Ye olde variety store

Reminder to self

I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations lately that various conservatives are white supremacists, or, somewhat more narrowly, that they are adherents of "white replacement theory." My initial reaction was to treat this as a way of mainstream media saying that conservatives have cooties.

But when it comes to white replacement theory, there’s a very important line: it is on one side of the line to think that there is a conspiracy to replace white people with darker skinned people, and that the southern border (for instance) has been thrown open by the Democrats as part of that conspiracy. It is on the other side of the line to note that much of our immigration is darker-skinned people, and that white folks have sub-replacement fertility levels, and that as a matter of fact we are on track for white people to be outnumbered by the year 2050 — without carrying on luridly about how that, ipso facto, will be "the end of America.”

My personal history of dismissing warnings too casually is cautionary. I was slow to see that the charges of anti-Semitism against conservative columnists Joseph Sobran and Samuel Francis were not just epithets thrown by liberals, but true. (Both were brilliant, but both really were antisemitic, though Sobran at least wrote a lot that was not tinged with antisemitism.) I was also slow to see that Patrick J. Buchanan was coming unhinged, as I think he was (and is).

So in dealing with charges of white replacement theory, and giving due allowance to the possibility that somebody like Tucker Carlson is insincerely talking about it just to attract viewers, I need to be aware that even if the comments, prima facie, fall on the right side of the afore-described line, bringing the subject up obsessively is a very bad sign. That’s what should have tipped me off earlier on Sobran.

Meatloaf on side constraints

The Federalist Society is committed to advancing the rule of law, which is why many of its members, in their individual capacities, have worked so hard for the appointment of judges who believe in the rule of law. And many of those judges, in ruling against meritless election challenges brought by the man who appointed them, stood up for the rule of law in the past few months, to their great credit.

But to sacrifice the rule of law as a value, in the hope of getting four more years of a president who might appoint good judges but is otherwise anathema to the rule of law (sic), is simply perverse. I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, ‌The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?. Lat was commenting in the second paragraph on some individual Federalist Society members. The Society itself cannot lawfully back a candidate, nor did it do so unlawfully.

On choosing to cease choosing

[H]uman flourishing depends, [Antonio García Martínez] says, on the acceptance of various "unchosen obligations" (to family, to community, to God) that form the backdrop of a morally and spiritually satisfying life. Hence his attraction to Judaism, an ancient, communally based system of laws that seems far more secure than our confusingly fluid world of freely choosing individuals.

Which means that García Martínez is converting to Judaism in order to escape secular modernity — but isn’t his own decision to convert itself an individual choice? And as such, isn’t it just as much an expression of the modern mindset as any of the trends he denounces here and in his broader social media commentary?

Yes, it’s a choice to stop choosing, but that still grounds his conversion in an act of the individual mind and will. García Martínez will always know that what can be chosen can also be unchosen — that he can choose to leave Judaism with an ease that would have felt quite foreign to a premodern Jew.

This doesn’t mean that García Martínez is making a mistake in becoming Jewish. (I have my own complicted history with Judaism, Catholicism, and conversion.) But it does mean that doing so isn’t likely to liberate him from modernity, returning him to the premodern world as conservatives like to imagine it — a world defined by fated obligations individuals have no choice but to take on and accept with gratitude and fulfillment.

Choosing is the destiny of human beings, from which we will never be rescued.

Damon Linker

I wish Antonio García Martínez were choosing Orthodox Christianity instead of Judaism, but I had the same types of taunts tossed at me as I approached Orthodoxy: "So, you’re choosing to stop choosing, huh?! Har-de-har-har-har!"

I gotta live in the world as it is. In American law and the American mind, one’s church is a "voluntary association." You can opt in; you can opt out. Nobody can stop you legally and few will try socially*. But I can choose wisely and resolve to let the faith, in that chosen setting, do its work on me, not looking for greener grass elsewhere.

Or looking for sheer novelty, as if it doesn’t matter:

To assert that all religions are really just different paths to God is a denial of the central tenets of these religions. The Hindu Yogin trying to achieve oblivion and utter absorption into the faceless universe is not on the same path as the Jew bowing down before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Scientologist working to become “clear” of alien beings called “thetans.” To suggest that all these believers are really on the same path is to do damage to their theological systems—to assert that somehow we know better than these people do what their teachings really are.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

[* The late Jaroslav Pelikan, perhaps the greatest Anglophone church historian of the 20th Century, left his natal Lutheranism for Orthodoxy very late in life. A Calvinist friends who had studied at Yale said that would "shake Yale up." "Why?" I asked. "I didn’t think Yale still had strong religious identity." "It doesn’t," he replied, "and it will shake them up that one eminent among them cares enough about religion to actually change his."]

I just can’t figure this out

New York Times’s criteria for considering a story religious continue to baffle. Why, for instance, is a call for blessing same-sex couples, from German Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, not there?! It clearly is a religion story and it even flatters the Times’ notion of how arc of history is bending!

My, we are hard to please!

One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (a delightful book, but not Orthodox-with-a-capital-O; it’s Roman Catholic, but in a sort of anticipation of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity).

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

"A recent survey by the American College Health Association showed that, in 2008, one in 2,000 female undergraduates identified as transgender. By 2021, that figure had jumped to one in 20."

But any suggestion that there’s a social contagion involved is a Hateful Transphobic Lie.

The surge doesn’t exist, and it exists because Republicans are adding testosterone to our public water supplies to try to shore up the Eurocentric Heteronormative Patriarchy, and the one in 20 were there all along, but just too embarrassed to say it. Yeah! That’s the ticket!

[In this mad age, I probably should note that this was sarcasm.]

Zeal has its limits

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

St. Isaac of Syria, quoted here

And again:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

How we live today

“After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth,” we use our bodies “only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work."

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

No tribe wants him

I grow weary of the Covid discourse. So, so weary. I am particularly exhausted by the fact that the side that is more correct on the epidemiology, the pro-vaccine side, is also worshipful of expertise, incurious about basic questions, contemptuous of good-faith questions, and shrill in all things. I hate it all.

Freddie DeBoer, reprising this blog

Practicing silence

Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day, not to become more "productive", but to become more human and, ultimately, more Christlike.

This is advice to myself.

Silence?! 20-30 minutes of silence!? It’s so terrifying that I must try it.

UPDATE: A 300- knot prayer rope helps. I couldn’t imagine remaining silent for that long without my scattered mind going hither, thither and yon. But the same faith that (through one of its wise priests) counseled sitting in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day knows how to do that: repetitive prayer — not, I hasten to add, that God will hear me because of repetition, but that my heart (and who knows what else) will be changed by it.

The nice thing about this gigantic rope is that praying the full rope takes me about 21 minutes, and if I add another hundred knots (to the first bead, which is a tactile clue) I’m at almost 28 minutes. I don’t have to try to remember how many times I’ve prayed a 50-knot rope — which is itself a distraction from "silence."

Just for fun

I don’t know if I want to cheer or jeer Dutch artist Jens Haaring.


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.

Sunday select

The loss of Christendom

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

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. Hauerwas is one of a handful of Protestants who can still stir my Orthodox soul.

Evangelicals who by some accounts (see below) are grieving their loss of political power should take heart at this, too. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Make a virtue of necessity.

