This (sigh!) is as good as it gets

I’ve been waiting for decades for the orthodox to rout the progressives in a denominational split — which amounts to waiting for the progressives to overplay their hand just once.

The usual progressive ploy is to plead for dialog — again and again for as long as it takes to wear down the orthodox — then to give false assurances of pluralism once their heresy or immorality is grudgingly afforded the status of an option, then to crush the orthodox when they gain power. Or as Neuhaus’s Law puts it, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

It looks like the United Methodist split over homosexuality and same-sex marriage is as close as we’re going to get to an orthodox rout, and even there the progressives are keeping the denomination name (which may prove a blessing in the long run):

This week, a group of church leaders announced a plan for the dissolution of the worldwide church that would allow conservative congregations and conferences to leave the main body and join a new conservative denomination. Under the proposal, the UMC would give the new denomination $25 million and allow departing congregations to keep their property, and departing clergy, their pensions.

(Law & Religion Forum) Keeping property and pensions, and getting a farewell gift to boot, is a smashing victory — relatively speaking.

God bless the Africans, who forced the progressives (a majority in North America) to sue for “peace.” My great-grandchildren may someday need to be evangelized by missionaries from the global south.

* * *

I must also issue a caveat at this point, because the dominant media falsely make disputes like this a matter of good guys versus wicked homophobes.

David French provides an easy way to do so:

The true fracturing point between [progressive and orthodox] churches is over the authority and interpretation of scripture. The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause … [T]here is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.

Thus, at heart, the disagreement between the [orthodox and progressive] isn’t over issues—even hot-button cultural and political issues—but rather over theology. Indeed, the very first clause of the United Methodist Church’s nine-page separation plan states that church members “have fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice.” …

I’m not for a moment going to pretend that there aren’t homophobes and bigots in [orthodox Christianity]. I’ve encountered more than a few people who turn a blind eye to or rationalize and excuse all manner of heterosexual sin while scorning their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors. But for the thoughtful and faithful dissenters on both sides of the theological aisle, sexuality is the side issue. Differences over scriptural authority and biblical theology represent the central dispute.

Orthodox Christian sexual ethics have absolutely nothing to do with animus against gays and lesbians. In fact, there should be zero animus against any person of any sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead, the orthodox Christian sexual ethic—which reserves sex for the marriage between a man and a woman—rests on a sincere conviction that it is not only directly commanded by God through scripture, it’s also best for human flourishing, and it is symbolic of the sacred relationship between Christ and His Church.

And then caveats to the caveat:

French is an Evangelical, which characteristically (and in French’s case) involves a fair amount of parochialism and ecclesiological cluelessness. So I have modified his over-simplified contrast between Evangelicals and Mainstream Protestants to refer to orthodox and progressive more broadly.

Second, for Catholics and capital-O Orthodox, the scriptural teaching on sexuality is important but not all-important, because each Church’s tradition is consistent about the meaning of sexuality. Were I still Protestant, however, I would stand with the lower-o orthodox, because the case that scripture is unclear is dishonest. Here’s an admission against interest to that effect:

I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says… . [However] we must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture… and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.

(Pro-gay Roman Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson)

That will have to suffice, for everything eventually connect to everything else, and I don’t have an eternity to qualify and ramify.

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

When politics becomes a religion

Religionized politics bodes to kill us:

I’m convinced that 2020 is going to be the most spiritually challenging year for politically engaged Christians of my adult lifetime. In an increasingly de-Christianized America, politics itself is emerging as a competing religious force, and it’s a religion that’s increasingly based on hate and fear, rather than love and grace.

[T]he idea that a person is “good, but wrong” or even “decent, but wrong” is vanishing. Instead, the conventional wisdom is that our political opponents are “terrible and wrong.” Our opponents not only have bad policies, they are bad people.

Now, let’s thrown in an additional complicator for people of faith. Perhaps a religious partisan could attempt to justify the animosity if they could map out a nice, neat religious divide. “Of course they’re terrible people—they’re all heretics.” After all, “reasoning” like that has launched countless wars of religion. And indeed, Republican partisans do make the claim that the GOP stands as a bulwark against increasingly godless Democrats.

But here’s the very different truth. The bases of both parties are disproportionately composed of the most God-fearing, church-going cohort of Americans—black Democrats and white Evangelicals. So, no, while there are serious differences regading abortion, religious liberty, immigration, and a host of other vital moral issues (and blue states tend to be more secular than red states), American politics cannot be neatly defined as a battle between the godly and the godless.

