Mostly abortion-related

David French, Cassandra

I follow David French in podcasts and blogs because:

  • He’s a seasoned litigator aligned with me on abortion, free speech, and religious freedom; and
  • I have to put up with hearing him to hear the amazing Sarah Isgur.

But Sunday, I think his reflexive religious provincialism got the better of him in Roe Is Reversed, and the Right Isn’t Ready.

He starts off well enough:

I’ve been a pro-life advocate and activist for more than 30 years …

Through it all, I was guided by two burning convictions—that Roe represented a grave moral and constitutional wrong and that I belonged to a national Christian community that loved its fellow citizens, believed in a holistic ethic of life, and was ready, willing, and able to rise to the challenge of creating a truly pro-life culture.

I believe only one of those things today.

My feelings about Roe are unchanged. …

But then he paints a very bleak picture of the right generally and more specifically his corner of the religious right, which he reflexively equates with "the Church" (it’s one of his most annoying verbal tics, another is hyperbolicic use of "tremendous, tremendous"):

The two sides of the great American divide are now staring at each other and asking, “Now what?” The answer from pro-life America should be clear and resounding—the commitment to life carries with it a commitment to love, to care for the most vulnerable members of society, both mother and child.

But life and love are countercultural on too many parts of the right. In a time of hate and death, too many members of pro-life America are contributing to both phenomena. Is that too much to say? Is that too strong? I don’t think so.

In deep-red America, a wave of performative and punitive legislation is sweeping the land. …

… The vicissitudes of politics haven’t just linked the anti-abortion cause to various toxic forces on the right, they’ve transformed parts of the anti-abortion movement, making many of its members as toxic as their “libertine and hyperindividualist” allies.

In the meantime, the Republican branch of the American church is adopting the political culture of the secular right. With a few notable exceptions, it not only didn’t resist the hatred and fury of the MAGA movement, it was the MAGA movement.

(Emphasis added)

Now I suppose there are at least three possibilities here:

  1. He’s right about pro-life America, period, full stop.
  2. He’s right about Evangelicalism.
  3. He’s engaged in hyperbole to get Evangelicals to to better than settling for liberal tears.

I reject the first possibility. I’ve been pro-life a decade longer than French (mostly because I’m two decades older). I broke markedly, if not completely, with Evangelicism shortly before I became actively pro-life, and left Protestantism entirely a about a decade-and-a-half later.

I do not believe that lib-trolling and vindictiveness is any significant part of Orthodox Christianity, though Orthodoxy is anti-abortion (as the historic church always has been — i.e., before American Evangelicals got recruited to the cause by C. Everett Koop, Francis Schaeffer, and less principled actors).

I also don’t believe that it is a significant factor among observant Roman Catholics, "observant" being measured by adherence to Catholic Social Teaching as well as participation in their Church’s sacramental life. Indeed, Catholic Social Teaching (Christian Democracy) is the North Star of the American Solidarity Party, which party alone I support these days.

Bottom line: I believe French is wrong about the Church because his provincialism blinds him to the bigger picture. I certainly hope he’s wrong.

And French’s turn to anti-vaxx sentiment a red prolife America seems like totally gratuitous grievance-airing.

I suggest to David French that if he’s all that down on Calvinist-tinged Evangelicalism, he step out for a breath of incense-tinged air at one of the Anglophone Orthodox Churches in his area.

Come and see, David. Give it a month or two of Sundays.

Douthat on the risk of toxic response

Observant Catholic (see above) Ross Douthat puts French’s point less apocalyptically (I’m being very selective; read the whole column if you can):

While the pro-life movement has won the right to legislate against abortion, it has not yet proven that it can do so in a way that can command durable majority support … [T]he vicissitudes of politics and its own compromises have linked the anti-abortion cause to various toxic forces on the right — some libertine and hyperindividualist, others simply hostile to synthesis, conciliation and majoritarian politics.

… But among its own writers and activists, the movement has understood itself to also be carrying on the best of America’s tradition of social reform, including causes associated with liberalism and progressivism.

To win the long-term battle, to persuade the country’s vast disquieted middle, abortion opponents … need to show how abortion restrictions are compatible with … the health of the poorest women, the flourishing of their children, the dignity of motherhood even when it comes unexpectedly or amid great difficulty.

These issues … are essential to the holistic aspects of political and ideological debate. In any great controversy, people are swayed to one side or another not just by the rightness of a particular position, but by whether that position is embedded in a social vision that seems generally attractive, desirable, worth siding with and fighting for.

Here some of the pathologies of right-wing governance could pave a path to failure for the pro-life movement. You can imagine a future in which anti-abortion laws are permanently linked to a punitive and stingy politics, in which women in difficulties can face police scrutiny for a suspicious miscarriage but receive little in the way of prenatal guidance or postnatal support. In that world, serious abortion restrictions would be sustainable in the most conservative parts of the country, but probably nowhere else, and the long-term prospects for national abortion rights legislation would be bright.

In a part of French’s column, he quoted this Douthat column but said it didn’t go far enough. I think it does — because Douthat’s vision is more Catholic (and more catholic).

Making abortion unthinkable

Even in the Evangelical world, there are sane people wanting actually to make things better:

Roe was an unjust ruling. I have always believed it would be overturned, as other unjust decisions by the court were, although I thought it would take longer. I rejoice that it did not. But of course it will take longer for abortion to become unthinkable, which is the real goal of the pro-life movement.

Karen Swallow Prior

Prior continues:

Still, I was, like my fellow evangelicals, a Johnny-come-lately in a long line of people who have opposed abortion and infanticide and tried to defend vulnerable life.

Members of the early Christian church within the ancient Roman world rescued abandoned infants (often those who were female or otherwise deemed inferior) from certain death ….

I always appreciate it when Evangelicals admit, even if tacitly, that Evangelicalism is so unlike the earliest church that it cannot claim vicarious credit for what the earliest church did.

Orthodoxy (and even Catholicism) can.

Still more:

The judicial fiat of Roe v. Wade jump-started the culture wars that have poisoned our political process and brought us to a place of polarization and unbridgeable division. Indeed, this division has been capitalized on by far too many pundits and politicians, for whom a position on abortion does not appear to be a sincerely held belief, but merely an issue they can (and do) leverage for votes or monetize for financial gain. Such betrayal casts a shadow on the overturning of Roe, which has been for me and many others a long-awaited event.

