to God based on the intention within the person who is giving the honor. To the outside observer, the actions might appear indistinguishable. But, we’re told, God knows the heart and so God can tell the difference between the two.

Sacrifice has largely disappeared from the experience of contemporary Christianity. The Protestant Reformation mounted something of a frontal assault on medieval Catholicism’s treatment of the Eucharist as a sacrificial offering … [Catholic counter-arguments] fell on deaf ears — at least for the reason that the ears wanted to be deaf …

I jump in here to note that the Orthodox view of the Eucharist is essentially identical with that of Roman Catholicism, which the Reformers and their spiritual progeny rejected. Father Stephen makes that point himself, but in a way that seemed a digression from my point in this blog.

… [In contemporary Christianity] “Do this in remembrance of me” becomes a mere memorial and then simply becomes a means of forgetting …

The Mystery of our salvation as well as they Mystery that we described as “worship” is found within the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham and all of ancient Israel would have understood worship to largely be identical with sacrifice … Christians of the first millennium-and-a-half understood that the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharistic offering was the central act of worship. Their hymns and psalms happened as part of that context …

We continue to offer the bloodless sacrifice‡ of Christ’s death. It is the single perfect offering of all of humanity, made through the person of God’s Son ….

By a strange twist of history, the praise that took its meaning from the sacrifice itself by analogy came to displace the sacrifice and made praise itself the essential element of worship.

As hungry as my Protestant self was for real worship, my understanding of it did indeed stop at, essentially, “praise of God and to God, with no calculated sentimentality and no focus on one another in our songs and hymns.” Praise to God was my “essential element of worship.” Worship wasn’t “about me.”

I wasn’t wrong, but far short. So are you if praise (or a sermon) is your essential element of worship.

An implication of this is that if your church “serves communion” only rarely, then at best you worship only rarely. If your church treats the communion elements only as a remembering-with-props, then you worship never.†

And sacrifice properly speaking is a ritual or rite. As Father Stephen said in his opening (part of the initial ellipsis in the transcription above):

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22, there was no questioning on Abraham’s part about what was intended. He understood precisely what was involved in such a thing.

There was wood to be gathered, an altar of stones to be constructed, the victim was to be bound, and then the slitting of its throat, the gushing forth of blood, all consummated in the burning fires of the now-completed offering.‡

You cannot turn your contemporary Christian church’s wafers and grape juice, prepared in the church kitchen by who-knows-who the night before and dumped down the disposal after the service, into the Christian Eucharistic sacrifice, the true body and blood of Christ, just by fervently thinking of it that way.µ

You need, at a minimum, to be in a Church with an epiklesis, and that’s part of a whole package.

If you are as I was, then right about now you’re saying “Father Stephen called this the grammar of scripture. Now put up or shut up. Show it to me in The Book.”

Okay:

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

I Corinthians 10.

Satisfied? Now what are you going to do about it? Do you care enough to forsake your praise services and find a Church that worships?

* * *

Notes:

◊ Thus it is especially ironic that they accuse us, the Orthodox, of worshiping things that aren’t God because they don’t notice the difference—a difference that I didn’t notice, either, in a way that I could articulate before now. Mea culpa! We do bring baggage into the Church with us!

† Another implication is that Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and the handful of Reformed congregations that have adopted weekly communion are not my focus here. I’m not indifferent to the differences among us, but sussing those out is not my task for today, if ever.

‡ As I labored over this blog, some more personal implications of my “revelation” emerged, such as freshened appreciation for the shed blood of Christ once-for-all, the predicate of our now-bloodless Eucharistic sacrifice. The desire to preach to others is rarely what I get out of Fr. Stephen.

µ Maybe it’s even prepared in a commissary: I and thousands of others engaged in that sort of “communion” on New Year’s Eve 1970-71 in at Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana, under Intervarsity Christian Fellowship auspices, so shallow was our parachurch understanding, so feckless those few present who knew better.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Sunday, 12/2/18

Why boastest thou thyself in thy wickedness, O man of power? the loving-kindness of God endureth daily. Thy tongue imagineth mischief, and is like a sharp razor, that cutteth deceitfully. Thou dost love evil more than good, and lies more than to speak the truth. Selah. Thou lovest all words that may destroy: O deceitful tongue! So shall God destroy thee forever: he shall take thee and pluck thee out of thy tabernacle, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah.

Psalm 52:1-5 (1599 Geneva Bible, because I just don’t trust those wishy-washy modern version from 1611)


 

I became restless. I was looking for more depth in my faith, longed for worship not compromised by pop culture, and sought deep roots.

