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.

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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.”

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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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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

Greg Coles.

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Just too freaky?

Fr. Lawrence Farley responds irenically to a self-described “freak” who nonetheless finds headscarves on young women in church just too freaky:

[T]hese women’s use of the veil serves to differentiate them from the secular world around them. In the days of [the critic’s] grandmother, the goal was to assimilate to avoid the dangers of xenophobia. In today’s world, the goal is different—it is to avoid assimilation with the godless and insane society around us and (in the timeless words of St. Peter) to “save ourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). From her words one might imagine that [the critic] was stuck in the past, facing the challenges of yester-year when the assimilation of immigrants was the pressing need. But now, and at least since the late 1990s (when she said the headscarf appeared in her world), the challenge for Orthodox women is to build a healthy counter-culture in which to live and raise their children. If they choose to make the wearing of a veil when in church one component of that counter-culture, who is [the critic] or anyone else (including me) to say otherwise? The words “a woman’s choice” can and have been horribly misused, but surely here is one instance where a woman’s choice ought to be respected.

I hope this suffices to mollify the critic (on at least one of her criticisms).

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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Encore!

This morning, I read an outstanding Rod Dreher blog that used the passing phrase “conscientious objector in the culture war.”

More than eight years ago, I wrote a long blog with almost exactly that phrase as its title, bearing this preface:

This may be the most controversial and polemical thing I’ve posted. I’ll tell you in advance, and in conclusion, that I’m disinclined to be dogmatic about most of it. Your mileage may vary.

Well, Dreher prompted me to find it and re-read it, and I would no longer endorse that preface:

  1. I have written much more controversial and polemical things since then.
  2. While “dogmatic” may not be the right word, the blog — almost every word of it — now reflects well-settled convictions, tested by eight years and buttressed (especially point 3) by the election of Donald Trump.

Everything else, I’d still endorse, So I’m indulging myself by re-publishing myself — a rare step that I don’t intend to repeat often.

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One of the minor irritants in my life is Franky Schaeffer. I’ll go long spells without thinking of him, and then I get a catalogue from his publishing company, or maybe he pops up in the news (having once again found limelight). And I seethe.

But lots of people love limelight. Why does he, of all people, irritate me? Probably because his life is so parallel to mine, through all the twists and turns.

  • Evangelical: Check.
  • Produced the movie Whatever Happened to the Human Race; watched the movie as a turning point.
  • Now Orthodox: Check.
  • Religious Right activist: Check.
  • No longer Religious Right activist: Check.
  • 60-something years old: Check.

But he’s too strident and angry. He’s sort of a Christian James Howard Kunstler (another approximate contemporary of mine) but without Kunstler’s ubiquitous F-Bombs. Kunstler acknowledges that his speeches are a form of theater (listen to Kunstlercast #103 here); I think that’s true of Schaeffer, too, though he’d probably deny it.

I sense, too, that my reasons for dropping out of the culture wars are different than Schaeffer’s. I sense that partly because he seemingly just changed sides, now inveighing against his former friends, writing screeds, kiss and tell books, dubious fiction (his Calvin Becker fiction trilogy was quite calculatedly ambiguous about the extent to which it was autobiographical), paranoid apologies for Barack Obama, and sucking up to media personages who call him things like “a former leader of the anti-choice movement.” (They just love to get some sound-bites from an angry ex-whatever.)

But I really dropped out because:

  1. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms.
  2. I suspect that the strident tactics make most things worse rather than better.
  3. I don’t really trust my former allies.
  4. I don’t really trust the candidates we’re supposed to vote for.
  5. I still don’t trust my former adversaries.
  6. If I’m a prominent culture warrior, it will spill over harmfully into other areas.
  7. Maybe I’m just a worn out old hippie pacifist.

1. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms. We may get a majority vote for the “right” side on this issue or that, but that will not end the war. There will be other battles. There will be guerilla warfare. There will be no peace, and there’s only a minimal chance for the “Right” to win. Not until the Right’s own culture changes.

Changing culture is the work I’m about now – feeling my way rather than barreling ahead. That’s much subtler work than culture war. I’m not sure how good I am at it. But I’m convinced, to take just one Culture War example, that we won’t stop abortion until we change the toxic combination of unchastity and avarice that gets women pregnant and then justifies aborting the innocent child to maintain prosperity (greater or lesser).

