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.

Thought Dump

This changes everything

I’ve been encountering, again and again, claims that this or that event or epoch changed everything.

Here’s one:

Capitalism commodifies and exploits all life, I conclude from my life and all I can learn.

Charles G. Sellers, a consequential American historian who died Thursday at age 98. More:

In Dr. Sellers’s best-known book, he argued that the rapid expansion of capital and industry in the 19th century did more than just create a new economy; it altered everything, including the way people worshiped, slept and even had sex.

And an implied change:

Even if we admit that material development does have certain advantages—though, indeed, from a very relative point of view—the sight of consequences such as those just mentioned leads one to question whether they are not far outweighed by the inconveniences. We say this without referring to the many things of incomparably greater value that have been sacrificed to this one form of development—we do not speak of the higher knowledge that has been forgotten, the intellectuality that has been overthrown, and the spirituality that has disappeared. Simply taking modern civilization on its merits, we affirm that, if the advantages and inconveniences of what has been brought about were set against each other, the result might well on balance prove to be negative.

René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

And, implicitly, yet another (though it doesn’t identify what, between Dante and now, so radically altered our metaphysics):

What’s the bare minimum you need to know about Dante’s metaphysics to get the Commedia, and especially Paradiso. [Christian] Moevs tells us that these metaphysics are not specifically Christian, that they derive from Plato and Aristotle, and “undergird much of the Western philosophical-theological tradition to his time and frame all later medieval Christian thought.” Here, in Moevs’ words, are the five principles you need to know:

1. The world of space and time does not itself exist in space and time: it exists in Intellect (the Empyrean, pure conscious being).

2. Matter, in medieval hylomorphism [the matter-form analysis of reality], is not something “material”: it is a principle of unintelligibility, of alienation from conscious being.

3. All finite form, that is, all creation, is a self-qualification of Intellect or Being, and only exists insofar as it participates in it.

4. Creator and creation are not two, since the latter has no existence independent of the former; but of course creator and creation are not the same.

5. God, as the ultimate subject of all experience, cannot be an object of experience: to know God is to know oneself as God, or (if the expression seems troubling) as one “with” God or “in God.”

I put up with a lot of unsettling hand-wringing and apocalyptic blogs from Rod Dreher because he (so far) eventually settles down, synthesizes, and comes forward with something worthwhile and conversation-altering. He’s currently working on a promising book that, from various viewpoints, is an aid to:

We probably cannot un-change everything by act of will, individually or collectively, but I intend to try to escape its straight-jacket.

Self-discovery

Sometimes it takes a litmus test to reveal myself to myself.

I’ve been skeptical that there is any such thing as a bona fide religious objection to the Covid vaccine. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, has evaluated the role of fetal stem cells in Covid vaccine development and given the vaccines a green light. But I know that the law gives a lot of leeway to even totally solipsistic and bat-shit crazy "religious" convictions (so long as they don’t hurt the tender feelings of some member of a "sexual minority").

The litmus test came a few mornings ago with a brief news item, ‌Suit Says Trader Joe’s Failed To Accommodate Religious Objection To COVID Vaccination. I instantly sided with Trader Joe’s — and when I say "instantly," I mean I felt no need to read beyond that headline.

I’m not saying I’m right to discount such "religious" objections, but three weeks ago, I didn’t go to the E.R. with some worrisome abdominal sensations (it’s under control now) because I knew the E.R. would already be overwhelmed with jackasses who lost their games of Covid Chicken.

Dehumanization

A pastor praying aloud, holding a dying man’s hand, would bring too much flesh, too much humanity, into the thing. Execution theater is all about maintaining the illusion of mechanism.

Elizabeth Breunig (native Texan) on Texas’ refusal of John Henry Ramirez’s request for his pastor to "lay hands on and pray over him in the execution chamber."

Breunig here, I think, cuts to the heart of the issue from Texas’ point of view. The issue cannot plausibly be that there’s no Biblical or historical support for Ramirez’s request. A lot of criminal justice and the media theater around it is, I believe, calculated to dehumanize criminals (and to give families of victims a "closure" that I doubt exists).

1619 Project drives the conversation … by its wrongness

“As I would later confirm with the foremost scholars of the subject who know far more about the Revolution than I, there is no evidence of a single colonist expressing support for independence in order to protect slavery. The 1619 Project’s claims were based not on historical sources but on imputation and inventive mindreading,” – Sean Wilentz, one of the foremost historians on the Revolution, writing for a Czech journal.

Via Andrew Sullivan‌.

Bowdlerizing the Notorious RBG

This week the organization that once defended freedom of speech [the ACLU] tweeted out a famous quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with some, er, editing:

The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] wellbeing and dignity… When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.

RBG never wrote or meant the words in parentheses. She wrote “woman” and “her.” In fact, she was explicit in her view, often repeated, that “the one thing that conspicuously distinguishes women from men is that only women become pregnant.” This was central to her argument for sex equality. The reformulation by the ACLU is meaningless without that distinction.

Their argument, of course, is that this wording excludes trans men, who have uteruses and thereby can have abortions, while identifying as men.

Let’s first stipulate that an infinitesimal fraction of abortions may indeed be linked to uteruses whose owner has a male gender identity. But that doesn’t mean his biological sex is male, or that his reproductive system is male. Gender identity is not sex, and cannot erase its reality. And in so far as a trans man is pregnant, it is as a biological woman. And the term “woman” in RBG’s quote would therefore include him in this physiological context.

