Thursday, 9/8/22

Culture

Bravery

“Many people praised me for my bravery for having done this — to which I could only say: Millions of people do this kind of work every day for their entire lives — haven’t you noticed them?” she said in 2018 in an acceptance speech after receiving the Erasmus Prize, given to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts.

From the New York Times obituary for Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich went “underground,” trying to live on various minimum wage jobs.

I’m sure I read some of her journalistic writing, and even looked forward to the byline as a harbinger of good writing, but I apparently missed how well-regarded she really was.

Conservative academia

Do ten conservative American academics even exist? (Try naming ten outside of Hillsdale College. I’ll go: Harvey Mansfield, Niall Ferguson, Ruth Wisse, Robby George. Struggling to come up with a fifth without Google.) Then again, we wouldn’t know because they are closeted.

Bari Weiss, Dissidents and Doublethinkers in our Democracy

Too stupid for ranked-choice voting?

It seems to me that Damon Linker is arguing “America is too paranoid and too stupid for ranked-choice voting.”

I agree, though, that it’s not likely to prove a panacea.

Todd Rokita does something right for a change

In a stunning development, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has done something necessary and with minimal fanfare:

Nineteen state attorneys general wrote a letter last month to BlackRock CEO Laurence D. Fink. They warned that BlackRock’s environmental, social and governance investment policies appear to involve “rampant violations” of the sole interest rule, a well-established legal principle. The sole interest rule requires investment fiduciaries to act to maximize financial returns, not to promote social or political objectives. Last week Attorneys General Jeff Landry and Todd Rokita of Louisiana and Indiana, respectively, went further. Each issued a letter warning his state pension board that ESG investing is likely a violation of fiduciary duty.

ESG Can’t Square With Fiduciary Duty

I am inclined to think that these (presumably Republican) Attorneys General are “on the wrong side of history.” I think the sole interest rule will fall because it ignores corporate externalities.

Think of it this way: would an institutional investor before the Clean Water Act have been morally justified in avoiding companies that used streams and rivers as a dumping ground for toxic byproducts? But it would have been unlawful under the sole interest rule.

Now draw analogies.

But meanwhile, we don’t elect attorneys general to be on the right side of history. We elect them to enforce the laws as they are.

A question not worth researching

Cable news is for idiots, so I’m not going to subject myself to hours and hours of watching it to evaluate whether the average political positioning of a CNN guest has changed. But I think the circulation of the particular Francesca Chambers clip you cite as supposed evidence of a Trumpy shift at CNN is weaksauce — and boy have I been seeing a lot of apoplectic liberals share it on Twitter. (Jesus, people, will you get a hobby already?)

Chambers, who covers the White House for USA Today, has been a fixture on cable news for years, not just on CNN but also on MSNBC and Fox News. That she made an inane jump to “optics” when asked about Trump bringing the aunt of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli on stage at a Pennsylvania rally — Hale-Cusanelli is the January 6 riot convict who praised Hitler and posed with a Hitler mustache (in order to be “ironic”, he says, of course) — does not say anything about CNN changing. It just reflects that cable news political panel discussions have always consisted of replacement-level-or-lower armchair political strategizing and posturing — there are hours and hours and hours of time to fill, and they have been filled with this crap my entire adult life. (By the way, Sara Fay and I wrote back in January about how to book an actually good political conversation panel, based on our experience at Left, Right & Center.)

Josh Barro

Politics

Metapolitics

The Right denies the reality of events, clueless to its eventual Emperor Has No Clothes moment. The Left, however, seeks to deny the very nature of humanity itself. Both worship at the same altar, but their beliefs are predicated upon differing hermeneutical approaches within the Cult of Progress. The former believes the fantasy of a technological harnessing of apparently limitless resources to produce an ever-expanding material prosperity, all without consequential damage to the society at large. The Left believes in the fantasy of a technological harnessing of the apparently limitless ability to refashion mankind itself, regardless of the demolition of existing societal structures, and again, all without serious consequences. This latter one, while indeed the more extreme, worries me the least, as it is the more difficult case to make—indeed, often farcical in its extremities—and seems likely to eventually collapse in upon itself. The former, however, I consider the more dangerous at this moment in history, as they appear fully ready and prepared to project and maintain their Will to Power. At these times, you cannot go wrong by referencing Shakespeare, “a plague of both your houses.”

