Sunday 9/18/22

Liturgies

How Elizabeth experienced her coronation

Over here, people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the by the sacramental side of what we going on.

C.S. Lewis on the 1953 Coronation of Elizabeth II Regina, attributed to a personal letter.

In contrast to sacramentality, America developed …

Proto-Populism in the Pews

Simply put, the Antichrist now worked his evil machinations through elites of all kind, particularly the clergy.

Nathan Hatch, Thundering Legions in The Democratization of American Christianity

Or so Americans leaned to think. Bereft of sacrament, they invented tawdry substitutes, personal and collective:

C.S. Lewis on Christian patriotism

From Screwtape Letters:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

I think things would be better if supposedly serious Christian people stopped talking like demons, don’t you?

Jake Meador

What happens to churches that forsake liturgy

What strikes me about certain low church communities is that they sometimes imagine themselves to have no liturgy at all. In some cases, they might even be overtly hostile to the very idea of a liturgy. This is interesting to me because, in practice, it is not that they have no liturgy at all as they imagine—they simply end up with an unacknowledged liturgy of a different sort. Their services also feature predictable patterns and rhythms, as well as common cadences and formulations, even if they are not formally expressed or delineated and although they differ from the patterns and rhythms of high church congregations. It’s not that you get no church calendar, for example, it’s that you end up trading the old ecclesial calendar of holy days and seasons, such as Advent, Epiphany, and Lent, for a more contemporary calendar of national and sentimental holidays, which is to say those that have been most thoroughly commercialized.

L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society

What happens to politicians formed spiritually in such churches

When Vice President Mike Pence delivered his speech at the Republican National Convention, it was like witnessing a Walker Percy satire. Pence remixed Hebrews 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:17, by replacing “Jesus” with “Old Glory,” the “saints” with “this land of heroes,” and even interjected his own biblical gloss—“that means freedom always wins.”

In Love in the Ruins, the Roman Catholic Church has split into three groups, one of which is the American Catholic Church, whose new “Rome” is Cicero, Illinois. The protagonist Tom More attends church there with his mother to celebrate Property Rights Sunday, a major feast day for the church.

Unlike its forebear, the American Catholic Church “emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin Mass, and plays ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the elevation.”

In response to Pence’s speech, some Christian leaders denounced his idolatry, a great start to warding off Percy’s “Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world.” However, if we want to avert the American apocalypse, we need better readers and thinkers of the Word. As Americans, we should prioritize reading well, learning what words mean, why context matters, and how to be comfortable with mystery.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, Percy and Pence and the American Sense of Scripture

The Religion of American Greatness

Paul D. Miller, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University, recognizes that most of the existing works on Christian nationalism “are rather extreme and almost comical examples of beating up on straw men—or would be, if they weren’t also fear-mongering scurrilous libel masquerading as scholarship.” In The Religion of American Greatness, Miller, who identifies himself as a “Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer,” proposes to offer a “detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism.”

Mark David Hall, Christian Nationalism: An Existential Threat?

Deja Vu

I guess it’s time for somebody to mention, and even to elaborate upon, white Evangelicalism’s pathetic, unbiblical obsession with celebrities: Richard Ostling Is celebrity culture eroding American evangelicalism? This publishing insider says ‘yes’

Yes, I send “unbiblical.” Elevating novice Christian celebrities is pathetic and it’s dangerous to the celebrities themselves.

None of the periodic commentary on this weakness has changed a damned thing, of course.

Hidden life

Enough of my rough and critical thoughts on American religious life.

God Saved the Queen

In all of human history Queen Elizabeth II is the single person who has been most prayed for. From her birth in 1926 she was included in a petition myriads of people prayed day after day: It called upon the Almighty to bless and preserve “all the Royal Family.” From her accession to the throne in 1952, millions began to pray for her daily by name: “That it might please thee to keep and strengthen . . . thy Servant Elizabeth, our most gracious Queen and Governor.” A modern form introduced during her reign that is often used today pleads, “Guard and strengthen your servant Elizabeth our Queen.”