Even so, making abortion unthinkable might start with the law, but it won’t end there. For it is not only the supply of abortion that matters but also the demand. I lament the impoverishment of a social imagination that cannot conceive of a world in which women can flourish without abortion.

Nat Henthoff

On this day, I remember with fondness the late Nat Hentoff, a Jewish atheist who nevertheless believed in the right to life of the unborn, and said so in a time and place where that cost him something. Here is a column Hentoff wrote after he hosted pro-life liberal Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Bob Casey at Cooper Union in downtown Manhattan.

Rod Dreher.

Henthoff was a fierce member of the ACLU back when the ACLU was actually about civil liberties, and was one of the preeminent jazz critics of his age.

I wish he had lived to see last Friday.

He really didn’t need the Committee’s help …

This just seems to make Donald Trump look awful, just awful."

Neil Cavuto, Fox News, on the latest revelations from the January 6 Committee.

You’re surprised that Trump is awful, Neil?

Terrorist wishcasting

I note, with raised eyebrow, the terrorist plans underway to set about attacking Catholic churches and pregnancy resource centers. As someone put it in a dark joke-tweet, this is the state of the discourse in 2022: “You don’t care about pregnant women!” “Well no, we have numerous buildings and institutions expressly set up for that purpose actually, how can we help you?” “Oh really, where? Let’s go firebomb them!”

Bethel McGrew


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Mixed bags

Public Affairs

Public Intellectuals

If you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or a silent movie star.

Michael Lind. An arresting thesis, elaborated to a fair degree, beginning with:

That’s because, in the third decade of the 21st century, intellectual life on the American center left is dead. Debate has been replaced by compulsory assent and ideas have been replaced by slogans that can be recited but not questioned: Black Lives Matter, Green Transition, Trans Women Are Women, 1619, Defund the Police. The space to the left-of-center that was once filled with magazines and organizations devoted to what Diana Trilling called the “life of significant contention” is now filled by the ritualized gobbledygook of foundation-funded, single-issue nonprofits like a pond choked by weeds.

He eventually recounts how the same thing happened to conservatism shortly after the collapse of Communism, concluding on a hopeful note:

What survives of intellectual politics in the United States today consists of a growing number of exiles from establishment wokeness on Substack and an assortment of dissident leftists, conservatives, and populists, some of whom have come together in new publications like American Affairs, Compact, and The Bellows, and in quirkier couture shops like Tablet.

John Henry Ramirez

One SCOTUS case we all seemed to agree on (except for Justice Thomas) was that involving John Henry Ramirez, who wanted his clergyman in the death chamber, praying aloud with hands laid on John Henry. Texas said “no” (Texas is a very mixed bag), but it lost.

But there’s now a strage twist:

When a judge in South Texas signed an order this past week setting an execution date of Oct. 5 for John Henry Ramirez, it seemed like the end of the road.

Mr. Ramirez was convicted in 2008 for the murder of a convenience store worker, a crime he has acknowledged committing. He was sentenced to death and appealed his case to the Supreme Court — not to stop his execution, but to prepare for it. He asked to have his Baptist pastor pray out loud and lay hands on him in the execution chamber, a request that brought his case national notoriety. Last month, the court ruled in his favor, clearing the path for his execution to proceed as long as the state of Texas complied with his request.

But in a surprise turn of events on Thursday, District Attorney Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County filed a motion withdrawing the death warrant for Mr. Ramirez, citing his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person.” His own office had requested the execution date just days earlier, but Mr. Gonzalez, a Democrat, wrote in his motion that an employee in his office had done so without consulting him.

In a broadcast from his office on Facebook Live on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Gonzalez, whose district includes Corpus Christi, where the crime occurred, explained his decision.

“For a while now, I’ve said that I don’t believe in the death penalty,” he said. “My office is not going to seek the death penalty anymore.” He said he would be a hypocrite if he advanced Mr. Ramirez’s execution even as he instructs his office not to pursue the death penalty in new cases. Mr. Gonzalez and his office did not respond to requests for comment.

New York Times (emphasis added).

It just goes to show you never can tell.

Gender nonconformities

Why the surge?

After I scanned New York Times Opinions yesterday morning, Ross Douthat dropped a bombshell analysis of what’s going on with the surge in self-reported cases of various gender nonconformities (and a few related things). It came to my attention via Alan Jacobs’ succinct response.

If it’s not already clear, I fall in Douthat’s third “possible reading” of Gallup polling on the surge:

This trend is bad news. What we’re seeing today isn’t just a continuation of the gay rights revolution; it’s a form of social contagion which our educational and medical institutions are encouraging and accelerating. These kids aren’t setting themselves free from the patriarchy; they’re under the influence of online communities of imitation and academic fashions laundered into psychiatry and education — one part Tumblr and TikTok mimesis, one part Judith Butler.

Add to the surge the readiness of many doctors to hormonally and surgically “confirm” kids’ brand-new-but-vehement genders and it’s a real mess.

Douthat closes thus:

I will make a prediction: Within not too short a span of time, not only conservatives but most liberals will recognize that we have been running an experiment on trans-identifying youth without good or certain evidence, inspired by ideological motives rather than scientific rigor, in a way that future generations will regard as a grave medical-political scandal.**

Which means that if you are a liberal who believes as much already, but you don’t feel comfortable saying it, your silence will eventually become your regret.

Jacobs doesn’t entirely agree:

I think this prediction will partly, but not wholly, come true. I do believe that there will be a change of direction, but for the most part it will be a silent one, an unspoken course correction; and on the rare occasions that anyone is called to account for their recklessness, they’ll say, as a different group of enthusiasts did some decades ago, “We only did what we thought was best. We only believed the children.” But they won’t have to say it often, because the Ministry of Amnesia will perform its usual erasures ….

I took the bait and followed his links on “believing the children” and the “Ministry of Amnesia,” and I’m glad I did. I intend to add “children’s crusades” and “Ministry of Amnesia” to my rhetorical armory, thought the first seems more perfect that the second:

One clever little specialty of adult humans works like this: You very carefully (and, if you’re smart, very subtly) instruct children in the moral stances you’d like them to hold. Then, when they start to repeat what you’ve taught them, you cry “Out of the mouths of babes! And a little child shall lead them!” And you very delicately maneuver the children to the front of your procession, so that they appear to be leading it — but of course you make sure all along that you’re steering them in the way that they should go. It’s a social strategy with a very long history.