The Right is not with us on that. Fox Radio recently aired an ad, between Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly, for an online service for married men seeking adulterous affairs. (I didn’t hear it, but read about it from someone who didn’t note the incongruity of this appearing on a putatively conservative news source.)

Whaddya think? I’m betting that the ad wasn’t there for the 13 liberals who were eavesdropping on Fox that day, but for the red-meat, red state regulars.

TownHall.com syndicated columnist pages every day have ads for “conservative” slogan t-shirts draped on attractive young lasses, selling conservative politics, like everything else, with sex. Today there’s a sexy avatar for some video game, too. It’s all a racket.

This could as well go under the caption “I don’t really trust my former allies.” But on present terms I think the idiocy of modern pseudo-conservatives belongs in this “unwinnable” category, if only because their position on the sexual side of the culture wars seems to be “anything goes, so long as it’s not gay.” That’s a losing position long-term as well as being a sign of untrustworthiness.

2. The Culture Wars are unwinnable on present terms partly because stridency and contempt beget stridency, contempt and alienation.

Whichever side of the Culture Wars you’re on, think about the fundraising letters you get. Are you edified by their tone? Do you appreciate the sober, educational emphasis? Do you find yourself walking away with something of substance to ruminate on?

If so, I’ve got bad news for you: you’re an idiot. (Shall I write that slower? You. Are. An. Idiot.)

The groups who used to send me fairly sober letters have gone strident. The groups that used to send me strident letters are now frothing at the mouth. And I’m sure the other side is doing the same. Shrill is the new green.

I don’t care who fired the first volley. That’s lost in the mists of history like the instigation of the Hatfields versus the McCoys. I’d like the shooting to stop. I’d like artificial divisions to end. I suspect there’s more common ground than either side presently will admit because of how things have been framed. Let’s tone it down a bit and then explore what the real divisions are. The more we insult the other side, the more we paint both sides into corners from which dialog, let alone truce, is impossible.

[Update: We now teeter on the brink of civil war. I had no idea it would get so bad so fast. I commend Better Angels]

3. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms, too, because there’s darned little difference between the two sides on some of the deep presuppositions.

They’re both, ironically, secular. One side is secular because they don’t believe in any divine rules. You know which side I’m talking about. (Hint)

The other side – my side – is mostly secular because they functionally believe that God’s only presence in the world is His rules. They “honor” Him by keeping his rules – sort of the way a rank amateur “paints” by number. That’s why I don’t really trust them. The tranformative significance of the Incarnation: God the Son, Who took on our flesh forever – qui sedes ad dexteram patrem (who sits at the right hand of the Father) in resurrected human flesh – is lost on them. God is up to something more than commandment monitoring and forgiving transgression of the commandments. The incarnation changes everything. [Update: The seeds in this paragraph have grown into my episodic forays into the realism/nominalism distinction and explicit scorn for sub-Christian anthropology.]

“Love God and do as you will” would strike them as modern relativism. They’re very anti-relativist. Except on Ecclesiology. Then they’re apt to utter Babbitry like “Isn’t it swell that there’s a church for every taste!

At the other end from the relativist “conservatives,” there’s a Protestant Church in my home town that produces a disproportionate share of Religious Right activists. Several of them have been elected to public office. But they’re theonomists, or more specifically Reconstructionists. If they had their way, there would be 18 Old Testament Capital Crimes in our law books – including sassing parents. They’d shut down my Church and desecrate its icons. They might, for all I know, execute me for one of those 18 capital offenses for the icons in my home prayer corner. [Update: One of their ideologues brought disgrace upon himself and his wife via their religious “covenant” without a marriage license. I must spare you details of the breakup.]

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of …” the folks I encountered who dreamed of kingdoms, feigned righteousness, broke promises, shot off their mouths, tried to set fires, escaped the edge of euphemisms …. (Cf. Hebrews 11:32-34) These are the folks with whom I’d be a “co-belligerent” (Francis Schaeffer’s coinage to distinguish temporary and unreliable political friends from reliable “allies”) were I to continue in the culture wars. And they outnumber many-fold any well-formed Christians of historical and liturgical bent.

