Sunday, 1/15/23

Assembly by False Hearts

In our digitalized, printed world, we have access to almost everything. The vast discourse of the saints, the details of the canons, the deeds and records of empires, are all available to almost everyone. Someone wants to make a point and assembles a long list of quotes drawn from the saints. Every word written is true, and yet the presentation is not true.  It is impossible to argue with such things – you are resisting the saints! And it is equally impossible to help someone whose heart is in delusion to understand that such a collection can be false – primarily because it was assembled by a false heart.

The Scriptures are abused in the same manner. It is terribly frustrating to be confronted with a vast collection of verses gathered in the service of a false teaching. The same thing was confronted by the fathers early on. Fr. Georges Florovsky gives this summary of an account by St. Irenaeus:

Denouncing the Gnostic mishandling of Scriptures, St. Irenaeus introduced a picturesque simile. A skillful artist has made a beautiful image of a king, composed of many precious jewels. Now, another man takes this mosaic image apart, re-arranges the stones in another pattern so as to produce the image of a dog or of a fox. Then he starts claiming that this was the original picture, by the first master, under the pretext that the gems … were authentic. In fact, however, the original design had been destroyed …. This is precisely what the heretics do with the Scripture. They disregard and disrupt “the order and connection” of the Holy Writ and “dismember the truth” — …. Words, expressions, and images — … —are genuine, indeed, but the design, the … hypothesis, is arbitrary and false (adv. haeres., 1. 8. 1).

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Goodness and a Word in Due Season. (Ellipses replace Greek text that wouldn’t render on WordPress)

St. Irenaeus’s analogy always grabs me, and it’s as applicable to today’s heretics as to gnostics two millennia ago.

Midhir’s Invitation to the Far Laned

Irish, author, unknown, ninth century

Fair woman, will you go with me to the high land
where sweet music is? There your hair is like the primrose
And people stroll with snow-white skin.

In the high land, there is neither yours nor mine.
The women’s teeth are white; the men’s eyes are black and clear.

Every cheek is the pink of foxglove.

The meadows of Ireland are fair to see –
But they are like a desert when you have seen the high land;

Irish ale is fine to drink – but in the high land
the wine they serve will turn your head into a cloud.

In the place, I speak of, the young do not die before their time;
They serve the old ones, who are wise
and shield the young in turn.

Sweet dreams flow always through the fair land
and the minds of the people are clear

as skin with no blemish,
as a child’s face in the virgin morning.

When we walk together there, you will see
these men and ladies,

you will see them on all sides, tall, and fair and kind.
But they will not see us.

For Adam’s transgression is a dark cloak around us,
and it means we cannot be seen, or counted among them.

(Martin Shaw & Tony Hoagland, Cinderbiter)

The missus almost immediately picked up that C.S. Lewis, consciously or unconsciously, echoed this old Irish poem in The Great Divorce.

A compulsion as common as the air we breath

Orthodoxy theology defines only what is necessary and always leaves unspoken that which cannot be explained. This approach was part of the Christian faith from the beginning. But the Western phronema often suppresses, dismisses, minimizes, or ignores this stance. The Western mind is compelled to define and explain everything, since without a rational explanation a concept or fact cannot be considered true, or, conversely, all truth can be proven rationally.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

Me, too

[N]one of the things that I care about most have ever proven susceptible to systematic exposition.

Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread With the Dead

The Spiritual Life Doesn’t Work

I have wondered how the “success” of the spiritual life would be measured? I could imagine that the number of persons baptized might be compared to the number of the baptized who fall short of salvation—but there is no way to discover such a thing. In lieu of that, we often set up our own way of measuring—some expectation of “success” that we use to judge the spiritual life. “I tried Christianity,” the now self-described agnostic relates, “and found that it did not live up to its claims.” I’ve seen things like that.

To my mind, the entire question is a little like complaining about your hammer because it doesn’t work well as a screw-driver. The problem is that the spiritual life doesn’t “work,” and it was never supposed to. It is not something that “works”; it is something that “lives.” And this is an extremely important distinction.

We today look to our faith to solve problems. Whether we suffer from psychological wounds, or simple poverty and failure, we look to God for help. The spiritual life, and the “techniques” we imagine to be associated with it, are the means by which we “help ourselves”—and then God will do the rest.

Well, this narrative is simply not part of the Christian faith …

The lives of the saints are filled with information of an opposite sort. For example:

  • [St.] Mary of Egypt is directed into the desert by the voice of the Mother of God. She lives miraculously on very little food. But she tells of 17 years—17 years!—of virtual torture as she battled the temptations that had governed her previously sinful life. Our daily trials would seem as nothing in comparison.
  • St. Silouan the Athonite told about a period of 15 years in which he had no sense of the presence of God, but was instead tortured by demons.
  • St. Seraphim of Sarov spent years in prayer and fasting, was beaten, robbed and left like a cripple.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Slow Road to Heaven


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

New Year’s Day 2023

Happy New Year!

I rarely go back and read things I wrote earlier in the life of this blog, but I did so recently and was pleased with, for instance, 50th Anniversary. Indeed, I’m a bit ashamed at how much thought I put into that compared to my current tendency to curate other people’s memorable passages.

I suspect that I’ve resorted to curation because I long ago blogged my big ideas and I’m under no pressure (financial, for instance) to generated new content on some schedule or other.

I’m hoping to publish more of my own thoughts in 2023, but we’ll see how that goes.

Evangelicals and Evangelicalism

I have written many a critical word about Evangelicals and Evangelicalism. I’m going to step back from that a bit.

First, it’s exceedingly difficult to define who is an Evangelical or what is Evangelicalism. I’ve tended to go with the term when my sources used it. That’s a problem when some of the press may over-apply the term.

But there’s a bigger reason than that for backing off a bit: what I have been calling “Evangelical” or “Evangelicalism” is almost entirely non-denominational Protestantism. With a few possible exceptions, Evangelical denominations (there are a few), especially those denominations wherein local churches aren’t entirely at liberty to do their own thing (unlike the Souther Baptist Convention, where they are entirely free to go astray), tend not to be the perpetrators of the stuff I criticize.

These thoughts came to me as I thought about the Religion News Association’s #9-ranked religion story of 2022:

Non-denominational Christian churches soar in growth, according to the newly released 2020 U.S. Religion Census, a decennial survey conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. There are now more non-denominational churches than any denominations’ churches but Southern Baptists, and their 21 million adherents outnumber every group but Catholics.

I also think it’s time for me to re-re-read Tom Howard’s Evangelical is Not Enough. It’s not that I’m tempted to return to Evangelicalism; it’s that I tend to forget what Evangelicalism at its best can be (Howard’s childhood Evangelical home was idyllic), and that in a non-trivial sense, believing Evangelicals (as opposed to Trumpists who use Evangelical as a political identity), however misguided I think them, are fellow-Christians.

How capacious is “Christian”?

I was preparing something for publication a few days ago on the boundaries of the term “Christian.” Part of the question in mind was “can a sect hold such a skewed idea of Christ that I need not credit their claims to be “Christian” because they follow the “Christ” of their skewed ideas?”

More specifically, “Do Mormons hold such a skewed idea of Christ that I need not credit their claims to be “Christian”?

Then I stumbled onto something I’d written on the topic earlier that was better than what I was in the process of writing. My bottom line: if a sect rejects the Christology of the first three or four ecumenical councils, I won’t acknowledge them as Christians. And the Mormons, for all their clean living, are dead wrong about Christ.

For those who think “Christian” is the equivalent of “nice guy,” this doubtless seems unkind, but we already have “nice guy” to describe nice guys, and “Christian” is not a synonym.