Futile persuasion

… you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community.

David French, Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations

The great Evangelical collapse

Why

This is something I never thought I’d say. According to this landscape report, there are more Americans who are white mainline protestants (16%) than there are Americans who are white evangelicals (14%).

What accounts for this? There is no new big influx into the mainline churches. Most of their gain seems to be coming from those who had left the mainline community for the evangelical community years ago, but who are simply returning to the church of their upbringing.

The decline of white evangelicals seems mostly to result from the larger changing demographics of America. This is obvious. There is an irreversible change from a white majority to a plurality of ethnicities in the country. This is happening no matter what one thinks about immigration or voting policies.

But there is another factor that has contributed to the decline. When Dean Kelly wrote his book in 1972, the evangelical community was focussed upon concrete “Biblical lifestyle issues.” Since then, the focus has broadened to involvement in political, partisan issues and the “culture wars” — the very sort of involvement that Kelly had blamed for mainline decline 50 years before.

Now it seems that the chickens have come home to roost. The Pew report of 2019 observed that it was just because of explicit political partisanship that many young adults are leaving the evangelical community, most likely landing squarely in the “unaffiliated” category.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias, the cost of partisanship

Wherefore

In addition to shrinking as a share of the population, white evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the United States, with a median age of 56. “It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”

… white evangelicals probably aren’t wrong to fear that their children are getting away from them. As their numbers have shrunk and as they’ve grown more at odds with younger Americans, said Jones, “that has led to this bigger sense of being under attack, a kind of visceral defensive posture, that we saw President Trump really leveraging.”

I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.

Michelle Goldberg, ‌The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It

I wouldn’t bet too much on Goldberg’s construal of QAnon, but she may have gotten into it (for professional reasons only) more deeply than I.

Hymns, east and west

As I approached the Orthodox Church almost 25 year ago, I was astonished at how different it was in “feel” from anything I’d previously encountered. Timothy (Now Bishop Kallistos) Ware provides a glimpse:

Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of the great Latin hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530 – 609), Pange lingua, which hails the Cross as an emblem of victory: Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, Sing the ending of the fray; Now above the Cross, our trophy, Sound the loud triumphal lay: Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, As a victim won the day. They feel equally at home in that other hymn by Fortunatus, Vexilla regis: Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old: Among the nations God, said he, Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree. But Orthodox feel less happy about compositions of the later Middle Ages such as Stabat Mater: For His people’s sins, in anguish, There she saw the victim languish, Bleed in torments, bleed and die: Saw the Lord’s anointed taken; Saw her Child in death forsaken; Heard His last expiring cry.

The Orthodox Church

Expounding that glimpse is above my pay grade, but I’m pretty confident that it reflects a non-Anselmian view of atonement by us Orthodox (which is also a reason why most Protestant writers on religion leave me cold).


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.

UPDATE: A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.

CRT! (and some other stuff)

I’m trying out a new theme for the appearance of this blog. I often want to do quotes-within-quotes, and my current theme not only doesn’t do that (at least with Markdown files as the source), but makes the attempt look amateurish. I hope the new theme does better.

Mediocrities everywhere!

The 1984 film, Amadeus, tells the story of the child genius, Mozart. IMdB describes it in this manner:

The life, success and troubles of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as told by Antonio Salieri, the contemporaneous composer who was insanely jealous of Mozart’s talent and claimed to have murdered him…

Mozart’s genius is so profound that it is little more than a toy in the hands of a very spoiled and immature boy/man. Salieri feels that, in Mozart’s existence, God is mocking him. He has dedicated his life to his work, even “to the glory of God,” and nothing he produces can be compared to the slightest trifle of Mozart’s irreverent gift. In the last scene of the film, Salieri, now confined to a mental institution (from where he is relating the tale) blesses the world:

“Mediocrities everywhere! I absolve you!”

Salieri implicates the whole of the world in his crime, describing himself as the “patron saint of mediocrities.” It is one of the most deeply affecting scenes I have ever encountered.

His crime is driven by envy. It is a story that brilliantly exposes the reality that envy is the product of shame and our inability, or unwillingness, to bear it …

[M]ost of the time throughout history, there is a slow and steadfast persistence of grace that, on the one hand, sustains us in our existence, and, on the other, constantly makes the fruit of our lives exceed the quality of our work. We offer him what is mediocre, at best, and He yields back to us thirty-fold, sixty-fold, a hundred. Indeed, we fail to understand that what some might judge to be “mediocre” is itself a work of grace.

… We are beloved mediocrities who have been commanded to become gods (by grace).

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌Mediocrity, Envy, and Grace

CRT! CRT! CRT!

CRT is far from the most important topic in this blog installment (see above for something far more important), but it seems to be click-baity.

Seriously, I’m trying for more than click-bait here. We have too much of that on this topic.

The “zero-sum” race mistake

Virulent racists and anti-racist activists would seem to have little in common, but in fact they tend to agree on one mistaken premise: Race relations are a zero-sum game. If whites are doing well, it’s at the expense of members of other races. If members of other races are doing well, it’s at the expense of whites.

On the racist (or “white nationalist”) side, this assumption means that members of other groups need to be subordinated so that whites can thrive. For anti-racists, this means that since whites have benefited at the expense of other groups, whites will now have to give up their “privilege” and reduce their own standard of living to allow other groups to thrive.

In fact, whites, as a group, don’t benefit from discrimination against, or oppression of, other groups, except perhaps psychologically if such discrimination and oppression make them feel superior and such feelings of superiority make them happy. But from a purely economic perspective, wealth comes from gains from trade, and the wealthier your trading partners, the more wealth you can accrue.

David Bernstein, Racists and (Many) Anti-Racists Make the Same “Zero Sum” Mistake – Reason.com

Stumbling over their own anti-CRT feet

I think my point is clear at this point. The defenses of anti-CRT laws are time and again running aground on the rocky shoals of … the actual anti-CRT laws. Welcome to the incredible difficulty of drafting speech codes. For decades, some of the smartest minds in higher education, Big Tech, and elsewhere have been trying hard to draft laws that ban the ideas they don’t like without sweeping too broadly or creating unintended consequences.

The allure is obvious. If we have the power to ban harmful speech, why not ban harmful speech? But the execution is always clumsy and dangerous if it’s broad, and narrow to the point of irrelevance if it’s precise. Another National Review pal, Ramesh Ponnuru, put things well in his own contribution to the debate in Bloomberg. “But regulation can be defensible in principle,” he says, “without a particular regulation being wise in practice. Some of the provisions in these bills are vague and sweeping.”

Yes, yes they are. But then Ramesh makes this vital point: “The more precisely these laws are written, though, the less they will proscribe and the easier they will be to evade.”

Yup. And that’s exactly why I circle back to my proposal—better curriculums and civil rights litigation. Thus you give teachers the confidence to teach something concrete and real without creating a fear that even their own course materials might suddenly be illegal …

David French, Even the Defenses of Anti-CRT Speech Codes Show the Problems With Anti-CRT Speech Codes

What’s really inflaming the CRT fights?

Again, I want to start with what the new progressivism is interested in changing. One change involves increasingly familiar terms like “structural” and “systemic” racism, and the attempt to teach about race in a way that emphasizes not just explicitly racist laws and attitudes, but also how America’s racist past still influences inequalities today.