The reason the ACLU cannot accept this sane form of inclusion is because they insist that gender identity trumps biological sex. That is why the woke insist not just that someone biologically female is male in every respect but that every physiological part is male as well: that’s why a “clitoris,” for example, is actually a “lady-dick,” and gay men who are not into “lady-dicks” are not truly gay, but anti-trans bigots. Very few things express the insanity of gender theory than this simple denial of basic biology, a denial now echoed by every major American institution, even hospitals, and yet rejected by science and over 99 percent of human beings who have ever lived or ever will.

One more thing: the fanatical insistence on this “inclusion” for the woke is non-negotiable, a near-religious imperative. That’s why it merits even correcting the past, by altering the historical record. The ACLU put anachronistic words in RBG’s mouth, because her actual quote they seriously regard as a “form of violence” against trans people. Therefore religious censorship — even of RBG — is one of the ACLU’s core values now. One of their new tenets is quashing blasphemy.

If you want to understand why a monster like Trump has such traction you only have to take a tiny glimpse at this performative left absurdism and realize just how far gone our elites now are.

Andrew Sullivan‌ (emphasis added).

I can’t imagine the ACLU quoting an anti-trans bigot like RBG. 😉

Black Lives Matter

The slogan "Black Lives Matter" is a form of persuasion that seeks to be as anodyne in its tone and minimal in its assertion as possible, (indeed, almost self-parodically so) and therefore impossible to dispute. Its exponents then pack in as much sectarian content, much of it disputed, and much of it distant from the issue of police brutality that the slogan ostensibly addressed, as possible into that otherwise unimpeachable assertion.

Wesley Yang. That’s about as good a distillation as I can imagine for why I affirm that black lives matter without affirming Black Lives Matter.

The paragraph concludes:

Do the black inner-city males between 18-30 who are the primary targets of policing and its associated abuses really believe that no one is free unless Palestine or LGBTQ people are free? Do they agree that we must "dismantle the nuclear family requirement" and all the other left-wing shibboleths written into the manifesto for the Movement of Black Lives? Is it possible to dispute any of these shibboleths without thereby disputing the core assertion with which no one disagrees, and thereby placing oneself beyond the pale of civilized society?

Staying in one’s land

Especially during these divided days when feelings (and tempers) are running high, it is easy for us clergy to combine the timeless Gospel with the challenges of the current crisis, and think that we are preaching the Gospel when we are in fact simply picking a side in a complex debate. It is easy for us to believe that part of our task as clergy is to call our country back to God, as if each of us were the prophet Jeremiah. Let us remember that: 1. We are not Jeremiah, and that 2. Jeremiah functioned in a nation which was under solemn covenant with God in a way that no other nation was or is.

It is sadly true that Canada, America, and the West generally are immorally departing from God and are going down the tubes. But it is not the Church’s job to prevent that. It is the Church’s job to say to the world, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel”. The job of trying to impede the West’s slide into secularism belongs to individual Christians, not to the Church as Church.

This does not mean that the Church as Church should not address moral issues in society. The Church may still declare to the State that abortion is murderous, that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that racial discrimination is sinful and wrong. These issues are clear, simple, and unambiguous, unlike many political issues. These are moral issues, not political ones, even though they have political ramifications, and the Church should not shrink from speaking to society about them. A moral issue is not the same as a political one.

Fr. Lawrence Farley

Heretics

I’m old enough to remember when heresy was understood to be deviation from long-establish beliefs and practices. But in a social-media environment that issues new commandments every fortnight or so, the heretics now are the ones who don’t deviate when told to do so. And they are hated with particular intensity because they are a living, breathing reproach to their colleagues’ complete lack of ethical standards.

Alan Jacobs

Crazy person update:

A man walks a slackline attached to the Eiffel tower

French slackliner Nathan Paulin performs on a 70-meter-high slackline between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theater, across the Seine River, in Paris on September 19, 2021. # Francois Mori / AP

(Via the Atlantic)

Partisan Political

The rest of this post is rather partisanly political. Like a dog to its vomit, I keep returning to this second-order stuff — less to feed my anger than to see why others are so angry.

You have been warned.

Relitigating 2020

This was a good week for anyone enthused about relitigating the 2020 election. First there was new evidence, reported in a new book about the Biden family from the Politico writer Ben Schreckinger and in an Insider story on an abortive Libya-related influence operation, suggesting the famous Hunter Biden emails were real and indicating how much Hunter’s influence-peddling depended on proximity to his father. The Twitter and Facebook decisions to censor The New York Post’s election-season version of the Hunter Biden story looked partisan and illiberal at the time; now they look worse.

Then along with that spur to conservative frustration there was a new revelation for Trump-fearers: the exposure of the entirely insane memo that the conservative legal scholar John Eastman wrote explaining how Mike Pence could supposedly invalidate Joe Biden’s election. This was presumably the basis for Donald Trump’s futile demand that Pence do exactly that, and it’s understandably grist for the “coup next time” fears that already attend Trump’s likely return to presidential politics.

Along with any worries about Trump stealing the next presidential election, then, Democrats should recognize the possibility that he might simply win it.

Here it would be really helpful if Biden had a vice president who balanced his weaknesses and reaffirmed his strengths — who seemed more energetically engaged with policy and congressional politicking while also extending his normalcy-and-moderation brand should she be required to inherit it.