Prayers Answered: God Saved the Queen via Alan Jacobs. The author goes on with other notable things about the late Queen.

Learning to Let Things Be

We seem to be on the verge of choosing what and whether human life—and with it, all life—will continue to be on this planet. Whether science fiction or not there are a lot of brainy people with a lot of money behind them trying to turn us into something quite different than what we have been. I think they will fail. But I don’t really know, maybe they won’t. They will likely do tremendous of damage in the process regardless. Yet nobody is able to give a fully coherent explanation of what we are doing or why. Instead, we are drowning in partial, often unhelpful explanations. I have to wonder whether our situation even can be understood. Have we reached our cognitive and moral limits? Or are the cacophony of reasons we give merely an implicit way of admitting we don’t really know why we do what we do? Admitting our fundamental ignorance would at least be refreshing in its honesty. Instead, it is not unusual to find various deep, sincere, erudite, and eloquent views of our situation that are in nearly complete contradiction with one another. It actually is quite common. Many of them are done with the same air of certainty—where there likely is none.

I myself offer only the Arsenios Option, i.e., fleeing the world of distraction and ambition, being silent, and dwelling in stillness. I don’t offer it as way to understand our situation. It’s what you do when all explanations have failed and when talking turns to gibberish … It is the hope that we can go deeper than the problem itself. In silence, stillness not-knowing, we might possibly learn to stop trying to fix everything. Maybe thereby we can avoid the inevitable catastrophe our solutions themselves are causing. We can learn to accept that we don’t see things clearly and that we probably never will. We can accept that we don’t really know and that not-knowing is actually the better and more human way to live. We can live humbly with each other and upon the earth and with the Divine. We can finally learn to simply let things be.

For although at certain times and in certain circumstances it is necessary and useful to dwell on the particular situation and activity of people and things, during this work it is almost useless. Thinking and remembering are forms of spiritual understanding in which the eye of the spirit is opened and closed upon things as the eye of a marksman is on his target. But I tell you that everything you dwell upon during this work becomes an obstacle to union with God. For if your mind is cluttered with these concerns there is no room for him.

—The Cloud of Unknowing

Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden (footnotes omitted)


[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.

Wednesday, 7/20/22

You didn’t miss anything. I didn’t publish yesterday because I just didn’t have enough material. That’s likely to recur, as I’m gradually correcting my incorrigible habit of poring over news that seems especially shareable.

Polling

The survey also found that 32% of Latino Catholics said their religious faith dictates their views on abortion, compared to 73% of white evangelical Protestants.

A new survey found Latino Catholics overwhelmingly support abortion rights. Here’s why.

I would be a pollster’s nightmare, as I find so many polling questions unanswerable if not unintelligible.

Orthodox Christianity is opposed to abortion, but I was anti-abortion before I became Orthodox, and (heaven help me, for this may mean that I’m an American individualist) I would affirm that at no time in my life has my religious faith "dictated my views" on abortion.

I have difficulty getting into the mind of anyone who would listen to that polling question, note the import of "dictate," and then answer in the affirmative. Thus the question is a — what? litmus test? ink blot test? I certainly don’t see useful information coming from it.

I don’t consider myself a rebel against my Church. I don’t think it has ever said what an Orthodox political position on abortion should be, though in my parish we especially pray regularly for an end to abortion through changed hearts.

My religious faith does "dictate" some things — say, my rejection of monothelitism and monoenergism and suchlike — important Christological questions of import on which the Church’s position is longstanding and plausibly reasoned (e.g., those teachings effectively denied the full humanity of Christ by saying that He had no human will or energy). Countermanding what the Church says about such theological nuances is above my pay grade and, unlike David Bentley Hart, I’m not arrogant enough to "go there." (I was a Protestant for two-thirds of my life and don’t care to try it again.)