Caesaropapism

The Royal Court, grouped round the Imperial Chapel and, seized with theological fervour, sought to ensure the triumph of a novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pressure from the Frankish empire caused this strange teaching to triumph in the West. After resisting for a while, the Popes were in the end obliged to alter the traditional, sacred text of the Creed. From then on, schism from the Eastern Patriarchates became inevitable. (Byzantium, on the other hand, never experienced such an extreme case of Caesaropapism.)

Vladimir Lossky, Seven Days on the Roads of France: June 1940

The “novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit” was the filioque, the unilateral corruption of the Nicene Creed’s declaration that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” by changing it to “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

Human reasoning

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos also noted the difference in process and perspective between Latin scholasticism and the patristic approach. He concluded that the emphasis on human reasoning led to the collapse of Western Christian theology.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

The more I understand the real-world limits of human reasoning, the truer this seems.

The Fall

There is a common mistaken notion about the fall (the sin of Adam and Eve). That mistake is to think that the fall somehow changed all of creation and human beings from a state of original innocence into an altered state of evil and corruption. This is not the teaching of the Scriptures or of the Tradition.

Occasionally you hear the term “fallen nature” which is another inaccurate term. “Nature,” in theological terms, is synonymous with “essence,” or “ousia.” It is the very “thing” that something is. What is understood, theologically, is that the fall has brought death into the world. What is different about human beings is not our nature, but our inability to actually fulfill our nature.The bondage that comes into our lives through death is what we term “sin.” But this is not our “nature” causing the problem.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Essential Goodness of All Things


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Monday, 12/19/22

How we differ from traditional cultures

Choose ye this day

You can believe exactly what people in 1450 believed, but you cannot believe it in the same way they believed it because you have a choice.

Paraphrase of Carl Trueman, interviewed by Andrew Sullivan

This is a modern conundrum. I can say “I had no choice but to become Orthodox when I saw and learned what I did,” but of course I did have a choice. Choosing has been unavoidable for centuries now — at least in upper strata in Western Christendom (perhaps it’s one of those proverbial “first-world problems”).

Choosing to change religion is not even a costly choice here as it is still elsewhere in the world. Yet there is a toll to be paid, coming from banks of integrity, for not choosing what overwhelmingly commends itself.

(Sullivan/Trueman was a great interview, by the way, between very smart Oxbridge men with significant differences of opinion but an ability to converse civilly. Go thou and do likewise.)

East and West

Further:

To say that Orthodoxy is “Eastern” and that Catholic and Protestant Christianity are “Western” is not a poetic description or a mere matter of geography. The terms have long been employed to indicate real differences in historical experiences and thought—not simply the final conclusions but the process by which we arrive at those conclusions.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox. I do not have, even by inheritance, the historical experience of the Eastern Church. My heritage is Western. So while I believe and practice Eastern Orthodoxy, I cannot believe and practice it in quite the way a devout “cradle Orthodox” would.

I like to think that converts like me bring something of value nonetheless, particularly where the faith may have tended toward a complacent cultural club or, as in my parish, where no single cultural group of Orthodox Christians coalesced to to support a church, and converts both added numbers and served as a catalyst for a new, more American (i.e., “pan-Orthodox”) parish. That my parish is in the relatively obscure Carpatho-Rusyn diocese may make it easier to avoid an ethnic identification — as in when people ask whether my Orthodoxy is Greek or Russian.

Traditional civilizations

In a traditional civilization it is almost inconceivable that a man should claim an idea as his own; and in any case, were he to do so, he would thereby deprive it of all credit and authority, reducing it to the level of a meaningless fantasy: if an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it; if it is false, there is no credit in having invented it.

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

Culture generally

Journalistic murmurations

I’ve heard, and find it plausible, that the New York Times tacitly decides what’s “news” worthy of mainstream attention.

I’m starting to think there is some similar organ on the Christian and Christianish Right, because (for instance) all of a sudden “everyone” (i.e., many on the Christian Right, from which orientation I gain much daily commentary — this, for instance) is writing about MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying, as implemented in Canada and increasingly “recommended” in heavy-handed ways.

It’s a worthwhile story, but I don’t think you’ll see it in the New York Times. It may have started with advance copies of The New Atlantis.

It occurs to me that this phenomenon is rather like a murmuration. (I hope that apt metaphor is original. I certainly am not conscious of having encountered it elsewhere.)

The Promise of Pluralism imperiled

In the seven years since Obergefell was decided, the American left has been on a mission to diminish the legal and practical foundations of the Constitution’s free-speech rights.

They argue that antidiscrimination laws should be recognized as more important and that the Supreme Court in Ms. Smith’s case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, should affirm this new reality. Colorado’s law lists the classes of discrimination as “race, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation (including transgender status), national origin/ancestry, creed, marital status.”

This Supreme Court is likely to decide in Ms. Smith’s favor, maintaining the prohibition established in 1943 by Justice Robert Jackson as the “fixed star in our constitutional constellation” that the government can’t compel, or coerce, an individual to adopt the majority’s opinion.

Still, this case is among the reasons you have been seeing a public assault on the high court’s conservative members. The left’s playbook, across politics, is to stigmatize its opposition as outside acceptable opinion.

Daniel Henninger, They Want to Shut You (and 303 Creative) Up.

I’ll be blunt: I think free speech rights trump antidiscrimination rights. The only issue is whether what the state is forbidding or commanding qualifies as “speech.” In the 303 Creative case, it so clearly was speech that Colorado admitted it.

Western Civ

The argument now that the spread of pop culture and consumer goods around the world represents the triumph of Western civilization trivializes Western culture. The essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

Your periodic reminder

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

Questioning whether violence really is religious risks the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but I’ve believed that violence doesn’t come from true Christianity for more than 50 years. I probably was guilty of scripture-twisting, but I cited James 4:1-4 as my prooftext.

My conviction, and the bloody wars provoked by non-Christian ideologies in the last century, gives me cause for grave concern as we arguably are abandoning a real, if flawed, Christian heritage now that our great atheist enemy is defunct.

Politics (sigh!)

Marshall Law

Here at The Dispatch, we are mostly anti-snark and anti-sneer, so I will try to consider this question earnestly: What does it say about our country that we are governed by illiterates?

One “Marshall Law” is a typo. Two is a trend. And the recently published trove of January 6-related texts is a testament to the illiteracy of the people who represent millions of Americans in Congress ….

Kevin D. Williamson

Ron DeSantis

I want two things out of the 2024 presidential cycle. One is the end of Donald Trump’s political career, whether in the primary or general election. I don’t care when or how it happens as long as it happens.

The other is a greater willingness among conservatives to criticize their leadership. We’ve spent seven years encased in a repulsive personality cult devoted to a repulsive personality. If the cult disbands in the next election, one obvious lesson in the aftermath is that it shouldn’t be replaced by a new one.

Nick Cattogio

Cattogio thinks the best way to end Trump’s political career is an incumbent Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (you may have heard of him).

I’m agnostic on what it will take to drive a stake through Trump’s blackened heart, but I’m tending negative on DeSantis.

He’s smart enough to know that some of the culture war laws he has backed are unconstitutional, but backed them anyway despite his oath to uphold the constitution. Maybe the Morning Dispatch’s satirical summary of the Bill of Rights is his for real:

On this day in 1791, the fledgling United States of America ratified its Bill of Rights, conferring on its citizens a host of fundamental freedoms that can only be infringed upon if doing so helps one’s political team win culture war fights.

That’s not my view of the Bill of Rights.

I can forgive Marjorie Taylor Green her illiterate outbursts before I forgive the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Ron DeSantis. All of them are better-educated and probably smarter than me, but they tend toward unprincipled pandering and willing to subvert the Constitution for political gain. For all I know, DeSantis seems better than the other two only because I’m less familiar with him.