We Orthodox have been here before. After the attempted union with the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Florence (see also here), the Orthodox decided they’d risk rule by Sultan over rule by Pope.

That is not a throw-away line: I’m not so sure a secularist regime would be worse than what Christian Reconstructionists would bring upon me and my fellow Orthodox Christians that I’m willing to be bedfellows with Recontructionists.

4. In the current terms of the Culture War, the highest form of involvement, other than sending money in response to strident or frenzied letters, is to vote for Republicans. Any Republican.

In 2000 and 2004, it was Dubya. He was, we were told, a good Evangelical Christian. He cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher. He talked about America walking humbly in the foreign policy world.

Then 9-11 came, and he turned into a fierce Commander In Chief. And, oddly, Imam-In-Chief, as he assured us that “true Islam is a religion of peace.” (Well I’m glad he cleared that up!)

And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declare as U.S. policy the eradication of tyranny from the world and the planting of democracy. If you don’t understand how delusional that is, read it again: eradicating tyranny from the world. As national policy.

Many Religious Right figures in 2008 backed Mitt Romney, Mormon and heir of a 50s moderate Republican, George Romney. Mitt was, deep down, one of us – despite his left-leaning administration as governor of Massachusetts – they assured us. Now they’re pushing Sarah Palin, about whom I’ll not say much except that I do not now support her and see no sign that she has the goods to gain my support later. (I don’t even think she’s all that “hot,” for whatever that’s worth.)

I’m not gonna play Charlie Brown the placekicker to the GOP’s Lucy Van Pelt any more.

[Update: Do I really need to belabor how right I was?]

5. I still believe pretty much what I believed before on what makes for good living and a just society. I’ve even kept a hand in the debates by writing letters to the editor on a few hot-button issues. Those letters are far less demonizing of the opposition than the sort of letters I used to write. But I check the online comboxes and see that the other side has no lack of equally-but-oppositely mad partisans of its own, leveling vitriolic attacks on me, no matter how reasoned my argument, just because I reach conclusions they don’t like.

But even at more elite levels than smalltown cyberpaper comboxes, I’m still convinced that the other side is untrustworthy. One occasionally will catch one of them committing candor, as has Chai Felblum of Georgetown law school. Imagine a constitutional case with this issue:

Whether the inferred right to marry a member of the same sex, which is inferred from the right to engage in homosexual sodomy, which is inferred from the right to privacy, which is inferred from penumbra of he 4th, 9th, 10th, 14th and other consitutional amendments, is of sufficient constitutional gravity to warrant compromise of the explicit constitutional command against laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

Chai Feldblum would answer “yes.” I’m not making up her response (though I did make up the highly tendentious – but brutally accurate – faux issue statement). I appreciate her candor.

But her candor tells me that there’s no home for me in the left where Frank Schaeffer has seemingly pitched his tent.

The Orthodox Wedding service includes, for just one example, “grant unto these Your servants …a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, offspring long‑lived, fair fame by reason of their children, and a crown of glory that does not fade away.” You can’t pray that with integrity over a same-sex coupling, whatever you might think of it otherwise.

So while the Chai Feldblums of the world might not smash my icons like the Reconstructionists, they’ll soon enough take away my Church’s tax exemption, or otherwise put on the squeeze, because they’ll consider us a hate group for continuing the two-millennia-long practice of connecting marriage to procreation.

6. If I’m a prominent culture warrior, it will spill over harmfully into other areas of life. I was reminded Sunday how diverse my parish is. We have Romanians and Russians who were born, or even came of age, under communism. We have Greeks who think that 2nd Amendment mania is barbaric (in at least one case with justification that I can’t gainsay – a family member gunned down in cold blood by someone who went postal). We have young people and middle-aged academics who lean left. We have demographically unknown visitors most Sundays. I have something to learn from some of them.

Just as I don’t want someone to ask me “why are you here since you’re not Greek?,” I don’t want people of Right-leaning disposition to come up to me at Church and make some dismissive remark, which they assume I’ll find hilarious or profound, about a Left-leaning idea that may be held by another parishioner within earshot. I don’t want there to be ethnic, racial, socio-economic or political barriers to people. Political trash talk about trifles at Church is apt to drive people away though we have a faith in common and should be together on Sunday.