But abortion? Capital punishment? Euthanasia? Eugenics? I can’t help but form my own opinions on those, informed by the Church but not dictated to.

Notes from a roving raconteur

I beat myself up because I’m an old fundamentalist and self-mortification is our specialty. And I’ve been having too much fun lately, which confuses me, doing shows in red states to crowds that include a good many Republicans who voted for the landslide winner in 2020 but nonetheless were warm and receptive to me who voted for the thief. In blue states, audiences are listening to make sure you check the boxes of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism. These are people who don’t mind that many theaters refuse to do “Our Town” because the “Our” does not acknowledge that Grover’s Corners was stolen from indigenous people. I use the possessive pronoun in singing “My country, ’tis of thee,” which audiences in red states enjoy singing with me, and also our national anthem, ignoring the fact that Francis Scott Key did own slaves.

Back in the Sixties, when I was in my twenties, we sang “We Shall Overcome” and clearly we did not overcome, we only created new hairstyles. So we pass the torch to the young, some of whom feel the word “person” shows gender bias and want to change it to perself. To which I say, “Good luck with dat.”

Garrison Keillor, national treasure.

Vignettes

There’s no apparent common theme to this two vignettes, but I thought each of them was interesting in different ways:

  • A young Hungarian academic I dined with last evening told me how jarring it was to get his master’s degree at a western European university, and to be congratulated by fellow grad students on how lucky he was to have grown up in a country that had been blessed by Marxist government. His own family had had everything taken from them by the Communists, yet these privileged nitwits could only imagine that life had been glorious under Communism. This has something to do with the fact that he’s living back in Hungary now, though he could make a lot more money working in the West. He can’t bear to deal with such ignorant people.
  • [A correspondent was one of] a bunch of very conservative Catholics who wanted to live rurally, and went out and bought land in the same area. This reader said he has been mostly grateful for having had the chance to live there and raise his kids there, but he’s not sure he would do it again if he had the chance. The reason, he said, is that he was too optimistic about how life would be there. He says he had not counted on the fact that the kind of Catholics who would make such a radical choice — strong-willed Catholics like himself, as he conceded — would find it unusually hard to get along. The reader told me that there were frequent disputes within the community over purity — not strictly sexual purity, but over whether or not it was licit to do things like let your daughters wear pants, or keep them in skirts and dresses. He said it got to be exhausting, dealing with these communal neuroses.

Rod Dreher’s Diary, Sisi, Queen Of The Magyars

Indestructible lies

… There in Boston is a monument to the man who discovered anesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t discover it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah, no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years ….

Mark Twain via Alan Jacobs

When Wystan met Hannah

“I met Auden late in his life and mine—at an age when the easy, knowledgeable intimacy of friendships formed in one’s youth can no longer be attained, because not enough life is left, or expected to be left, to share with another. Thus, we were very good friends but not intimate friends.”

Hannah Arendt, explaining (it seems) her refusal of a marriage proposal by the poet and friend W. H. Auden (via L. M. Sacasas). I was unaware of that episode, which rather complicates my recollection that Auden eventually gave up trying to resist his homosexuality.

Sacasas continues on other topics:

The examples I have in mind of this receding of materiality arise, not surprisingly, from the most prosaic quarters of daily life. As a bookish person, for example, I think about how the distinct material shape of the book not only encodes a text but also becomes a reservoir of my personal history. I remember where I was when I read it. Or I recall who gave it to me or to whom I have lent it. In other words, the presence of the book on a shelf recalls its contents to mind at a glance and also intertwines an assortment of memories into the backdrop of my day-to-day life. At the very least, it becomes an always available potential portal into my past. I don’t mean to be romantic about any of this. In fact, I think this is all decidedly unromantic, having to do chiefly with the meaning and significance of the stuff that daily surrounds us.