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether that describes the Kamala Harris vice presidency to date — or whether Harris offers more reasons for Democrats looking toward 2024 to fear not just chaos but defeat.

Ross Douthat, Can Biden Recover

Ignoring the base

Up until the 1960s, those active in liberal and progressive politics were drawn largely from the working class or farm communities, and were formed in local political clubs or on shop floors. That world is gone. Today’s activists and leaders are formed almost exclusively in our colleges and universities, as are members of the mainly liberal professions of law, journalism, and education. Liberal political education now takes place, if it takes place at all, on campuses that are largely detached socially and geographically from the rest of the country—and in particular from the sorts of people who once were the foundation of the Democratic Party.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal.

What use are political labels? Those "liberal and progressive" figures from before the 1960s would today be called populists, and would fall in with the social conservatives on issues like family and sexuality — and above all, that we live in a world of limits. Meanwhile, a mark of "conservatives" today is support of modern capitalism and with the ideology of unlimited economic growth.

I this regard, read Christopher Lasch’s essay Conservatism Against Itself in a very early edition of the journal First Things. He even holds up for consideration the alternatives of syndicalism and guild socialism!

I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority

And here is a chilling part of the conversation where Trump tried to pressure Pence into submission. Pence said he had no authority to send the election to the House:

“Well, what if these people say you do?” Trump asked, gesturing beyond the White House to the crowds outside. Raucous cheering and blasting bullhorns could be heard through the Oval Office windows. “If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?” Trump asked.

“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Pence said.

“But wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” Trump asked … “Mike, you can do this. I’m counting on you to do it.”

This is a president using the threat and thrill of a violent mob to pressure his vice-president into subverting the Constitution. If that doesn’t capture the essence of fascism, what does? If that wouldn’t put someone beyond the pale of democratic politics for ever, what would?

Andrew Sullivan, ‌The Deepening Menace Of Trump.

I believe this exchange is from the new Woodward & Costas book Peril, and thus is meant to make vivid the gist of Trump’s pressuring Pence.

I had no problems with Pence as my governor and was puzzled, almost baffled, by the yard signs against him when we were nowhere near an election. But I have no sympathy with him now: "Lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas" is the story of almost all public servants who tried to be a bit of leaven in an administration that was doomed from the beginning to domination by the unprecedented narcissist in the Oval Office.

Rational Ignorance

One of the Volokh Conspiracy bloggers blogged repeatedly about voters’ "rational ignorance" a few years ago. I now suspect it was Ilya Somin, author of a book and an article on Voting with Our Feet. In the article, Somin also posits that voter irrationality can be rational ("rationally irrational"), which made me think, of course, of how we got to the nadir of "45" a/k/a Orange Man.

But even if voter irrationality can be rational, I can barely begin to understand any desire, however irrational, to put Donald Trump in the White House. Back when there wasn’t a whiff of politics about him (that I knew of), I was baffled by an aspiring lawyer who eagerly rushed to get a copy of The Art of the Deal the first day it was available. I have just never found anything admirable about him, and I paid him no substantial heed until his freakish political success forced him into my life.

This week, the Dispatch surveyed the landscape of 45’s increasing fecklessness on Congressional votes, but his influence on voters and his (sigh!) apparent intent to run for President again in 2024. (Kamala Harris versus Donald Trump will be a choice more hellish than Hillary versus Trump — and I wrote that before Ross Douthat’s Sunday column, above).

I hope (and even suspect) that what’s going on in the Republican part of Congress is a bit like the parable of the two sons, the second of whom said "’I go, sir’, but went not." Lip service to narcissist Orange Man ("I go") may be all it takes to keep him from manufacturing a primary challenger, regardless of what you do (short of saying anything critical of Trump).

A guy can hope, can’t he?


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.

The moral horse and the doctrinal cart

Once again, Fr. Stephen gets my juices going:

In early centuries, [the catechumenate, that process by which we initiate persons into the life of the Orthodox faith,] lasted as much as three years. Surprisingly, it consisted primarily in “moral instruction” (teachings on how to behave). Instruction in the doctrines of the faith did not take place until after Baptism! The assumption behind this was (and still should be) that catechumens needed spiritual formation before they were ready to receive doctrinal instruction. This assumption has been greatly weakened in our modern culture.

We labor under the myth of being an “information-based” society. We imagine that we are deeply informed, have ready access to massive amounts of information on the basis of which we are able to make free and well-considered decisions. This over-simplification of our human experience is deeply flawed …

Catechumens, if given only a diet of information, … fail to thrive. Above all else, it is the practice of the faith that makes faith possible.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32)

“Abiding in the word” (keeping the commandments, engaging in the practices of the faith) is the necessary pre-condition for “knowing the truth.”

This suggests to me that we set our minds to become “perpetual catechumens” in which we give our attention to the softening of our hearts rather than inundation of our minds …

The heart’s learning is the true point of salvation. Information does not save us – but there is such a thing as “saving knowledge.” We speak of this, formally, as “holy illumination.” It is the consistent teaching of the Church that holy illumination is our desired path to God.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Perpetual Catechumen

Had I read this 25 years ago, I’d have wondered what kind of squishy Kum-Bah-Yah cult taught such things as "spiritual formation before doctrinal instruction."