In theory, this shift is supposed to enable debates that avoid using “racist” as a personal accusation — since the point is that a culture can sustain persistent racial inequalities even if most white people aren’t bigoted or biased.

… [T]he basic claim that structural racism exists has strong evidence behind it, and the idea that schools should teach about it in some way is probably a winning argument for progressives. (Almost half of college Republicans, in a recent poll, supported teaching about how “patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other institutions.”) Especially since not every application of the structural-racist diagnosis implies left-wing policy conclusions: The pro-life and school choice movements, for instance, regularly invoke the impact of past progressive racism on disproportionately high African-American abortion rates and underperforming public schools.

What’s really inflaming today’s fights, though, is that the structural-racist diagnosis isn’t being offered on its own. Instead it’s yoked to two sweeping theories about how to fight the problem it describes.

First, there is a novel theory of moral education, according to which the best way to deal with systemic inequality is to confront its white beneficiaries with their privileges and encourage them to wrestle with their sins.

Second, there is a Manichaean vision of public policy, in which all policymaking is either racist or antiracist, all racial disparities are the result of racism — and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect “equity” may be a form of structural racism itself.

The first idea is associated with Robin DiAngelo, the second with Ibram X. Kendi, and they converge in places like the work of Tema Okun, whose presentations train educators to see “white-supremacy culture” at work in traditional measures of academic attainment.

Ross Douthat, ‌The Excesses of Antiracist Education (bold added)

CRT dissent

I don’t even think the far left’s attempt to dismantle liberal democracy through critical race theory has been entirely a bad thing. It has revealed a consensus too: that we need to do better in telling the brutal truth about our white supremacist past. It’s been encouraging that even Republicans now agree that the Tulsa Massacre, one of the darkest moments in American history, should be taught without any attempt to disguise its evil. If this helps historians — and not critical race theorists — to uncover more of this shame, and to reckon with it, we will be a stronger country for it. It’s a real gain to have bipartisan support for a new federal holiday celebrating Juneteenth. And it’s also clear that the stealth campaign to indoctrinate children in the methods of CRT has begun to meet a real obstacle: parents of all races and backgrounds appalled by its racism.

Andrew Sullivan, Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part III. This one was near the top for me personally: Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media – Axios

Angels on the head of a pin

A glib speaker in the Brains Trust once entertained his audience (and reduced the late Charles Williams to helpless rage) by asserting that in the Middle Ages it was a matter of faith to know how many archangels could dance on the point of a needle. I need not say, I hope, that it never was a “matter of faith”; it was simply a debating exercise, whose set subject was the nature of angelic substance: were angels material, and if so, did they occupy space?

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning

Elusive expression

The humanists felt that literature was closer to life, that it provided a better lens onto the moral and spiritual life of man. In short, they elevated imagination to its rightful place alongside faith or reason as one of the fundamental faculties of human nature. Erasmus often vented his frustration when his comic and satirical works were attacked and misunderstood. Those “whose ears are only open to propositions, conclusions, and corollaries” are deaf to the more subtle literary techniques of irony and ambiguity.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Propositional truth, once a hallmark of evangelicalism, is making way for more elusive means of expression, such as narrative, image, and symbol.

Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation

Trump’s legacy

Wehner: What do you think is the most important legacy that Trump will leave?

Rauch: In the world I’m thinking and writing about, it’s that he has modeled for all time to come how to apply Russian-style disinformation in U.S. politics. And although he may have particular genius at doing that, this is an art that lots of people can practice. The KGB practiced it very successfully for a long time, not because they were geniuses, but because they had technicians who knew how to do it.

So it’s not just Trump anymore. I think he’s transformed the Republican Party into an institutionalized propaganda outlet; I think he’s had the same effect on conservative media, and that’s very hard to pull back in. Because once people start doing that, and they know it works, they continue to do it. And also the Republican base is in on it. They like it.

Disinformation is a participatory sport, not a spectator sport. It’s fun to tell yourselves narratives about how you really won; the other side cheated; you’re heroically taking back democracy; you’re in an existential fight against evil; you’re saving the country. This is way more fun than the boring truth. So the base now has picked up this style of spinning conspiracy tales, telling them to itself, acting on it; and the base is now leading the politicians. I don’t know how you put that genie back in the bottle. I think that’s maybe his most important contribution.

Peter Wehner, Jonathan Rauch on America’s Competing Totalistic Ideologies

Politics of loneliness

Work more often involves analysis of symbols (ideas and numbers) and takes place mostly within our own heads, mediated by technology, with remote work also becoming more common in recent years.

Damon Linker, ‌The politics of loneliness is totalitarian.

Linker lists several likely culprits for the surge of friendlessness over the past 30 years, but this one converged (I think) with other reading I’m currently doing.

Giving up on prohibition

Michael Pollan, whose writing about food I’ve admired, is turning to the “D” in FDA these days, advocating (with some nuance) for legalization of may currently illicit drugs. He’s especially fascinated by hallucinogenics, but hasn’t overlooked opioids:

Many people (myself included) are surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. We think of addictiveness as a property of certain chemicals and addiction as a disease that people, in effect, catch from those chemicals, but there is good reason to believe otherwise. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptom — of trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress. As the geography of the opioid and meth crises suggests, one’s environment and economic prospects play a large role in the likelihood of becoming addicted; just look at where these deaths of despair tend to cluster or the places where addiction to crack cocaine proliferated.

Two findings underscore this point, both described in Johann Hari’s 2015 book on drug addiction, “Chasing the Scream.” Much of what we know, or believe we know, about drug addiction is based on experiments with rats. Put a rat in a cage with two levers, one giving it heroin or cocaine, the other sugar water, and the rat will reliably opt for the drug until it is addicted or dead. These classic experiments seemed to prove that addiction is the inevitable result of exposure to addictive drugs, a simple matter of biology. But something very different happens when that experimental rat is sprung from solitary confinement and moved to a larger, more pleasant cage outfitted with toys, good food and companions to play and have sex with. This is the so-called rat park experiment, devised by a Canadian psychologist named Bruce Alexander in the 1970s. He and his colleagues found that in this enriched environment, rats will sample the morphine on offer but will consume a small fraction of the amount consumed by rats living in isolation, in some cases five milligrams a day instead of 25. Dr. Alexander came to see that drug abuse isn’t a disease; it’s an adaptation to one’s environment and circumstance — to the condition of one’s cage.

The second phenomenon Mr. Hari recounts took place at the end of the Vietnam War. Some 20 percent of U.S. troops became addicted to heroin while in-country. With the war coming to an end, experts worried about tens of thousands of addicts flooding America’s streets. But something unexpected happened when the addicted service members got home: Ninety-five percent of them simply stopped using. It made no difference whether or not they received drug treatment. This is not to minimize the harm done by heroin to those who couldn’t quit; it is only to suggest that there is much more to addiction than exposure to an addictive drug

Michael Pollan, How Should We Do Drugs Now? (The New York Times)

I think Pollan is right that legalization of a lot of drugs is where the country is headed. I’m far from convinced that it’s a good trend, but am leaning toward “opposed but not distraught”.