So, for instance, when you hear this:

“It’s the children who are now leading us,” said Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health for the clinic. “They’re coming in and telling us, ‘I’m no gender.’ Or they’re saying, ‘I identify as gender nonbinary.’ Or ‘I’m a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I’m a unique gender, I’m transgender. I’m a rainbow kid, I’m boy-girl, I’m everything.’”

— certain alarms should ring. No child came up with the phrase “I identify as gender nonbinary.” It is a faithful echo of an adult’s words.

Alan Jacobs, children’s crusades

Raccoon gender vibe

Even as the Biden admin goes hard on pushing for medical interventions for gender dysphoric teenagers (green-lighting double mastectomies and the like), the mainstream media is finally listening to trans clinicians and trans adults who have been sounding an alarm: The teenage transitions are out of control. 

Here’s a profile in the Los Angeles Times this week of the brave Erica Anderson, a clinician and trans woman (Abigail Shrier quoted her in her groundbreaking Common Sense story last year). Anderson lets the LA Times reporter sit in on a session with a kid who is not sure about their gender and who talks about how their friends identify as things like raccoon gender vibe: “One friend says that their gender is the same vibe as a raccoon. They’re saying that their gender has the same, like, chaotic, dumpster vibes as raccoons.” 

Also this week, adult trans woman Corinna Cohn wrote a heartbreaking essay for the Washington Post about sex reassignment surgery and what it has been like to never have experienced orgasm, warning young people not to do this so quickly, not to give up that part of life so quickly. “From the day of my surgery, I became a medical patient and will remain one for the rest of my life,” she writes. And: “I chose an irreversible change before I’d even begun to understand my sexuality.”

And in a third vibe shift this week: JK Rowling hosted a boozy lunch with England’s greatest old world feminists. Critics call these women TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) because they do not want mixed-sex prisons or sports. The TERFs may have been hounded out of jobs and polite liberal society, but they are having fun.

Nellie Bowles, ‌But the dam has broken on trans issues in her weekly newsletter.

Ultimate things

Just, merciful, humble … and smooth

It occurs to me that over the last 30 years or so, I’ve been repeatedly exposed to Evangelical Protestant types who center their public expressions of faith on Micah 6:8.

Now that’s is a perfectly lovely verse:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

But it is part of the Old Testament, and the immediate context is God wanting justice, mercy and humility rather than empty sacrifices:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

I suspect, knowing some of the Micahphiles, that this verse is a kind of virtue-signaling, a way of saying “We’re not fundamentalists or Religious Right crypto-Theocrats.

But it’s getting a little bit old. Might I commend a substitute: Genesis 27:11?

You’re judging me?

I was in Jerusalem, and in the morning I was at the Holy Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I am not a good friend of the early morning, but it was very early. There were Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Muslims, Catholics, Copts, and all the people in there. And I was judging God: if we are the right faith, the right confession, why couldn’t you give to us this sacred place? One of the consequences of my conversion was that I was becoming very strict. God told me, in the same way as the first time, ‘I’ve been struggling for many years to bring them together, and you’re judging me?’ I realized it was the only place on earth where everybody is in there together around God, even if they’re fighting each other, they are there with God.

Father Chyrsostom, a Romanian Monk, to Rod Dreher

Sholasticism versus Orthodoxy

Orthodox often feel that Latin scholastic theology makes too much use of legal concepts, and relies too heavily on rational categories and syllogistic argumentation, while the Latins for their part have frequently found the more mystical approach of Orthodoxy too vague and ill-defined.

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church.

I encountered this distinction long ago, when I was investigating what the Orthodox Church was, and I’ve found it very durable and fruitful. However, I recently encountered a possible caveat:

Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.

The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. …

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera

Putting things in perspective

The Elder Cleopa from the Sihastria monastery, who is now in the process of canonization, had the habit of recommending patience as the greatest virtue. He would say, “Patience! Patience!” harder and harder, many times.

People would say, “But Father Cleopa, how long?” He would say, “Not so long — just until the grave.” After that, you will see beauty that eye hasn’t seen and ear hasn’t heard, and your heart has never felt. Those beauties are eternal.

Via Rod Dreher


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

An oddball Evangelical finds a home in Orthodoxy

One of his first converts was Samuel Crane, who had been a devout Calvinist but was deeply perplexed by the apparent contradiction between the idea of an eternally fixed number of elect and reprobate and the idea that salvation was free for anyone to take: He supposed it must be as the [Calvinist] minister said, for he was a good man, and a very learned man; and of course it must be owing to his own ignorance and dulness that he could not understand it. On one occasion, as he was returning home from church, meditating on what he had heard, he became so vexed with himself, on account of his dulness of apprehension, that he suddenly stopped and commenced pounding his head with his fist, for he really thought his stupidity must be owing to his having an uncommonly thick skull. When Crane finally accepted Methodism, “he found a system that seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures, with common sense, and with experience.”

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Religion

Unlike Samuel Crane, I was not as perplexed by Calvinism as I probably should have been. Yet the Sunday after my 49th birthday, I left Calvinism and formally entered the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. It seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures (including the ones we were never told to underline), with common sense, and with experience. It was so obviously right once I explored it that I assumed lots of others would follow. It’s fair to say that only one did.

So I’m left wondering "why me?" Why am I the lucky one?

It’s inevitable that telling of one’s religious conversion — and it’s hard for me to view a move from Calvinist to Orthodox as anything less than a conversion, though both are Christian in some sense — will have a whiff of proselytism to it. I’ve tried to minimize that and just tell my story, though my story would be incomplete without a modest conclusion.

Major life decisions, I’m pretty well convinced, rarely hinge on arguments. They’re always undergirded by life experiences and attitudes, which are at most obliquely causal. They’re also so complex as to seem inexhaustible. I told a fuller story of going Evangelical-to-Calvinist-to-Orthodox in one truthful way almost five years ago: A life in a string of epiphanies – Tipsy Teetotaler ن.

But I often think that seeds were planted, and that my disposition somehow was shaped, decades earlier, so that my reception into Orthodoxy truly was a sort of "coming home" — like an adoptee stumbling across his birth parents.

Here’s what I mean.

My favorite Bible verses were not even in the "Top 100" list of favorite Evangelical Bible verses.

As long ago as high school, I became (and remained) fixated on some New Testament passages that were, shall we say, far out of the Evangelical mainstream.

