It’s Havel’s Greengrocer Month!

SBC’s numbers fetish

“a satanic scheme to distract us from evangelism.”

Augie Boto, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Council general counsel and former vice president, characterizing reports of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and church employees.

Evangelicalism, of which the SBC is a member in very good standing, had a problem with seeking numerical growth above all else for as long as I was part of it. Psychological trickery and deception were part of the deal (e.g. "Every head bowed and every eye closed. … I see that hand. Is there another?" when nobody had raised a hand.)

The EC’s publishing arm, the Baptist Press, “was also used to portray victims in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse,” according to the report. For example, in 2019 Jennifer Lyell—an abuse survivor and employee of SBC-affiliated Lifeway—was asked to write publicly about her sexual abuse by an SBC seminary professor, but the article was changed before publication to suggest a consensual relationship and only corrected months later.

(Emphasis added)

Hauerwas strikes again

Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens.

Not-quite-rank speculation

Maybe Mainline Protestantism is less prone to pervasive sex abuse partly because it has far fewer young people for predators to target. Not many Mainline churches have vibrant youth ministries or large programs for children. But Mainline churches do have a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability that are likelier to address sexual abuse.

In contrast, most of evangelicalism is effectively congregationalist with fewer authoritative structures beyond the local church. Self protective pastors or congregational governing boards can more easily evade accountability than congregations within denominations. Mainline denominations have bishops, superintendents, presbyteries and synods that oversee congregations and clergy. Often this oversight fails to work effectively, but it can be better than no oversight at all.

Perhaps more importantly, there is culturally less deference toward and trust for clergy and for church governance in Mainline Protestantism. As I recall growing up Methodist, critiquing and tearing down the pastor is often the local church’s most fervent sport, sadly. Preoccupation with pastoral flaws obviously is deeply unhelpful and may help explain part of Mainline Protestantism’s dysfunction. But Mainliners are typically not intimidated by clergy or distorted ideas about pastoral authority.

The typical Mainline cleric is not invested with the spiritual authority that many evangelicals accord their pastors. And of course Catholic priests have more spiritual authority than do Protestant clergy. The reasons are ecclesiological but also maybe sociological. Wealthy Ivy League educated parishioners at an Episcopal parish who belong to country clubs, have many lawyer friends, and know the mayor, are less likely to defer to their cleric or congregational leaders than maybe less culturally privileged members of an evangelical church.

Evangelicals maybe are more prone to idealize their pastors than Mainline Protestants, who are more prone to see clerics as the hired help.

Juicy Ecumenism, ‌Mainliners, Evangelicals, Catholics & Sexual Abuse – Juicy Ecumenism (Italics added)

This seemed timely, but don’t think that I’m siding with the Mainline. I have history in Evangelicalism, and write reactively against it, but I can’t say one way or the other whether the Mainline is healthier overall. I will, however, unequivocally endorse accountability — be it bishops, synods, presbyteries or whatever — over congregationalism, or what I call "fiefdoms."

Also, for what it’s worth, I’m skeptical of the claim I italicized, but it’s been a long time since I spent time around Protestants talking about their pastors.

Gun nuts, pro and con

Respected philosopher James K.A. Smith emotes:

We’ve taken too long. Habitualities built up over a 200 year history will not be undone by tweaks on policy and half measures.

We need the collective will to repeal the 2nd Amendment and confiscate guns.

Only Mammon and our idols prevent us from doing so.

Burn them down.

But Mark Tooley has some cautions:

Christian realism always counsels against ambitious absolutist solutions that override precedent, ignore human nature, and downplay the complex social factors that foster the conditions for catastrophe.

Tooley also has cautions for gun hobbyists, too (and by implication, for us all):

Christianity traditionally argues not only against malevolent violence, of course, but also against vain amusements. The vast, vast majority of gun enthusiasts are mainly devoted hobbyists. For most, their pursuits are benign. But traditional Christianity cautions against unhealthy enthusiasms for worldly hobbies, however benign. This is especially the case where a prurient fascination with guns bleeds over into the macabre.

For more than 2,000 years, Christianity often has preached against theaters, salacious literature, dancing, festivals, bear-baiting, carnivals, card playing, horse racing, and other recreations that many Christians see as mostly harmless in themselves. The argument against passions for such pursuits is that life is short and that Christians are called to redeem the time and be sober, alert, and focused on God’s work.

Life under soft totalitarianism*

If I gave in to the Inquisitors, I should at least know what creed to profess. But even if I yelled out a credo when the Eugenists had me on the rack, I should not know what creed to yell. I might get an extra turn of the rack for confessing to the creed they confessed quite a week ago.

G.K. Chesterton, The Established Church of Doubt, in The G. K. Chesterton Collection (Kindle Location 19750)

I had to read that a few times to get it when Readwise coughed it up this morning. It’s as true today as when Chesterton wrote it, though the actors have changed:

  • "Conservatives" who abandoned bog standard conservatism for Trumpist populism, but pre-eminently …
  • Wokesters, who positively make a cruel game out of cancelling anyone who still believes, say, that marriage is between a man and a woman (or other offenses again liberal groin pieties or racial identity politics).

* Soft totalitarianism is that totalitarianism that doesn’t command by pointing a gun barrel. Not yet.

Havel’s Greengrocers

Speaking of liberal groin pieties, it’s Pride Month, and more and more restaurants and other businesses are playing Havel’s Greengrocer.

It’s actually kind of nice of them: it tells me who to avoid this June and, conversely, what courageous little dissident shops I might want to patronize.


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.

Faith Issues, Roe (and more)

Faith matters

Theology vs. Academic Theology

Theologians, like all academics, have to keep coming up with original things to say. If you just kept repeating the words you received from your old professors, it would get you nowhere. What you need is fresh, even daring, new material. And that means theology will always be in flux.

A venerable Catholic theologian once told me, with great irritation, “Lay people don’t understand what theology is!” They think it’s set in stone, he said, but it’s always evolving and progressing. He seemed to think that theology was something lay people could never hope to keep up with. Their meddling was annoying. They should get out of the way, and wait for the professionals to tell them what the new thinking is.

Theology has a completely different basis in Orthodoxy. It doesn’t change, because it is the faith taught by the Apostles themselves; Orthodoxy is the unbroken continuation of the Church founded by Christ, and carried by the Apostles into the world. We do keep repeating the words we received from our teachers and elders in Christ. Orthodoxy doesn’t need updating, because it provides everything a person needs to be saturated with the presence of God (a process called “theosis”). It fits the needs of every human being like water and air do, no matter what culture or time.

Frederica Matthewes-Green in a letter to Rod Dreher.

Do take note of that first paragraph. Heresy is baked right into the cake of academic theology as presently structured. And that’s an insight that is baked pretty deeply into my bones now. Calling a theological writing “novel” is generally a powerful insult in Orthodoxy.

Not following which faith?

People often talk to me about their adult children who are not following the Lord. I think they want to introduce them to me, as if my brand of wacky Miss Frizzle theologian would inspire them to follow Jesus (reader, I am not that compelling). I have started to ask these folks, which faith do you think your children are longer following? Tell me about it. Was it perhaps one that promised that Jesus would be primarily a place where they got their psychological needs met? Did you raise them to believe that middle-class respectability and good religious feelings were the goal of following Christ? Did you teach them how to suffer?

To the Shire

Classical Liberalism or Postliberalism?

Over a busy weekend (my final choral concert of the Spring), I almost forgot to share two very civil and worthwhile (opening?) arguments on how conservative Christians should behave in 2022:

Apart from the response’s resonance with my lifelong habits of thought, I think the response convincingly shows that the opening volley’s premise that we’ve recently entered “negative world” (cultural hostility to Christianity, which the coiner of the term thinks follows a long stretch of American approbation of Christianity and a few decades of neutrality) is dubious if not mythical. The folks who are more openly hostile now were just subtler before. I fear I greeted the original “negative world” theory with a lot of confirmation bias.

And of course, this debate, nominally about Tim Keller’s approach to politics, is a microcosm of the much larger argument, widely contested among self-identified Christians, about classical liberalism (French) versus some manner of postliberalism (Wood). Don’t cabin this argument.