Dave Bugbee, who found it all in Orthodox Christianity.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Mélange 11/17/18

1

To maintain its large membership base, the ACLU recruited new members by directing mass mailings to mailing lists rented from a broad range of liberal groups. The result of the shift of the ACLU to a mass membership organization was that it gradually transformed itself from a civil libertarian organization into a liberal organization with an interest in civil liberties …

… With the election of Donald Trump, its membership rolls have grown to almost two million, almost all of them liberal politically, few of whom are devoted to civil liberties as such. Meanwhile, the left in general has become less interested in, and in some cases opposed to, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rights of the accused.

Future historians will have to reconstruct exactly how and why the tipping point has been reached, but the ACLU’s actions over the last couple of months show that the ACLU is no longer a civil libertarian organization in any meaningful sense, but just another left-wing pressure group, albeit one with a civil libertarian history.

First, the ACLU ran an anti-Brett Kavanaugh video ad that relied entirely on something that no committed civil libertarian would countenance, guilt by association …

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Department of Education released a proposed new Title IX regulation that provides for due process rights for accused students that had been prohibited by Obama-era guidance. Shockingly, even to those of us who have followed the ACLU’s long, slow decline, the ACLU tweeted in reponse that the proposed regulation “promotes an unfair process, inappropriately favoring the accused.” Even longtime ACLU critics are choking on the ACLU, of all organizations, claiming that due proess protections “inappropriately favor the accuse.”

The ACLU had a clear choice between the identitarian politics of the feminist hard left, and retaining some semblance of its traditional commitment to fair process. It chose the former. And that along with the Kavanaugh ad signals the final end of the ACLU as we knew it. RIP.

David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy blog

I’m glad he said it since I lack the high status to command respect. And I’m glad he cited specific proof.

ACLU no longer cares about civil liberties and SPLC primarily cares about labeling its adversaries “haters.” We’re in a fine mess.

2

Insider sources have reportedly confirmed to the Washington Post that Assange has been charged. Because those charges are sealed, it’s impossible to know what they are or how they’re being justified. If you ask #Resistance Twitter, it’s because it’s #MuellerTime and Assange is about to be arrested under some mysterious charges involving WikiLeaks’ publication of non-government, non-classified emails in 2016. If you ask QAnon cultists, it’s because Donald Trump is planning to extradite Assange so as to rescue him and deal a fatal blow to the Deep State. If you ask people who actually know what they’re talking about, however, it’s most likely for WikiLeaks’ Afghanistan and Iraq war logs and/or last year’s CIA leak publications, and most likely using the Espionage Act. This would constitute a deadly blow to press freedoms, and arguably a greater leap in the direction of Orwellian dystopia than the Patriot Act.

It also proves once again that Julian Assange was completely right.

Caitlin Johnstone

3

In ancient Egypt there lived a wise king named Thamus. One day he was visited by a clever god called Theuth.

Theuth was an inventor of many useful things: arithmetic and geometry; astronomy and dice. But his greatest discovery, so he believed, “was the use of letters.” And it was this invention that Theuth was most eager to share with King Thamus.

The art of writing, Theuth said, “will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit.”

But Thamus rebuffed him. “O most ingenious Theuth,” he said, “the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them.”

The king continued: “For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember themselves.”

Written words, Thamus concluded, “give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things but will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

Welcome to Facebook ….

Bret Stephens

4

They changed the world to sand, and now find it slipping through their fingers.

Jonathan Pageau, who spoke for a whole half hour as Jordan Peterson sat listening. Those two have made some kind of intuitive connection over cognate insights about “logos.”

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Politics, I’m sad to say

1

Politics drove me halfway to the Slough of Despond yesterday. Two examples:

  • An old Evangelical friend posted about Brett Kavanaugh “let him who is without sin ….” If that weren’t bad enough, a friend of his jumped in with a litany of lurid innuendo about the accuser. I asked for citations and he snottily referred me to a QAnon YouTube (which I couldn’t find).
  • Then, on the Orthodox side, a priest trolled a sensible friend of mine, trying to change the topic from the patent deficiencies of Trump to the unreliability of Bob Woodward putting flesh on the bones we all can see with our own two (no doubt lyin’) eyes.

So I’m not feeling all that swell about the political swill I have to share today, but some of it is my own reflection, which was already written (at least in draft) to clarify my thinking, so here it is.