First was Ephesians 3:17-18 in the Living Bible that was so popular then, praying that “Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts” and “May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.” My Evangelical contemporaries were likelier to pick John 3:16 or Acts 16:31, relieved that one key decision for Christ, once-in-a-lifetime, sealed the deal and there really was nothing more required.

But I didn’t think I had the deep roots the Apostle was praying for, but I wanted them, for myself and my friends. I may even have declared it my “life verse,” life verses being an Evangelical kid thing at least where I was. If I did, it has held up very well.

But in Evangelicalism, sinking deep roots seemed to be off the radar, or reduced to a matter of becoming more theologically astute, doing more Bible study, elaborating doctrinal outlines and such. Those are mostly good things (I’m not so sure about doctrinal outlines any more), but they amount to knowing about God, not knowing Him or having deep roots.

I was also fascinated with Romans 12:2, about the transforming of our “minds” (which came close to “life verse” status), which I thought would eventually come if I became more theologically astute. That was a fool’s errand.

And then there was a real baffler, Hebrews 6:1-2, which referred to “repentance from dead works … faith toward God … the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” as “the elementary principles of Christ!” I just couldn’t imagine what more advanced there could be than these seemingly weighty things, but I wanted it. And here I wasn’t convinced that theological astuteness in the Evangelical manner had any chance of hitting pay dirt.

I wanted to worship God when I went to a "Worship Service"

Call me petty, or Aspie, or whatever, but I thought worship services should be full of, like, y’know, worship or something.

I had no objection in principle to Christians playing hail-fellow-well-met, back-slapping and exchanging anodynes and nostrums, or talking like coaches getting the guys ready to go out there and win one for Jesus. But the time and place for that was somewhere other than the Nave between 9:30 and noon on Sunday.

So it seemed to me, and I was adamant about that. The irresistable force of happy-clappy and motivational Church services was strangely resistable to me.

Music selection was what really bugged me. By the time I was Christian Reformed, I was in a Church that had a full Psalter, versified for congregational singing. But even there, we sang way too few of them, preferring to sing things that were relatively emotional and manipulative, that 100 years earlier would have gotten one in deep trouble in that denomination. I called them "gospel songs" instead of "hymns," but I see some sign that my terminology isn’t undisputed. In any event, they weren’t Psalms, which alone were sung in the CRC until maybe the late-19th Century.

There were other things I could have taken exception to, but the music was what got me riled. And then a faction of the Church wanted drums and guitars and more "celebrative" services, which horrified me. I just didn’t think that an emotion jag meant one was worshipping.

So my entire Protestant experience of "worship" was years of drought with an occasional delightful shower (a very good "hymn" as I defined hymn).

(Brief digression: to my knowledge, the Orthodox Church only sings one hymn that appeared in any hymnal in any church I regularly attended. We sing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent on Great and Holy Saturday. I’m even allowed to do the versified version, Picardy (8.7.8.7.8.7), which is used in Western Rite Orthodoxy. We share some ancient hymns with Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, too, but I was never Episcopalian or Roman Catholic.)

I had, apparently, a latent desire to worship with my body

As noted in my prior telling of my conversion:

My first experience of [Orthodox] Liturgy shocked me. I found myself immediately making a clumsy sign of the cross and genuflecting toward the Catholic hospital chapel’s altar, like a Roman Catholic.

It felt good. It felt as if those bodily gestures had been bottled up and were now breaking out. They felt natural

Maybe I should call those feelings “epiphany number four,” but it didn’t impress me quite that strongly at the time. And there’s a reason I blog under the rubric “Intellectualoid”: I tend to discount feelings as a reliable guide.

I didn’t consciously experience that Liturgy as "I’ve come home," but there was more than a whiff of that to it.

Orthodox worship is full of signing ourselves with the cross, bowing, kneeling, prostrating. My experience of body-involvement in Protestant worship was limited to a few gestures like holding up hands and lifting up fluttering eyelids, which somehow felt ersatz.

I was at best reluctantly dispensational premillennialist

Again, I told about my relationship to dispensationalism as Epiphany 3 in my prior telling of my conversion. It’s not worth quoting again, but my hesitancy about dispensationalism left me outside of the Evangelical mainstream.

I hesitate to make discomfort with that novelty a mark of Orthodoxy, because dispensationalism is only about 200 years, when Presbyterian, Reformed and Anglican churches were already a few hundred years old. My attitude toward end-times prophecy would have been pretty mainstream in any of those slightly-older churches, as it’s totally mainstream in Orthodoxy.**

But in my perception, dispensationalism is a mark of mainstream Evangelicalism and even has infected Presbyterian and Reformed Churches that tend to the Evangelical side. So my discomfort was likely to crop up most anywhere I went in Protestantism in these days.

I believed the Creeds and thought they were important

I suspect that the "Apostles Creed" is said rarely in frankly-Evangelical Churches today, and that the Nicene Creed is vanishingly rare. That’s a trend I think was starting 50 years or more ago. (Spot check: Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois lists its "Beliefs and Values" as "Love God. Love People. Change the World." That’s even worse that I feared.)

The Apostles Creed, though, remained a weekly feature in the Christian Reformed order of worship, with the Nicene Creed thrown in occasionally for a little spice.

By the end of my 20s, I think, I began calling myself “orthodox with a lower-case O.” I was, I thought, a “Mere Christian,” which I described as “believing the ecumenical creeds of the Church without mental reservations.” I learned more about them when I was Christian Reformed.

I’ve learned even more as an Orthodox Christian, but that could be its own story.

I wanted the original faith, which I took to be the purest

I wanted to be orthodox in that creedal sense. I and others detected proto-Calvinism in St. Augustine, and he was early enough that I thought I had finally joined with the early church, which is also what I wanted.

But I knew almost nothing about actual Orthodoxy. (Summary of what I knew: The Russian Orthodox have some awesome music. Orthodox Priests wear beards and funny hats. Orthodox isn’t the same as Catholic. Those were, mostly, true.)

An iconographer I met recently told of his first encounter with Orthodoxy:

I went to the Holy Land and encountered Orthodoxy. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was Christian, but vastly different, far older than my Methodist Church.

Indeed, and a few centuries older even than St. Augustine, who I looked to to buttress the "original faith" bona fides of Reformed Christianity.