Update: Rod Dreher weighs in against French, failing badly if he was trying to cover himself in glory instead of just waving the tribal flag. I wonder if American Conservative would give him a sabbatical while he works through a few things? I wonder if it would really make things better if they did.

The impending “reversal of Roe

The salutary political consequences

Peggy Noonan goes a bit meta on the consequences if SCOTUS “reverses Roe“:

[Roe] left both parties less healthy. The Democrats locked into abortion as party orthodoxy, let dissenters know they were unwelcome, pushed ever more extreme measures to please their activists, and survived on huge campaign donations from the abortion industry itself. Republican politicians were often insincere on the issue, and when sincere almost never tried to explain their thinking and persuade anyone. They took for granted and secretly disrespected their pro-life groups, which consultants regularly shook down for campaign cash. They ticked off the “I’m pro-life” box in speeches, got applause and went on to talk about the deficit. They were forgiven a great deal because of their so-called stand, and this contributed, the past 25 years, to the party’s drift.

Abortion distorted both parties.

Advice now, especially for Republican men, if Roe indeed is struck down: Do not be your ignorant selves. Do not, as large dumb misogynists, start waxing on about how if a woman gets an illegal abortion she can be jailed. Don’t fail to embrace compromise because you can make money on keeping the abortion issue alive. I want to say “Just shut your mouths,” but my assignment is more rigorous. It is to have a heart. Use the moment to come forward as human beings who care about women and want to give families the help they need. Align with national legislation that helps single mothers to survive. Support women, including with child-care credits that come in cash and don’t immediately go to child care, to help mothers stay at home with babies. Shelters, classes in parenting skills and life skills. All these exist in various forms: make them better, broader, bigger.

This is an opportunity to change your party’s reputation.

Democrats too. You have been given a gift and don’t know it. You think, “Yes, we get a hot new issue for 2022!” But you always aggress more than you think. The gift is that if, as a national matter, the abortion issue is removed, you could be a normal party again. You have no idea, because you don’t respect outsiders, how many people would feel free to join your party with the poison cloud dispersed. You could be something like the party you were before Roe: liberal on spending and taxation, self-consciously the champion of working men and women, for peace and not war. As you were in 1970.

Or, absent the emotionally cohering issue of abortion, you can choose to further align with extremes within the culture, and remain abnormal.

But the end of Roe could be a historic gift for both parties, a chance to become their better selves.

How will the court “reverse Roe“?

Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast persuaded me, without saying it in so many words, that Alito’s first draft won’t be his last. He has a bit of a needle to thread (the needle is oxymoronically named “Substantive Due Process”) and the first draft doesn’t persuasively thread it.

The main article in Friday’s Morning Dispatch also covers the question of unenumerated rights that might theoretically be at risk if the opinion doesn’t get the reasoning right.

My own opinion (caveat: I’m retired and rusty on legal analysis, and my opinion has been clarified only recently by thinking harder than before about stare decisis) is that:

  • almost all the cases recognizing unenumerated rights over the last 60 years have been bogus, the right to marry across lines of “race” (Loving v. Virginia) being the only exception I can think of readily;
  • of the remaining bogus decisions (Griswold, Lawrence, Obergefell) I can think of none that require reversal under the considerations that come into play in stare decisis. That’s another way of saying that “wrongly decided” (or “bogus”) doesn’t necessarily imply “should be reversed”; it’s more complicated than that.

Concise

The latest theme on the political left is that the Supreme Court Justices who might overturn Roe v. Wade are at war with democracy. It’s a strange argument, since overturning Roe would merely return abortion policy to the states for political debate in elections and legislatures. That’s the definition of democracy.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. Most Editorial Board editorials aren’t worth reading, but that first paragraph was at least concise. The rest of the editorial? Meh.

American progressives, and some on the right, have convinced themselves that legal abortion will disappear the moment the Supreme Court reverses its Roe v. Wade precedent. Since the Court is contemplating this, readers might appreciate examples from democracies that have grappled with this difficult issue without nine Justices to tell them what to do.

We mean Europe, where abortion is legal in most countries, usually with limits that are more strict than America’s and generally as a result of democratic choice.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board separately.

Worth your time

Overruling Roe Would Extinguish A Judicially Created Right, But Would Restore The People’s “Precious Right To Govern Themselves”

The other stuff

An artefact of sensible times

For those curious, the Fifth Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals] is holding its conference in Nashville because, apparently, there are no facilities large enough in Mississippi to host this confab.

Update: I have since been reliably informed that judicial conferences are not held in Mississippi for another reason: all of the hotels large enough in the state are attached to casinos, and some rule prohibits holding judicial functions in places attached to casinos. As a result, several hotels in Mississippi are large enough, but due to the casinos, none are not suitable.

Josh Blackman

An interesting rule from the days when people were smart enough to know that casinos are disreputable. They still are — as is commercial gambling on sports.

But we’ve decided to monetize vice, often with the promise that the revenue will fund schools. Monetizing vice does indeed “school” children, but not in any good way.

Surviving big cultural disasters

Having an inner life is how we can survive if the world falls apart … It’s how people have endured and thrived living under authoritarian regimes … If a populist regime … is in the cards, it’s time to become bird-watchers and hikers and readers of classics and take care of our friends and children and ignore the ignorance and cruelty afar.

Garrison Keillor, with some historic particulars elided. Some of the elisions may leave the impression that Keillor is opposed to all populism, though I don’t know that. I’d like to think there could be a populism that isn’t ignorant and cruel, though I see few signs of one yet.

Facing the end of life

I realize that we are all circling around the Airport of Death, but it just seems to me that if you take that step [moving to a retirement community] it means that you are entering your landing pattern. I think that I will rather just live until I die.

Terry Cowan.

At 73, I think I’ve fairly realistically reckoned with my mortality at last.

But that can be dangerous; you mustn’t just sit and wait for the grim reaper when getting up and moving could keep him away a bit longer. Sloth is a sin even for oldsters. And even if moving hurts a bit.

Wordplay

  • the right place to be is surely in the woods, or in a monastery. Or in a monastery in the woods.

Paul Kingsnorth

  • All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.

G. K. Chesterton


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.

Roe, Twitter and more

Roe

After the Politico leak of a draft SCOTUS opinion "overturning Roe":

Where the public stands is tricky to divine. Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans would object to the court overturning Roe. But others show that most people want limits on abortions that Roe does not permit.

The Economist, Why abortion rights are under threat in America.

Neither the people nor most of the press understands Roe, which (by the way) was substantially overruled in and replaced by Planned Parenthood v. Casey 30 years ago. The Economist is to be commended for at least contextualizing the myth of popular support for "Roe."

I was for a time an anti-abortion activist and third-string litigator. I still remain an anti-abortion voter (though the multiplication of supposedly pro-life politicians who are fundamentally jackasses has disabused me of single-issue voting) and a supporter of a local pregnancy resource center that provides women alternatives to abortion.

But I don’t expect to read the leaked draft opinion. Que sera sera.

Neither do I intend to try to explain yet again that "overturning Roe" is not the same as banning abortion.

Where to go when you have nowhere left to go

British author Paul Kingsnorth describes his becoming an Orthodox Christian from, most recently, Wicca (from The Symbolic World episode 158, starting at about the 17-minute mark, paraphrased by me except for quotations):

He definitely was led to Christianity, because he didn’t want it. He didn’t like Christianity or Christians and he didn’t want to be a Christian. He was an eco-Pagan.

Many environmentalists recognize that matters of the spirit are fundamental to the problem of environmental degradation, so they go looking for a spiritual path — of which there are almost none left in the western world.

He tried Zen starting about ten years ago, and there was a lot to like, but it was missing something (which turned out to be God). He tried other mythical paths, including Wicca, but it’s an ersatz assembly of old pieces that doesn’t quite work. Father Seraphim Rose is popular with Orthodox converts, perhaps, because he, too, tried all kinds of different things.

A lot of that wandering around and trying exotic things is from a feeling that "we have nowhere to go," which in turn is a result of the Western Church being for so long tied up with power, tied up with the institutions that were crushing people and destroying the earth, and from the Genesis command to " Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it" being interpreted as a command for domination. It’s just not attractive, especially since the 60s re-ordered what we value.