The Coverup is the Crime

Remember that dad who got dragged out of a school board meeting in Loudon County, Virginia, after pressing school officials about in-school sexual assaults on girls by a cross-dressing boy? The idea of the problem being the dad fit a leftish narrative so well that Merrick Garland directed the FBI to investigate threats against teachers and school officials and people began viewing vocal parental involvement in Board meetings as terroristic.

Well, it turns out the dad may have been right and that school officials were criminally covering up the assaults.

Caveat: There are twists and turns in this story. The charges are mostly misdemeanors and potentially somewhat political. I doubt that the dust has settled enough for clarity. It’s now well-known that a cross-dressing male sexually assaulted two girls in two bathrooms, but those bathrooms apparently were not yet subject to a “come as the gender you feel today” policy.

Let the healing begin

Republicans actually turned out more voters than Democrats in November. They even won the national popular vote. But in races involving Trump’s candidates, many Republican voters split their tickets, punishing Trump favorites like Arizona’s Blake Masters and Kari Lake who questioned the 2020 results. It turns out that running against democracy is not a recipe for democratic success.

It’s sobering to realize that history can turn on the personal quirks of one person. But it’s also comforting, because as the 2022 midterm results suggest, some of the ugliest aspects of the Trump era aren’t inherent to our system or deeply embedded in our society. They are the downstream effects of one bad actor. Remove him and the pollution he caused will remain, but once disconnected from its source, it can slowly be cleansed, as we saw in this past election.

Yair Rosenberg, Deep Shtetl. The idea of a “national popular vote” in Congressional and Senate elections is quite bogus for most purposes, but it somehow feels instructive here.

Hard fact

You can’t fact-check a person out of hope and purpose. They’ll resent you even if you’re right.

David French

Just for fun

France can still pull it off if Mike Pence has the courage

@EricMGarcia


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 12/4/22

What is Religion?

In the next few chapters, I am inevitably going to have to use some much debated terms, such as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Romanticism. To the left hemisphere these look like categories that should be definable; to the right hemisphere they are the products of experience of loose constellations of phenomena, which have a family resemblance.

Iain McGillchrist, The Master and His Emissary, Chapter 9 (The Renaissance and the Reformation).

I remember a cartoon in a youth-oriented Christian magazine 50 years or so ago, wherein an “educated” person was claiming that “All religions are fundamentally alike under their superficial differences. I’ll show you: just name any two religions.” The response was “Micronesian frog worship and Christian Science.”

I have been, and remain, a bit skeptical of the term “religion,” but I suppose major religions might fall into the category of “loose constellations of phenomena, which have a family resemblance.”

There are even mutually exclusive Christianities

There is a Christianity that tells us God plans to save us from our sins: To heal our passions, conform our character to His, and make us capable of union with Him. And there is a Christianity that tells us God wants you to be happy in this life. These two Christianities are mutually exclusive.

There are certainly times of happiness for the disciple of Christ – and at least seeds of joy which can be brought to bloom through the practice of gratefulness, humility, and love. But in 21st-century America, perhaps Christianity’s most counter-cultural message is that God isn’t really interested in making you happy; the Gospel is about the Kingdom of God, not about you, and Christ unconditionally promises His people, “In this world you will have tribulation.” (Jn 16:33)

Fr Silouan Thompson, Your Best Life?. (H/T John Brady)

In our post-Christian Christendom, though, ghosts live on, not merely between salvation Christianity and happiness Christianity, but in how people prattle about Christianity.

A pet peeve example is people mis-identifying important peripheral matters as the core of Christianity. Phillip Rieff captures what’s wrong, and what’s almost right, about a major example:

Rightly ordered sexuality is not at the core of Christianity, but as Rieff saw, it’s so near to the center that to lose the Bible’s clear teaching on this matter is to risk losing the fundamental integrity of the faith.

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

It drives me batty when people prattle that sexuality (or variants thereof) are “the very core of Christianity” (or variants thereof). It tells me that the prattler is merely a culturally Christian conservative, or that he has a very tenuous connection between brain and the various organs of expression (mouth, fingertips, etc.).

But I had forgotten this quoted sentence, which I think is a much more accurate formulation, and gives the prattler’s at least a little bit of cover.

Cremation and Christianity

I went to a funeral home visitation of a friend recently, and what quickly struck me was that there was no casket, only an urn, presumably with the “cremains” of my friend.

Cremation hits me like a gut punch, and that reaction is getting worse. It wasn’t always so, even though I never, even in my giddiest infatuation was all things modern in my youth, thought I’d like cremation.

And it’s not just that Orthodox Christianity is dead-set against cremation. I know full well that not all Christians are Orthodox. But I’d like them actually to be Christian, and to have a Christian anthropology.

Part of my reaction to this most recent visitation, I’m pretty sure, was that everything about my friend’s obituary and visitation bespoke that she and her spouse had ceased observing any form of the Christian faith they professed when I first got to know them. They became nice, comfortable, and secular.

But earlier this year, I went to a visitation for another friend whose body likewise wasn’t present in his big-box, bare-black-wall warehouse church. So why did that bother me?

I mentioned my visceral reaction to my Protestant wife, whose parents also chose cremation. She repeated a fairly standard defense of cremation, though neither of us will be cremated: that God is capable of resurrecting a cremated body (fair enough; of course God can do that), and that cremation today is not an effort to defy God and avoid resurrected condemnation (probably true, but only because a lot of Christians believe in the resurrection of something than yucky old bodies).

Cremation says “Our bodies don’t matter, and maybe even are evil. (Insert prooftext, like maybe Romans 7:18.) We’re really spirits.” You can see that same attitude in the way moderns and postmoderns almost all speak about death as being a liberation from the body.

I do not believe that. Death indeed separates soul and body, but we’re not meant to be disembodied, and the resurrection restores the body-soul unity that God intends. The separation of soul and body is not a liberation, but a violent insult, wanting redress. When the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ ascended to His Father, he ascended in the body and His glorified, incarnate body is seated at His Father’s right hand. That should bring us up short if we discount our bodies.

For that reason, the dead body should be treated with respect, treated as part of the person who has died, not as an apartment they’ve vacated, and laid to rest intact — not because God cannot resurrect a body from ashes, but because cremation symbolically reinforces a sub-Christian doctrine of man, one that is rampant in our culture and even in many of our Churches. It’s as much for the living as from respect for the dead that we treat bodies with due respect, not as trash.

Maybe I’ll fret my way to a clearer articulation of a feeling that’s pre-verbal, but that can do for now.

Salvation? (Yawn!)

Salvation is constantly associated with palms, crowns, white robes, thrones, and splendour like the sun and stars. All this makes no immediate appeal to me at all, and in that respect I fancy I am a typical modern.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

One reason for epistemic humility is that we are all, to some extent, creatures of our age, and our age will one day (here or hereafter) be recognized as full of errors.

The words of Judas

I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core).

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Erotic Language of Prayer

Barbarians capture Wheaton, but a few escape

The real problem at Wheaton College runs deeper than culture-war effervescence: Few students care about or even understand the mission of Christian intellectual formation. At Wheaton, when students pick up a book for a course, they usually ask only two questions: “Will this help me get a prestigious job?” and “Will this further my personal relationship with my savior?” Wheaton students tend to focus on practical career training and individual spirituality, giving little thought to how liberal learning can enhance one’s spiritual life or the importance of intellectual formation in the Christian tradition.

[E]ven humanities students get caught up in the careerist mindset, talking about their education as if it was merely one consumer preference among many. Though these students enjoy their studies, they do not see intrinsic value in learning and passing down Christian culture across the ages. The humanities can be an edifying hobby, but non-professional intellectual formation has no claim to any special, protected, or elevated status for many humanities students at Wheaton.