Not a digression: I remember a rather fringe figure in my Evangelical years, Col. R.B. Thieme, Jr., teaching sometime in the 1976-79 range that "God loves nothing better than doctrine in the frontal lobe."

I didn’t believe him — but I lived as if it were true, or as if enough doctrine in my frontal lobe would eventually cure my disordered life. It never did, and it never would have. The trajectory it put me on was that of an irascible "discernment blogger" with a hot steaming mess of a private life. Only the lack of a consumer internet spared me that fate.

When I entered the Orthodox Christian faith some 20 years later, I did so expecting to get my doctrine straightened out, having seen a couple of fundamental flaws in my prior approach — the kinds of things you can’t un-see — and having somehow gained an implicit trust in the Church.

But for some reason, early in that same transitional period of my life, I saw in re-reading C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that I needed to forsake one particular moral failing, lest it make me the kind of person who wouldn’t even like heaven had he inherited it. In that regard, Anglican Lewis — and his message to my imagination, not my intellect — was my Orthodox moral catechist.

And now, twenty-four more years down the road, Fr. Stephen makes perfect sense to me. To my surprise, "Orthodox" Christianity turned out not to be all that much about doctrine. Beyond the Nicene Creed, there are few doctrinal dogmas. We are conspicuously apophatic, a tendency that Col. Thieme presumably would have anathematized.

What it is about is — well, you’ll just have to come and see.


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.

Hodge-Podge

Spengler on Afghanistan

When David P. Goldman is in the mood to write grimly realistic assessments of our present difficulties, he adopts “Spengler” as his pen name, a hat tip to the German author of the early-twentieth-century apocalyptic best-seller The Decline of the West. And when Goldman feels the situation especially dire, Spengler consults the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu, one of history’s most thoroughgoing realists. Here is what the shrewd cardinal had to say about the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan:

America set out to create a modern democracy out of a tribal society, an enterprise as likely to succeed as the attempt to breed a griffin by mating a lion with an eagle. It poured US$2 trillion into Afghanistan, or one hundred times the country’s gross domestic product. It paid Afghani politicians, generals and warlords to play-act at democracy in a revolting, silly masquerade.

Whatever was not corrupt before America came in became corrupt in the maelstrom of American money. Meanwhile, American soldiers and bureaucrats made fortunes as consultants, contractors, sutlers and armorers to the dream palace of Afghan democracy.

Because the entire project was a monstrous hoax to begin with, everyone associated with the project lied—lied about the state of Afghan government forces, lied about the disposition of the Taliban, lied about the robustness of supplies to Afghan troops, lied about their dependence on airpower.

Afghan officials lied to their American paymasters, American commanders on the ground lied to their superiors and American generals lied to the politicians. The key to promotion, and to wealth, lay in perpetuating the ridiculous fiction that motivated the occupation of the country in the first place.

Where did $2 trillion go? The Taliban offensive began in April after the Americans announced their intent to depart. No one fought for Afghanistan because there was no Afghanistan to fight for. Within weeks the Afghan army had no ammunition, no food and no air support. Whoever could steal from the Americans did so. The Afghanistan government collapsed in a matter of days because it was never there to begin with.

The ghost of Richelieu gets it pretty much right.

R.R. Reno in First Things

Manchin and Sinema, designated drivers

Dear Senators Manchin and Sinema,

Whether the occasion is social or political, the hero of the party is the person who’ll grab the keys before the drunks can get behind their wheels.

This week, it falls to the two of you to be that person. The progressives in your party think you’re all that stands in the way of their expensive utopia, and they’re willing to hold a popular infrastructure bill as hostage in order to get their wish …

This is dumb. The likeliest way for President Biden to fail — and for Democrats to lose their congressional majorities next year and for Donald Trump to return to the White House next term — is for the spending bills to pass mostly as they are. A Democratic Party that abandons its center (where many congressional seats are vulnerable) for the sake of its left (where the seats are usually safe) is heading straight for the minority come November 2022.

Let them call you names now so that they can thank you for your sobriety later ….

Bret Stephens, ‌Manchin and Sinema Should Just Say No to Big Spending Plans (emphasis added)

What matters in our democracy

The only people in America who didn’t seem to understand that making Trump president was the equivalent of handing a gun to a chimpanzee were the people who voted for him.

And in our democracy, that’s all that matters. Yay people!

Jonathan V. Last, ‌Why Didn’t They Say Something?

I diss Trump a lot, but relatively rarely say "I told you so." But my major, overarching, distilled objection to Trump before the 2016 election was that his epic narcissism would one day dangerously distort his apprehension of reality.

I didn’t foresee just how and when the distortion would come. Indeed, as the 2020 election approached, I was in the camp that said he would turn over power peacefully as had all his predecessors. That’s what most of the "experts" and pundits I trust were confidently predicting, but frankly, the alternative was so ghastly that I probably would have believed it all by my lonesome, unbidden.

So offensive I’m tempted to become antivax-adjacent

[L]iberal elites continue to call anyone who is unvaccinated "stupid,” ignorant and immoral. On Sunday, New York’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, when announcing her intent to use National Guard soldiers to replace health care workers fired for refusing the vaccine, told her audience: “yes, I know you’re vaccinated, you’re the smart ones.” She then said those who refuse to get the vaccine are not just stupid but have turned their back on God: “there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants.” Gov. Hochul added that the vaccine “is from God to us and we must say, thank you, God,” and said to her "smart” vaccinated supporters: “I need you to be my apostles.”