Pollan:

We shouldn’t forget that two of the most destructive drugs in use today — alcohol and tobacco — have long been perfectly legal. Having wisely given up on prohibition, we’ve worked hard as a society to regulate their use, deploying both laws and customs. Recognizing the dangers of tobacco, we’ve desocialized its use over the past 50 years, devising rules and taboos about when and where one may smoke. Along with high taxes, these expressions of cultural disapproval have substantially reduced tobacco use …

There’s enough libertarian in me for that to sound pretty good, and that’s without getting into how enforcement of drug laws disparately affects some minority groups — part of the “systemic racism” that’s hard to deny.

New construct: “Luxury Surveillance”

I am not without sin when it comes to Luxury Surveillance, the willingness, if not eagerness, to adorn oneself and one’s life with tools of surveillance capitalism.

On the good side, I shut off the microphone on my Amazon Echo so Alexa can’t listen in on daily life. (A lot of people say Amazon started sending ads for things that had been discussed in Alexa’s hearing.) On the bad side, I was drooling over Apple Watch this week — an itch I ended up scratching with a $30 Casio dumb watch.

But really, read the article Luxury Surveillance and see if you want to play in this game. Or if you can’t change your life without getting furious, you can read ‌Delete Your Amazon Prime Account. Now..

Debriefing Covid

The last thing I would say is sort of a core failure is Zoom. I think many people think Zoom is what liberated us—were it not for Zoom, how bad would this pandemic have been? But my counterfactual is different. Zoom allowed a lot of upper-middle-class white-collar people the ability to work and make money and not lose their jobs, and to exclude themselves from society. That fundamentally changed the pandemic. If you went back 15 years ago, and you didn’t have Zoom, you would be facing unprecedented layoffs of wealthy, upper-middle-class people. I think a lot of businesses would have had staggered schedules and improved ventilation. Schools would have pushed to reopen. Amazon Prime and Zoom and all these things in our lives allowed a certain class of people to be spared the pains of COVID-19, taking them out of the game, and making them silent on many of the issues that affected other communities.

The closing of those schools doesn’t have a relationship to the spread of the virus, or the hospitalizations, or the deaths. It’s only really related to the political valence of the town, and the strength of the teachers union. Strong union towns that are left-leaning were far more likely to be closed than right-of-center places that have weaker unions. What sense does that make? That’s certainly not a virus driving that decision. It’s a policy decision. It’s playing politics with kids.

Vinay Prasad, associate professor in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, interviewed (along with others) by Emily Yoffe in ‌What We Got Wrong (and Right) About COVID-19

Orbital obliquity

SciTech Daily:

Planets which are tilted on their axis, like Earth, are more capable of evolving complex life. This finding will help scientists refine the search for more advanced life on exoplanets. […]

“The most interesting result came when we modeled ‘orbital obliquity’ — in other words how the planet tilts as it circles around its star,” explained Megan Barnett, a University of Chicago graduate student involved with the study. She continued, “Greater tilting increased photosynthetic oxygen production in the ocean in our model, in part by increasing the efficiency with which biological ingredients are recycled. The effect was similar to doubling the amount of nutrients that sustain life.”

“Orbital obliquity” is one of those scientific terms — like “persistence of vision” and “angle of repose” — that just cries out for metaphorical application.

All of the writers and thinkers I trust most are characterized by orbital obliquity. They are never quite perpendicular; they approach the world at a slight angle. As a result their minds evolve complex life.

(Alan Jacobs, orbital obliquity – Snakes and Ladders)

Weary of hearing what he has never heard

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man


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Sunday Potpourri

The Jericho March … co-founders are essentially unknown in the organized Christian world. Robert Weaver, an evangelical Oklahoma insurance salesman, was nominated by Trump to lead the Indian Health Service but withdrew after The Wall Street Journal reported that he misrepresented his qualifications. Arina Grossu, who is Catholic, recently worked as a contract communications adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. (Weaver and Grossu declined to comment.) Still, they will have far more influence in shaping the reputation of Christianity for the outside world than many denominational giants: They helped stage a stunning effort to circumvent the 2020 election, all in the name of their faith.

Emma Green, Storming the Capitol for God and Trump.

“Essentially unknown in the organized Christian world” is what I thought about Paula White and most of the “evangelical” leaders who gathered with Trump for photo ops in the Oval Office, laying hands on him as if anointing a King or Prophet.

I’ve been away from Evangelicalism for a while, though, and I don’t how big a tent “Evangelical” is these days — or what new celebrities have replaced the celebrities of my youth. (Yes, “celebrity” is my deliberate choice.)


Evangelical Christianity, which once played a central role in legitimizing democracy in the early days of the American experiment through its fusion with classical republican values, may now play a central role in the unraveling of America through its unholy union with modern conspiracy theory.

And, like [Milton William] Cooper [who inspired Timothy McVeigh], Trump, in the words of [David] Kilcullen, has played less the role of the Pied Piper, calling his followers hither and thither at whim with his flute, than the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, summing dark forces from the abyss that he has no clue how to control. Now we wait to see if someone will play McVeigh to Trump’s Cooper.

… [H]istorian John Fea has noted that “The U.S. Senators who objected to the Electoral College results,” including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, “were almost all evangelicals.” Though a number of notable evangelicals such as David French, Ed Stetzer and Russell Moore have challenged the unfounded claims of electoral fraud in a timely and persistent manner, others such as Franklin Graham have condemned the violence of the Capitol siege without challenging the false allegations about the election, which Kilcullen identifies as the key motive for the crowds who precipitated the violence in the first place.

Todd Thompson, A Homegrown Christian Insurgency – Mere Orthodoxy


[I]t’s difficult to define exactly what Christian nationalism is. To the extent one can create an academic definition, it’s hard to improve on the one Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd cites in a recent Gospel Coalition essay. He quotes Matthew McCullough’s description of Christian nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.”

[But e]xplicit “patriot churches” are still thin on the ground.

Thus, I agree with Kidd. “Actual Christian nationalism,” he says, “is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance.” He provides an interesting example:

“I recently saw a yard sign that read “Make Faith Great Again: Trump 2020.” I wondered, How can re-electing Donald Trump make “faith” great again? What faith? When did it stop being great? No coherent answers would be forthcoming to such questions, but that’s the point. The sign speaks to a person’s ethnic, religious, and cultural identity in ways easier to notice than to explain.”

Now let’s ask a challenging question—why do we see this nationalism more in white conservative Protestant Christianity than in any other strain of American Christianity, including the Black Protestant church or the Catholic church?

I’d argue it’s because that for more than two centuries, the United States of America was quite likely the best place in the world to live if you were a white theologically conservative Protestant. No, it wasn’t a perfect place. But it was the best place. Our freedom, our prosperity and (ultimately) our power were unmatched anywhere else.

As a practical matter, our culture slippers fit so darn well that it grew all too easy to see ourselves as “in” and “of” the United States of America.

Black Christians could not feel such comfort … And while theologically conservative Catholics and Protestants now often lock arms in the modern American culture war, that would have been unthinkable in the days when anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments stalked the land.

What is Christian nationalism? It’s a deep emotional attachment to a particular and exclusive culture, a skewed version of history, and a false sense of “marked superiority” that must and will fade away.