Wheaton’s culture of ahistoricism is even more pronounced than its careerism. On the surface, there seems to be little appetite for experiencing one’s faith as an inheritance transmitted through thousands of years of Christian civilization. But the fact that many evangelical students who enter Wheaton denominationally indifferent end up leaving as converts to Anglicanism, Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy suggests that such an appetite is not whetted through the college. Its administration and trustees would do well to remember that the body of Christ isn’t merely alive in the present but transcends time and space. Full participation in the body of Christ requires knowledge of one’s place in that living chain.

James Diddams, The Real Problem at Wheaton College.

Of the many Wheaton students who leave as Anglicans, Catholics or Orthodox, I’d draw the opposite conclusion that Wheaton does, however inadvertently, however inadvertently, whet the appetite for what Richard John Neuhaus called “ecclesial Christianity,” defined as that Christianity in which faith in Christ and faith in Christ’s Church is one act of faith, not two.

The ephemeral pleasure of the in crowd

By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic. Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can be really enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.”

C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring, an essay in The Weight of Glory

Myth and epiphany

To the considerable extent that questions of value, of right and wrong, of justice and of beauty cannot be experimentally or rationally resolved, myth allows many individuals to share an epiphany, a vision of truth granting them a basis for accepting certain normative standards for which there are no clear or convincing proof … [M]yth assures mankind that certain values transcend reason to give human existence meaning within an unchanging frame of reference, while ensuring unity among the members of the community concerning these values. This unity of values is the hallmark of culture. Without this unity regarding the imponderables, civilized actions become impossible, and man is cast upon the shabby mythology of his own random dream-world and is at the mercy of state and natural religions.

David V. Hicks, Norms and Nobility

Conversion from paganism was a really big deal

When a gentile convert stood in the baptistery on Easter’s eve and, before descending naked into the waters, turned to the West to renounce the devil and the devil’s ministers, he was rejecting, and in fact reviling, the gods in bondage to whom he had languished all his life; and when he turned to the East to confess Christ, he was entrusting himself to the invincible hero who had plundered hell of its captives, overthrown death, subdued the powers of the air, and been raised the Lord of history. Life, for the early Church, was spiritual warfare; and no baptized Christian could doubt how great a transformation—of the self and the world—it was to consent to serve no other god than Him whom Christ revealed.

David Bentley Hart, Christ and Nothing, via Rod Dreher (emphasis added by Rod).

Dreher, touring Southeast Turkey, including ancient Ephesus, continues:

I had … prickly discussion with one of the members of our group, an American Christian who said he didn’t understand wars of religion, and religious conflict. He described religious difference as an unimportant matter of personal preference — and did this in a way that is very familiar in 21st century American life. He seemed to think that the pagans of Ephesus had no reason to fear the Christians, and were mean to them for no reason. I politely challenged him, but after a few barbed exchanges, we dropped the subject. For the early church in Ephesus, this wasn’t a potayto-potahto issue.

That other American could use a bit of epistemic humility, no?


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

An Anniversary

November 16 is the 25th anniversary of my reception into Orthodox Christianity, from a background of Calvinism (proximate) and generic evangelicalism (20 years remote).

This post isn’t meant as an apologetic, though if it convicts someone that they should give Orthodoxy a look, I’d be glad. It’s also not intended to be a comprehensive story of why I didn’t, say, become Roman Catholic, or how all the little things, not just a few big things, pointed toward Orthodoxy. Something closer to a comprehensive story, or at least a complement to this post, is here.

I can’t give a neat connect-the-dots account of going from Christian Reformed Elder to Orthodox layman because I don’t remember everything I read or in what order I read them. But I tend to mention Peter Gilquist’s Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity by Timothy Ware (later Metropolitan Kallistos Waare), and the monograph Sola Scriptura by then-Deacon, now Priest John Whiteford.

The first made conversion fairly “thinkable.” The second familiarized me with Orthodoxy at a basic level. The monograph disenthralled me of sola scriptura, the battle cry and foundation of the Protestant Reformation. When pondering why I remain Orthodox, I think of this monograph and say “there are some things you just can’t un-see.”

For some reason, I too rarely mention C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, which played what feels like a very important (if idiosyncratic) role as well — perhaps because it was not a direct apologetic for Orthodoxy.

If you’re not familiar with The Great Divorce, you can fix that in one evening. Summarizing, many in Lewis’s tale of a day trip from hell to heaven, where they were given the option of staying, found that heaven was just a bit too real, or too little about them, or too inhospitable to their petty grudges, and so got back on the bus for hell.

Re-reading it a bit more than 25 years ago, I for the first time saw in myself hellion habits that could lead me back onto that bus, though I was offered heaven and had thought my salvation eternally secure. I asked myself: “What are you doing to become the kind of person who would stay in the hyper-real place, who wouldn’t get back on the bus to the grey city? Are you certain that some post-death miracle is going to eradicate a lifetime of cherished vices and self-regard? Shouldn’t you be starting a bit of self-mortification now?”

So what does that have to do with Orthodoxy? Orthodoxy is, so far as I know, uniquely urgent about the necessity of cooperating with God in our salvation (synergy). Most Protestant traditions I know seem utterly unable to distinguish cooperation with God from “earning salvation,” which they rightly believe is impossible. So they have nothing to offer one who wants to know how merely to cooperate.

It helps that Orthodox worship is distinctively “not about me” — if not uniquely, then at least counter-culturally. Decades before I found Orthodoxy, I was dissatisfied with most of the music we sang (in the whole succession of Churches I attended in my very mobile younger year), the gist of which was how God makes me feel — i.e., they weren’t really about God.

But “[w]e are homo adorans, creatures capable of self-transcendence through worship. Without this ability and capacity for worship, we are not fully human; even in our pomp we are like the beasts that perish (Psalm 49:20).” (Fr. Lawrence Farley)

Not even fully human without worship. That rings so very true to me! Whatever my faults, and they are many, inconstancy in Sunday church attendance has never been one of them. Because I need it — need to worship, and (I now recognize) need this stiff and willful stuff called “me” to be molded into a godlier likeness.

More than rejection of any particular Protestant doctrine, the awareness of the need — in this present life — to grow toward God, to become more Christlike, to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, has guided my past 25 years.

For some reason, I thought you might want to know that.

One more thing, not at all unrelated:

I believe the greatest heresy of all is the belief of some Christians that they are “saved.” If we believe we are categorically and without question already saved, it is a good sign that we have been dominated by demonic pride. St. Paul’s statement, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9), must be read in the context of Christ’s words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Vassilios Papavasiliou, Thirty Steps to Heaven


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 9/11/22

Yes, it’s the 21st anniversary of the Twin Towers (and related) attack.

Orthodoxy

Strangers in Strange Lands

In traditional Orthodox countries, the general culture supports, or at least is not hostile toward, Orthodox phronema. But in other countries, Orthodox Christians are usually a tiny minority in a sea of other religious traditions. Acquiring and maintaining our Orthodox phronema in a very pluralistic society is much more difficult and requires real effort and dedication.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

Theodicy

God allowed suffering to enter the world. He did this not out of vengeance, but out of love for man, so that through suffering arising from self-love, sensual pleasure, and the resulting desire for created things, man might see through the illusion of his self sufficiency and return to his original designation: the state of pristine simplicity and communion with the Way.

Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao

Repentance

Repentance is everything you do to get sin, those inborn passions, out of you. It’s reading, thinking, praying, weeding out disruptive influences in your life, sharing time with fellow Christians, following the guidance of the saints. Repentance is the renunciation of what harms us and the acquisition of what is beneficial to us, writes a holy counselor.

Dee Pennock, *God’s Path to Sanity

Five takes on Protestantism

I didn’t set out to collect critiques, but these all came to my attention (several through Readwise, which I enjoy and recommend), and they felt compelling.

I’ve been Protestant, remember — just one beggar suggesting to another that there’s no bread here.