Glenn Greenwald.

Her statement was offensive because (1) it’s cringe-worthily condescending (as if she reasoned "the stupid ones, the ones who aren’t vaccinated, are probably religious so I’ll try a faux-religious approach") and (2) I thought God-talk was forbidden in the public square.

Gov. Hochul’s rhetoric has little of his hectoring tone, but her substance is maybe even more condescending and insulting than was Al Gore’s during the 2000 Election season.

Democratic contempt for the demos

When they were young, these leaders were believed to be the architects of the new world that was to emerge as a result of the revolution; now, being old, they claim to be the authors of the institutional system they think is the greatest political success in history. The attitude in both cases is the same: a hasty and arrogant dismissal of what stands in their way and what they readily qualify as prejudice and anachronism. In this respect, the EU leaders and bureaucrats are no different from other enlightened governments of the past, except perhaps that they manage to conceal their contempt for the demos.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon In Democracy

No GMOs

The very premise for relying on the mass and crass forms of Christianity that flourish in the United States runs on the fuel that the spiritual crisis of our age is so great that it demands genetically engineered spiritual nourishment.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

I’m not so sure I’m cool with "premise … runs on the fuel …", but "genetically engineered spiritual nourishment" gets two thumb up as a formulation, two thumbs down as actually nourishing.

The Orthodox Church has no GMOs, by the way.

For the flourishing of all

Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron” pictures a supposedly utopian version of the United States in which strict equality is enforced through the use of mandated handicaps such as earpieces that transmit piercing sounds to disrupt thought for those with above-average intelligence. Few of us would take our commitment to equality to such lengths. Yet many of us do view equality – of opportunity and outcome – as something worth approximating as a benchmark for justice in our society. But is such equality achievable, and is it even necessary for the well-being and flourishing of all?

… DeBoer asserts that if we are serious about justice, we need to take seriously the fact that natural intelligence is not equally distributed. Given this inequality, one’s degree of natural intelligence is not an appropriate basis for assigning value or determining who gets to live the good life any more than race or some other contingent factor of human existence.

Anthony M. Barr, reviewing The Cult of Smart in Plough.

Two observations:

  • Harrison Bergeron is one of my all-time favorite short stories.
  • I have maintained for 50+ years that human equality does not require fictive interchangeability or blinders about differences.

Epic political malpractice

  • Tyler Cowen pointed something interesting out in his Bloomberg column on Wednesday: Democrats aren’t really making a proactive policy argument in favor of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan. “Crazy as my hypothesis may seem, given all the stuff about Biden’s agenda on the internet, there has been remarkably little policy debate about it, and remarkably little attempt to persuade the American public that this spending is a good idea,” he writes. “My colleague Arnold Kling put it well: ‘With the reconciliation bill, there is no attempt to convince the public that it is desirable to enact an enormous child tax credit or to mandate ending use of fossil fuels in a decade. Instead, what we read is that if you’re on the blue team you want the number to be 3.5, but a few Democrats are holding out for something lower.’”

  • Peter Suderman took the Biden administration’s reconciliation sleight of hand to task in his latest for Reason. “The simplest way to understand economics is that it is a reckoning with unavoidable tradeoffs. If you spend money on something, you may obtain something in return—but you lose the ability to use those resources on something else,” he writes. “Under President Joe Biden, however, Democrats in Washington have decided that they can simply wish those tradeoffs away by declaring that they do not exist. Over and over again, they have argued that their policies do not or should not have any costs whatsoever.” The reconciliation package, for example, “is a plan that, in its broadest form, calls for spending $3.5 trillion. Even in the unlikely event that such a plan turns out to be truly fully paid for, it would still spend $3.5 trillion. Those economic resources would be used to do some specific things, which in turn would reduce the ability to do other things. In other words, there would be costs and tradeoffs.”

Adjacent items in Thursday’s Morning Dispatch

Biden does seem to be doing his best to re-elect Donald Trump in 2024. One can be pretty confident that’s not his intention. I’ll leave it at that and let you draw your own conclusions (or theories, or hypotheses) about why he subverts himself.

Three-dimensional chess?

On Orange Man back-handedly endorsing Democrat Stacey Abrams over Republican Brian Kemp:

A former Republican president, one who appears eager to run again in 2024, attempting to torpedo a Republican and endorsing a progressive Democrat in his place? That Abrams is best known for combatting the very forms of voter suppression that Trump’s constantly champions only makes the gesture more absurd — a form of political madness bred by spite and stupidity.

What if instead of trying to win the most votes, Trump’s goal is to remake the GOP into a party that doesn’t particularly care about being declared the official winner because those who oversee the official count are untrustworthy, and because a Republican, by definition, can never legitimately lose?

In that case, Brian Kemp and others in the Republican Party who follow the democratic rules even when they deliver a loss — like, for instance, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and the other members of the House and Senate who voted to impeach and convict Trump after the insurrection of Jan. 6 — are a two-fold problem. They are a problem, first, because they stand in the way of delivering the party’s inevitable victory in particular cases; and second, because, in displaying such recalcitrance, they deny the definitional principle that losing is impossible for a Republican.