But he began having dreams, and visions. Christians started popping out of the woodwork left and right, emailing and talking about his books for no apparent reason. Finally couldn’t ignore it. And the more he read about Christianity, especially Eastern Christianity, the more he thought:

This isn’t the story I thought it was. I thought Christianity was a bunch or moral lessons. I thought it was a bunch of things you were supposed to do so you went to heaven instead of hell, and you have to be good and do certain things, and I thought "Well why would I need a guy from two thousand years ago to tell me that?" And I don’t believe it anyway.

But the more I realized what was actually going on, the more I realized that this is a mystical path. It’s a path to God. It’s a path of stripping back and renunciation. And the more I found Orthodoxy — I had a couple of friends who turned out to be Orthodox Christians, which I hadn’t really known before — and then I started reading the Desert Fathers and the Philokalia and I thought "Wow! This is really powerful stuff! This beats anything that the Buddhists have got to offer." Or at least it’s actually very similar in some ways in terms of the depth of the mystery.

And I thought "Yeah, this Church thing (that I thought I knew about) is not what I thought it was. And here’s a powerful path."

And then of course you start reading the Gospels and you think … there is nothing that’s more radical, actually, than the teaching of Christ.

And then once you start separating it out from the many hideous things people have done with it over the centuries, you think "Well this is just as relevant as it ever was … This is radical humility, and if we had practiced this, we wouldn’t be in this situation."

I would not disagree with any of his description, though I never wandered around in Zen, Wicca or other exotic territory and cannot affirm from personal experience that people detest Western Christianity for the reasons he gives, though those reasons ring true to me.

Brooks nails it

David Brooks offers Seven Lessons Democrats Need to Learn — Fast:

  • It is possible to overstimulate the economy
  • Law and order is not just a racist dog whistle
  • Don’t politicize everything
  • Border security is not just a Republican talking point
  • “People of color” is not a thing
  • Deficits do matter
  • The New Deal happened once

Such a simple idea, so well-executed.

Wise excerpts

  • Your growth as a conscious being is measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.
  • Half the skill of being educated is learning what you can ignore.
  • 90% of everything is crap. If you think you don’t like opera, romance novels, TikTok, country music, vegan food, NFTs, keep trying to see if you can find the 10% that is not crap.
  • You cant reason someone out of a notion that they didn’t reason themselves into.
  • Dont believe everything you think you believe.

Kevin Kelly, 103 Bits of Advice I wish I’d known.

(I doubt that any NFTs are not crap.)

Social media

Are you virtuous enough for Twitter?

Twitter is the only social media platform I use, and I’ve long characterized my use of it as a devil’s bargain. The platform has benefitted me in certain ways, but this has come at a cost. The benefits and costs are what you would expect. I’ve made good connections through the platform, my writing has garnered a bit more of an audience, and I’ve encountered the good work of others. On the other hand, I’ve given it too much of my time and energy, and I’m pretty sure my thinking and my writing have, on the whole, suffered as a consequence. Assuming I’m right in my self-assessment, that’s too high of a price, is it not? The problem, as I’ve suggested before, is that the machine requires too much virtue to operate, and, frankly, I’m not always up to the task.

During the fidget spinner craze a few years back, a thought came to mind: “Social media are the fidget spinners of the soul.” Maybe this is one of the so-called darlings I’d do best to kill, but, I don’t know, I still think it works. It’s another way of capturing the relationship between social media and sloth or acedia. The self is in disarray, agitated, unsettled, directionless, and the best it can do is fidget with the platforms to keep the unease at bay.

L.M. Sacasas (emphasis added). All-in-all, a stimulating set of brief reflections injected into what has been a stultifying feeding frenzy of coverage and hand-wringing.

A truly social medium

Alan Jacobs posts a brief introduction to micro.blog for the benefit of the millions (just kidding) of refugees fleeing thence from Twitter since Elon’s invasion.

He concludes with the centralmost distinction:

On micro.blog, you have absolutely no incentive to flex, shitpost, self-promote, or troll. You’re there to post interesting things and/or chat with people. Nothing else makes sense.

And that’s why it’s great.

So if you’re coming over from Twitter, please try to leave your Twitter habits and reflexes behind. They won’t help you at micro.blog. ### Hall of Shame nominee:

The Biden Administration’s Orwellian new Disinformation Governance Board (DGB), whose mission, sensible people fear, will creep beyond its initial modest mandate of “countering misinformation related to homeland security, focused specifically on irregular migration and Russia.”

Epistemic status

One of the lessons I still need to learn in life, in my 74th year, is that warranted absolute certainty is vanishingly rare. I am reminded of that in many ways, but one of the nicest is when Scott Alexander starts a blog post with "Epistemic status" of what follows, as here.

Shorts

You have to be educated into cant; it is a kind of stupidity that surpasses the capacity of unaided Nature to confer.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

The Washington Post put more effort into exposing @libsoftiktok’s name and address than they did investigating Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Greg Price, via Andrew Sullivan

People believe Twitter is the real world. They therefore believe that Elon Musk is buying the world.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary via The Morning Dispatch

“Disinformation” just means anything that the Left doesn’t want you to say out loud.

James Howard Kunstler

Wordplay

"Parochial cosmopolitan."

A Cosmopolitan who cannot imagine any reason for more conservative opinions. Used in a sentence: "You may believe that the Hungarian law went too far, but only a parochial cosmopolitan can believe that the only reason people wouldn’t want their children propagandized to embrace transgressive sexual and gender roles is plain bigotry." (Rod Dreher, DeSantis, Magyar Of The Sunshine State?)


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 reflections

In progress we trust

Faith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Sorry if I’ve posted this before. It just says so much in so few words.

Seen and unseen understood

We celebrated Theophany, the third-most important of the Church’s feasts, on January 6. The feast technically continues several days, and included last Sunday:

The true Light has appeared and bestows illumination on all. Christ is baptized with us, even though He is above all purity; and thus He infuses sanctification into the water, which then becomes the purifying agent of our souls. What is seen belongs to earth; but what is understood transcends the heavens. By means of a bath comes salvation; by means of water comes the Spirit; by means of immersion does our ascent to God come to pass. How wonderful are Your works, O Lord! Glory to You.

One of the "Praises" ("Lauds") in Matins ("Orthros") January 9 (emphasis added, because that caught my attention).

American Christianity collection

The "democratic" seeds sown

Every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport or license, and sell his false ware at pleasure. What is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen.

Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (1844)

178 years later, we can see a bit more clearly.

To see ourselves as others see us

Author and speaker Christine Caine recently shared that she was stunned by what she encountered when she first visited churches in the United States.

Before coming to the U.S., “I had never seen a flag in a church,” said Caine. “Never.”

Jessica Lea

Unguarded candor

I found my way into this Twitter thread because John MacArthur was quoted as saying:

I don’t even support religious freedom. Religious freedom is what sent people to hell. To say I support religious freedom is to say I support idolatry. It’s to say I support lies. I support hell. I support the kingdom of darkness.

Unfortunately, the quote was accurate, and he doubled down disastrously. MacArthur is a big-name Evangelical of the sort I would have thought fairly moderate.

Comic and tragic

I’m from the Midwest, the home of emotional withdrawal, where I grew up among serious Bible scholars for whom the result of scholarship was schism and bitterness ….

Garrison Keillor.

That Keillor is a low-key comic doesn’t mean it’s not true. Witness this:

New podcast: Reformed Church in America split points to rising tensions in Calvin country — GetReligion

The "Alliance of Reformed Churches" to which conservatives from the RCA are fleeing, is attracting interest from Churches of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) as well. Both a roiled by similar contentious issues, implicating sexuality.

I was already an adult, when the PCA was forming from dissident members of the United Presbyterian Church. Our church was considering affiliating with PCA. They were until recently reputed to be rock-ribbed conservative Calvinists. Now, they’re in some trouble.

Upon completing law school, and before entering the Orthodox Church, I spent roughly 15 years in the CRC.

It blows my mind how the PCA and CRC have changed in so short a time. (If you’re curious, or just not conversant with the polyglot Protestant world, "Presbyterian" and "Reformed" historically are the English and continental Calvinist Churches, respectively; for an American, there’s no high doctrinal barriers between them.)