Searching for Authenticity in All the Wrong Places

The Reformation is the first great expression of the search for certainty in modern times. As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed. Imagination is not to be filled with [what are now thought of as] airy images.’ In their search for the one truth, both movements attempted to do away with the visual image, the vehicle par excellence of the right hemisphere, particularly in its mythical and metaphoric function, in favour of the word, the stronghold of the left hemisphere, in pursuit of unambiguous certainty. … What is so compelling here is that the motive force behind the Reformation was the urge to regain authenticity, with which one can only be profoundly sympathetic. The path it soon took was that of the destruction of all means whereby the authentic could have been recaptured.

Iaia McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Performance Art

America is a Protestant country and we skipped the foot-washing, love-thy-neighbor aspects of the faith, preferring preaching, a performance art that lets you despise your neighbor and thereby raise yourself up. Our politics today is tortured by its Protestantism. The Sisters of St. Mary who founded this hospital may have inherited some dreadful theology but they took a better path, they lay hands on the suffering, they soothed the fevered brow, they lifted the fallen.

Garrison Keillor, reflecting on his medical procedures at a Catholic hospital in the Mayo Clinic system.

Happy imposture

It is an imposture—this grotto stuff—but it is one that all men ought to thank the Catholics for. Wherever they ferret out a lost locality made holy by some Scriptural event, they straightway build a massive—almost imperishable—church there, and preserve the memory of that locality for the gratification of future generations. If it had been left to Protestants to do this most worthy work, we would not even know where Jerusalem is to-day, and the man who could go and put his finger on Nazareth would be too wise for this world. The world owes the Catholics its good will even for the happy rascality of hewing out these bogus grottoes in the rock; for it is infinitely more satisfactory to look at a grotto, where people have faithfully believed for centuries that the Virgin once lived, than to have to imagine a dwelling-place for her somewhere, any where, nowhere, loose and at large all over this town of Nazareth.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (emphasis added)

Populism

What then is the driving force behind American Christianity if it is not the quality of its organization, the status of its clergy, or the power of its intellectual life? I have suggested that a central force has been its democratic or populist orientation.

Nathan Hatch, “Epilogue: The Recurring Populist Impulse in American Christianity” in The Democratization of American Christianity

Escapist Fiction

The pre-Tribulationist party eventually gained the upper hand for reasons that, according to Sandeen, had less to do with their superior skill at exegesis than with the attractiveness of their position that Christians would be raptured before the Tribulations.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals

Healthcare-sharing ministries

California congressman demands more transparency from health care sharing ministries

This question was bound to arise and probably needs to. If people aren’t already disguising their sketchy health insurance plans as “ministries,” they soon enough will.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 9/4/22

Pray for your pastor

A pastor in Indiana told me that no one in her church denied the importance of Covid precautions, but the new demands that the pandemic placed on her contributed to a sense of burnout.

“I never got tired of pastoring or thinking about Scripture and preaching,” she said. “I just started associating ministry with having to learn new computer programs and having embarrassing, anxious moments around technology.” She continued, “Over time pastoral ministry started to seem like a total absurdity. The world around me was on fire and I was stuck in an empty church building figuring out Zoom.”

Tish Harrison Warren, Why Pastors Are Burning Out

Another difference between East and West

Even during the critical debates of the fourth century, when theological terminology was being fleshed out, Fathers such as Gregory the Theologian rejected the use of clever argumentation and Aristotelian syllogisms, preferring the philosophy of the fisherman, the Tradition of the Church.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

That the Christian Latin West turned eventually toward argumentation and syllogism is a major font of the differences between it and the Christian “Greek” East.

Therapeutic friendship

Since we last met, Marco lost his wife to cancer, and I lost mine to divorce. As I expected, my old friend was in great spirits. With Marco, he’s never faking cheerfulness. It comes from his faith. You can’t imagine faith like he has! When I was on French television a few years ago, the host asked me who my hero is. “Marco Sermarini,” I said, and it was true. I explained that it’s because here is an ordinary man, just like the rest of us, who loves life with great passion, and who has done extraordinary things because above all, he loves Christ.

Rod Dreher, The Gift Of Friendship

I’m glad Rod is spending some time with Marco. He needs it.

Blue Laws

Of course, “lowering religious participation” was always the intent and purpose of repealing blue laws, and this all negatively confirms that law is a teacher, and sometimes teaches what is false and demonstrably bad for a people. The activists who sought (in their hatred of Christianity) to repeal such laws, and the legislators and justices who did the repealing, failed to foresee how damaging the loss of such laws would be on “the social fabric of communities generally.” Among their findings is that the loss of blue laws depressed religious participation, and that this in turn made very significant portion of the population unstable, lacking the strength of “religiosity,” unable to deal with “enormous negative shocks” such as large-scale wars and natural disasters—which is to say, unable to deal with suffering.

Restoring blue laws is not a panacea. Yet as the authors show, the decline of religious adherence in America is not simply one correlative among many, but rather it is so highly correlative as to be reasonably considered the principal cause of our despair. Of course, as a theologian, I could’ve told you that, but it’s nice to have some confirmation from those who practice the dismal science as well.

Chad Pecknold, To Reverse Our Despair. (Emphasis added)

It’s sad to see Pecknold, a solid-enough guy most of the time, fairly obviously making shit up. I guess truth and sobriety come in second (or lower) behind promoting the "Postliberal Order."

Episcopalians

In the early 20th Century, there was extensive rapprochement between the Orthodox and Episcopalians. That eventually broke down, and the Episcopal Church in the U.S. has gone on to pioneer many deviations from historic Christianity, starting, by some accounts, with approving contraception. (What? You’re surprised that all Churches opposed contraception until a loosening began in the 1930s?)

For a variety of reasons, and increasingly as I grew older because of their deviations from historic Christianity, I have always been very leery of the Episcopal Church — so leery, in fact, that I could not quite imagine why a believing Christian from another tradition would become Episcopalian. (By “believing Christian” I mean to exclude those who would become Episcopalian to climb the social ladder.)

Yet I have seen that happen quite a few times in my life, and although I feel no personal draw in that direction, I think I have finally figured out why someone else might: revulsion at frivolousness or bigotry in their corner of Christianity, attraction to well-executed Episcopalian forms of worship, or both.

A large choir I’m in is preparing a celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Anniversary, and our repertoire is entirely music that was sung at Westminster Abby at her Coronation in 1953. Some of it is still sung by my local Episcopal Church choir (there’s a lot of overlap between our choir and its choir). I have viewed on YouTube grainy black-and-white videos from the coronation itself, and more recent performances of the same music, and I’ve got to say: if sacred worship music in western Christendom gets any better than that, I sure as heck don’t know where. In fact, it’s widely agreed that Episcopalians do liturgy better than Roman Catholics. (I used to jibe that “Of course they do; it’s all they’ve got.” I’ve softened on any hint that having that isn’t worth much.)

As for frivolousness or bigotry elsewhere, if you can’t spot that on your own I’m not going to wade into fetid waters to point it out. Not today anyway. (And I don’t doubt that Episcopalians are vulnerable to their own peculiar bigotries.)

For me, sound doctrine (as I then saw it) without sound worship was less unpalatable than the opposite. It would be a closer call today, but I’m in a place that has both.

I think that’s all I’ll say for now.

A certain catholic je ne sais quoi

After Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of Indianapolis did not comply with a directive to fire one of its teachers, Archbishop Charles Thompson tried to strip the school of its Catholic school status.

(Caption on an AP photo of the Archbishop, Lafayette Journal & Courier, 9/3/22)

“Tried to”? Really?

Brebeuf, by refusing to rid itself of a scandal as directed, is now just as Catholic as are the excommunicated schismatics styled “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.”

“Catholic” is not ineffable and interior, like “gender identity.”

Orwell in the Mediation Room

Maybe I’m missing something, but “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” has always sounded Orwellian to me. Then came Covid, and reconciliation and grace seem to have gone away.