That’s why Kemp and everyone else who stood in the way of Trump’s strenuous effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election must be defeated and eliminated, even if it is accomplished in some cases by endorsing Democrats. Because that’s the path to inevitable victory: the creation of a party that, from top to bottom, believes it is always and everywhere destined to win power and that the denial of this principle in all cases is irrefutable evidence of cheating, fraud, and illegitimacy.

Damon Linker

No-brainer

Religion Clause: Russia Labels Church of Scientology As "Undesirable" Organization

If a government is to have a category of "undesirable organizations," then Scientology should be a shoo-in.


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.

The end of the world as we know it …

THE EIGHT PRINCIPLES OF UNCIVILISATION

‘We must unhumanise our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’

  1. We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
  2. We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of ‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.
  3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
  4. We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
  5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
  6. We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.
  7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.
  8. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.

The Eight Principles of Uncivilization (Dark Mountain Project)

I wonder whether Paul Kingsnorth, an author if this Manifesto some years ago, would still unequivocally endorse this from Priniciple 5 now that he is a Christian:

Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet …

It seems to me that it is defensible from one standpoint, but also incongruent with, for instance, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man” from the Nicene Creed, which he now confesses.


[T]ime has not been kind to the greens. Today’s environmentalists are more likely to be found at corporate conferences hymning the virtues of ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical consumption’ than doing anything as naive as questioning the intrinsic values of civilisation. Capitalism has absorbed the greens, as it absorbs so many challenges to its ascendancy. A radical challenge to the human machine has been transformed into yet another opportunity for shopping.

Dark Mountain Manifesto


“At a time when fewer Americans attend religious services, religious narratives about Christian nationhood may have their strongest political effects when, and perhaps because, they are detached from religious institutions.”

Please read that sentence again.

Richard Ostling, Did January 6 attack on Capitol highlight ‘D.I.Y. Christianity’ as decade’s next big thing?.


[T]here is no such thing as independent media; there are only different kinds of dependence. If your financial security is derived from the approval of others, you are not independent. You can be dependent on different people and that difference does matter. I have been remarkably successful here in a crowdfunding context but I probably would never have been able to get a staff writer job at any traditional publication. (Such a job would probably pay a third of what I’m making, but that’s for another time.) But my generous readers are themselves stakeholders whose interests I will inevitably weigh and value. A consequence of this dynamic is that “independent” media is subject to external pressures too, in ways both good and bad. If you don’t like something about what is typically branded as the independent media, you can yell about it, which increases engagement and helps who you want to hurt; you can hope that it will go away, which it almost certainly won’t; or you can try to use the power of incentives, that very universal dependence.

Freddie deBoer


[In t]he attempted suppression of the old Mass…, Francis is attempting to use centralized authority to complete the revolution of Vatican II, to consign definitively to the past a liturgy that’s often a locus of resistance to the council’s changes. (It’s many other things as well, but Francis is not wrong to see it playing that role.)

Ross Douthat, ‌The Ungovernable Catholic Church

I love that parenthetical, because I know it’s true from conversations I’ve had with the kinds of Catholics who support the Latin Mass. But at present, Pope Francis is keener on making the big catholic tent big enough for German progressives than for those who resist some or much of Vatican II.

As an Orthodox Christian, I tend to support the traditional Latin Mass simply because it is at least recognizably Christian Liturgy (unlike the Novus Ordo).

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. A Church nourished on the Novus Ordo apparently is friendly to gay marriage and women priests, hostile to 2000 years of tradition.


During the hundred days after George Floyd’s death, one heard frequently about unrest in the city of Portland, Oregon. Every day, the journalist Andy Ngo posted video on Twitter that seemed to show horrendous clashes between the police and black-clad rioters that Ngo identified as antifa … At the same time, the journalist Bret Weinstein on his DarkHorse podcast told tales of ongoing, bitter antifa provocation and violence. Not long ago, the writer Douglas Murray visited Portland and compared the city to third world war zones he had visited. “This is not normal,” he said again and again.

How did the Times respond to the situation in Portland? There had been criticism of the paper by conservative outlets for under-reporting the events in Portland and under-playing the violence when it did report. In July, a couple of months after Floyd’s death, when the troubles had been going on for some time, the Times sent the distinguished journalist Nicholas Kristof to investigate. He wrote a piece, much of it tongue in cheek, about how very hard it was to find a genuine anarchist in the whole city of Portland. The demonstrations, as he saw them, were overwhelmingly instances of peaceful civic engagement. “We see dueling narratives. One is Trump’s, and it portrays Portland and other cities with protests against police brutality as teetering on the abyss and requiring his Lincolnesque hand to hold America together. The other is—well, shall we call it reality? Yes, there’s violence and vandalism, as well as opportunistic looting, and it will be a challenge to manage it, but local officials are much better placed to do so than the White House.”

Now of course Trump reacted in predictable fashion, sending federal officers into the city. If in fact there was horrid violence in Portland, then Trump was right—and one began in time to sense that in this paper, Trump could almost never be right. So who was one to believe? Should I credit the Times’s distinguished representative? The paper newly committed to an agenda would surely prefer that there was nothing terribly dangerous going on in Portland. So Kristof had some reason to see some things and block out others. Or should I believe Andy Ngo, who has been fighting a one-man war against antifa for some time? He’s surely more sinned against than sinning in all this—antifa members put him in the hospital with a brain injury not long ago—but obviously he has his views and biases. Should I believe Bret Weinstein, an admirable one-time science professor who stood up against a mob at Evergreen State College? Weinstein now hosts a podcast for “curious minds and free thinkers” and his view of Portland is far more dire than that of the visitor from the Times.