We’re not total outliers, though

I have been reviewing some of my personal notes, and one portion of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary has particular religious valence. McGilchrist is a Brit, and so his observations aren’t focused on America, but presumably apply throughout the post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment West:

  • One can see the second process (a rejection of the right hemisphere’s world) in the way in which the decline of metaphoric understanding of ceremony and ritual into the inauthentic repetition of empty procedures in the Middle Ages prompted, not a revitalisation of metaphoric understanding, but an outright rejection of it, with the advent of the Reformation … 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 … 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.
  • Decapitation of statues by the Reformers took place because of the confounding of the animate and the inanimate, and the impossibility of seeing that one can live in the other metaphorically. In a world where metaphoric understanding is lost we are reduced to ‘either/or’, as Koerner says. Either the statue is God or it is a thing: since it is ‘obviously’ not God, it must be a thing, and therefore ‘mere wood’, in which case it has no place in worship.
  • Protestantism being a manifestation of left-hemisphere cognition is – even though its conscious self-descriptions would deny this – itself inevitably linked to the will to power, since that is the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • Removing the places of holiness, and effectively dispensing with the dimension of the sacred, eroded the power of the princes of the Church, but it helped to buttress the power of the secular state.
  • In essence the cardinal tenet of Christianity – the Word is made Flesh – becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.
  • There are obvious continuities between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They share the same marks of left-hemisphere domination: the banishment of wonder; the triumph of the explicit, and, with it, mistrust of metaphor; alienation from the embodied world of the flesh, and a consequent cerebralisation of life and experience.
  • The destruction of the sacerdotal power of the Church was a goal of the French Revolution, as it had been of the Reformation. The Reformation, however, had not been nakedly, explicitly, secular: it had purported to replace a corrupt religion with a purified one. All the same its effect had been to transfer power from the sacerdotal base of the Catholic Church to the state, an essential part of the relentless process of secularisation, in the broadest sense – by which I mean the re-presentation of human experience in purely rationalistic terms, necessarily exclusive of the Other, and the insistence that all questions concerning morality and human welfare can and should be settled within those terms – which I would see as the agenda of the left hemisphere. (I am fascinated at the pregnant qualifiers "nakedly, explicitly".)
  • Eichendorff said that Romanticism was the nostalgia of Protestants for the Catholic tradition.

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.

Book notes: The Master and His Emissary

Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary is, I’m pretty sure, the heftiest book I read in 2021. I’ve been reviewing my Readwise notes on-and-off now for a full day.

Selected notes are more than enough material for a blog the reader can really chew on for a while. While context is missing, I’ve tried to avoid notes that require the context for any understanding:

  • [B]y showing that the left hemisphere, which underwrites the fragmented vision, is both literally more limited in what it can see, and less capable of understanding what it does see, than the right – and, to cap it all, is less aware of its own limitations – the book gives the reader good reason to reappraise the left hemisphere’s world view, wherever it can be identified as such.
  • [S]ince the Industrial Revolution, but particularly in the last fifty years, we have created a world around us which, in contrast to the natural world, reflects the left hemisphere’s priorities and its vision.
  • A mountain that is a landmark to a navigator, a source of wealth to the prospector, a many-textured form to a painter, or to another the dwelling place of the gods, is changed by the attention given to it. There is no ‘real’ mountain which can be distinguished from these, no one way of thinking which reveals the true mountain. Science, however, purports to be uncovering such a reality. Its apparently value-free descriptions are assumed to deliver the truth about the object, onto which our feelings and desires are later painted. Yet this highly objective stance, this ‘view from nowhere’, to use Nagel’s phrase, is itself value-laden. It is just one particular way of looking at things, a way which privileges detachment, a lack of commitment of the viewer to the object viewed.
  • [I]t is the right hemisphere that has the intuitive sense of numbers and their relative size. However, the sense is approximate and does not have precision. The left hemisphere, by contrast, has precision, but it has no intuitive sense of what it is actually doing, other than following rules and manipulating symbols.
  • ‘If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture’s purpose was to disclose them.’ … one feels so hopeless relying on the written word to convey meaning in humanly important and emotionally freighted situations. … It is precisely its accuracy and definiteness that make speech unsuited for expressing what is too complex, changeful and ambiguous. … a right-hemisphere stroke, although not involving speech directly, is in practice more disabling than a left-hemisphere stroke, despite the fact that in a left-hemisphere stroke speech is usually lost.
  • [P]oetry evolved before prose … Prose was at first known as pezos logos, literally ‘pedestrian, or walking, logos’, as opposed to the usual dancing logos of poetry.
  • The belief that one cannot think without language is yet another fallacy of the introspective process, whereby thinking in words about language only serves to confirm the importance of the verbal process. When we consciously introspect, or retrospect, on our own thought processes, and try to construct what happens, how the mind works, we can do so only as we would under those circumstances try to achieve the task, consciously, putting it in words. But the mind is not like this. We carry out most mental processes that would normally constitute what we mean by thinking without doing anything consciously, or in language, at all.
  • [P]hilosophy in the West is essentially a left-hemisphere process. It is verbal and analytic, requiring abstracted, decontextualised, disembodied thinking, dealing in categories, concerning itself with the nature of the general rather than the particular, and adopting a sequential, linear approach to truth, building the edifice of knowledge from the parts, brick by brick. While such a characterisation is not true of most pre-Socratic philosophers, particularly Heraclitus, it is at least true of the majority of philosophers since Plato in the West until the nineteenth century, when, for example, Schopenhauer, Hegel and Nietzsche began to question the basis on which philosophy made its advances.
  • According to the left hemisphere, understanding is built up from the parts … According to the right hemisphere, understanding is derived from the whole ….
  • The statement that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ is itself a truth statement, and implies that it is truer than its opposite, the statement that ‘truth exists’. If we had no concept of truth, we could not state anything at all, and it would even be pointless to act.
  • The fact that in the twentieth century philosophers, like physicists, increasingly arrived at conclusions that are at variance with their own left-hemisphere methodology, and suggest the primacy of the world as the right hemisphere would deliver it, tells us something important.
  • It is only the left hemisphere that thinks there is certainty to be found anywhere.
  • It is not that one or other hemisphere ‘specialises in’, or perhaps even ‘prefers’, whatever it may be, but that each hemisphere has its own disposition towards it, which makes one or another aspect of it come forward – and it is that aspect which is brought out in the world of that hemisphere.
  • The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualised, explicit, disembodied, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known – and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.
  • [T]he immediate pre-conceptual sense of awe can evolve into religion only with the help of the left hemisphere: though, if the process stops there, all one has is theology, or sociology, or empty ritual: something else.
  • With the advent of Romanticism, paradox became once more not a sign of error, but, as it had been seen by Western philosophers before Plato, and by all the major schools of thought in the East before and since, as a sign of the necessary limitation of our customary modes of language and thought, to be welcomed, rather than rejected, on the path towards truth. ‘Paradox is everything simultaneously good and great’, wrote Friedrich Schlegel.
  • The means of argument – the three Ls, language, logic and linearity – are all ultimately under left-hemisphere control, so that the cards are heavily stacked in favour of our conscious discourse enforcing the world view re-presented in the hemisphere which speaks, the left hemisphere, rather than the world that is present to the right hemisphere. Its point of view is always easily defensible, because analytic; the difficulty lies with those who are aware that this does not exhaust the possibilities, and have nonetheless to use analytic methods to transcend analysis. … Coupled with its preference for classification, analysis and sequential thinking, this makes [the left hemisphere] very powerful in constructing an argument. By contrast it is hard for the right hemisphere to be heard at all: what it knows is too complex, hasn’t the advantage of having been carved up into pieces that can be neatly strung together, and it hasn’t got a voice anyway.
  • Although language is the only way we can scientifically bridge the chasm between mind and brain, we should always remember that we humans are creatures that can be deceived as easily by logical rigour as by blind faith … It is possible that some of the fuzzier concepts of folk-psychology may lead us to a more fruitful understanding of the integrative functions of the brain than the rigorous, but constrained, languages of visually observable behavioural acts….
  • One can see the second process (a rejection of the right hemisphere’s world) in the way in which the decline of metaphoric understanding of ceremony and ritual into the inauthentic repetition of empty procedures in the Middle Ages prompted, not a revitalisation of metaphoric understanding, but an outright rejection of it, with the advent of the Reformation … 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 … 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.
  • Decapitation of statues by the Reformers took place because of the confounding of the animate and the inanimate, and the impossibility of seeing that one can live in the other metaphorically. In a world where metaphoric understanding is lost we are reduced to ‘either/or’, as Koerner says. Either the statue is God or it is a thing: since it is ‘obviously’ not God, it must be a thing, and therefore ‘mere wood’, in which case it has no place in worship.
  • Protestantism being a manifestation of left-hemisphere cognition is – even though its conscious self-descriptions would deny this – itself inevitably linked to the will to power, since that is the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • Removing the places of holiness, and effectively dispensing with the dimension of the sacred, eroded the power of the princes of the Church, but it helped to buttress the power of the secular state.
  • In essence the cardinal tenet of Christianity – the Word is made Flesh – becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.
  • There are obvious continuities between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They share the same marks of left-hemisphere domination: the banishment of wonder; the triumph of the explicit, and, with it, mistrust of metaphor; alienation from the embodied world of the flesh, and a consequent cerebralisation of life and experience.
  • The destruction of the sacerdotal power of the Church was a goal of the French Revolution, as it had been of the Reformation. The Reformation, however, had not been nakedly, explicitly, secular: it had purported to replace a corrupt religion with a purified one. All the same its effect had been to transfer power from the sacerdotal base of the Catholic Church to the state, an essential part of the relentless process of secularisation, in the broadest sense – by which I mean the re-presentation of human experience in purely rationalistic terms, necessarily exclusive of the Other, and the insistence that all questions concerning morality and human welfare can and should be settled within those terms – which I would see as the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • The appeal to reason can lead to sweetness and light, but it can also be used to monitor and control, to constrict and repress, in keeping with my view that the aim of the left hemisphere is power. With time, a dark side to the Enlightenment became too obvious to conceal.
  • In Shakespeare, tragedy is no longer the result of a fatal flaw or error: time and again it lies in a clash between two ways of being in the world or looking at the world, neither of which has to be mistaken. In Shakespeare tragedy is in fact the result of the coming together of opposites.
  • Eichendorff said that Romanticism was the nostalgia of Protestants for the Catholic tradition.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary


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.

Holiday Ingathering

You can’t patent, trademark, or copyright routine

Yesterday morning we were reading around the fire and started chatting about pastors and the emphasis in the Protestant church on feelings and niche theology. It is sometimes held that if one feels a certain way or espouses certain esoteric ideas, then one is a “mature” Christian. This, of course, is great for Christian publishers and pastors, who produce books and create experiences that promise to lead people to the holy land of Christian maturity, where a select few live with a sense of satisfying superiority. Gnosticism is alive and well.

But isn’t action essential for holiness—especially repetitive action, like regularly taking the sacraments and doing a daily office? It’s harder (though not impossible) to build a marketable brand on these things, which is perhaps why there are so few celebrity pastors in churches that emphasize routine.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock for December 23 (emphasis added)


Donald Jr.

Emissary to MAGA world

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power …

And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.

Decency is for suckers.

He believes, as his father does, that politics should be practiced ruthlessly, mercilessly, and vengefully. The ends justify the means. Norms and guardrails need to be smashed. Morality and lawfulness must always be subordinated to the pursuit of power and self-interest. That is the Trumpian ethic.

Peter Wehner, ‌The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

And the assembled hoards at Turning Point USA ate it up.

If the GOP wants to be the party of normals

The Republican visage of the Janus-faced Hulk is investing in stupid as if it were Bitcoin … I’m enjoying the political beclowning of wokeness on the left, but the right’s embrace of jackassery is legitimately bumming me out, because it’s driven by people trying to claim the conservative label.

Consider AmericaFest. For several days now, I’ve been subjected to clips from Charlie Kirk’s confab. If stupid were chocolate, he’d be Willy Wonka, albeit with a revival tent vibe.  Whether it’s his comparison of Kyle Rittenhouse to Jesus or his claim that their election “audit updates” come from a “biblical framework,” he’s peddling snake-oil-flavored everlasting gobstoppers of idiocy.

Before you get offended at me mocking people for declaring their Christian faith, consider that what I’m really mocking is their understanding of Christianity. Here’s Donald Trump Jr.:

““We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference,  I understand the mentality, but it’s gotten us nothing, … It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

My favorite part is the “sort of.” “Turn the other cheek” is “sort of” a biblical reference? What other kind of reference could it be other than some obscure instruction from a photographer to some butt model or what a tattooist says when he’s done with the left side?

… Donnie thinks a core tenet of Christianity needs to go if it doesn’t yield political power (for him). It should not fall to a guy named Goldberg to point this out, but from what I know about Christianity, this is pretty frick’n Roman.

But it’s not just the religion stuff. Sarah Palin, without a hint of irony, says she’ll get vaccinated “over my dead body.” (“Your terms are acceptable”—COVID.) … Madison Cawthorn, who makes Watters seems like Aristotle, told a group of mostly college students (at an event that makes its living feeding off of college students) that most of them should drop out of college. And, of course, Tucker Carlson doled out the usual boob-bait about the Capitol riot.

… I could go on. But the point is that if the GOP wants to be the party of normals, it can’t just take advantage of Democratic abnormalcy. It actually has to be, well, normal.

Jonah Goldberg


Dysfunction-making habits

Famous experiments on animals demonstrate that artificial isolation from their own kind produces dysfunction. We need to understand that humanity is running an analogous experiment on itself. The revolution ushered in facts of life that had never before existed on the scale seen today. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the imploding nuclear family, the shrinking extended family: All these phenomena are acts of human subtraction. Every one of them has the effect of reducing the number of people to whom we belong, and whom we can call our own.

Mary Eberstadt, Men Are at War with God


Suffering for the common good

[I]t does strike me as odd that many American liberals seem ideologically committed to being miserable all the time. But this is also understandable in light of prevailing moods. Feeling like you’re a victim even if you’re not is the dominant cultural sensibility of the day.

Anthropologically, the need for an “anchor” or “pivot” (to use the Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s term) is something that all humans appear to need across space and time …

This innate disposition can cause problems when denied its natural outlets. If a particular segment of the population, on average, is less likely to believe in God, belong to an organized religion, have children, or be married, then they will, on average, need to look elsewhere for anchors and pivots. And we know that meaning can be derived from panic, fear, and even illness, particularly if you believe your suffering is in the service of the common good.

Shadi Hamid, Omicron Panic and Liberal Hysteria


Is the essence of conspiracy theorizing denial of Occam’s Razor?

A group of unvaccinated people who attended a huge conspiracy conference in Dallas earlier this month all became sick in the days after the event with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. Instead of blaming the global COVID pandemic, however, the conspiracy theorists think they were attacked with anthrax.

This far-right conspiracy claim began after a dozen people spent time together in a confined space at the ReAwaken America tour event in Dallas over the weekend of Dec. 10. And the fact that this was likely a COVID outbreak and superspreader event has been almost entirely ignored.

David Gilbert, People Got Sick at a Conspiracy Conference. They’re Sure It’s Anthrax..


… rituals of ideological one-upmanship

The forces at work in healthy party politics are centripetal; they encourage factions and interests to come together to work out common goals and strategies. They oblige everyone to think, or at least speak, about the common good. In movement politics, the forces are all centrifugal, encouraging splits into smaller and smaller factions obsessed with single issues and practicing rituals of ideological one-upmanship.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal


Frolicking in 2022

A Facebook name change? A colossal global chip shortage? Digital art selling for millions? No crystal ball could have shown us what 2021 in tech would look like.

Opening paragraph to Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2022 – WSJ

To give them credit, the authors’ very next thought was that their annual prognostications are very much a lark.


Ambivalence

I couldn’t bear much more than the first five minutes of Netflix’s Emily in Paris (which I set out to watch because … Paris, of course), but maybe I had it all wrong:

[M]any of the haters were also fans. A tweet by the comedian Phillip Henry summed up the dynamic: “1) Emily In Paris is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. 2) I finished it in one sitting.”