The Orthodox Church recognizes Augustine as a Saint, but an unusually flawed one owing to his isolation in the West, when was still a Christian backwater, and his substantial ignorance of Greek and the Greek Church Fathers. So when I thought Augustine was early enough to be the original faith, I was wrong for practical purposes.

Afterthought

These are the things in my history and attitude that I think foreshadowed that my heart would find rest only in the Orthodox Faith. I began writing this many months ago, thinking that more proto-Orthodoxies would occur to me, but they really haven’t, and I don’t want to make things up.

My story would be incomplete were I not to say that all these desires that made me an odd-ball Evangelical and Calvinist have been (or are being) satisfied in Orthodoxy (though I’ve come to understand Creeds differently now). I cannot deny that they might have been satisfied in traditional Roman Catholicism, but that seems largely to have disappeared as Rome has Protestantized in the wake of Vatican II.


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.

Narcissism-by-proxy and more

Narcissism-by-proxy

> There’s this weird psychological phenomenon in tradland [traditionland]where folks — usually but not always young men —outsource the pride and arrogance they know would be personally sinful to the Church, since She Can Never Be Wrong™. They then weaponize this narcissism-by-proxy to glibly condemn anyone who falls short, unconvincingly disguising their rash judgment as a spiritual work of mercy: “I’m just admonishing the sinner/instructing the ignorant, fam.”

Steve Skojec, ‌How Jordan Peterson Changed My Life.

Skojec was the hyper-combative muse of onepeterfive.com, a radically traditionalist Roman Catholic venture — until his faith collapsed and the rest of his life almost followed suit. I am hoping he will find Orthodoxy* (after he calms down a bit more, please — he’s already shown some improvement), and it’s interesting to see him acknowledging benefitting from Jordan Peterson because Peterson’s version of Jungianism somehow seems to rhyme a lot with Orthodoxy (all truth is God’s truth).

* (I acknowledge that Orthodoxy has its own share of young men whose pride and arrogance, plus their access to books neither of us is qualified to read — notably, The Rudder — has made them, first, insufferable prigs, then schismatic Pharisees and, finally, spiritual shipwrecks. Mercifully, I didn’t fall into that trap though I’ve been prone to that sort of thing in the past.)

Secret Diaries

Why Joshua Gibbs won’t let his daughter keep a secret diary:

> Secret diaries encourage the worst and darkest sorts of thoughts a person has. Secret diaries are often filled with complaints, insults, and grievances with others. Why? A secret diary needs a reason to be secret, which means you will fill it with the sorts of thoughts you don’t want other people hearing, which either means confessing your own sins or the sins of others. A diary is no place to confess your sins, though, because a diary can’t forgive you. And it’s no place to catalogue the sins of others … Writing things down formalizes them, confirms them, solidifies them. Writing down your thoughts takes time, and so you linger over all the unsavory thoughts you don’t want others to hear. It is one thing to have those thoughts, but another thing to dwell on them. If you have a mean or nasty thought about someone, there’s no need to make them permanent by recording them and coming back to them later.

He also affirms what a diary is good for.

Is Ruso-Ukraine a "religious war"?

> The Western secular imagination … looks at Putin’s speech the other evening, and it describes him as mad — which is another way of saying we do not understand what is going on.

Giles Fraser, who "gets it" that in a sense, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a religious war. So does John Schindler.

Religious wars are, mythology to the contrary notwithstanding, relatively rare, and the Ruso-Ukrainian war is partly religious not because there’s any daylight in doctrine or piety between Russian Orthodoxy and Ukrainian Orthodoxy, but because Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew, \likely egged on by the USA, put his foot in it\ and provoke a schism by declaring an Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 2019, whereas the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has long been part of the Moscow Patriarchate. Thus \the religious element of this war is inextricable from Putin’s overall irredentist ideololgy, which is distinguishable from his putative Orthodox faith.

Fans versus Disciples

> This is what our politics has become: We’re often just fans of a party — or even a religion — not believers in actual tenets.

Jane Coaston, reflecting on Georgia gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor’s campaign bus, painted with her slogan "Jesus, guns, babies."


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.

Journeys to Orthodoxy (and more)

A Peace Activist’s Journey to Orthodoxy

The recently-deceased peace activist Jim Forest tells how he, a “red diaper baby,” came to be an Orthodox Christian. These bits amused me and rang a faint bell:

Thanks mainly to [Thomas] Merton and Dorothy Day, I was more aware than many Western Christians of the Eastern Church, but I had no more thought about becoming Orthodox than a visitor to the zoo thinks about becoming a flamingo … I thought that Orthodoxy was like certain wines that are best drunk at the vineyard.

A Cistercian Monk’s journey to Orthodoxy

I liked Thomistic philosophy very much. I found in it an excellent antidote to the poisons of individualism, subjectivism, and idealism that have infected modern thought. But the manner in which Thomas Aquinas conceived the relations between nature and grace, and the use he made of reason—even if dependent on the Faith—to construct a theology answering to the Aristotelian definition of ‘science’ troubled me. It was profoundly different from the Fathers’ approach to theology. I had no trouble in admiring the coherence and harmony of Thomism’s theological synthesis, but for me it recalled the gothic architecture of Thomas’s era: quite brilliant, but where reason is too rigorous in forcing the materials to submit to its demands. By its nature, the Scholastic method seemed to me open to reducing the mysteries of God to what reason can grasp of them, hemming them in with its definitions, or enclosing them in syllogisms. The writings of the Fathers, on the other hand, breathed a sense of the sacred and of the mystery, evoked a reciprocal penetration of the human and divine, and found their corresponding school of plastic arts in the art of the Romanesque and of Byzantium.

During the years 1962-1965 … [i]t became obvious that I could not think and live in accordance with the principles that seemed to me to be true without creating tensions and pointless conflict in the very heart of the monastery. All the same, I was certain that the fullness of the truth belonged on the side of the Fathers and the Early Church, on the side of that Orthodoxy that I loved without yet realizing that it could be, purely and simply, the Church.

Archimandrite Placide Deseille, Holy Hesychia: Stages of a Pilgrimage.