Ten years ago, this question of belief would have been very easy to answer. I would believe the Times, of course. A decade ago I would never think to measure Ngo and Weinstein’s views of the truth against the truth dished up by a Times stalwart like Nick Kristof. But for many readers like myself, that kind of confusion will, I suspect, become more and more the order of the day as people begin to see that the Times has transformed itself.

Mark Edmundson, Changing Times (boldface added).

A very good point. The Times versus Donald Trump? No problem. The Times versus Andy Ngo and Bret Weinstein? Should be no problem, but it is.


The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from Christianity Today has been riveting thus far. But dare the flagship publication of a movement of mostly independent churches ultimately indict Mark Driscoll’s D.I.Y. independence itself as a major cause of the spiritual damage?

While waiting for the next installment of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, I listened to The Roys Report‘s recent two-parter on Trinity Church, Driscoll’s latest venture. It’s now clear to me that Driscoll has gone full personality cult, and that people should flee while they still can.


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.

Biggest sinner on the block

Roosh V was a nasty piece of work, but it’s all cool now

Rod Dreher distills the story of Daryush Valizadeh, a/k/a Roosh V, a red-pill manosphere pickup artist and social media personality who in 2019 stopped all that crap cold turkey, returned to Christianity and eventually (May 2021) entered the Russian Orthodox Church. Valizadeh is full of zeal and has found other men who are full of zeal as well — almost a baptized religious version of the manosphere but without the misogyny.

I found the tale sorta interesting, but found one thing creepily evocative about it: “I was the biggest sinner on the block” testimonies were tiresomely common in Evangelicalism, and this brought back those memories. Those big-sinner-who-got-born-again types seemed to turn into creeps of various sort with suspicious regularity. Part of it was that Evangelicalism just could not help itself; as soon as some celebrity announced getting born again, they’d thrust them in front of their congregations (later their cameras) in contradiction of scriptural warnings.

His history is what it is, and I don’t know how much the foregrounding of his sleazy history is his doing and how much is just thrust upon him by others. I hope it’s the latter and I wish they’d stop.

For Dreher, the tale evoked his own triumphalist zeal for Roman Catholicism — which zeal and faith he lost calamitously 16+ years ago covering the clergy sex abuse scandals as a journalist. Those were not fun, liberating times for Rod, and he cautions Valizadeh to be careful of triumphalism lest he face a similar crisis of faith when first he encounters an Orthodox scandal.

I guess Rod and I share a common theme of concern for Roosh, still a relative novice in a 2000-year-deep faith, that he gets formed well and isn’t exploited for his celebrity.

After lamenting how his personal story dissuades him from aggressively proselytizing for Orthodoxy, or even for Christianity generally, Rod concludes:

Still, there is a particular reason I recommended Orthodox books to the visionary writer Paul Kingsnorth when he first began to inquire about Christianity — and there is a reason he embraced Orthodoxy quickly. There is a reason why Dr. Iain McGilchrist, the author of The Master And His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, told me that he is not a believer, but if he were, he would be Orthodox, because of all forms of Christianity, it is the one that has … maintained the best balance between logical and intuitive modes of knowing). There is a reason why, after sixteen years (next month) of worshiping and praying as an Orthodox Christian, faith in Christ is sedimented into my bones in a way it never was before.

Rod Dreher. I am not surprised at McGilchrist’s observation, having fairly recently finished ‌The Master And His Emissary.

I have no reason to think Rod reads my blog, and there’s no way to comment on his Substack offerings, but I’d like to point out to him that it is difficult to speak eloquently, truthfully and adequately about Orthodox Christianity precisely because of the extent to which it relies on intuitive modes of knowing. Speech is largely a left-hemisphere creation that relies on logic and analysis to make its persuasive points, and intuition translates poorly into the left-brain’s dialect.

Or as Dr. McGilchrist notes in the book:

one feels so hopeless relying on the written [or spoken – Tipsy] word to convey meaning in humanly important and emotionally freighted situations.

and again

It is precisely its accuracy and definiteness that make speech unsuited for expressing what is too complex, changeful and ambiguous.

That, I think, emphasizes why the invitation “Come and see” is as important for making Orthodox Christians today as it was for making disciples at the beginning.

“What we believe” pages

I’ve been off Facebook for several years now (I’ve lost track).

I’m not bragging. I got on for honorable reasons (to reconnect with high school friends, who since I went to boarding school, were more important to me by far than college friends) and got off it for honorable reasons as well (I didn’t like Facebook turning some of my family members into trolls, nor did I like lining Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets).

But while I was on, I hurt somebody a bit. A high school fried was deeply involved in an Evangelical megachurch in a major city. I visited its website, found a page on “what we believe,” and found a roll-your-own substitute for the historic creeds of the Church. The net effect imbalanced if not heretical. I critiqued it without naming the church or why I’d visited the site.

Unfortunately, my friend figured it out and was wounded by what seemed like a gratuitous insult — even trolling her — the reason for which utterly escaped her.

That incident came back to me recently, and though I regret hurting my friend, I don’t regret calling out the arrogance of churches that think themselves entitled to create bespoke religions for their respective clienteles and call them all “Christian.”