Doing politics Christianly

Christians seeking social influence should do so not by joining interest groups that fight for their narrow rights and certainly not those animated by hatred, fear, phobias, vengeance or violence.

Michael Gerson, Washington Post, via Alan Jacobs

True Christians and sin

A true Christian is made so by faith and love toward Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity, according to the words of the Savior Himself. He deigned to say: ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to salvation’ (cf. Luke 5:32); ‘There is more joy in heaven over one who repents than over ninety righteous ones’ (cf. Luke 15:7). Likewise concerning the sinful woman who touched his feet, He deigned to say to Simon the Pharisee: ‘To one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, but from one who has no love, even a small debt will be required’ (cf. Luke 7:47). From these considerations a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy, and pay not the least attention to despair that is inflicted on one.

St. Herman of Alaska

A recurring cautionary note

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Monday, 8/28/22

Student Loan Forgiveness

Student Loan Forgiveness 1

The bigger problem with student debt cancellation, however, is that it’s an ad-hoc, one-off move that does absolutely nothing to fix the deep pathologies in the way America financed undergraduate education. Matt Yglesias was exactly right to ask [on Twitter] what happens on the morning after the debt cancellation:

What is the plan for the day after universal debt cancellation when masters programs raise tuition and tell prospective students not to worry about it because the debt will be cancelled down the road?

But this perverse incentive, which economists call moral hazard, will only exacerbate an underlying problem. For decades, our strategy has been to limit the supply of available college seats while using subsidized loans to pump up the demand for those limited spots.

So we need to ask ourselves why we’re merely applying an expensive band-aid instead of addressing the deeper issue — and why we’re still so enamored of the idea of hurling big wads of cash at already-overpriced service industries.

Noah Smith, America is not fixing its college financing system (H/T The Morning Dispatch)

Student Loan Forgiveness 2

We were propagandized my entire high school simply to go to college, and we were promised if we did we would make more money and have a better life (“College graduates make 1 million dollars more than those who only graduate from high school!”). We received no guidance about which colleges to go to, how much money to take out, what to major in if we wanted return-on-investment, etc. Every guidance counselor told us this; every hallway had a poster proclaiming this; every teacher drilled it into us; from ages 13-18.

And we listened to them. And then we (as a generation) found out we’d have the equivalent of mortgages to pay off before we could get a real house and also that Boomers were not retiring so we couldn’t get jobs.

To put the question simply: In sussing out responsibility for the choice to take on debt, I don’t think “was someone holding a gun to your head when you took out the loan?” is the right question. I think something closer to “when you took out this loan—almost certainly while still a teenager or in your extremely early 20s—did anyone help you understand what you were doing and what the real ramifications of this choice would be?” In most cases, I think the answer is “not really.” Does it follow, therefore, that all the loan must be forgiven? Perhaps not. But at the very least we need to reckon with agency in a serious, thoughtful way and not in the simplistic terms being put forward by many commentators.

Jake Meador, Two Bad Reasons to Oppose Loan Debt Forgiveness and Two Better Ones

No comment

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe made the economic realities inadvertently stark when he tweeted on the day of Biden’s [student loan forgiveness] announcement, “Good news for thousands of my former students. I’m grateful on their behalf, Mr. President.”

David French, Is There a Christian Case for Biden’s Debt Relief Plan?.

Yes, I relented on my intention to pay no more heed to French on the intersection of politics and religion. And, yes, the wisdom of that resolve was confirmed; IMHO, French shed no real religious light on his stated topic.

Rank politics

The Rarest Thing in Politics

Like my friend, I disagree with Liz Cheney’s political positions.

But there is something about her.

As much as I disagree with her, I trust her.

Why? Because she has demonstrated a quality that is so rare in American politics today — perhaps, also, in American life — that we cannot help but find that quality to be attractive.

Liz Cheney has integrity.

When I see Liz Cheney, I feel that I am in the presence of an American patriot. True, I disagree with her. But I know we would have a respectful conversation. Like I said, I trust her.

Liz Cheney makes me think of one of the later verses of “America the Beautiful” — the ones that we rarely sing, but which I think are among the finest lyrics to ever appear in a patriotic song.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life

The verse might have been referring to American heroes who proved themselves in military battle. They loved their country more than they loved their own lives. That is the meaning of sacrifice.

Liz Cheney exemplifies those words as well. When she led a principled fight against Donald Trump, she knew she was sacrificing her run for reelection. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Jeffrey Salkin, It’s Cheney-mania!

Whatever happened to the Emerging Democratic Majority?

We didn’t anticipate the extent to which cultural liberalism might segue into cultural radicalism and the extent to which that view, particularly as driven by younger cohorts, would wind up imprinting itself on the entire infrastructure in and around the Democratic Party—the advocacy groups, the foundations, academia of course, certainly the lower and middle levels of the Democratic Party infrastructure itself.

Ruy Teixara, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, on why his Emerging Democratic Majority hasn’t emerged.

A Real Problem for Republicans

The main thing holding the GOP back from a complete takeover? The Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis is surely onto something when he notes that the Party of Lincoln, in its Trumpified version, has a fondness for nominating “idiots” to run for office.

Indeed, as Nellie [Bowles] noted only last week, there isn’t enough cocaine in the world to keep Mitch McConnell and voters everywhere from recognizing that “candidate quality” is a real problem for Republicans. They tend to nominate people with absolutely zero experience even running for office, much less holding it. The results aren’t just Dr. Oz alienating Pennsylvania voters by suggesting that John Fetterman brought about his own stroke, but Georgia’s favorite son, Herschel Walker, yammering on about too many trees while being unable to accurately count his own children. 

Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance managed to win his primary in Ohio with just 32 percent of the vote but rarely goes a week without some sort of gaffe, such as suggesting that women should stay in violent marriages.

Nick Gillespie

Democrats nominate an occasional loose cannon, but I wouldn’t be all that keen on eliminating party primaries were I a Democrat: the Republican base keeps delivering candidates that a relatively easy to beat.

Russia 2016, USA 2022

A report published this week by Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory indicated that Twitter and Meta, for the first time, recently removed a set of fake accounts from their respective platforms for “using deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia.” The influence campaign had reportedly been active for years, promoting the interests of the United States and its allies, spreading anti-extremism messaging, and opposing countries like Russia, China, and Iran. Neither tech platform directly attributed the activity to the U.S. government, but the U.S. and United Kingdom were listed as the “presumptive” countries of origin.

The Morning Dispatch.

Could you remind me again how evil Russia is for trying surreptitiously to influence things like our 2016 election?

Just because it’s a fun simile

We remember Bill Clinton’s sex scandals and not Hillary Clinton’s almost-certainly criminal cattle-futures shenanigans because most people know what sex is and understand that you’re not supposed to cheat on your spouse, but trying to explain futures trading to the typical voter is like trying to get a dachshund to bark in terza rima — they just aren’t equipped. But people naturally get hypocrisy, or at least a dumbed-down version of it.

Kevin D. Williamson, Hypocrisy for Dummies

Culture

Whence cancel culture?

I had to drive a couple of hours yesterday, and I heard on a podcast a sober but startling theory I really need to pass along.

Roughly one-third (I believe he said) of college graduates are supporting themselves through jobs that require no more than a high-school education because there are not enough jobs in “the managerial class” for which they’ve been groomed. We are college-educating more people than the market requires. So the competition for managerial class jobs is fierce.

Whence cancel culture. If you can pick off a superior with a grainy home movie of him in blackface decades ago, you might just move up the ladder — assuming you’re on the ladder. If you’re not on the ladder but want on, picking off a peer by exposing a tasteless Tweet just might eliminate her from consideration.