Thus, while the stakes of our modern political conflicts are thankfully lower than the awful carnage of the Civil War, the political division between black Democrats and white Evangelicals reminds me of Lincoln’s famous words in his second inaugural: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” And we face a similar reality: “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”

David French (emphasis added).

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Bearing reality

I anticipated reading in Monday’s newspapers some analysis of how Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s potential corroborating witnesses (those she said were at the party where Brett Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her) have all failed to corroborate anything about the party, including its existence, and that some even volunteered defenses of Kavanaugh.

That’s all true, and I wondered how the crypto-Resistant press would handle it.

But it was not to be. (Trigger warning for sexual assault):

Judge Kavanaugh’s prospects were further clouded on Sunday when The New Yorker reported on a new allegation of sexual impropriety: A woman who went to Yale with Judge Kavanaugh said that, during a drunken dormitory party their freshman year, he exposed himself to her, thrust his penis into her face and caused her to touch it without her consent.

In a statement, Judge Kavanaugh denied the allegation from the woman, Deborah Ramirez, and called it “a smear, plain and simple.” The New Yorker did not confirm with other eyewitnesses that Judge Kavanaugh was at the party.

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

New York Times. The New Yorker, though, makes the new allegation sound a bit more plausible.

I’ve had two simmering reactions to the whole picture, new allegation aside, lasting for a few days now, that I at first thought unsuitable for public consumption. They went in my personal journal today for that reason.

Standing alone, I suppose they are unfit for public consumption, in addition to or as a function of being cryptic, but I’m not going to let them stand alone:

  1. My oatmeal’s cold! I want the FBI to investigate!
  2. Hey, boys and girls! Aren’t drunken parties fun!?

* * *

It’s my understanding that FBI investigations of nominees are focused on whether the nominee is a national security threat. It certainly is not the role of the FBI to investigate the truth or falsity of allegations of decades-old violations of state law just because partisans want to know more for purposes of a political fight. (Such skeletons presumably might come out in response to the question “Any skeletons in his closet?” as the FBI interviews old acquaintances.)

When politicians demand an FBI investigation in circumstances like those now present, they’re just buying time. That’s why the calls are all coming from Democrats currently. They are performing so strongly in election polls that they just might re-take both House and Senate in January and force Trump to nominate, say, Merrick Garland (that is, someone sufficiently moderate that he won’t plausibly be cast as the vehicle for a nefarious agenda, and who will allow both POTUS and the Senate avoid the onus of leaving a seat vacant for years).

The echoed calls of others, not in politics, for FBI investigations are, it seems to me, at least one of at least two things (that’s not a typo; it’s an acknowledgement that beyond that, imagination currently fails me):

  1. Partisan efforts to buy time, just like the Senate Democrats.
  2. Tacit admissions that all the unfounded he-said-she-said accusations flying around are disorienting, and we want some putative neutral expert to tell us what to believe.

The first point requires no elaboration beyond that such calls come from Democrats or progressives even if they’re not personally involved in politics because they’re savvy enough to know the strategy.

As for the second point, I’ve known for decades that we turn inappropriately to “experts” to resolve our vexing problems. I first noticed it when physicians were asked about “quality of life” in the context of medical treatment, nutrition and hydration for gravely ill or injured people — typically, survivors of drug overdoses, traumatic head injuries or dementia.

But quality of life is not a medical question, something about which physicians by experience and training have special knowledge. It’s existential (for the person being evaluated), philosophical for the rest of us. Vexing, yes, but not in the doctor’s bailiwick. (I believe that a few curmudgeonly or pro-life lawyers successfully excluded such testimony on the basis that physicians have no expert qualifications on the subject.)

Another approach to those same tragic situations was to let a proxy decisionmaker, typically a close family member, make the non-treatment decision in the name of patient autonomy. (Yes, the desired decision was non-treatment; if the proxy chose treatment, the search for another proxy who wasn’t an “extremist” or “vitalist” would continue.)

But “autonomy by proxy” is a blatant oxymoron.

The main virtue of letting doctors opine on “quality of life” or letting proxy decisionmakers exercise a patient’s autonomy to refuse further treatment, food or water, was that it spared the rest of us the wrestling with such issues and permitted us to evade what was really going on.

A final example of the phenomenon is conducting capital punishment covertly, so the rest of us can pretend it’s somehow quick and humane. Lethal injection even made it clinical (and we know how expert doctors are about everything).