 

2

The current Atlantic asks “Is Democracy Dying?,” by which I think it means, at least in part, is classical liberalism dying? A lot of smart people think it is, apart from the Atlantic crew. Indeed, at American Affairs, they’ve been critiquing Patrick Deneen’s eulogy to liberalism.

Adrian Vermeule was one of the critics — a churl, in his own words. He is a very bright fellow — Harvard-Law-School-Prof bright. He’s also a Catholic convert and an Integralist — a non-liberal or illiberal political theory that I’d probably mangle if I tried to describe it myself.

Wikipedia introduces it thus:

Integralism or integrism is used in the context of Catholicism to refer to an organization of the state which rejects “the separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal.” Though less commonly referred to in modern theology, integralism defines the social order of medieval Christendom and is part of the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

(Footnotes and hyperlinks omitted) Suffice that Integralism is to my right, but not so far to my right that I scorn it reflexively.

Most days, you see, I find persuasive Patrick Deneen’s theory that liberalism has shot its wad, is going away, and good riddance! Integralism’s appeal is that in an illiberal regime, I’d rather have friends in control than enemies.

So I wish I could find plausible Vermeule’s scenario of a bunch of well-formed Christian Josephs and Daniels and Mordecais and Esthers taking charge of the apparatus of the liberal state from inside and putting that apparatus to holy use.

But with Alan Jacobs (through whom I learned of Vermeule’s article — I had neglected my American Affairs subscription), I think we’ve got a good generation of Benedict-Option style Christian formation to do or else we’ll get a takeover by illiberal Christianoids (or illiberal anti-Christians).

Jacobs:

If you need people who are sufficiently skilled in negotiating the liberal order to work effectively within it, but also committed to its transformation, and who can sustain that difficult balance over decades, you have to figure out how to form such people. And it is just this that the churches of the West – all the churches of the West — have neglected to do, have neglected even to attempt. With the (in retrospect quite obvious) result: the accelerating collapse across the board of participation in church life.

What is required, in the face of a general culture that through its command of every communications medium catechizes so effectively, is the construction of a powerful counter-catechesis. Who will do that, and how will they do it? The likely answer, it seems to me, brings us back to the very localism that Deneen and Dreher advocate and that Vermeule rejects. Though I also might reject certain elements and emphases of the communities that Deneen and Dreher advocate, I don’t see a likely instrument other than highly dedicated, counter-cultural communities of faith for the Josephs and Mordecais and Esthers and Daniels to be formed. Those who do see other means of such rigorous formation need to step up and explain how their models work. Otherwise we will be looking in vain for the people capable of carrying out Vermeule’s beautiful vision.

From where I sit, that’s pretty obvious, but not everyone has my perspective. So later, in a micro.blog “conversation” (uncertain how or whether that link will work if you don’t have a micro.blog account), Jacobs responded to a sincere inquiry whether “People who are deeply grounded in and deeply committed to their faith tradition who are also capable of rising to high levels of influence in government and education” doesn’t “describe a solid majority of U.S. elected representatives”:

… I have no doubt that such people are very sincere in their faith, but they aren’t especially well formed by it. You wouldn’t have to be all that well-versed in the Bible and Christian history to know that Jews and Christians have often suffered to the point of martyrdom because they wouldn’t worship the emperor or the gods of the State — and yet many of these professedly evangelical churches hold Make America Great Again rallies and destroy Nike shoes from the pulpit because NFL players “disrespect the flag.” Leading evangelicals say that it’s okay that Trump has done a lot of bad things because “King David was a sinner too” — without noticing that David repented of his sins, whereas Trump has said that he doesn’t repent because he doesn’t do many things wrong. So what we’re seeing here is people who have a sincere profession of faith but don’t know the basic grammar of their religion. It is the civic religion of America, rather, that they are formed by ….

And that’s why I tend to think on other days that liberalism, infirm though it may be, is the least bad option available in a fallen world, and we need to rejuvenate it.

It’s mostly the illiberal comprehensive theories liberalism keeps sneaking in the back door that give me pause, suspecting that the rhetorics of “democracy” and “liberalism” are just secular opiates of the people.

 

3

Why aren’t Western Christians better formed? Here, my imagination took flight.

Isn’t Forensic Justification — basically, that God declares us righteous without making us righteous (or even caring all that much about righteousness) — the perfect doctrine for consoling those who’ve been catechized in the ways of Babylon but want to call themselves Christian?

 

4

Liberty University is an accredited, actual institution of higher education. It’s a real place. People pay real money to go there, receive degrees bearing the school’s name, and take those degrees out into the world, proclaiming their association with it. People take out thousands of dollars in student loans for the privilege of doing that. Really … The average cost of Liberty University, after financial aid, is $24,000 a year.