Netflix’s ‘Emily in Paris’ Is the Last Guilty Pleasure – The Atlantic

I went back and endured 15 minutes. I guess I’m not a very masochistic personality, because that’s enough and more than enough.


Long on emotion, short on facts

I predict mass communication technology and theory will be further weaponized to the point where increasing numbers of people suffer from a Matrix-like existence; “fake news” leading the way, long on emotion, short on facts.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency.

"Long on emotion, short on facts" describes a lot of what I find frustrating about even the more balanced, non-ideological news these days. For just one instance, I think we all now know that hospitalizations has become a better Covid metric than new cases, but you’ll be lucky to find hospitalization numbers in most daily Covid updates. It’s mostly "new cases up; feel bad" or "new cases down; chill a little — until we whipsaw you again."


People who changed their minds in 2021

Because the personal has become political, and because politics has swallowed everything, to change is to risk betrayal: of your people, your culture, your tribe. It is to make yourself suspicious. If you change your mind on something, can you still sit with those friends in the endless high school cafeteria that is modern life? Often, the answer is no.

A year ago, I still believed very much that the best use of my energy was to try to work to shore up the old institutions from the inside. I was wrong. My readers know: This newsletter would not exist if I hadn’t changed my mind.

And once I changed my mind, once I stopped trying to repair a decayed thing from within and set out to build something new, I was suddenly waking up peppy at 5 a.m., no alarm needed. I think that’s because changing your mind is a hopeful act. It means you think there’s a better path forward. It means you’re not done becoming.

Bari Weiss, who proceeds to share some very short essays from people who’ve changed or changed their minds recently.


Shorts

Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero


A sentence that would have been gibberish twenty years ago (and isn’t much better today):

Tesla has agreed to modify software in its cars to prevent drivers and passengers from playing video games on the dashboard screens while vehicle are in motion, a federal safety regulator said on Thursday.


None of the Civil War amendments established a right to be free from private-sector discrimination.

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!


A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

The Price is Right, on the tube for 60+ years now, must be the most cynical show on television.


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.

Sacramental Christianity

Sacramental Christianity (versus the others)

[I]t is easy to see how the older, sacramental forms of Christianity conform to this global pattern. The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the core of the religion, and is re-enacted every time there is a liturgy at the altar … When you take the sacramentality out of the religion, as many forms of Protestantism have, it wrecks the symbolism. How can a church that looks like a theatrical space do the symbolic work it is supposed to do?

Let me be clear: it’s not that God is not with people who worship in low-church Protestant temples; it’s that the structures perhaps make it harder for the worshipers to feel God’s presence. This matters for my book project, because I am trying to figure out how we can re-enchant the world, and live more like “religious man” (Eliade’s term) lived in the premodern era. The Protestantization of worship spaces, and the de-sacramentalization of some forms of Christianity, likely contributed to the disenchantment of the world. It wasn’t on purpose — nobody can accuse the Puritans, for example, of wanting to push God out of the world — but their theology, and horror at things that smacked of papistry, might have led them to throw out too much.

Rod Dreher, ‌Mircea Eliade On Temples

More:

If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints’ days more uplifting than the observance of Mother’s Day. There is great wisdom in the maligned phrase ex opere operato, the effect is in the doing. Intention is like a reed blowing in the wind. It is the doing that counts, and if we do something for God, in the doing God does something for us.

Quoting Robert Louis Wilen, Church as Culture

And still more:

[A] young kid from the Andes who’s raised to believe that that mountain is an Apu spirit that will direct his or her destiny will be a profoundly different human being and have a different relationship to that resource or that place than a young kid from Montana raised to believe that a mountain is a pile of rock ready to be mined. Whether it’s the abode of a spirit or a pile of ore is irrelevant. What’s interesting is the metaphor that defines the relationship between the individual and the natural world. I was raised in the forests of British Columbia to believe those forests existed to be cut. That made me a different human being than my friends amongst the Kwagiulth who believe that those forests were the abode of Huxwhukw and the Crooked Beak of Heaven and the cannibal spirits that dwelled at the north end of the world, spirits they would have to engage during their Hamatsa initiation.

Quoting Wade Davis

Mostly political

David Shor

I do hope the Democrats listen to [David Shor] even if it means they do better in elections. Why? Well, for several reasons. First, because if they listened to him, the Democratic Party would move rightward. Second, I think the actual policies associated with “defund the police,” “birthing persons,” “Latinx,” etc. are profoundly bad for America. And third, because if the Democrats stopped talking about ridiculous things, it would deny many Republicans the psychological permission to behave like idiots or support demagogic buffoons.

Jonah Goldberg, That Shor Sounds Good

So what’s Shor saying that the Dems should listen to?

At its most basic, Shor’s theory goes something like this: Although young people as a whole turn out to vote at a lower rate than the general population, the aforementioned type of young person is actually overrepresented within the core of the Democratic Party’s infrastructure. According to Shor, the problem with this permanent class of young staffers is that they tend to hold views that are both more liberal and more ideologically motivated than the views of the coveted median voter, and yet they yield a significant amount of influence over the party’s messaging and policy decisions. As a result, Democrats end up spending a lot of time talking about issues that matter to college-educated liberals but not to the multiracial bloc of moderate voters that the party needs to win over to secure governing majorities in Washington.

Ian Ward, ‌The Democrats’ Privileged College-Kid Problem

David Brock

(David Brock left the GOP long before Donald Trump:)

Issues like racial justice, the environment and immigration are already resonating online with audiences Democrats need to win over, such as young people, women and people of color. Democratic donors have long overlooked efforts to fund the media, but with so much of our politics playing out on that battlefield, they can no longer afford to.

David Brock

It would be interesting to hear the two Davids, Shor and Brock, debate Democratic Party messenging.

Full disclosure for invitees

Alan Jacobs has a modest proposal:

This is related, in a way, to my previous post: After reading yet another invitation-disinvitation story, I think every university should – in the interests of full disclosure, honesty, and charity – prepare a list of Topics On Which Dissent Is Not Permitted and send that list to everyone who is invited to speak. That way prospective lecturers will know in advance whether they hold views that are not tolerated at those universities and can decline the invitation immediately rather than having to be canceled later on.

When Pandemic becomes Endemic, can we take off our masks?

I didn’t have much hope for ‌How Will Blue America Live With Covid? but it raises good questions.

As we saw after Sept. 11, certain forms of security theater, once established, become extremely difficult to dislodge as long as there is still any arguable threat. So as long as Covid stays in the news, it’s not hard to envision masking requirements for airplanes and trains persisting far into the future, much as we still try to foil Al Qaeda by taking off our shoes for airport security lines. It’s also possible to imagine a future in which the weird emergent norm of “masks for the help but not the V.I.P.s” — visible everywhere from the Met Gala to political fund-raisers to posh hotels — becomes an expected feature of life among the blue-state upper class (as well as a potent symbol for its critics).

Then there are blue-state elementary schools, where some of the constituencies that support mask requirements may not be assuaged even after vaccines are available for younger kids. At that point, according to both polls and personal experience, there will still be lots of vaccine hesitancy among even liberal parents — and you could imagine a coalition of more Covid-fearing parents and teachers’ unions demanding masking requirements until a school hits a vaccination threshold that remains perpetually out of reach.

Endemic Covid ensures that this dynamic will never simply vanish … deep-blue America will have to decide, in a world that’s postpandemic but not post-Covid, whether it wants to become the safety-above-all caricature that deep-red America has made of it — or if it can settle instead on masking a little more every December and January, a reasonable adaptation to the coronavirus experience, while otherwise leaving the age of emergency behind.

Ross Douthat

I’m seeing signs of this division among my acquaintances. And I suspect that public schools that veer into safetyism will find that a straw that breaks the camel’s back and sends more students off to private schools.