The digitized book by contrast may have its own advantages, but by being the single undifferentiated interface for every book it loses its function as a mooring for the self. It’s not that the e-reader has no materiality of its own—of course it does. Perhaps the best way of conceptualizing this is to say that the device over-consolidates the materiality of reading in a way that smooths out the texture of our experience. Consider how this pattern of over-consolidation and subsequent smoothing of the texture of material culture recurs throughout digital society. The smartphone is a good example. An array of distinct physical objects—cash, maps, analog music players, cameras, calendars, etc.—become one thing. The texture of our experience is flattened out as a result.

He’s not wrong about this (insider joke to one of my readers). Yet, because of the Readwise service, I’m developing a preferential option for eBooks. That and my shelves having filled to overflowing with regular books several times.

It’s helpful to be reminded of what’s lost, though. I hope Warren Farha of the world’s greatest brick and mortar bookstore, Eighth Day Books in Wichita, will forgive my my opinion if he’s reading this.

Awkward

Barton and WallBuilders argue that Jefferson and the Founders, outside of some exceptions, meant for the “wall of protection” to operate in one direction. It also, the group and its founder suggested, applies mostly to the federal government, not the states.

Jack Jenkins, The activist behind opposition to the separation of church and state

Well! This is awkward! I have a bad impression of David Barton, who I’ve understood as a grifter, dining out on "America is a Christian Nation."

But Barton is almost completely correct in what I first quoted. What Thomas Jefferson called a "wall of separation" was meant to protect the churches (I’d prefer "religion," though both terms have shortcomings in this context) from the state; and it was, at the time the First Amendment was ratified, intended to apply only to the federal government ("Congress shall make no law …"). Heck, Massachusetts had an established Congregational Church for 30 more years after Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, and that letter was well after the Bill of Rights!

Where Barton may be wrong is in in the report that he thinks that amendment "applies" rather than "applied" mostly to the Federal Government. The First Amendment has been incorporated in the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment and thereby made applicable to the states. Thus Saith the Courts.

Thus, it seems to me, Barton may be telling half-truths to embolden crypto-theocrats by whose concepts of Christianity I have no desire to be governed — unless the alternative is the Wokeworld religion. I would almost certainly pick the Bartonites in that contest.

Like I said: awkward.

Is the tide turning?

… there is something undeniably more powerful about reading critiques of contemporary sexual morality that arise not from traditional religious spaces, but from within secular feminism and and from elite media. That’s when you know the tide might be turning.

I bring this up because in every single argument and controversy under the sun, reality gets a vote. Culture wars are ultimately won or lost not by online arguments but through their real-world consequences, and the position that leads to greater human misery tends to lose.

To connect with the issues at the start of this piece, when speaking about the wave of intolerance that’s swept the academy, philanthropy, Hollywood, and much of mainstream media, I’ve told conservative friends that they have no idea how miserable it was making most of the people in those organizations. Something had to give, and the immiserated majority is going to be intimidated by the motivated minority for only so long.

When speaking of the reality of porn-influenced consent culture, there’s a similar dynamic in play. It’s immiserating people by the millions.

David French, in an encouraging column: we seem to have hit bottom and started back up in several ways. At least that’s what French thinks.

Imagine my arse

Comments such as these convince me that John Lennon captured a common liberal dream in his haunting song “Imagine.” Imagine if there were no countries, and no religion too. If we could just erase the borders and boundaries that divide us, then the world would “be as one.” It’s a vision of heaven for liberals, but conservatives believe it would quickly descend into hell. I think conservatives are on to something.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind.

I absolutely hate that song, and I was glad to learn I’m not alone.


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.

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.

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.

Journeys to Orthodoxy (and more)

A Peace Activist’s Journey to Orthodoxy

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

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

A Cistercian Monk’s journey to Orthodoxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step aside, Jesus. I’ll build this.