Archimandrite Placide, who I just discovered, became a Trappist Cistercian monk at 16, but found the Early Church Fathers and the piety of Orthodox monasticism inescapable. He and his monastery finally united with the Orthodox faith, without, however, feeling that they had become “eastern” or “oriental”:

[G]iven the state of things, the practice of the Byzantine liturgy seemed to me to be the most suitable means for entering into the fullness of the patristic tradition in a way that would be neither scholarly nor intellectual, but living and concrete. The Byzantine liturgy has always appeared to me much less as an “eastern” liturgy than as the sole existing liturgical tradition concerning which one could say: “It has done nothing more nor less than closely incorporate into liturgical life all the great theology elaborated by the Fathers and Councils before the ninth century. In it the Church, triumphant over heresies, sings her thanks-giving, the great doxology of the Trinitarian and Christological theology of Saint Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, and Saint Maximus the Confessor. Through it shines the spirituality of the great monastic movements, from the Desert Fathers, from Evagrius, Cassian, and the monks of Sinai, to those of Studion and, later, of Mount Athos. … In it, in a word, the whole world, transfigured by the presence of divine glory, reveals itself in a truly eschatological dimension.”

[T]here is no doubt that many aspects of the Catholic Church changed very much in the years following the Council. And there can be no doubt that the most symptomatic change is that which has taken place in her liturgy. As Father Joseph Gelineau, one of the men deeply involved in these reforms, wrote after Vatican II: “It is a different liturgy from the Mass. In plain language: the Roman rite, as we knew it, no longer exists. It has been done away with.”

Step aside, Jesus. I’ll build this.

[E]vangelical leaders are the products of the institutions of that movement — colleges, seminaries, various parachurch organizations — and those institutions either have failed to provide serious intellectual equipment or, when they done their jobs well, their voices have been drowned out by the entrepreneurial/marketing noisemakers who insist that the building of churches is exactly like the building of businesses.

Alan Jacobs

Gnosticism in a nutshell

In Greek, Gnosis means “knowledge,” and to be a Gnostic is to claim to possess a special kind of knowledge: the knowledge that the world isn’t the reality it supposes to be.

So basically it’s religion for super-fans of The Matrix.

N.S. Lyons, ‌The Reality War


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, 2/13/22

The silver lining in the loss of Christendom

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Logical and doxological

To ponder these things makes sense only when we are able without disregarding truth to lift them to the plane of adoration.

Romano Guardini, The Lord.

I don’t have many coinages to my name, but I call this kind of truth doxological (versus merely logical), and if others have used it before me, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen it.

(The insight was not an easy acquisition for a recovering Calvinist intellectualoid.)

Christian hope entropy

In short, highly devoted Christian teenagers operationalized Christian hope as a generalized trust that God has the future under control, without showing much familiarity with (or interest in) traditional teachings associated with Christian eschatology …

Social scientist Kendra Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church

Simulations and metaverses

Tuesday, I felt unusual kinship with Damon Linker:

There is no Big Idea for which I feel greater contempt than the suggestion that we’re all living in a simulation. The runner up is the claim that we should seek fun and fulfillment in a technologically simulated reality — the so-called metaverse or virtual reality.

Though I can’t prove our experiences of the world, ourselves, and those around us are in fact real, I can explain why we shouldn’t waste our time imagining it’s all fake; why our happiness is wrapped up with the presumption that the world around us is, in fact, reality; and how much we lose by spending ever more of our lives interacting with manifestly false, digitally constructed virtual worlds.

Moreover, Linker (who abandoned Catholicism, then Christianity) puts his finger on why I consider the metaverse stuff evil. It’s the latest manifestation of what seems to be the hardiest of perennial heresies, gnosticism.

Reno on German Catholic clerics

R. R. Reno (I know he goes by "Rusty," but I want to keep him at arms’ length as he edges into populism and postliberalism) is not happy with the direction of the European Roman Catholic Churches, especially Germany’s:

  • "The ‘future’ is a jealous god."
  • Apropos of his own past as an Episcopalian:
    "Doctrine changes, but the Episcopal Church’s social role remained constant: to be the chaplaincy for white upper-middle-class culture.
    Today, the German Catholic Church is doing something similar, serving as a chaplaincy for the Rainbow Reich—the empire of diversity, equity, and inclusion that flies the rainbow flag."

Is it just me?

It’s probably none of my business, but from where I sit "Innovation Church" is the worst Church name I think I’ve ever seen. It’s either brazen or misleading.

Orthodox Christianity detests little or nothing more than it detests religious "innovation," and I seem to have internalized that pretty completely.

Damning (if you’ll just use your noggin’)

It is not an exaggeration to claim that this nineteenth-century Protestant evangelicalism differed from the religion of the Protestant Reformation as much as the sixteenth-century Reformation Protestantism differed from the Roman Catholic theology from which it emerged.

Mark Noll, ‌America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, via Mars Hill Audio. Be it noted that today’s evangelicalism is subject to the same critique; it was born in the 19th century (not the first) and hasn’t changed fundamentally.

Pick your poison

[Satan] always sends errors into the world in pairs — pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worst. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors ….

C.S. Lewis, via Andrew Sullivan.

Got that?

That’s how I feel about America’s two major political parties.

Modern poets versus old epics

Modern minor poets are naturalists, and talk about the bush or the brook; but the singers of the old epics and fables were supernaturalists, and talked about the gods of brook and bush.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


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 Sundries

The Real Stuff of Life

In the pre-modern era in the West, as in much of the world today still, there was no such thing as ‘religion’. The Christian story was the basis of peoples’ understanding of reality itself: it was widely assumed that it represented the truth about existence, and that no part of life could therefore be outside of it. There was no ‘religion’, because there was no notion that this truth was somehow optional or partial, any more than we today might assume that gravity or the roundness of the Earth were facts we could choose to engage with only on Sunday mornings.

The religious wars which raged for more than a century after the Reformation changed all this. They shattered faith in the church and in the Christian story, which in turn led to the Enlightenment experiment with ‘secularism’: a new type of society, first pioneered by the seventeenth century Dutch, in which the state would guarantee freedom of and from religion. In practice, this meant guaranteeing the right to practice one of the many different flavours of Christianity on offer, and sometimes Judaism too, but as time went on and society changed, all and any ‘religious’ practice was taken under the protective umbrella of the state. Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism, atheism, Norse Heathenism or the worship of Richard Dawkins: anything goes in the Kingdom of Whatever. The unspoken bargain is that religion is fine, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the real stuff of life.