… boring me to death

Roughly a half decade or so ago, I started noticing that everyone began to believe that their political opinions were the most interesting thing about them.  When it’s usually exactly the opposite.  As a journalist, I always found that talking to people about their actual lives – their hurts, ambitions, failures, families, amusing asides – produced infinite and pleasant surprises. Only when they started talking politics could I finish all their sentences.  As a right-leaning person throughout my life, I became unwittingly involved in more and more conversations, feeling like a trapped rat all the while, in which my conversational companions gave me their harangues on how biased the liberal media was.  In fairness, the mainstream media does lean liberal, and often is biased.  (Who isn’t, these days?)  But if every other sentence you utter ends in the refrain “liberal media bias,” it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lying or wrong, just that you’re boring me to death over dinner. I get it. But that’s been settled law for decades. Try to be more interesting.

Besides, achieving equanimity isn’t just a natural state, but a choice.  These days, it very much involves swimming against the tide. You nearly have to choose not  to get riled by all the manufactured outrages, Kabuki-theater conflagrations, and faux-Twitter fights that are conducted by catty people, for catty people.  The rage merchants abound, and are all too willing to make a buck from stoking your anger and wet-nursing your resentments  over  “issues” you’d never even heard of five minutes prior.  Don’t be such an easy mark.

Matt Labash

No senses

I’ve long known that ultra-progressives have no sense of humor. Now it appears that perhaps they have no sense of chronology, either:

When I appeared on Megyn Kelly’s podcast, she shared an anecdote (at 46:00 minute mark) about a friend of hers who worked as an editor at a major publishing house. The editor had received a manuscript of a historical novel, based on a true story, of a woman who had to pose as a man in order to receive a medical education and become a surgeon in the 1920’s1. The editor admired the novel and circulated it for feedback from some junior editors.

Perhaps you can anticipate what happened next. The book was attacked by other staffers for its failure to portray the woman who posed as a man in order to practice medicine as transgendered. The author had failed to frame her story through an anachronistic projection of today’s gender ideology onto a past in which the ideology did not yet exist. This meant her work was therefore “transphobic.” The editor was reported to HR for forcing them to read the book and subject to a disciplinary process. He was unable to move forward with the acquisition he had intended.

J.K. Rowling, Joe Rogan, Dave Chappelle. They exist in a strange form of cossetted duress. They are still beloved by millions, wealthier and more widely exposed than ever before. But they are pariahs from the official pseudo-consensus that the Successor Ideology has captured and that a growing body of the gullible and the opportunistic alike have signed on to join with the forces that they anticipate will be in the ascendancy soon.

Wesley Yang, Cancellation, or Cultural Change

How do you marginalize normalcy?

No amount of effort at revising my attitudes (not that I’m especially inclined to try, sorry) would do much to change the fact that however effete and aloof and sensitive I may be, (and I am surely in the 95th percentile among men along both of these dimensions), I am nonetheless, for better or worse, unambiguously a cisgendered, (a term that the late comedian Norm MacDonald characterized “a way of marginalizing a normal person), heterosexual man, and all that entails.

Wesley Yang, ‌Preface to a 20-volume Dave Chappelle Review

Pregnant women at SCOTUS

SCOTUS is going to hear the Texas abortion law case on its "rocket docket;" briefing next week, argument November 1:

Justice Sotomayor wrote a six-page dissent. She repeatedly referred to pregnant "women," without a footnote about gender identity. Call the cancellation squad.


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Apophats and Cataphats

> In the 1830s, virtually all American theologians—Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians alike—assumed theology to be a science whose aim was to produce exact formulations based on evidence … Generally, the Bible was thought to be a storehouse of facts and propositions and the task of theologians was to systematize these facts and to ascertain the general principles to be found in them … [A]ll, including the Unitarians, assumed that every passage in the Bible had only one meaning, and that all readers through history could understand it.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Kindle locations 1065-1070).

This formulation shocked me, but I readily recognized it as accurate even when describing the Evangelicalism of my youth, 130 years later. The conceit that we were getting warranted certainties in sermons and chapel talks was strong, and I suspect it’s still around, if less universal, today. Some of those certainties were toxic falsities, as probably are some of today’s.

Fast forward a few decades from the 1830s to this recognizably similar view from a scholarly sort of Protestantism:

> Scottish Realism with its optimistic, democratic view that anyone could discover the truth appealed to many Americans, and it had particular appeal to the Protestant clergy because it posited the spiritual nature of consciousness and it involved no skepticism about religious truth … As Marsden points out, Old School Presbyterians, raised on the Westminster catechisms, tended to view the truth as a stable entity that, when expressed in precisely stated propositions, would be understood by everyone at all times in exactly the same way … Further, if moral laws could be adduced in the same way as the laws of physics, then theology was a science, too … to systematize the facts of the Bible, and ascertain the principles or general truths which those facts involve … “The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science,” he wrote. “It is his store-house of facts.”

Id., Kindle locations 1305-1326.

Contrast this dissenting view from the 1830s:

> [Horace] Bushnell’s challenge to this whole way of thinking rested on the new science of philology and on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ideas about the indeterminacy of language … Dogma-based theologians, he argued, ignore the instability of the abstractions they use and work out Christian systems that are consistent but false simply because of their consistency … The authors of the Scriptures, the inspired witnesses to spiritual truths, could not convey these truths directly. Rather, like all good writers, they did their best by multiplying forms or figures, and by creating paradoxes and contradictions to give as many hints as they could to their inspiration … [I]t offended piety and intelligence to claim that the meaning of God’s self-expression in Christ could be captured in “a few dull propositions.”

Id., Kindle location 1077-1083.

I’m not endorsing Bushnell’s liberal Protestantism, let alone claiming that he was influenced by Orthodox Christianity, but I was surprised to see that on this occasion, the liberals are much more sympathetic to my Orthodox mind than was the mainstream. The uncertainty reflected in Orthodoxy’s apophatic theology seems to have something of the same look to it, though the lineages of the two are quite different.

Now, something more contemporary.

> Richard Dawkins argued against God’s existence, saying that omniscience and omnipotence are contradictory …

Garrison Keillor

Omniscience and omnipotence are familiar words to Christians, though perhaps only those of a Western sort. Having been a Western Christian, they’re familiar to me.

These are cataphatic, affirming two things about God: that He knows everything and can do everything. These are the kinds of "facts" (themselves abstractions) through which much or most Western Christianity purports to know God.

In contrast, here are a few things Eastern Christian apophatic theology says:

  • No one has seen or can see God (John 1:18).
  • He lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16).
  • His ways are unsearchable and unfathomable (Job 11:7-8; Romans 11:33-36).
  • The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility (The Life of Moses, Gregory of Nyssa).
  • God is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility (On the Orthodox Faith, John of Damascus).

OrthodoxWiki (hyperlinks omitted). An Orthodox Christian with a truly Orthodox mindset, not unduly influenced by a Western milieu, will still affirm those, and will demur from terms like omniscient and omnipotent.


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Potpourri 6/6/21

Russell Moore and the Southern Baptists

I will not comply with another secret task force meant to silence me about issues I believe are issues of obedience to Christ. I will not sign another “unity” statement meant to “call off the dogs” of scrutiny so that the beatings may begin again in private. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to be part of a house of prayer for all peoples, then that’s what I signed up for. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to be one big retirement home for a furious royal family, then, that’s not what I signed up for.

When God called me to himself in Jesus, and when he called me to serve him in ministry, he called me to stand for the truth, to point the way to the kingdom, to die to self, and to carry the cross. He did not call me to provide cover for racial bigotry and child molestation.

Russell Moore, to the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Freedom Trustees, February 2020. And now they’ve lost him — forced him to resign or formed another secret task force or something. He not only left his position; he left the Southern Baptist Convention entirely.

The knives are out already, but it sounds as if the knives were out before he left the SBC, too.

David French is quite interested in all this:

Late last month, Religion News reported that the SBC has lost a stunning 435,632 members since its 2020 annual report. Some of those individuals have left for other churches. Some have left the faith entirely.

Why? It’s not hard to analyze. A tolerance for predation and corruption demonstrates no fear of God. A pervasive fear of the world (or “the left”) demonstrates no faith in God. Brazen abusers disregard God’s justice. Fearful believers behave as if the Maker of the heavens and earth needs corrupt politicians or corrupt pastors to preserve his people’s presence in this land.

I can’t put it better than Russell Moore. Writing in April, shortly before his departure from the SBC, Moore said young Evangelicals are “walking away from evangelicalism not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches.” In other words, young Americans are saying to church leaders, “Why should I believe when you so obviously do not?”