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

Alan Jacobs

Gnosticism in a nutshell

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

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

N.S. Lyons, ‌The Reality War


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

Sunday reflections

In progress we trust

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

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

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

Seen and unseen understood

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

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

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

American Christianity collection

The "democratic" seeds sown

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

Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (1844)

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

To see ourselves as others see us

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

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

Jessica Lea

Unguarded candor

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

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

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

Comic and tragic

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

Garrison Keillor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re not total outliers, though

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

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

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

Book notes: The Master and His Emissary

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

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

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

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary


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

Gleanings

From Deschooling Society

  • Hope, in its strong sense, means trusting faith in the goodness of nature, while expectation, as I will use it here, means reliance on results which are planned and controlled by man. Hope centers desire on a person from whom we await a gift. Expectation looks forward to satisfaction from a predictable process which will produce what we have the right to claim. The Promethean ethos has now eclipsed hope. Survival of the human race depends on its rediscovery as a social force.
  • Classical man framed a civilized context for human perspective. He was aware that he could defy fate-nature-environment, but only at his own risk. Contemporary man goes further; he attempts to create the world in his image, to build a totally man-made environment, and then discovers that he can do so only on the condition of constantly remaking himself to fit it. We now must face the fact that man himself is at stake.
  • I know a Mexican village through which not more than a dozen cars drive each day. A Mexican was playing dominoes on the new hard-surface road in front of his house – where he had probably played and sat since his youth. A car sped through and killed him. The tourist who reported the event to me was deeply upset, and yet he said: “The man had it coming to him”. … At first sight, the tourist’s remark is no different from the statement of some primitive bushman reporting the death of a fellow who had collided with a taboo and had therefore died. But the two statements carry opposite meanings. The primitive can blame some tremendous and dumb transcendence, while the tourist is in awe of the inexorable logic of the machine.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society.

This is the first Ivan Illich I’ve read. It’s mind-expanding, but my mind is not yet capacious enough to find many of his proposals for alternatives to "schooling" realistic.

Perhaps that means that my mind is captive to the schooling mentality, but I can’t help but note that the suggestion is both ad hominem and circular.

On at least one thing do Illich and I agree: As one who identifies as auto-didact (one much provide one’s identity these days, right?), I agree that most of what I know I learned outside of school. And that goes double for important things (beyond basic learning skills).

That should disabuse us of any servility to schooling.

A Counterworld

The Church’s function is not to adapt Christianity to the world, or even to adapt the world to Christianity; Her function is to maintain a counterworld in the world.

Nicolas Gomez Davila, Escolios a un Texto Implicito, via John Brady’s Rags of Light e-newsletter.

And if you understand that, you should understand:

  • The case for The Benedict Option; and
  • That The Benedict Option is, as many have said, "just the Church being the Church."

How badly must Trump botch this notion to disenthrall his acolytes?

DWAC, the Trump Social-Media SPAC, Soars in GameStop-Like Frenzy
Shares of Digital World Acquisition more than doubled to $94.20 Friday after trading as high as $175; have risen nearly tenfold in two days

Maybe losing beaucoups bucks will disenthrall Trump’s sycophants. Something needs to.

Decadent Jazz & Journalism

Jazz has been compared to “an indecent story syncopated and counterpointed.” There can be no question that, like journalism in literature, it has helped to destroy the concept of obscenity.

Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences.

Even the greats can be wrong sometimes — about jazz, not journalism, of course.


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

Sacramental Christianity

Sacramental Christianity (versus the others)

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

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

Rod Dreher, ‌Mircea Eliade On Temples

More:

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

Quoting Robert Louis Wilen, Church as Culture

And still more:

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

Quoting Wade Davis

Mostly political

David Shor

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

Jonah Goldberg, That Shor Sounds Good

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

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

Ian Ward, ‌The Democrats’ Privileged College-Kid Problem

David Brock

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

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

David Brock

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

Full disclosure for invitees

Alan Jacobs has a modest proposal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ross Douthat

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

… boring me to death

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

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

Matt Labash

No senses

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

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

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

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

Wesley Yang, Cancellation, or Cultural Change

How do you marginalize normalcy?

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

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

Pregnant women at SCOTUS

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

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


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