What is Christian patriotism? To echo C.S. Lewis and George Washington, it’s a love of home and place and neighbor that does its best to fulfill the vision of peace and justice articulated by the prophet Micah so many long years ago—“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”

David French, Discerning the Difference Between Christian Nationalism and Christian Patriotism


I’m a graduate in Medieval Studies, and when I try to explain some myths about it, people look at me as if I was insane. The Enlightenment propaganda is so strong, that telling the truth about Medieval era sounds like a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory. And this is a serious problem. Many school textbooks, media, etc. promote most of these myths, which are inherently biased and dangerous, because they distort the truth.

The Enlightenment historiography is still the most successful propaganda ever made; it refused to die, because the [anti-Christian] sentiment which these thinkers had promoted seems to be popular ever since. Demonizing the Other is the best way to begin a fight, because it gives you the feeling of the moral superiority. In our case, this has been done by distorting and misinterpreting historical facts, and inventing myths and false villains and heroes. This genius propaganda has affected and influenced most of us, therefore it’s not surprising how our imagination has been constructed. For example, when we think or talk about [the] historical horrors, the vast majority will think of the those ‘dark’ Middle Ages. Ironically, we rarely realize that the most morbid and inhumane crimes were committed during the Enlightenment and Modern era. Concentration camps, gulag, genocides, eugenics, racism, reign of terror, totalitarianism, etc. The aforementioned catastrophes are a result of the ideology which promoted the cult of progress, reason and science, which ended becoming the cult of irrationality, regress and crimes. But of course, rarely will we hear that being denounced, because we still live in that era, where one of the most criminal and bloody act of history [the French Revolution] is presented as ‘glorious’ and ‘good’.

The Enlightenment way of thinking may have ‘freed’ people from believing in religion or God, but at the very moment when this philosophy rose, ideologies were born. So, today, many don’t believe in religion because they consider it dogmatic, but unconsciously and even dogmatically believe and follow ideologies as Enlightenment.

Albert Bikaj, via The Neomedievalist. H/T Rod Dreher


Once upon a time there was a couple whose names were Oskar and Auguste. They had a little girl whom they named Johanna Maria Magdalena. Everyone called her “Magda” for short. She lived in a world that was soon awhirl with exciting possibilities, opportunities, and temptations. People looking at her said that she was to be envied as she rose to prominence, money, influence, and fame, riding an intoxicating wave that took her ever higher. Those able to see somewhat into the mystery and murk of the human heart knew that far from ascending ever higher, she was in fact sinking ever lower. Down and down she went spiritually into ever more dangerous, mad, and suffocating places, but only God could see the true tragedy of her descent. In the glittering world in which she lived and moved, she shone. Everyone knew her name. Everyone knew who Magda Goebbels was, the unofficial First Lady of the Third Reich, wife to Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the powerful Minister of Propaganda.

It quickly became apparent to her that it was all over. She would never again live in the world she had come to love. The world that was fast approaching would be a world without a triumphant National Socialism, a world in which swastika flags would not hang from every balcony, a world without Hitler, and for her, a world without hope. She could not bear the thought of her and her six young children emerging from the bunker to live in that world. She could not endure living a world without Hitler. Though urged to leave the bunker and allow her children to be smuggled safely out of Berlin, she refused. In a final letter to her adult son from a previous marriage, she wrote, “Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvellous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and National Socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow.”

Her will did not waver: on May 1, 1945 she had her six children drugged with morphine and then murdered with cyanide, and then took her own life. When the Russian soldiers finally breached the bunker, they found only her charred corpse in the Chancellery garden with that of her husband, and down below, the limp corpses of their six children, dressed in their nightclothes, with ribbons still tied in the girls’ hair.

Let us be clear about the lesson to be learned from this tragedy. The question to be asked is not “How should Magda be punished for her evil?” but rather, “What in the world can be done with Magda?” Magda Goebbels found the possibility of a life without Hitler and National Socialism too painful to bear. Living in that post-Hitler world was for her literally a fate worse than death. Life in that world would be agony, a ceaseless turmoil of tears and searing pain. That was why she murdered her children and took her own life.

Fast forward from this tumultuous age to the shining world of the age to come. What in that world can be done with Magda? In that world also there will be no Hitler, and the “glorious idea” that was ruined in 1945 along with “everything beautiful and marvellous” that she had known in her life will find no place there either. Instead, everywhere the Jew from Nazareth will reign supreme, and His face will illumine that world to its furthest corner. Magda would regard that world as an accursed place, for Hitler and the “glorious idea” of National Socialism will not simply be hated. For her it will be worse than that: as age succeeds sunlit age, Hitler and National Socialism will be utterly forgotten, left behind, like a disease which had long ago found its cure.

… [I]f Magda could not endure living in a post-Hitler world, if she would have found that world too painful to bear and a fate worse than death, how would she regard living in the sunlit world of the age to come? Such an existence would be for her worse than a fate worse than death. If a post-Hitler world would be too agonizing to endure, what would her pain be in this world?

This is where the pains of hell find their source. God did not create a subterranean torture chamber to punish the lost for their sins. The pain suffered by Magda Goebbels in that age will not come from the hands of Jesus, but from the heart of Magda.

Fr. Lawrence Farley.

Note, too — apart from the argument between orthodox Christians and universalists — the personal implications of this: I can pray The Sinner’s Prayer and then declare my eternal security, but if I then live like the devil, presuming on that supposed eternal security, I can end up shriveled, turned in on myself, wanting what I’ve taught myself to want no matter what, and … outside of heaven by my own choice.

There was too much of that in my life. That realization was a key in my decision to turn my back on Calvinism and enter Holy Orthodoxy.


Nothing here is sinister
because nothing is at stake.
Everything is null and void
of depth, of resonance,
not real but celluloid.

From Vijay Seshadri, “City of Grief”


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What do you want?

One Kevin Brown, guest writing at Mere Orthodoxy, asks Would Alt-Right Christians Like Heaven?.” Transposed out of a political key, it’s a worthy question for everyone to ask: Putting aside childish ideas of heaven as endless candy, ice cream and entertainment, would I even like heaven (except in contrast to the flammable alternative)?”

Brown distills it best here:

In his book Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl”—N.D. Wilson describes a casual dinner gathering where an atheist student, speaking to her Protestant professor dinner companion, bluntly raises the question or her eternal destiny.

Do you think I’m going to hell?”

Equally blunt, the professor responds. Don’t you want to? … God is who he is. Do you want to be with him?”

The question is equally relevant to us today. Eternity is not simply a matter of what we believe, it is also a matter of what we want.

It’s that basic question (though it had nothing to do with politics), posed to myself 22 years or so ago, that played a big part in my departure from the Protestant world, in which I discerned exceedingly little encouragement to what Brown accurately (in Protestant terms) calls sanctification.” Salvation had been reduced to justification, with sanctification forgotten, and I had bought into that in practice (though I knew better in theory). A tradition so incorrigible about sliding back into antinominanism was not where I wanted to be.

Lots of things besides Alt-Right (or antifa, or [fill-in-the-blank]) politics can become obsessions incompatible with eternity in God’s presence.