Terry Cowan, Grand Delusions, Past and Present

Political promises then and now

It is, of course, true that wars never do half the good which the leaders of the belligerents say they are going to do. Nothing ever does half the good—perhaps nothing ever does half the evil—which is expected of it. And that may be a sound argument for not pitching one’s propaganda too high. But it is no argument against war.

C.S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” in The Weight of Glory

Our last Conservative President

When I hear politicians promising that we can have it all — particularly that our postwar “happy motoring” can continue forever, only electrified instead of gas-powered — I’m reminded that Jimmy Carter, who urged some voluntary austerity, was our last conservative President.

Election heuristics

Years ago my friend Bill, an Army officer and fellow grad student, hosted our department for a cookout. While everyone was happy to eat his food and drink his beer, most of our colleagues despised Bill’s beliefs. One of them—call her Jane—took Bill’s small children aside, taught them a left-wing chant, then led them, her eyes glittering with hateful glee, on a little protest march through the gathering. Ever since that day, I’ve found voting to be a snap. I simply identify the candidate most likely to embody Jane’s hopes for America, and I vote against that son of a bitch with everything I’ve got.

Tony Woodlief, The American Conservative 2020 Presidential Symposium

That’s a pretty lousy heuristic, but a pretty good story.

Amtrack Joe’s Big Warning

Spare us the pieties while you knee-cap us, please

How can an American president go wrong in identifying threats to democracy? Biden offered a master class.

[I]n describing their goals, he cast a net so wide it included everyone from those who cheered the attack on the Capitol and the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, to those who oppose abortion rights and gay marriage.

As categories go, this one is capacious.

It includes violent Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — as well as every faithful Catholic or evangelical Christian whose deeply held moral convictions bring them to oppose legalized abortion.

In other words, Biden claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them. That may resonate with partisan Democrats who have never seen a conservative they didn’t consider a bigot or a fool. But it gives the lie to the idea that dismantling MAGA Republicanism is the prime objective of the president or his party.

Bret Stephens, ‌With Malice Toward Quite a Few

I did not listen to the speech, but when someone as sober as Bret Stephens says Biden lumps together January 6 insurrectionists and faithful Catholics who vote Republican based on the abortion issue, I’ve got to think that’s a fair characterization.

And “devout Catholic” Biden invites just contempt for doing that.

Stephens again:

Is that smart as hardball politics? Maybe. But Biden could have spared us the pieties about timeless American values. As far as I can tell, he has yet to say a word in public against the [Democrat] ad buys [to elect MAGA candidates in GOP primaries], much less tried to stop them. Instead, his speech makes a neat bookend to a strategy of promoting MAGA extremists so they can be denounced as MAGA extremists. Some liberals took a similar approach in 2016, all but rooting for Trump to win the nomination on the theory that he’d be Hillary Clinton’s weakest opponent. Look how that worked out.

Dark Brandon

Surely it’s damning that what so many people seem to remember isn’t Mr. Biden’s message but the nakedly political use of the uniformed Marines behind him (calling Gen. Mark Milley)—and the neon illumination that made the stately face of Independence Hall look like the entrance to a bordello in some red-light district.

Even more striking was the tone. Gone was genial Joe from Scranton, the man who persuaded Americans that he would give them a calm and drama-free presidency. In its place was Dark Brandon, a superhero saving America from imaginary armies of fascism.

William McGurn, Biden is Angry, But Not Serious

Is his church the enemy?

Biden’s speech conflated the refusal to accept election outcomes with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage — implying that the positions of his own Catholic Church are part of a “MAGA Republican” threat to democracy itself — while touting a State of the Union-style list of policy achievements, a cascade of liberal self-praise.

Ross Douthat, Does Biden Really Believe We Are in a Crisis of Democracy?

Realignment

Today’s Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today’s Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity.

Yuval Levin via Jason Willick

How small this narcissist is!

Yesterday, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump addressed a rally supposedly in support of Republican candidates in the state: Mehmet Oz for the Senate; the January 6 apologist Doug Mastriano for governor … [T]his was what led local news: “Donald Trump Blasts Philadelphia, President Biden During Rally for Doug Mastriano, Dr. Oz in Wilkes-Barre.”