That real stuff was, increasingly, commerce.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Migration of the Holy

Managing the World

[I]t’s worth thinking about the Church (Orthodox) as an ark of salvation and safety. It is an ancient image of the Church, a place where God gathers those who are being rescued. The ark is not an instrument of flood management, however. It is a raft. Modernity imagines itself as the manager of the world and its historical processes. It is an idea that is itself part of the destructive flood of our time.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Riding the Tsunami

Elusive Interiority

For a scientific culture that believes true knowledge of anything can be gained only by the systematic reduction of that thing to its simplest parts, undertaken from an entirely third person stance, this inaccessible first person subjectivity—this absolute interiority, full of numberless incommunicable qualitative sensations and velleities and intuitions that no inquisitive eye will ever glimpse, and that is impossible to disassemble, reconstruct, or model—is so radically elusive a phenomenon that there seems no hope of capturing it in any complete scientific account. Those who imagine otherwise simply have not understood the problem fully.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God

History Rhymes (probably my favorite heading)

Must I be the only one to fight under the Holy Cross and must I see others, calling themselves Christians, all unite with the Crescent to fight Christianity?

Tsar Nicholas, after much of Europe turned against Russia (and toward Turkey) after the Russians destroyed a squadron of Ottoman frigates at the port of Sinope early in the Crimean War.

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin Donald Trump

Had evangelical leaders and journalists known more about the Southern Baptist Convention than simply the reputation that followed from its being southern or trusting in Jesus, they would have seen that Carter, despite the southern accent, had more affinities to the tolerant and do-good orientation of mainline Protestants than the restrain-evil-and-promote-righteousness resolve of fundamentalists and evangelicals.

D.G. Hart, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.

Can a book title ever become anachronistic?

The subtitle of Hart’s book was "Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism," but in 2011 (the publication date) we hadn’t "seen the half of it."

Hauerwas Rocks

When the only contemporary means of self-transcendence is orgasm, we Christians are going to have a tough time convincing people that it would be nicer if they would not be promiscuous.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Before I could even post this, other Hauerwas/Resident Aliens quotes popped up:

  • The seminaries have produced clergy who are agents of modernity, experts in the art of congregational adaptation to the cultural status quo, enlightened facilitators whose years of education have trained them to enable believers to detach themselves from the insights, habits, stories, and structures that make the church the church.
  • As Alasdair Maclntyre has noted (in The Religious Significance of Atheism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1969], p. 24), we Christians have given atheists less and less in which to disbelieve!

Catechized into Nothing

I had a lot of resentment against people like the priest and the nun who first instructed me in the faith. They were the quintessential Boomer “spirit of Vatican II” Catholics. I went through two months of instruction with my RCIA class at the LSU Catholic Student Center (though I had graduated, I had this naive idea that instruction there would be more intellectually challenging), without learning a thing about doctrine, or church history, or anything other than how to massage my emotions. If I had written a just-the-facts account of those classes and published it somewhere, people would have shaken their heads over how decadent the Church had become. I quit after I realized that all of us would be received into the Church without knowing anything that was required of us as Catholics.

Rod Dreher, Religion, From Youth To Middle Age

The Kingdoms of the World

The Last Temptation is perhaps the greatest, and the one that most torments our modern thoughts. Christ is offered the “kingdoms of this world” if only He will worship the tempter. It is the temptation of power. What if you had all power? What wonderfully good things could you do?

One place where such an inner dialog takes place is in the purchase of a lottery ticket. Powerball approaches half-a-billion dollars and the ticket is only a couple of bucks. The purchase is made (why not? there’s no commandment against it) and sits quietly in our pocket. The thoughts begin. You know that the odds are ridiculously against you, but you can’t help imagining what life might be like if you won. “If I were a rich man…” I have been told any number of times, “If I win the lottery, I’ll give the money for a new church building.” Of course. We keep only a small portion, say some tens of millions for ourselves. With the rest, we will build a better world, maybe create a charitable foundation (like a Bill Gates). On and on we muse.

Modernity’s mantra, “make the world a better place,” is invoked repeatedly in one guise or another. Every invocation promises that with money and power, we could really make a difference. The myth (or lie) that this perpetuates is that the only thing standing between us and a better world is lack of resources. The truth is that, at the present time in our modern age, there is no lack of resources, no lack of wealth. The abundance of the world is overflowing. People are hungry and starve, etc., for lack of goodness. It has been observed by some that every famine in our modern time has had politics as its primary cause. We are not the victims of nature – but of one another.

It is, of course, ironic that Satan should offer Christ “all the kingdoms of this world.” How do you offer the Lord of All anything that is not already His? He refuses them (at least when offered on the devil’s terms). The way of Christ is the way of God – it is the way revealed in the Cross. The world will be saved in the mystery of the Cross, the self-emptying love of God. Not only is the world saved in that manner, but, those who are being saved are invited to join in that salvation – to empty themselves in self-sacrificing love. That is the proper description of the Church, though it is frequently refused and replaced with an effort to be a “helping” organization, a religious adjunct to the build-a-better-world project of modernity.

Father Stephen Freeman


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.

Wednesday, 12/22/21

The most efficacious argument

[W]hen the church itself is unhealthy or poorly led, a plan to start its revitalization with secular political actors and cultural Christianity — with Donald Trump and Eric Zemmour, presumably — seems destined for disappointment.

Social justice activists did not triumph … by first getting an opportunistically woke politician elected president and having her impose their doctrines by fiat. Their cultural advance has had political assistance, but it began with that most ancient power — the power of belief.

Which is also how Christian renewal has usually proceeded in the past. The politically powerful play a part, the half-believing come along, but it was the Dominicans and Franciscans who made the High Middle Ages, the Jesuits who drove the Counter-Reformation, the apostles and martyrs who spread the faith before Roman emperors adopted it.

It’s been that way from the very start. Kings eventually bowed before the crucifix, but in the worlds of the wisest Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, “the most efficacious argument” for Christ’s divinity is that “without the support of the secular power he has changed the whole world.”

And so this Christmas, in our parish and every church around the world, we begin again. Whatever world-changing power we might seek, whatever influence we might hope to wield, starts with the ancient prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Ross Douthat, ‌Can Politics Save Christianity?


Sophistication

For all we know, the tribal shaman who seeks visions of the Dream-time or of the realm of the Six Grandfathers is, in certain crucial respects, immeasurably more sophisticated than the credulous modern Westerner who imagines that technology is wisdom, or that a compendium of physical facts is the equivalent of a key to reality in its every dimension.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God


Lost soul

I heard a few months ago of Steve Skojec, a former hardcore Catholic blogger (1Peter5), having a huge crisis of faith. I began following his new Substack, expecting to find something of interest. I was right.