The dynamics of the New York Times staff as described by escapees seems to fit this theory “to a T.” Restless youngsters have knocked off a number of their bosses, older colleagues and peers.

So cancel culture is (just?) the war of all against all in modern garb.

Do the math

It’s not difficult to see what’s going on here: oil companies haven’t invested in new and better domestic refineries because they know that, even in this hour of essentially free money, their profit margins are shrinking and there aren’t 30 years of crude in the ground to pay off 30-year mortgages on new refineries. The oil companies are in a “sunset industry” and they know it.

James Howard Kunstler, Adapt or Die: Kunstler’s Guide to Living in the Long Emergency.

I like the epigram to this article, too:

It is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that a writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.”

—George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

Maggots doing what comes naturally

A sprawling campus, part of the University …, covers their eastern reaches. The waters are channelled into generic, forgettable pools fringed with generic, forgettable buildings. It is, of course, the modern kind of forgettable architecture. Every chunk of grey and glass has its own unique variation on the shape of a shoebox. The innovations are of the type that everyone in the world has seen so much of that only those paid to do so can even pretend to care anymore.

In this, the University … is no better or worse than every other university. They have all spread their aggressively mediocre buildings across the cities and towns: shiny lumps of architectural conformity that advertise the shallowness, greed, and transience of the institutions to the whole world. We should be thankful for them. They physically represent the death of the modern university’s soul, and so make it obvious. Now a university is just a machine for uprooting humanity. It takes the young from home but gives then no adult responsibilities, drops them into a society of other uprooted youth, habituates them to the mentality of the virtual class, and leaves them drifting in debt and doubt.

At this point, some readers may hope I will criticise the ‘woke’. I will not. A worm digesting a living human being is a problem. A worm digesting a corpse is just the natural order of things. The universities are corpses and fashionable ideologies are maggots.

A terrible decision killed the universities. History, always Sphinx-like, showed them three good things, but only let them keep two. The one that they left on the table was the one that they should have treasured. Without it, their wyrd was written. The three gifts history offered were called ‘important’, ‘new’, and ‘true’.

FFatalism, Academic landscapes.

More: An earnest young postgraduate once told me that texts have no meaning. I said I didn’t know what he meant. He tried to explain it to me again. I’m not sure why. He must have thought that he was saying something.

Quintessentially Legal and Quite Mad

Arkansas banned healthcare professionals providing gender transition procedures to anyone under 18. A Federal District (trial) Court and Circuit (appellate) court have both now held that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause:

[U]nder the Act, medical procedures that are permitted for a minor of one sex are prohibited for a minor of another sex. A minor born as a male may be prescribed testosterone or have breast tissue surgically removed, for example, but a minor born as a female is not permitted to seek the same medical treatment. Because the minor’s sex at birth determines whether or not the minor can receive certain types of medical care under the law, Act 626 discriminates on the basis of sex.

H/T Religion Clause.

I have seen this kind of reasoning over and over as the courts impose on us, and on legislators who beg to differ, their view of “discrimination on the basis of sex.” For instance, if John can marry Suzy then Sally should be allowed to “marry” Suzy.

I’m not alone:

As the [Franciscan Alliance] argues in its brief, in 2016 the government interpreted ObamaCare’s nondiscrimination provisions “to require doctors and hospitals nationwide to perform and insure gender-transition procedures and abortions or else be liable for ‘sex’ discrimination.”

Specifically, the feds read the law to require that services be offered on an equal basis. “If a gynecologist performs a hysterectomy for a woman with uterine cancer,” the alliance’s brief says, “she must do the same for a woman who wants to remove a healthy uterus to live as a man.”

This cultural clash isn’t going away, and the country is in for more trouble if progressives can’t rediscover the principle of pluralism. The government’s appeal shows a bloody-mindedness that is difficult to fathom.

Transgender Patients vs. Religious Doctors – WSJ

However often I’ve seen it, I’ve never been able to get used to such reasoning as being sane. It strikes me as sophistry, though when we set out to outlaw sex discrimination, we implicitly set out to eradicate invidious sexual stereotypes. If we leave it to individual judges to determine what’s invidious, won’t decisions be all over the map? Isn’t a stupid, sophistical woodenness better than that?

Nah!

A Child’s Purpose

“Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up,” Herzen says. “But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment … Life’s bounty is in its flow. Later is too late.”

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 8/28/22

Memory eternal!

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has reposed in the Lord

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware reposed in the Lord last Tuesday.

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say "Look!" and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.”

Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

Against David Frenchism

I may have finally reached a tipping point trying to process David French’s commentaries on religion and politics. Henceforth, I will either not bother at all or at least approach his columns and podcasts with an attitude of “tell me, in the first paragraph or two, why I should stick around and hear you out.”

I’ll still listen to him on law, but I don’t think he has anything I need to hear about the intersection of religion and politics.

That problem isn’t that he’s anti-Trump, goodness knows. The problem is that he’s reflexively parochial, and his “parish” is white Evangelicalism; that he says “Christians” when he means “white Evangelicals” drives me to distraction.

(Deep breath.)

I suppose this bugs me so much because French is writing and podcasting in secular, not Evangelical, spaces. He’s being read by people who may judge all of Christianity by his fixations on North American white Evangelical grotesqueries.

There is a Church that is rooted far deeper in history than the Second Great Awakening, utterly orthodox in its Christianity, and ambivalent-to-indifferent in its politics (the impressions of some American converts notwithstanding). If you’ve read me for long, you know where I think it’s found. All we ask of a polity is that we may lead a calm and peaceful lives in all godliness and sanctity.

But you’d never appreciate that by reading David French, who basically tells the Western world that “Christians be like Falwell Jr. and Orange Man.” That’s just not true, and eliding Christianity with Evangelicalism turns people off to the holy and life-giving potential of authentic, historic Christianity.

Up with Jake Meadorism

Here is one of the arguments some friends have made in defending the evangelical hard pivot toward Trump and right-wing politics more generally: The country is changing. No one will be friendly to all of our beliefs or values. However, if the progressives win, the likeliest outcome is some blending of dhimmitude and persecution. On the other hand, if the right wins, religious liberty will at least mostly be safe and we’ll be left alone. So it makes sense for orthodox Christians to migrate rightward.

The difficulty I see with this: Our churches do not exist within sealed spaces closed off from the world outside the congregation. Rather, our parishioners are being discipled all the time by the networks they participate in. So when we strengthen our ties to the political right and, in particular, when we tend to look past or gloss over the right’s sins for sakes of the political coalition (which is just a reality of life with any political coalition you try to participate in), we aren’t simply retreating into a stable space where right-wing governments protect our stable, faithful Christian communities. Rather, our communities are being shaped through the very act of partnering with specific groups, of speaking about some sins and not speaking about others. These things are, in themselves, formative.

To get his core insight, I had to quote most of his short post, but there is a bit of good stuff left, and with no paywall, either.

Jake Meador, Places of Refuge are Places of Discipleship. Meador, too, is Protestant, and as a Reformed Christian, he (as did I) appears to think himself Evangelical or Evangelical-adjacent. Unlike French, he doesn’t parochially collapse Christianity into Evangelicalism.

Why I Will Disregard any American Episcopalian Who Complains About Small States Getting As Many Senators as Big States

“Yes, a bishop’s episcopal charism does not depend on the number of worshipers in their see. But when almost all the micro-dioceses are in the west, and when western bishops are disproportionately present at Lambeth 2022, this is white privilege in action," he wrote. "Lambeth 2022 is taking place even though the bishops of half of African Anglicans have refused to come. Their dioceses constitute a third of the total Anglican Communion. Western bishops may say ‘it was their choice not to come.’ But this is not a good look."