Similarly, the main virtue of letting the FBI investigate decades-old questions, beyond delay for delay’s sake, is the hope that it will come up with a plausible declaration that the accusation is clearly true or clearly false.

That a professional law enforcement agency is not designed to do, but if they did, we’d be back close to square one asking “so now what?” If true, is it disqualifying?

* * *

My second reaction (“Aren’t drunken parties fun!?”) is aimed at a social problem from which we’ve averted our gaze in a different way.

Instead of delegating amelioration or elimination of adolescent drinking to putative experts, we’ve just decided to ignore it. “Boys will be boys.” “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.” “Harmless fun so long as they don’t drive.”

Or as long as it doesn’t get sexy somehow without full and informed consent. (Or whatever next decade’s #MeToo Moment will be focused on.)

Dare I suggest that a history of binge drinking is itself a problem, or at least a big ole warning flag of problems?

For a change, I’m suggesting something without the need to say “Yes, I did so myself, but have repented.” I never have binge-drunk. When they asked me in my character and fitness examination (for admission to practice law) about past law-breaking, I confessed two occasions where I had one alcoholic beverage where I was not of legal age. The examiner, a cop-turned-lawyer, laughed out loud. At least I’m pretty sure. My memory is fuzzy. That may be my sole qualification for high office.

We know that kids drink, if for no other reason, to lower their inhibitions. In some cases, to lower them specifically to facilitate hooking up, an unchivalrous and predatory act by men and an unnatural act by women.

Are we really shocked by what those inhibitions were holding back? Truly, humankind cannnot bear very much reality.

* * *

Here endeth my meditation, because I have no more expertise than your doctor to tell you what to think about all this. I’m mostly just cynical about our odds of resolving the factual questions.

For what it’s worth, I’m starting to think that Drunk Brett was or is different than Sober Brett, and that the difference may be revelatory. Your mileage may vary, as may your assessment of how that should affect confirmation.

My closest approach to a personal resolution for this whole saga came from reading this, published before the second accusation, which suggests a course of action for Sober Brett.

* * * * *

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Not just another warring Hobbesian voice

The press — especially the prestige press like the New York Times — has trouble seeing religion as anything real. They so thoroughly view everything through a political lens that they assume that religion is just politics in disguise.

Some Christians feed that perception, though — and insofar as they do, they are behaving somewhere between dubiously and very badly — closer to the latter than the former, in my opinion.

Consider:

In a conversation with a young friend, I was told that “politics is the only way to get anything done.” This is not true. Politics (the use of civil power) is a means to gain the upper hand in a Hobbesian struggle. It is war, fought by other means. It is for that reason that politics is a questionable activity for Christians. The victories achieved are often brief, and, depending on the opposition, only maintained by the continued use of force.

It is profoundly the case that civil (or military) force are not the tools of the Kingdom of God. It is among the many reasons why the Kingdom of God is not, and never can be a human project …

What Christ brought was not a set of ideas to be shared in the Hobbesian conflicts of this world. What He brought was the Kingdom itself and the means for our entrance into that Kingdom and for its life to be manifest in us. It has become commonplace for modern Christians to espouse some ideas based on Christian “moral principles” and to make them the guiding light for political projects, sometimes saying that they are “building up the Kingdom in this world” (or words to that effect).

When the Christian life is reduced to moral and political principles, it simply becomes one more warring voice within Hobbes’ nightmarish description of life. This is true regardless of how noble our intentions might be. This is also deeply frustrating for us. The Christian life as moral and political principle does not require anything more than new opinions. It masquerades as renewal and change when it is nothing more than the same war fought by unbelievers.

Fr. Stephen Freeman

In my perception, “building up the Kingdom in this world” is a characteristically progressive Christian trope.

The dread “Religious Right” tends so strongly toward dispensational premillennialism that it would be a feat of theological code-switching of epic proportions for them to say that with a straight face. That doesn’t mean the Religious Right doesn’t “espouse some ideas based on Christian ‘moral principles’ and to make them the guiding light for political projects,” however — which feeds the media bias first cited above.

On the precedent of the Apostle Paul, however, I think we may assert our legal rights defensively (and in most cases, Christians are legally aggressed against more than aggressors).

But we mustn’t kid ourselves that we’re building the Kingdom of God when we do. Whatever you label it, it’s something other than that.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

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

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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