One last point. It’s hard to overemphasize how much the church’s defensiveness is at odds with the imperative of repentance. Standing in front of the world, when undeniable scandals rock so many of our most important institutions, and declaring, “We’re better than you think” is the opposite of a penitent spirit.

David French, Russell Moore’s Warnings Should Bring a Reckoning

I probably — no, almost certainly — still spend too much time wallowing in the news despite a very great and intentional reduction of news consumption. Clickbait is effective more often than I like to admit. I really should be more like Gary:

I am going to focus on what I hear directly from people I know. I know two women who recently gave birth to their first babies and are joyful and so are their men and that is real news. A grandson is starting college. A daughter is moving. A friend has finished a novel. A widowed friend, marrying again at 84, writes to say he is well and adds, “And it’s none of your business but the sex is great.” A cousin attended a graduation ceremony at a school for intellectually disabled children and one poor graduate stammered through a speech of which little could be understood and the crowd clapped all the harder for him.

Life Goes On. That’s the news …

I believe in a fraction of what I was taught, my faith wavers … But I do believe that when Jesus, surrounded by the sick and impoverished and oppressed, the blind and demon-possessed, said to his disciples, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for me and your Father in heaven,” he spoke the truth, and if you wish for some truth in your life, along with your interesting attitudes and opinions, this is the one to go for.

Garrison Keillor

With the benefit of hindsight, I see that much of Evangelicalism was (is?) about ginning up emotions, and affirming happiness as if saying it could make it true, and recruitment of others ("evangelism") as a kind of MLM buttress to one’s own faith. These days, I’ll take a humble faith like Garrison Keillor expresses here over any of that.

It’s not that my own faith is quite as weak as his — if he has a mustard seed, I’ve maybe got a corn kernel — but that all that emotional jag brought me no closer to God and distracted me from things that might.

It feels as if it could be a good time for Orthodox Churches to start advertising:

Sick of Evangelicalism but can’t shake Jesus? Come and see.

("Come and see" isn’t just for "exvangelicals," but I think, perhaps naïvely, that they have a relatively high proportion of "can’t shake Jesus" folks.)

TFPOTUS

1

In my reflections on Donald Trump when he was running for President in 2016, I made one significant error: I didn’t think he would nominate responsible judges and Justices. I thought he would hand out judicial appointments like candy to friends and toadies. But it turned out that the judiciary couldn’t capture his attention, so he farmed out the decisions to others who acted on sound conservative principles. (Given how many of the very judges he appointed ruled against his recent frivolous lawsuits, precisely because they were honest conservative jurists rather than toadies, I wonder if he’s belatedly reassessing his priorities.)

Alan Jacobs

I, too, did not trust Trump to fulfill any campaign promise, however explicit and solemn.

2

Just how far out there is Trump’s theory? Consider that, even if it were true that the 2020 election had been stolen — which it is absolutely not — his belief would still be absurd. It could be confirmed tomorrow that agents working for a combination of al-Qaeda, Venezuela, and George Soros had hacked into every single voting machine in the country and altered the totals by tens of millions, and it would remain the case there is no mechanism within the American legal order for a do-over of any sort. In such an eventuality, there would be indictments, an impeachment drive, and a constitutional crisis. But, however bad it got, Donald Trump would not be “reinstated” to the presidency. That is not how America works, how America has ever worked, or how America can ever work. American politicians do not lose their reelection races only to be reinstalled later on, as might the second-place horse in a race whose winner was disqualified. The idea is otherworldly and obscene.

There is nothing to be gained for conservatism by pretending otherwise. To acknowledge that Trump is living in a fantasy world does not wipe out his achievements or render anything else he has said incorrect. It does not endorse Joe Biden or hand the Republican Party over to Bill Kristol or knock down an inch of the wall on the border. It merely demands that Donald Trump be treated like any other person: subject to gravity, open to rebuttal, and liable to be laughed at when he becomes so unmoored from the real world that it is hard to know where to begin in attempting to explain him.

Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review

3

On August 13, 2015, I predicted in my blog that Donald Trump had a 98 percent chance of winning the presidency based on his persuasion skills. A week earlier, the most respected political forecaster in the United States—Nate Silver—had put Trump’s odds of winning the Republican nomination at 2 percent in his FiveThirtyEight.com blog.

Scott Adams, Win Bigly

"… based on his persuasion skills"?! Trump is to persuasion as a rapist is to seduction.

Undermined democracy

I … consider the GOP’s efforts to use various institutional tricks to win maximal power while failing to win popular majorities or even pluralities to be civically corrosive — and its Trump-inspired flirtation with outright defiance of the results of free and fair elections genuinely dangerous.

But in truth, I don’t simply, or even mainly, fear these developments because I see authoritarianism on the horizon (to paraphrase the headlines of countless opinion columns over the past few months). I fear them far more because such efforts are an expression of political desperation — the actions of a party that considers losing unacceptable. I also fear them because they will drive Democrats to their own acts of desperation, which will justify more Republican panic which will justify more Democratic alarm — with all of it, on both sides, motivated by the intensifying conviction that the only legitimate outcome is for one’s own party to rule uncontested.

Partisan disagreement over policy and even zero-sum cultural disputes are one thing. But liberal democracy — self-government, the system itself — only works if the rules for the alternation of political power are considered legitimate by everyone. What just a few years ago was a sharply polarized partisan environment is now rapidly becoming a battle over these common rules, with the two parties no longer able to reach or maintain consensus about what those rules should be, about what should be considered legitimate.

Damon Linker

If you don’t like the Religious Right …

America is a lonely place. When you hold to a conspiracy theory, you join a community. You’re suddenly part of something. You have new friends you can talk to on the internet to whom you’re joined at the brain. They see the world the way you do; it is a very intimate connection.

Church affiliation and practice have been falling for decades, but people always have a spiritual hole inside, and if God can’t fill it, Q will do.

Peggy Noonan, What Drives Conspiracism (no pay wall)

Never forget the memorable saying: "If you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait ’till you see the Irreligious Right."

Cruelty is here to stay

I promise you that every single day high school students are absolutely savage to each other. What’s more, human nature being what it is, I’m sure that they now do so explicitly utilizing the politicized and therapeutic language that proponents of social justice norms foolishly assume is an antidote to that bad behavior. Because interpersonal cruelty is a universal aspect of the human condition and any philosophy can be bent to its use. This condition can perhaps at times be ameliorated but it can never be eliminated and learning this reality is an important part of growing up. Cruelty is here to stay.

Freddie deBoer, At the Heart of It All

I left the GOP when Dubya delusionally declared it our national policy to eradicate tyranny from the world. One of many reasons why I haven’t become Democrat is that they’re just as delusional about hate, cruelty, bullying and such.

As others see us

We had great conversation about the political and cultural situation here, and in the world. I heard some of the same sadness about America’s self-destruction that I’ve been hearing in Budapest. One of my dining companions said, “Maybe I’m cynical, but I don’t really care if America destroys itself. I worry that it’s going to destroy us too.”

“Yes,” said the man across the table. “Everything that starts in America eventually comes here.”

Rod Dreher, reporting from Bucharest

Invisible Revolution

I always thought that if you lived through a revolution it would be obvious to everyone. As it turns out, that’s not true. Revolutions can be bloodless, incremental and subtle. And they don’t require a strongman. They just require a sufficient number of well-positioned true believers and cowards, like those sitting in the C-suite of nearly every major institution in American life.

That’s one of the lessons I have learned over the past few years as the institutions that have upheld the liberal order — our publishing houses, our universities, our schools, our non-profits, our tech companies — have embraced a Manichean ideology that divides people by identity and punishes anyone that doesn’t adhere to every aspect of that orthodoxy.

Bari Weiss, introducing a long guest essay on Manichean medicine by Katie Herzog.

We must do something. Scapegoating is something.

"What we have to do is make these attacks so costly and painful for the bad guys that they decide the rewards aren’t worth it,” [AEI’s Klon] Kitchen continued. “And specifically, we have to change the political calculus of government leaders like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin."

The Morning Dispatch

Whenever Mrs. Kissel breaks wind we beat the dog.

The Vicar in the movie 10‌.


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.