Brown is affiliated with Asbury University, a conservative institution of Methodist affiliation. Conservative Methodists, at least doctrinally, have tended to be more heedful of the need for sanctification than Calvinism or mainstream Evangelicalism. And I say that as someone who was never a Methodist or in their general “Arminian” doctrinal family.

But in Orthodoxy, I found the fullness of the Christian faith, not just more complete than parody Calvinism.”

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My blog runneth over

Our death-dealing cold in the Midwest (I expect deaths before this is published) is a good excuse to stay inside, imbibing coffee and bourbon, reading, and even thinking.

Okay, the bourbon is purely notional until the sun’s below the yardarm (somewhere).

1

There is a second source of this focus on the individual instead of the larger social structures. That source is in the heavy conservative Christian influence within today’s conservative movement. An important aspect of evangelical Christianity is the responsibility of the individual to accept Christ. We Christians are told again and again that our family, friends and country will not save us. Only we can gain salvation by accepting Christ ourselves. It is an individual choice that we all have to make. This is tied to the notion of freewill individualism that is a basic assumption within evangelicalism.

And as an evangelical, I agree with that idea. I agree that salvation comes to individuals and not families or communities. I can go into why I have that theological belief, but that is beyond the scope of my current topic. Needless to say I am quite comfortable with assigning personal responsibility as it concerns one’s spiritual faith. But what I will assert is that my priority on salvation for the individuals does not go into my understanding of political and social policy. For me the supernatural dimension is not a perfect replica of our current natural reality.

But I think that for many conservatives, there is a leap from this type of theological understanding to an application to our political circumstances.

George Yancey, What I don’t like about the right. A good column, to be followed next week by what he (a political scientist) dislikes about the left.

But a few points about my chosen pull quote:

  • “Conservative Christian” does not equal Evangelical. I could even argue that very few Evangelicals are “conservative,” properly speaking, but that disambiguation is for another day.
  • I agree that salvation comes to individuals and not families or communities is a straw man. No Christian tradition says otherwise. That salvation is communal, however, acknowledges that salvation is more than that magic moment when, under the influence of the Four Spiritual Laws, you take the once-saved-always-saved step of mouthing “the sinner’s prayer.” When I was a young Evangelical, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, my Evangelical boarding school, fer cryin’ out loud, even prescribed a systematic theology text wherein salvation involved justification, sanctification and glorification. Today, Evangelical salvation = justification. Period. Full stop. If you think you’re going to get sanctified while voluntarily absenting yourself from Church, Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

2

The primary distinction I make, between Left and Right, could be put in this way. Going back to the French Revolution, the Left has always been fashionable, the Right unfashionable. If gentle reader should wish to be more fashionable, at the present day, he will have to swing Left — to the “we the people” side. (I consider Mr Trump to be left-liberal-progressive, for instance; Mrs Clinton was, too.) And as I assure my leftish friends, if they should wish to be less fashionable, they must swing Right, towards self-denying faith in God.

David Warren.

Therein, a glimmer of how the 81% of Evangelicals who voted for Trump (some of them, God forbid, enthusiastically) are not conservative, properly speaking, though I clipped it before I read George Yancey’s garbled equation.

3

Samplings from a column on learning kindness:

  • The all-purpose question. “Tell me about the challenges you are facing?” Use it when there seems to be nothing else to say.
  • Your narrative will never win. In many intractable conflicts, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, each side wants the other to adopt its narrative and admit it was wrong the whole time. This will never happen. Get over it. Find a new narrative.
  • Attune to the process. When you’re in the middle of an emotional disagreement, shift attention to the process of how you are having the conversation. In a neutral voice name the emotions people are feeling and the dynamic that is in play. Treat the hot emotions as cool, objective facts we all have to deal with. People can’t trust you if you don’t show them you’re aware of how you are contributing to the problem.
  • Reject either/or. The human mind has a tendency to reduce problems to either we do this or we do that. This is narrowcasting. There are usually many more options neither side has imagined yet.
  • Presume the good. Any disagreement will go better if you assume the other person has good intentions and if you demonstrate how much you over all admire him or her. Fake this, in all but extreme cases.

David Brooks.

4

“Puff [Billy] Graham,” William Randolph Heast is reported to have said.

Things haven’t changed much, though I think Hearst has been replaced by HiveMind International, Inc., whose memo reads “Puff Kamala.”

This is more a function of media’s need for clicks than of Ms. Harris’ merits.

Pro-Tip: If you want your kid to get his or her 15 minutes of fame, give them a fanciful name, like Kamala or Tulsi or Beto.

5

More on Covington Catholic:

[T]his feels personal because it could so easily happen to any of us. The encounter was so mundane that you have to wonder what other non-events will be used to try to destroy you or me …

I also think about what will happen if I ever have a kid. Would my 16-year-old always stay on the right side of the face police? Or might he occasionally be awkward at that age? What if he had some kind of a mental or physical disability that caused him to have facial expressions or body movements that people took the wrong way? (I say “he” because so much of the vituperation that’s been directed at the Covington kids has been explicitly based on their gender.) …

In the past few days, I’ve been under the weather (getting better now, so don’t worry about me), and sometimes as I’ve stood around in a public place, I’ve stopped to think: hey, I might have had an inappropriate facial expression just now, because of a combination of feeling a little out of it and feeling physically uncomfortable. If someone were video-recording me, could they find one still that made it look like I was “disrespecting” the wrong person?

I want to say to some of these people joining virtual lynch mobs based on the latest viral video: Is that really who you are? Or are you too afraid to say what you really think? Or have you forgotten what you really think because you’re more focused on . . . looking just right?

Jonathan Althouse Cohen (H/T Eugene Volokh).

6

“It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions,” Ms. [Neomi] Rao wrote in the Yale Herald. “A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” We look forward to the same people who assailed Brett Kavanaugh for drinking too much beer finding fault with Ms. Rao’s sobriety.

Wall Street Journal.

It seems self-evident to all sane people, Ms. Rao, but we’re a minority now.

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

Sir James Fitzjames Stephen

7

Mr. [Peter] Boghossian—along with two confederates, neither of whom has an academic affiliation—set out to expose shoddy scholarship in what they call “grievance studies.” They concocted 20 pseudonymous “academic papers,” complete with fake data, and submitted them to leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals in fields like “queer studies” and “fat studies.” The Journal’s Jillian Melchior discovered the deception last summer and broke the story in October, by which time seven of the phony papers had been accepted for publication and four published.

“It had to be done,” Mr. Boghossian tells me. “We saw what was happening in these fields, and we were horrified at the faulty epistemology that these people were using to credential themselves and teach others.” The effort drew praise from some well-known public intellectuals, including Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker.

Mr. Boghossian said in October that he expected to face disciplinary action and maybe to lose his job …

More serious are the sanctions against Mr. Boghossian announced Dec. 21 on behalf of Portland State’s Institutional Review Board for conducting research on “human subjects” without submitting his research protocol to the IRB for review as required by the federal National Research Act of 1974. The “human subjects” in question were the editors and peer-reviewers of the duped journals. Portland State ordered Mr. Boghossian to undergo “human subjects research training,” and its letter warns that “further actions may be required,” with no elaboration.