My own relationship with Catholicism is not so vexed as his.

It’s fair to characterize the Evangelicalism of my youth as anti-Catholic, but not obsessively so; were it not for my memories (1) of two of my adverse reactions to JFK and (2) that I didn’t consider Catholics truly Christian, I’m not sure I’d even recognize that I was anti-Catholic.

I tried to learn about Catholicism as a young adult from tendentious hyper-Calvinist secondary sources (unaware that Vatican II meant Catholicism was going to become much more like Protestantism) and (surprise!) what I "learned" wasn’t good.

When I first became Orthodox, I realized that most of the objections I’d had to Catholicism were wrong, and I flirted with the idea that devout Catholics and Orthodox were all, in Richard John Neuhaus’s reification, "ecclesial Christians": people for whom faith in Christ and faith in His Church was one act of faith, not two. I recognized that much of my former attitude could be described as Romophobia, the Protestant reflex that shuns anything, however wholesome, that feels "too Catholic."

But the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I realize that the millennium-wide gulf between Orthodoxy and Catholicism really is deep and wide, in ways that cannot readily be described and that go well beyond which doctrinal propositions each affirms or denies. Notably, I see in Steve Skojec’s substack how he is still haunted by distinctly Catholic beliefs that he now deeply, and justifiably, doubts.

Rod Dreher once was in a similar place, but then encountered Orthodoxy. I pray for Steve Skojec daily, but as I’m not a paid subscriber, I can offer him no words of encouragement or invitation to Orthodoxy. Fortunately, others seem to be doing it.


Christmas, sort of

On a lighter — indeed almost weightless — note, my wife and I have watched a few "Christmas movies" on Netflix this week. And I’ve listened to the background music at my favorite restaurant, a mix of deracinated romantic "Christmas songs" in the "All I Want for Christmas is You" genre.

I’m reminded of why we need the word "vapid" in our English language.

I’ve gotten out Auden’s For the Time Being again.

Maybe I’ll watch Charlie Brown, too:

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not like other Christmas movies. For over half a century, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been playing a game of chicken and we tune in every year to watch it win again. When will CBS finally cave and remove Linus’s recitation of Luke 2? When will the story of Christ’s birth finally be replaced with some spineless pablum about equality, teamwork, and oblique references to fashionable politics? “Surely this will be the year they cut it,” we say, folding our arms as the spotlight falls on Linus. And yet this twenty-five-minute movie somehow manages to pull off the same simple stunt every year—and every year, it is a little more impressive than the last time.

Joshua Gibbs, The Enduring Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas | Circe Institute.

I kind of wonder if the Estate of Charles Schultz won’t forbid bowdlerizing with "spineless pablum." He was said to be an observant Protestant Christian. CBS may have to choose between the Gospel according to St. Luke and contemporary vapidity.


Trans ideal, trans reality

Trans activists argue that a long-marginalised group is now finding its voice in popular culture. Their critics retort that vulnerable teenagers are losing themselves in an online world which adulates anyone who comes out as trans. Both could be right.

“What is needed is quality research into adolescent-onset dysphoria among girls, and the overlap with autism and mental-health diagnoses,” says Will Malone, an endocrinologist and director at the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, an international group of doctors and researchers.

Ideally, … an adolescent with gender dysphoria would have been regularly seeing a therapist, who encouraged them to explore other possible causes for their feelings and had a comprehensive psychological assessment before being put on blockers or hormones. “It is very rare that even one of these things happens,” she says.

The Economist, After the Keira Bell Verdict – An English Ruling on Transgender Teens Could Have Global Repercussions (URL lost)


Covid reality

The abstraction of “social responsibility” does not tell me anything about what it is that you want me to do … If you’re locking down but surviving doing so with meal delivery apps, online shopping, and delivery groceries, you’re not reducing risk, you’re just imposing it on other people … It’s very hard to exist in modern society and to reduce your own risk of infection without increasing that of someone else … Reference to the grand shibboleth of social responsibility or communal welfare or similar, it’s all a way to hide in the abstract, and we hide there because there’s so little to do in the particular. Covid is here. The vast majority of us will survive it, as has been the case since the beginning. Many hundreds of thousands, tragically, will die ….

Freddie deBoer, Social Responsibility… To Do What?

And this, not from Freddie:

COVID is just a part of our lives now, and if we don’t learn to live with it, we’re never going to be able to do anything.

Sportswriter Will Leitch via the Morning Dispatch


Baptists gonna be baptists

Burk states that he does not believe that the response from Du Mez represents:

… any kind of middle or undecided position. She is already willing to have communion with and to recognize LGBTQ persons as her brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, she is already saying that it is right to welcome to the Lord’s table those who embrace and affirm a homosexual identity. She may be under the impression that this is a “middle” or “undecided” position, but it certainly is not. Once you’ve affirmed unrepentant homosexuals as your brothers and sisters in Christ, you have already endorsed an affirming position no matter what your ethical calculation might otherwise be.

It appears that she is treating homosexuality as if it were an issue that otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree about — something on the order of differences over baptism or the rapture. That view is a grave error.

Note Burk’s use of the word “identity,” instead of “behavior.”

Terry Mattingly, ‌Think pieces: Why are evangelicals evolving on doctrines linked to LGBTQ issues?

I’m not going to do any deep dive to figure out exactly how Du Mez and Burk disagree, and what Du Mez may have said or written elsewhere that incites such lack of charity in Burk’s response, above — i.e., leaping from "willing to recognize LGBTQ persons as her brothers and sisters in Christ" to "welcome … those who embrace and affirm a homosexual identity" to "affirm[ing] unrepentant homosexuals." Those kinds of leaps seem more like mendacious Right Cancel Culture than good faith argumentation.

Is Denny Burk confused about the distinction between identity and behavior? (I doubt it.) Does Burk think that identifying as homosexual, even if celibate, is sinful? (I suspect he does.) If so, does he think that homosexual orientation (without "identifying as gay" or celebrating it) can be changed? I’ve had some thoughts on that.


Lovely poetic acquisition

Shared on micro.blog:

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
    who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company, always, with those who say
    "Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
    and bow their heads.

(Attributed to Mary Oliver)


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 and pleasant). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.