Yes, you read that right: Campaigning in Pennsylvania, the ex-president denounced the state’s largest city …

The rally format allowed time for only brief remarks by the two candidates actually on the ballot, Oz and Mastriano. Its message was otherwise all Trump, Trump, Trump. A Republican vote is a Trump vote. A Republican vote is a vote to endorse lies about the 2020 presidential election.

On and on it went, in a protracted display of narcissistic injury that was exactly the behavior that Biden’s Philadelphia speech had been designed to elicit.

David Frum, Biden Laid the Trap. Trump Walked Into It.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Sunday, 9/4/22

Pray for your pastor

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

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

Tish Harrison Warren, Why Pastors Are Burning Out

Another difference between East and West

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

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

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

Therapeutic friendship

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

Rod Dreher, The Gift Of Friendship

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

Blue Laws

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

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

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

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

Episcopalians

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that’s all I’ll say for now.

A certain catholic je ne sais quoi

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

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

“Tried to”? Really?

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

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

Orwell in the Mediation Room

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

Doing politics Christianly

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

Michael Gerson, Washington Post, via Alan Jacobs

True Christians and sin

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

St. Herman of Alaska

A recurring cautionary note

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

William T. Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Sunday, 8/28/22

Memory eternal!

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has reposed in the Lord

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware reposed in the Lord last Tuesday.

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

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

Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

Against David Frenchism

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

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

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

(Deep breath.)

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

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

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

Up with Jake Meadorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Context:

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

A Christian Culture (for the very first time)

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

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

Paul Kingsnorth, Intermission: Monasteries of Romania #1

Godsplaining to the Archbishop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth alienation then and now

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

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

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

Russell Moore

Repentance

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

Dee Pennock, God’s Path to Sanity

Demoting free exercise

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

David French


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Friday, 7/8/22

I didn’t have enough to share Thursday, but I’ve got some now. I also add a new category, "Mysticism," the first new one in quite a while.

You may want to skip the adiaphora, which is kind of a speen-venting exercise.

Things that matter

"Christian" Politics, Christian Piety

I quoted an excerpt of this recently, but a larger excerpt is worthy

There is a problem with Christian politics today, but it isn’t any of these options, or the fierce debates surrounding them. It isn’t this or that policy that Christians are in general for or against. In democratic politics, it’s just as legitimate for Christians as for any other group to advocate with passion, even granting that such passion regularly generates outlandish behavior and outsize rhetoric. That comes with the territory; it is the inevitable spillover from democratic give-and-take.

Is the problem the desire to win? Not at all. Who among us cares about the common good but doesn’t want to win? If you think your platform or candidate would make the world a better place – whether you are conservative or progressive, libertarian or socialist – you should want to win. The will to lose betrays a lack of confidence in your own proposals.

No, the problem isn’t wanting to win. The problem is the unwillingness to lose. That is, the problem is the impossibility of imagining that certain forms of losing might be preferable to certain forms of winning – that some things might not be worth doing even if not doing them would entail losing.

Brad East, Another Option for Christian Politics.

"Your power has been totally taken away,” but under a Trump administration, “you’ll have great power to do good things."

Donald Trump to a group of Christian pastors in Orlando, August 2016, via The Dispatch.

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
Grant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen..

The Prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria, prayed by Orthodox Christians particularly in Lent (emphasis added).

In response to Trump’s campaign pitch aimed at them, 81 percent of White, self-identified evangelical voters cast their votes for him, and they remained a core base of his support throughout his presidency.

The Dispatch, excerpting Paul D. Miller, The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism.

Simone Weil on mysticism

She read the Gospels and was immediately convinced that Jesus is God, but she also studied classical texts from non-Christian religions, finding resonances therein with her own unexpected mystical encounters. She had always loved the Greeks, but now as she read her favorite authors–Plato and Homer–she found the former to be a mystic and the latter to be “bathed in Christian light.” Indeed, she found “intimations of Christianity” throughout Greek literature, from the early myths through the great tragedians. This confirmation of the universality of mystical experiences like hers, coupled with the Catholic Church’s exclusive claim to be the vehicle of God’s presence in the world, was the greatest impediment to her joining the church.