7. Maybe I should try a bit more empathy. Maybe I’m not angry because, unlike Frank Schaeffer, I have a day job, with a comfortable living, and don’t have to raise a fuss to sell my newest book. Maybe a brain or personality disorder prompted Franky to call Barack Obama’s election “miraculous” and to prophesy epochal political healing on Obama’s watch.

Maybe Frank’s suburban Boston parish (I think he’s in Brookline, Michael Dukakis‘ hometown) has a leftist litmus test and he caved in. Or maybe he’s rebelling against his upbringing in neutral Switzerland as I declare myself a Swiss-like neutral in the Culture Wars.

Or maybe I’m not angry, by and large, because I’m a child of the 60s, a former Conscientious Objector to conventional war, and now old enough that I’m kind of tired of fighting of all sorts – worn out, if you will. Maybe we really need young, testosterone-crazed Christian guys (and gals crazed by whatever crazes women) who still are eager for a fight. I see my role as one to ask questions of any such young hotheads from the perspective six decades gives. Such as the ones implied by what I’ve just written.

[Note: The rest of this is dated or refers to a blog template I no longer use.] So who am I hangin’ out with these days if not with the Alliance Defense Fund and the acolytes of R.J. Rushdoony? Check the bloglinks to the right – Especially Front Porch Republic (“Place. Limits. Liberty.”), Distributist Review  (guardedly). Small Is Beautiful has taken on new meaning for me. (My benighted generation got a few things right before we sold out or got complacent – and appreciating E.F. Schumaker was one of them).

I can’t even rule out Father Stephen. Nothing he writes is “about politics,” but everything he writes is about sane, human and humane living, which surely connects up somehow.

Basically, I’m going back and rethinking all things political and cultural. I’m wisdom-hunting. I read Wendell Berry essays and poetry, Bill Kauffman books, Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind, Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, Scott Cairns’ Poetry, W.H. Auden (“For the Time Being” is now on my list for every Advent).

My conversion to Orthodox Christianity started it in a way. I soon realized that the Church has not always prevailed, and has produced martyrs in every century. And that’s okay. Better we should lose honorably than win by selling our souls.

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I heartily recommend the Dreher blog I opened with as a complement to this.

Jesus, loser

I think Christian Smith pretty well described Moralistic Therapeutic Deism when he coined the term, but Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s definition is now my favorite:

The function of Church in society is to keep spiritually healthy and morally upright those who are pursuing the American Dream.

But according to Luke, the Gospel is to leave all things and embrace the cross daily.

Could anything be more opposed to the cross of Christ than a life dedicated to the quest for personal prosperity? … What Jesus warns this man about is a life in which he loves God with his whole heart, loves his neighbor as himself, and goes about making as much money as he can … Wealth itself so easily becomes idolatrous.

If wealth is the mark of success, then think about it: Who are the failures? Who are the “losers”? …

Can any philosophy be more at odds with the cross of Christ than the [social Darwinist] survival of the fittest? The cross is the absolute answer to Darwin, just as the absolute answer to Nietszche and the will to power. The cross stands against all of that.

The basic floor of the cross of Calvary is that Jesus did not survive. He died as a poor man who had nothing to show for his life. He left no bank account. He was a loser. As he died, he was obliged to leave the care of his widowed mother to another poor man. By every standard recognized in the money market, Jesus was a failure. A poor man who died a poor man.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Fr. Stephen snippets

A Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ

My most merciful and all-merciful God, O Lord Jesus Christ! In Thy great love, Thou didst come down and become flesh in order to save all. Again, I pray Thee, save me by Grace! If Thou shouldst save me because of my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. Truly, Thou aboundest in graciousness and art inexpressibly merciful! Thou hast said, O my Christ: “He who believes in me shall live and never see death.” If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and my Maker. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me. May my faith be sufficient for all. May it answer for me; may it justify me; may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory; and may Satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that He has torn me from Thy hand and fold. O Christ my Savior: save me whether I want it or not! Come quickly, hurry, for I perish! Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Grant, O Lord, that I may now love Thee as once I loved sin, and that I may labor for Thee without laziness as once I labored for Satan the deceiver. Even more, I will labor for Thee, my Lord and God Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From the Morning Prayers