Odd as it may sound, experts say Portland State seems to have a strong case against Mr. Boghossian: As a legal matter, he was doing research, and other professors were his subjects ….

Wall Street Journal. I regret the paywall.

Mr. Boghossian’s problem is that HHS has taken it upon itself, under color of a law enacted to prevent recurrence of things like the Tuskegee experiments, to forbid merry pranksters from tricking frauds and humbugs into unmasking themselves. They wouldn’t put it that way, of course, but it’s an unintended consequence.

8

This Trump [foreign policy], in practice, isn’t the isolationism that he sometimes promised on the campaign trail; nor is it the flailing bellicosity that many of his critics feared. It’s a doctrine of disentanglement, retrenchment and realignment, in which the United States tries to abandon its most idealistic hopes and unrealistic military commitments, narrow its list of potential enemies and consolidate its attempts at influence. The overarching goal isn’t to cede United States primacy or abandon American alliances, as Trump’s opponents often charge; rather, it’s to maintain American primacy on a more manageable footing, while focusing more energy and effort on containing the power and influence of China.

Ross Douthat

9

Speaking of frauds and humbugs:

The president was elected, in part, by giving his supporters an impression of business acumen. This was, in fact, the image carefully cultivated by book publishers and TV producers. And by Trump himself as a presidential candidate, who claimed to be a peerless negotiator, an unrivaled businessman and an excellent manager.

These claims can now be believed only by the ideologically addled.

The other branding claims made by Trump have become equally incredible. His reputation as a self-made billionaire lies in ruins. An extensive New York Times article on Trump’s wealth found a bassinet millionaire, consistently bailed out of bad bets, who dodged gift taxes, milked his empire for cash and cultivated a deceptive image of business brilliance. And special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation may reveal serious corruption and perjury in cataloguing Trump’s 30-year panting desire to sell his brand in Russia.

And who can take Trump seriously as a manager? He has a talent for weeding out the talented and responsible. He is a world-class nepotist. He is incapable of delegation or of taking conflicting advice. He is unreliable in dealing with his allies. He is capable of taking several conflicting policy views on the same topic — be it health care, or the “dreamers,” or gun control — in a matter of days or hours. He often has no clear goals. He has no attention span and is consistently ignorant of details. He is prone to vicious and public abuse of rivals and of employees. Try to put that profile up on LinkedIn.

Michael Gerson.

10

Who ya gonna believe: your President or your own lyin’ eyes?

GOP on Twitter, paraphrased (via some guy on Facebook). After that guy called this gaslighting and brazen lying, he got a comment, which quoted this “Answer I got from a faithful Trump/GOP supporter, when I asked how they tolerate the lies:

It’s not lying. It’s speaking what you want to be true so that eventually it becomes real. That’s why Trump has always been successful. It’s what highly successful, powerful people do!

Someone‘s been watching too damned much Joel Osteen, which means “any Joel Osteen.”

11

… Hundreds of poems have been written about standing on the beach and looking at the waves and I can’t remember a single one of them.

Garrison Keillor, The old indoorsman looks out at winter.

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Fr. Stephen snippets

A Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ

My most merciful and all-merciful God, O Lord Jesus Christ! In Thy great love, Thou didst come down and become flesh in order to save all. Again, I pray Thee, save me by Grace! If Thou shouldst save me because of my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. Truly, Thou aboundest in graciousness and art inexpressibly merciful! Thou hast said, O my Christ: “He who believes in me shall live and never see death.” If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and my Maker. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me. May my faith be sufficient for all. May it answer for me; may it justify me; may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory; and may Satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that He has torn me from Thy hand and fold. O Christ my Savior: save me whether I want it or not! Come quickly, hurry, for I perish! Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Grant, O Lord, that I may now love Thee as once I loved sin, and that I may labor for Thee without laziness as once I labored for Satan the deceiver. Even more, I will labor for Thee, my Lord and God Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From the Morning Prayers

I hear the heart’s cry in the prayer quoted above. The depth of its honesty provokes the hearts of those who read it. It recognizes the truth of our will and echoes St. Paul’s observations:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-21; 24)

There is, I think, an abiding temptation towards Pelagianism (the belief that we can will our own salvation). In Orthodoxy, the teaching of “synergy” often runs in that direction. We indeed “cooperate” with God in our salvation (“cooperate” is the Latinized equivalent of “synergy”). But our cooperation is best illustrated in the prayer above. It is the cry for help from the lips of the helpless. This is not nothing – it is synergistic. But it is not the imagined synergy that some profess. We are saved by our weakness, not by our excellence.

(May 2, 2018)

Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being. It is a distorted direction (hamartia: “missing the mark”). It is equally the refusal of Beauty and Goodness, without participation in the Truth. 

When someone asks: “Is it a sin to withhold help from someone in need?” The answer is yes – but not in a merely legal sense. It is a sin – a movement towards non-existence – a movement away from the proper direction of our lives.

[A]ll of this should shed much light on the importance of beauty in Orthodox liturgy and Churches, iconography, etc. It is essential – not a decoration or an afterthought. Much of the modern world sees beauty as a luxury (which it so rarely affords). I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core). 

The apprehension of Beauty is at the very heart of the preaching of the gospel. It is that which first touches the heart and draws us towards Truth. In our over-rationalized world we tend to think that it is reasoning and arguments that draw people to Christ. But this is something that comes much later. First the heart must be drawn – and this happens primarily through Beauty in its broadest sense.

(May 4, 2018)

Could a liturgy be served without vestments? Of course, though a priest would, even in extreme circumstances, try to cobble something together. The vestments themselves are not mere decorations. Can a liturgy be served without icons? Of course, though it would be wrong to do so unless under extreme duress. There was once a liturgy celebrated in the confines of the prison of Pitesti in Romania. The canons require that the liturgy be celebrated in the presence of a martyr’s relic (all altars have such a relic). It was decided to celebrate the service on the body of a deceased prisoner, the only martyr present. Such things are not extraneous. The liturgy should not be subjected to reductionism.

The givenness of the liturgy, in all its aspects, is a proper subject of theoria – contemplation and understanding. It is a mystery that yields itself to the heart. It is not, however, one more cultural artifact to be manipulated in the interests of consumer capitalism and its deformation of humanity. We are fast losing the memory of who and what we are. It is the confusion of Babel.

(May 11, 2018)

Jesus healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, and gave sight to the blind. Such actions are incorrectly described as the “relief of suffering.” In many other cases Jesus specifically asks people to suffer: give away your possessions; forgive your enemies; take up your Cross; turn the other cheek; give without expecting in return. Again, there is no authentic Christian voice that does not demand suffering on the part of its adherents.

More important than this, is the fact that this voluntary self-denial, a willingly embraced suffering for the sake of others, is not a diminishment of our humanity, but a necessity of its fulfillment. It is this reality that modernity, in its truncated account of existence, fails to understand or to describe. The most popular ethic within the modern world entails the relief of suffering. In the name of that ethic, people are put to death. It cannot ask us to suffer without guilt. But if suffering is inherent to our existence, then only that which encompasses suffering is sufficient as an account of being human.

To be truly human is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And not just to the image of Christ, but Christ crucified. Anything less would make a mockery of our existence and a diminishment of the fullness to which we are called.