Okay, that was a bit harsh. But consider:

  • First Baptist Church of Dallas (friend of Trump, and of Sean Hannity, it created a choral anthem Make America Great Again) is so big that they have both a “What We Believe” and a “Articles of Faith.”
  • Willow Creek Community Church, imitation of which was a major fad 25 years or so ago (I don’t know if it continues) has a Beliefs and Values page and a lengthy Elder Statements pdf.
  • Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston has, at least on paper, beliefs far less vacuous than what comes out of Osteen’s mouth every time he opens it.
  • The Wheaton Bible Church, where I was baptized about 55 years ago (and where my wife and I worshipped as newlyweds in the Chicago area), has become a full-blown megachurch, and it, too, has an “About” page.

I’m not going to stop to try to analyze and critique these. My point is they inherently confirm that there is no single “Evangelicalism.” Without a strong denominational identity, each local church must decide for itself, and publish, what it thinks the Bible clearly teaches.

The inability of denominations, let alone independent churches/fiefdoms, to agree on that clear (“perspicacious”) message is one of the things I saw one day, can never unsee, and made me forever non-Protestant.

Of course, my Church has a statement of faith, too, which we recite (oftener, sing) every Sunday Liturgy: The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, written not by us but by two Ecumenical Councils of the Church in the Fourth Century (when some heresies (Arianism, Apollinarianism, Macedonianism and Chiliasm) were riling the church and it was imperative to define the true faith in contrast with those heresies).

If you’d care to compare the Nicene Creed to these ersatz “What We Believe” statements, you’ll note that at least one thing in all the ersatz statements gets nary a mention by the historic Church. Can you spot it?

It’s sola scriptura (in today’s hyperbolic marketspeak, “we’re all about the Bible”) and its corollaries, the bedrock of Protestantism.

Interesting, huh? And yet somehow there remains one Orthodox Church and countless big and little churches, each marching to its own drum.

Anti-Promethean conservative

Americans have always had a thing for Prometheus — the Titan god in Greek mythology credited with (or blamed for) stealing fire and giving it to humanity … Today, those ambitions have moved to the private sector, with Promethean billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos working to make space travel far more commonplace … Is Promethean dynamism a good thing for human beings? … But which end is more compatible with happiness understood as human flourishing?

Damon Linker

One big dispositional difference between me and David French is that he applauds, enraptured, these Promethean stunts.

He needs to look more closely at what drives Jeff Bezos, and to re-read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Heck, finish the trilogy: read That Hideous Strength, too, David.

I may have just found the perfect label for my kind of conservatism: anti-Promethean.

[T]he fantasy that humans can somehow shift ‘offworld’ and recreate such systems on Mars or the Moon when we can’t or won’t live with Earth anymore, is just that: a fantasy, peddled as we saw in the last essay, by the likes of Jeff Bezos and his fellow techno-apostles.

Paul Kingsnorth.

Last acceptable bigotry is alive and well and living just about everywhere in the USA

Martin: Cries of anti-Catholicism are too frequent. Anti-Catholicism is nowhere near as prevalent as racism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism. Not every critique of the Church is an offense against religious liberty. And The New York Times is not anti-Catholic. But from time to time, it’s important to remind people that anti-Catholicism is not a myth.

Green: I wonder if there are instances where this has become politically complicated for you. For example, when now–Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was in her hearing for the Circuit Court of Appeals, Democratic senators questioned her about how her Catholic faith would affect her rulings on issues like abortion. Senator Dianne Feinstein famously told her, “The dogma lives loudly within you.”

A lot of people thought that was open anti-Catholic bigotry—a U.S. senator expressing fear that an accomplished legal scholar couldn’t be a fair judge because of her faith. Did you think they had a point?

Martin: Well, first of all, I thought that that phrase was inherently funny. The dogma lives loudly within you. It was just strange—almost nonsensical. But I think it was appropriate for Senator Feinstein to ask, “To what extent will your religious beliefs influence your legal decisions?” That’s not unreasonable.

Green: Do you think so? I mean, the Constitution says that no religious test should be required as a qualification for public office. It’s a founding principle of our country that Americans don’t consider religion when we vet people as public servants.

Martin: I think the difference is that Justice Barrett is well known as a devout Catholic. I didn’t think that was an offensive question. The way it was put was a little ham-handed.

Emma Green, Father Jim Martin on Anti-Catholic Prejudice (the springboard was an issue of the New York Times that “deferentially cover[ed] a language shift meant to show respect for Roma people but … also print[ed] a story that relished a film scene in which a holy Catholic object is defiled.”)

Not a fan of Fr. James Martin, so it’s tempting to add “In other words ….” But I’m going to resist the temptation. You can do your own critical reading (no paywall).

Standpoint

There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the standpoint which we happen to occupy is a universal one.

H. Richard Niebuhr via Lance Morrow

Which reminds me of “what you see depends on where you stand.”

Christian athletes

Soccer

[T]he future of Christianity is going to be black and brown — at least in the UK. The other day I was somewhere in this Central European region, can’t remember exactly where, and was talking to a group of fellow white Christians about migration to Europe. I asked them if they had to choose, would they prefer to live in a Europe that was predominantly black but faithfully Christian, or predominantly white, but atheist. Everyone agreed: black and Christian.

Black Christians, British Football – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher

Basketball

‌Giannis Antetokounmpo As An Orthodox Christian And Star Of The 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Who knew? Or rather, who knew the first part?


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.