Fred Clark, The Slactivist. But $24,000 is a bargain, because you get to be forever associated with “firefighter prophet” Mark Taylor, who has gone from extreme to batshit crazy. See here, here, here, here, and here. They’re associated with him because Liberty is making “The Trump Prophecy” based on him.

If I cared about Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University, I would explain “sunk costs” to them and urge them to quit digging (to mix metaphors).

 

5

 

There are two unfair and irrational ways to look at this allegation. One, of course, is simply to decide that because you already opposed or supported Kavanaugh, that should determine whether you think the charge is true (or useful). That’s the partisan route, and it treats individuals caught up in political fights as fungible and disposable parts.

The other is to decide that, because the allegations remind you vaguely of some charge in the past that turned out to be true, or false, or because you want accusers to generally be believed, you should just decide the same has to be true here regardless of the particular facts.

Dan Maclaughlin

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Tuesday, 9/11/18

Orthodoxy

1

As I’ve said before, it is my opinion that the collapse of religion is THE fundamental problem of Western Civilisation and without the restoration of religion we’re going nowhere. However unlike the Trads it is my opinion that an attempt to turn the clock back, and practice religion like it was practiced in the 1650’s is not going to work. Rather, the Christian religion is going to have to transform itself in someway if it is to successfully combat Modernity.

As for Christianity, Western Civilisation is really the civilisation built on basis of the Protestant and Catholic religions. Eastern Orthodoxy, while Christian is not of the West, and I would advise the Trads, those looking to turn the clock back to look at it, as it lacks the ability to change: It’s all tradition.

The Social Pathologist, a blog subtitled The Diseases of Modern Life as seen through the Secular Confessional.

I never really have comprehended the secularist case for the social importance of religion. I suppose it’s right, as secularists confessing it are making something of a declaration against interest. But whether I understand it or not, I appreciate people who don’t personally believe nevertheless giving Christianity its due.

So although I fault his word choice, “It’s all tradition” (we would say “it’s the faith once delivered to the Saints“), I especially appreciate his commendation of Orthodoxy to those not minded to (shudder) “innovate.”

We do consider “unchanging” a feature, not a bug.

I am skeptical, though, of the author’s claim that Protestantism is “a dying religion.” From “spiritual but not religious” to nuda scriptura, the desire to roll-your-own religion is powerful, and what earthly authority can pontificate that the rough beast, its hour come round at last, is not “Protestant,” strange fire and all?

When this somewhat wrong-headed fellow turns to Roman Cathoicism, I think he worth reading and considering, and that’s all I’m saying as I keep getting too deeply into the weeds of the current crisis in that tradition.

 

Shout-Out to an Adversary

2

I was unaware that a gay California legislator, who wants to outlaw “paid ‘conversion therapy,’ which purports to change a person’s sexual orientation,” pulled his own Bill at the last minute, though he had plenty of votes to pass it, because he seemed to think that the very vocal critics might be onto something and that he might make the Bill better (and, perhaps not incidentally, more resistant to First amendment challenge).

Perhaps the message is finally getting through: Wrongthink has some rights, and that it is justly embarrassing to pass a Bill, over objections of unconstitutionality, and then see it struck down as unconstitutional.

Kudos to Assemblyman Evan Low and to the Los Angeles Times for what reportedly was very fine coverage of the story.

 

SCOTUS

3

Not all California (or other) politicians are capable of the class Evan Low exhibited:

During Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, [Kamala Harris] demanded to know whether the judge thought the president could legally politicize the Justice Department, for example by prosecuting his political enemies while going easy on his friends. Senator Harris would know more than a little about that: She wasted a great deal of time and a fair sum of Californians’ tax dollars illegally using her position as attorney general of California to attempt to bully nonprofits into giving up their donors lists. It was a transparent effort to target them for harassment and retaliation. That little jihad ultimately was ruled an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment by the federal courts. Harris and her opposite number in New York State, Eric Schneiderman, did nothing but misuse their offices to harass their political rivals. (Well, in fairness, Schneiderman did take some time to beat women, if The New Yorker is to be believed, and resigned his office after three women accused him of abuse.) She misused her job like that was her job.

You know how this works: Liars think everybody is lying, cheaters think everybody else is a cheat, and self-serving political hacks who misuse their offices think that that’s just how the game is played, that everybody does it.

Kevin D. Williamson, The Caste System. He is absolutely right about abuse of the legal system for political purposes by Kamala Harris and Eric Schneiderman.