I hear the heart’s cry in the prayer quoted above. The depth of its honesty provokes the hearts of those who read it. It recognizes the truth of our will and echoes St. Paul’s observations:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-21; 24)

There is, I think, an abiding temptation towards Pelagianism (the belief that we can will our own salvation). In Orthodoxy, the teaching of “synergy” often runs in that direction. We indeed “cooperate” with God in our salvation (“cooperate” is the Latinized equivalent of “synergy”). But our cooperation is best illustrated in the prayer above. It is the cry for help from the lips of the helpless. This is not nothing – it is synergistic. But it is not the imagined synergy that some profess. We are saved by our weakness, not by our excellence.

(May 2, 2018)

Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being. It is a distorted direction (hamartia: “missing the mark”). It is equally the refusal of Beauty and Goodness, without participation in the Truth. 

When someone asks: “Is it a sin to withhold help from someone in need?” The answer is yes – but not in a merely legal sense. It is a sin – a movement towards non-existence – a movement away from the proper direction of our lives.

[A]ll of this should shed much light on the importance of beauty in Orthodox liturgy and Churches, iconography, etc. It is essential – not a decoration or an afterthought. Much of the modern world sees beauty as a luxury (which it so rarely affords). 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). 

The apprehension of Beauty is at the very heart of the preaching of the gospel. It is that which first touches the heart and draws us towards Truth. In our over-rationalized world we tend to think that it is reasoning and arguments that draw people to Christ. But this is something that comes much later. First the heart must be drawn – and this happens primarily through Beauty in its broadest sense.

(May 4, 2018)

Could a liturgy be served without vestments? Of course, though a priest would, even in extreme circumstances, try to cobble something together. The vestments themselves are not mere decorations. Can a liturgy be served without icons? Of course, though it would be wrong to do so unless under extreme duress. There was once a liturgy celebrated in the confines of the prison of Pitesti in Romania. The canons require that the liturgy be celebrated in the presence of a martyr’s relic (all altars have such a relic). It was decided to celebrate the service on the body of a deceased prisoner, the only martyr present. Such things are not extraneous. The liturgy should not be subjected to reductionism.

The givenness of the liturgy, in all its aspects, is a proper subject of theoria – contemplation and understanding. It is a mystery that yields itself to the heart. It is not, however, one more cultural artifact to be manipulated in the interests of consumer capitalism and its deformation of humanity. We are fast losing the memory of who and what we are. It is the confusion of Babel.

(May 11, 2018)

Jesus healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, and gave sight to the blind. Such actions are incorrectly described as the “relief of suffering.” In many other cases Jesus specifically asks people to suffer: give away your possessions; forgive your enemies; take up your Cross; turn the other cheek; give without expecting in return. Again, there is no authentic Christian voice that does not demand suffering on the part of its adherents.

More important than this, is the fact that this voluntary self-denial, a willingly embraced suffering for the sake of others, is not a diminishment of our humanity, but a necessity of its fulfillment. It is this reality that modernity, in its truncated account of existence, fails to understand or to describe. The most popular ethic within the modern world entails the relief of suffering. In the name of that ethic, people are put to death. It cannot ask us to suffer without guilt. But if suffering is inherent to our existence, then only that which encompasses suffering is sufficient as an account of being human.

To be truly human is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And not just to the image of Christ, but Christ crucified. Anything less would make a mockery of our existence and a diminishment of the fullness to which we are called.

(May 15, 2018)

I have seen, more than once, the favorable outcome of a soul whose deepest hunger has, in an unguarded moment, been exposed to the light of the gospel. I know the case of a woman who found God when a priest called her by name unexpectedly. Just her name. The mercy of God is wonderfully opportunistic. I have often thought, “Give Him an inch and He’ll take your life!”

(May 19, 2018)

As I finished up, deciding what “categories” to assign to today’s blog, the quote “Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being” struck me as an instance of nominalism versus realism, so I applied that category. One characteristic tendency of nominalism was to see sin as sinful because it transgressed an essentially arbitrary divine decree. The consequence of sin was not non-being (spiritual death), but punishment by God. In this sense, the Orthodox understanding of sin is realist rather than nominalist.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.