Terry Mattingly, Some trends in global Anglican Communion are starting to look rather Black and White — GetReligion

Context:

  • Many western bishops lead "micro-dioceses" with under 1,000 active members or "mini-dioceses" with fewer than 5,000.
  • The Church of Nigeria claims 17 million members and 22 million active participants.
  • Uganda has 10 million members
  • Rwanda has 1 million members.

A Christian Culture (for the very first time)

By pretty much all measures, the Orthodox Christian countries of Eastern Europe take their faith more seriously than the Catholic countries further West or the Protestant countries which mainly lie around the continent’s fringes. I should really say ‘former Protestant countries’ because, as I have written here in the past, these countries – including mine, Britain – are now post-religious. Faith has been replaced by politics, ideology, activism or the material and technological idolatry which we call ‘progress.’

All of which means that I have until recently never seen a real Christian culture, of the kind my country used to be many centuries ago, and my adopted country, Ireland, used to be until more recently.

Paul Kingsnorth, Intermission: Monasteries of Romania #1

Godsplaining to the Archbishop

“If we say our God is an all-loving god, how do you explain that at any given time probably 400 million living on the planet at one time would be gay?” he asked. “Are the religions of the world, as does Catholicism, saying to those hundreds of millions of people, ‘You have to pass your whole life without any physical, genital expression of that love?’”

Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, recently deceased, to the New York Times in 2009, roughly seven years after exposure of his hush money payment to a male lover (or rape victim).

It is suggestive that “the religions of the world” seem, to the disgraced Archbishop, to speak with one voice. How could that be if the idea of lifelong sexual abstinence is so stupid? Might it be that the spirit of our age is the anomaly, the deviation from the wisdom of the ages?

Did the Archbishop not confess that Mary, the “Mother of God,” remained ever a virgin? Or did he, like a highly multiparous protestant I corresponded with at some length, rule out Mary’s ever-virginity because that would be “perverted”?

Further, it is famously not just the Church that tells people “You have to” do something you’d rather not do, See, e.g., decalogue.

Still further, surely a substantial part of the work of the Church is dealing sacramentally and pastorally with people who fail to live up to divine expectations. See, e.g., confession.

Finally, the surmised number of gay people is irrelevant to the correct answer to the Archbishop’s tendentious question.

To get other glimpses of the odious decedent, see Rembert Weakland, Proud Vandal

Youth alienation then and now

[T]he thing that disturbs me the most right now is that the conversations often that I’m having with younger evangelicals. When someone says to me I’m thinking about walking away, it’s usually a very different conversation than I would have had 10 years ago. 10 years ago, it would have been with a younger person saying I just can’t believe the supernatural stuff that we believe anymore. Or I really think the moral ideas of the church are too strict and too judgmental, and I want to walk away.

Now it’s almost the reverse, almost directly the reverse. It’s people who are saying, I don’t think the church believes what it says it believes and what it’s taught me, or at least I fear that it doesn’t.

[W]e’re not looking for some Christian America in the past because in order to do that, we would have to redefine what we mean by Christian … [i]n all sorts of ways that I think are harmful.

Russell Moore

Repentance

Repentance is everything you do to get sin, those inborn passions, out of you. It’s reading, thinking, praying, weeding out disruptive influences in your life, sharing time with fellow Christians, following the guidance of the saints. Repentance is the renunciation of what harms us and the acquisition of what is beneficial to us, writes a holy counselor.

Dee Pennock, God’s Path to Sanity

Demoting free exercise

In essence, [Employment Division v.] Smith demoted the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to a glorified nondiscrimination doctrine. Rather than granting Americans an affirmative right to practice their religion absent compelling governmental reasons to restrict that practice, the Free Exercise Clause becomes almost entirely defensive—impotent against government encroachment absent evidence of targeted attack or unequal treatment.

David French


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 8/21/22

Archeology: a fancy word for speculating about our ancestors

Another distinguished writer, again, in commenting on the cave-drawings attributed to the neolithic men of the reindeer period, said that none of their pictures appeared to have any religious purpose; and he seemed almost to infer that they had no religion. I can hardly imagine a thinner thread of argument than this which reconstructs the very inmost moods of the prehistoric mind from the fact that somebody who has scrawled a few sketches on a rock, from what motive we do not know, for what purpose we do not know, acting under what customs or conventions we do not know, may possibly have found it easier to draw reindeer than to draw religion.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

In the same vein, David MacCauley, Motel of the Mysteries

Worth repeating

Frederick Buechner has met Christians who remind him of American tourists in Europe: Not knowing the language of their listeners, they speak the language of Zion loudly and forcefully, hoping the natives will somehow comprehend. They seem cocky with faith, voluble with their theology, and content with a God who resembles a cosmic Good Buddy. Their certitude both fascinates and alarms him.

Phillip Yancey, Frederick Buechner, the Reverend of Oz

The Machine almost compels a bit of hypocrisy

To fail to reach lofty goals is not hypocritical, and even to publicly defend those goals while knowing you have failed to reach them is not hypocritical if you are open about your limits.

… If stepping outside the Machine were possible, then it would not be necessary.

Irony is politically important. It is important because anything less than an unreachable ideal will be caught by the Machine, eviscerated, repackaged, and sold back to you in a form that is exactly the same apart from the way that it drains everything good from your soul. No idea, no belief, no institution, and no practice is beyond the Machine’s grasp. Only the ideal, being formless, is safe. Of course, the ideal, being formless, is also beyond our grasp, so we cannot cling to it for safety. If we try, then we will cling instead to our idea of it; and if we do that, we will soon find out that our idea was the Machine’s all along. The only way to succeed is by committing so completely that failure is inevitable. And this is the other reason why we need irony. The completeness of our failures reveals to us the depths of our absurdity. This is a gift. Will-to-power needs us take ourselves seriously. It is the product of pride and it struggles when we genuinely laugh at ourselves.

FFatalism, Is asceticism ascetic?

Reassurance

I was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam era, who ended up serving his country by, so to speak, emptying bedpans in Peoria. In the ensuing decades, I’ve never become a hawk, but I’ve wondered whether I was right back then, whether I was trying to retain a purity that this fallen world doesn’t really allow.

Yesterday, I read this (including the full surrounding essay) from a Priest who, serving as chaplain “for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and gave them his blessing”:

Ethical hairsplitting over the morality of various types of instruments and structures of mass slaughter is not what the world needs from the church, although it is what the world has come to expect from the followers of Christ. What the world needs is a grouping of Christians that will stand up and pay up with Jesus Christ. What the world needs is Christians who, in language that the simplest soul could understand, will proclaim: the follower of Christ cannot participate in mass slaughter. He or she must love as Christ loved, live as Christ lived and, if necessary, die as Christ died, loving ones enemies.

For the 300 years immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, the church universally saw Christ and his teaching as nonviolent. Remember that the church taught this ethic in the face of at least three serious attempts by the state to liquidate her. It was subject to horrendous and ongoing torture and death. If ever there was an occasion for justified retaliation and defensive slaughter, whether in form of a just war or a just revolution, this was it. The economic and political elite of the Roman state and their military had turned the citizens of the state against Christians and were embarked on a murderous public policy of exterminating the Christian community.

Yet the church, in the face of the heinous crimes committed against her members, insisted without reservation that when Christ disarmed Peter he disarmed all Christians. Christians continued to believe that Christ was, to use the words of an ancient liturgy, their fortress, their refuge, and their strength, and that if Christ was all they needed for security and defense, then Christ was all they should have. Indeed, this was a new security ethic.

Father George Zabelka, Blessing the Bombs.

Father George is right about Christian history. The Orthodox Church required a time of repentance, including abstention from the Eucharist, for soldiers who had killed even in a “just war.”

I find reassurance for my youthful conscientious objection in that, thought I was inspired more by Menno Simons (“Spears and swords of iron we leave to those who, alas, consider human blood and swine’s blood of well-nigh equal value.“) than by the Fathers of the Church.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.