Simone Weil, Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us (Plough Spiritual Guides: Backpack Classics) . Plough Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

I had not recalled that explanation of why Weil held back from joining the Church. If the Catholic Church "claims to be the" sole "vehicle of God’s presence in the world," I’d reject it for that reason in addition to my other reasons.

I’ll leave it at that for now, but as it’s related to some current interests of mine, as reflected below.

Recapturing wonder

How to recapture this in adulthood? Wordsworth’s answer is given in his entire life’s work: in and through poetry, which with its reliance on metaphor and implicit meaning allows the right hemisphere to circumvent the ordinary processes of everyday language which inevitably return us to the familiar, and reduce the numinous to the quotidian. There is always a paradox involved, in that he is trying to reproduce the unself-consciousness that permits experience of the numinous, the condition of such unself-consciousness being that it cannot be consciously reproduced. In revisiting his childhood self and trying to bring him to life he is intently focussed on a being whose essential importance to the poet is that he was completely unself-aware.

Ian McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Making things holy

It may not look like much, not with all these other distractions, but we make things holy by the kind of attention we give them. … I say it again: we make things holy by the kind of attention we give them.

Martin Shaw

Much ado about nothing

There was once a time when I would have found Liberty Counsel’s Naughty & Nice list (link is to a PDF that may download) mildly amusing: encouragement to shop at places that "recognize and celebrate Christmas" and to shun those that "silence and censor" Christmas. I now think it’s cheap, tawdry, and highly provincial.

For the historic Church, Christmas is not even the most important Christian Holiday. In fact, it’s not even called "Christmas."

Making such a big deal out of whether retailers "foreground" the distinctly Christianish trappings of our national consumer orgy is just preposterous.

Adiaphora

Four political vignettes

I cannot judge any of these folks in the sense of declaring (or even predicting) eternal destiny, but I’ve got a pretty good idea who I might and wouldn’t vote for.

One Sign of Hope …

Republicans see other areas outside of the spotlight, including data privacy, digital assets and mental health, as equally fertile ground. … "I have people back home saying, ‘You can’t agree with Biden on anything." And I say, "Well what happens if he’s right every once and a while?"

Jordain Carney in Politico quoting Reps. Don Bacon.

On the other hand, I’ve never heard of Don Bacon before. Maybe he’s just not doing enough of the truly vital work of appearing on Fox and MSNBC.

… Another of despair.

I thought my Congressman, Jim Baird, was just a cipher — harmless enough.

Wednesday, though, brought a fundraising letter than opened thus:

I didn’t fight to protect American Freedom and American Life in Vietnam to see it destroyed by Pinkos in Pink Hats 50 years later.

(formatting in original)

I can’t say it went downhill from there, but it sure kept up the hyperbole, preposterous capitalizations, and claims of existential threat.

I’ll never vote for Jim Baird. There are worse Congressmen, but my bar is a lot higher than "at least he’s not Matt Gaetz."

Boris

What Britain has is a prime minister with instincts, sometimes good, sometimes bad, who almost as a point of principle refuses ever to temper or abrogate them in any way … These same instincts now look as though they will cost Johnson his job. He continually disregards official advice, and attempts to bypass the rules or ignores them altogether, seeing them as little more than officialdom’s devices to control him. … This is the great paradox about Johnson: He is both the most self-aware political leader I’ve come across, a leader who seems to genuinely reflect on his character flaws, and the one who seems most determined to do absolutely nothing about them. And so Britain bounces from scandal to scandal, instinct to instinct, without direction or purpose, unmoored and ungoverned.

Tom McTague via The Morning Dispatch.

What a fascinating train-wreck Boris Johnson has been. I’ll probably miss him a bit.

Gavin Newsom

Dinner at The French Laundry during Covid lockdown, vacation in Montana, which he declared off-limits. Yeah, Gavin Newsom is a real piece of "rules for thee but not for me."

I’ll never vote for him, either.

Recommended reading

I try to read opposing views on current events, but find that in fact, my reading is narrowing mostly to center-Left to center-Right. Further to the Left or Right there’s too much lunacy. (Possible exceptions: Marxist Freddie deBoer on the Left, the Integralist and crypto-Integralist academics on the Right.)

Recent discovery on the center-Left, and recommended, is Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American.


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.

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.