 

4

Whereas Trump is populist, intentionally divisive, anti-establishment, immoderate, and contemptuous of many of traditional norms of comity and civility, Kavanaugh is a product of the establishment, gets along with colleagues across the spectrum, respects precedent and plays by the rules. Any Republican president would have placed Kavanaugh on his short list. He has no associations with the Trump wing of the Republican Party. Trump nominated him in deference to the legal elite of the party, including the Federalist Society, many of whom are as concerned about Trump’s character and disposition as any Democrat.

The notion that any Trump nominee is illegitimate because he would shield Trump from hypothetical future subpoenas or prosecutions is belied by history. Nixon’s appointments voted against him in United States vs. Nixon, and Clinton’s appointments voted against him in Clinton vs. Jones. Kavanaugh has no closer relationship to Trump that those appointees did to the presidents who appointed them.

Michael W. McConnell. Eugene Volokh concurs.

 

5

I think I saw just once a passing reference to SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s high opinion of Merrick Garland, the Obama nominee whose “seat” the Republicans “stole” as the common trope has it.

Walter Olson confirms that it’s true and explains why the reference was fleeting.

I have no need of any other hypothesis.

 

6

Beyond wanting to restore its place as Asia’s dominant nation, China is seeking to become the most powerful and influential country in the world. Moreover, its economic success is allowing its authoritarian political system and mixed economic system to become a model for other countries. For the first time in decades, there is a worldwide debate about the best form of government and economic system.

Michael Morel. The authoritarianism of China’s government should not be underestimated. Two chilling stories, here and here.

 

Miscellany

7

Daniel Drezner satirizes the Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed.


Are major social media biased against conservatives?

I think maybe they are, functionally if not ideologically. But government regulation to eradicate bias is a cure worse than the disease.

That’s all I wanted to say.


I feel rather sorry for any prominent person named “T.J. McCarrick” even if the disgraced Cardinal‘s middle initial is “E.”

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Observations on Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox Church might be called a little stingy in its acknowledging of anyone as a theologian. Strictly speaking, our church recognizes but three—just three saints whose names include that epithet. They are Saint John the Theologian (also called John the Evangelist), Saint Gregory the Theologian (also called Gregory of Nazianzus, and one of the Cappadocian Fathers), and Saint Symeon the New Theologian. As it happens, each of these men wrote their theologies in poetry, highlighting to some degree the rabbinic understanding that true theology is always parabolic, as the One of whom we speak extends beyond comprehension, irreducible.

One of the discoveries that led me finally to embrace the eastern church was its disposition toward biblical scripture. The church of my youth approached the scriptures as if they were both knowable and reducible to proposition; each verse was approached as a fixed utterance, dictated, word by word, by God to certain men; the scriptures were understood to be God’s words precisely, and they were understood to be the revelation, as such. On the other hand, Orthodoxy observes that what God revealed to these men was but a glimpse of himself, and that those men thereafter employed their own words to offer up what might be better understood as a witness to the revelation. That is to say, these writers beheld a mystical vision, and sought to share it by whatever means they could muster. What we make of their textual witness is, of course, another matter.

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Willow Creek Babylon

I attended Willow Creek Church precisely one time, probably Fall of 1992 or 1997 (class reunions at 5-year intervals put me in the neighborhood of South Barrington).

Willow Creek was the model church for Evangelicals — everyone wanted to be like them. If your church was stagnant or shrinking, an fun-filled, expense-paid trip to Willow Creek for the Church Growth Committee was de rigeur.

The show I attended that Sunday morning left me a bit conflicted. Jane Austen explains:

“I should like balls infinitely better,” she replied, “if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”

“Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.”

(Pride and Predudice) My skepticism, I think, was that it was all very catchy and slick (I’d have paid $5 to hear the band in particular — on Saturday night at an auditorium or bar), but not so near much like a church.

Willow Creek’s fall, about which there’s no shortage of news if you hadn’t heard, is calamitous, like that of Babylon the Great in the apocalypse. It deservedly calls the megachurch model into severest doubt. Bill Hybels is the Evangelical Cardinal McCarrick.

At least I assume it is felt that way, for I myself definitively left the world of Willow Creek wannabees in November of 1997.

UPDATE: Triumphalist connotations in my original ending were, it was brought to my attention privately, quite strong. My intent was offer the Orthodox Church for consideration of those burnt out on megachurches for any reason, not because I think it immune to the wiles of the Evil One vis á vis any particular sin.

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.