(May 15, 2018)

I have seen, more than once, the favorable outcome of a soul whose deepest hunger has, in an unguarded moment, been exposed to the light of the gospel. I know the case of a woman who found God when a priest called her by name unexpectedly. Just her name. The mercy of God is wonderfully opportunistic. I have often thought, “Give Him an inch and He’ll take your life!”

(May 19, 2018)

As I finished up, deciding what “categories” to assign to today’s blog, the quote “Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being” struck me as an instance of nominalism versus realism, so I applied that category. One characteristic tendency of nominalism was to see sin as sinful because it transgressed an essentially arbitrary divine decree. The consequence of sin was not non-being (spiritual death), but punishment by God. In this sense, the Orthodox understanding of sin is realist rather than nominalist.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A collection of (one-man) rowboats

Charles Taylor, in his magisterial Sources of the Self, noted that with the coming of the Reformation, the Church is no longer the ship of salvation, but rather a collection of rowboats.

It has been said somewhere, “No one is saved alone. If we fall, we fall alone, but no one is saved alone.” It is possible to err in both directions in these thoughts. The individual has value and a unique role in his own life. But we are not merely, or purely individual. This is precisely the case when viewed from the angle of salvation itself. In the New Testament, salvation is incorporation, a joining into the Body of Christ.

(Father Stephen Freeman, Getting Saved on Star Trek)

On the other hand …

Two critiques of the newly-reposed Billy Graham, which I note not just for the record, but because I cannot help but agree.

First, a George Will column I passed over, then returned to because, well, it was by George Will: Billy Graham was no prophet.

Because Will is a veteran writer, he tells us right away what he’s going to tell us:

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some, and there are many “miracles around us today, including television and airplanes.” Graham was no theologian.

Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said “a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” Prophets take adversarial stances toward their times, as did the 20th century’s two greatest religious leaders, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. Graham did not. Partly for that reason, his country showered him with honors.

I made the same points — neither theologian nor prophet — yesterday, but not as an indictment, which Will pretty clearly implies.

The problem, to reframe some of the same points Will makes, is that Evangelist Graham often positioned himself in a fundamentally prophetic role by becoming the intimate of powerful men:

Graham’s dealings with presidents mixed vanity and naivete. In 1952, he said he wanted to meet with all the candidates “to give them the moral side of the thing.” He was 33. He applied flattery with a trowel, comparing Dwight Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and calling Richard Nixon “the most able and the best trained man for the job probably in American history.” He told Nixon that God had given him, Nixon, “supernatural wisdom.” Graham should have heeded the psalmist’s warning about putting one’s faith in princes.

On Feb. 1, 1972, unaware of Nixon’s Oval Office taping system, when Nixon ranted about how Jews “totally dominated” the media, Graham said, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.” He also told Nixon that Jews are the ones “putting out the pornographic stuff.” One can reasonably acquit Graham of anti-Semitism only by convicting him of toadying ….

Yes, if you’re going to get that close to power, you’re surely obliged to don the prophet’s mantle, especially if you’re purporting to “give them the moral side of the thing.” To paraphrase Will, we can acquit Graham of dereliction only by convicting him of toadying — or by assuming that quietly, and in private, he did truly “give them the moral side of the thing” in a way that was at least minimally prophetic.

Is there another alternative?

Second, Darryl Hart (who I likewise passed over at first) makes a subtler point, and one that I probably cannot make strongly enough to heal scotomata: Graham’s itinerant evangelism inherently undermined Churches.

Graham’s work, which was completely independent of a church or a communion, undermined implicitly the work of local pastors who were trying to the best of their abilities to evangelize the locals. Along would come Graham and all of a local pastor or priest’s endeavors seemed paltry by comparison. Here I’m reminded of what H. L. Mencken wrote about Billy Sunday and the kind of appeal a popular (and traveling) preacher had compared to the residential and denominational variety:

Even setting aside [Sunday’s] painstaking avoidance of anything suggesting clerical garb …, he comes down so palpably to the level of his audience, both in the matter and the manner of his discourse, that he quickly disarms the old suspicion of the holy clerk and gets the discussion going on the familiar and easy terms of a debate in a barroom. The raciness of his slang is not the whole story by any means; his attitude of mind lies behind it, and is more important … It is marked, above all, by a contemptuous disregard of the theoretical and mystifying; an angry casting aside of what may be called the ecclesiastical mask, an eagerness to reduce all the abstrusities of Christian theology to a few and simple and … self-evident propositions, a violent determination to make of religion a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern.

… Mencken’s point about evangelicalism and the evangelists who benefited from it stands. Your average pastor cannot compete with the bells and whistles of a mass meeting and the publicity that surrounds it. Nor can your average minister disregard preaching through a book of the Bible or fashioning a homily based on the lectionary and situating that relatively learned speech into the fabric of a liturgy or order of service (for the Puritans out there). In other words, theology, church government, and convictions about worship constrain a pastor, not to mention the responsibilities of ministering over time to a variety of congregation or parish members in all manner of walks of life. Graham could simply give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row, with a different musical performance or celebrity interview, and then leave town. Your average pastor doesn’t have that pay grade. And if he is actually preparing his flock for the world to come (read death), then a religion that is “a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern” is not necessarily going to cut the Gordian Knot of how sinners become right with the sovereign Lord of the universe.

In other words, not all Protestants were thrilled by Graham’s ministry. In fact, going back to the revivals of the First and Second Great Pretty Good Awakenings, denominationally and theologically self-conscious Protestants (Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed), have opposed mass revivalism because it undermines the work of the ordained ministry and the local church.

Hart says “undermined implicitly.” I say “inherently undermined.” The two are not the same and I stand by my version, precisely because of two things Hart doesn’t mention:

  1. Graham did not merely “give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row … and then leave town.” He or his aides routinely — in my understanding, invariably — told those who responded to his invitation to go back to their churches, provided only that those churches had Jesus and Bible. That was why he caught flak from Bob Jones and a significant number of others: Catholics were sent back into the maw of the whore of Babylon, as the critics saw it.
  2. But despite #1, Graham’s crusades were ineluctibly parachurch, his Gospel transactional, his salvation forensic. Having lived in his world, I can say from personal observation that a whole lotta folks took their “eternal security” to the golf course or beach on Sunday mornings. That kind of tacit falling away was well known to Evangelists, who lamented it but didn’t know how to deal with it. (Campus Crusade for Christ, n/k/a Cru, came up with a “Spirit-filled life” tract to complement “Four Spiritual Laws,” but even then were frustrated by the crypto-lapsi.)

When I referred to “scotomata,” I was referring to such widespread disregard or disrespect of the “institutional” Church as opposed to parachurch ministries. Of this, too, I have personal experience, even though habitually, and all my life long, I’ve attended church — even when I considered church merely a good idea and in no way salvific.

Those who just bristled at the idea of church being salvific are those with the scotomata. Jesus Christ did not “build [His] Church” just to be the sort of thing you might go for if you go for that sort of thing.

You can look that up.

Hart doesn’t put it that bluntly, but a Calvinistic version of that (i.e., a sensibility that probably doesn’t unequivocally see the Church as salvific) is his sensibility, and I agree that undermining local churches was a weakness Billy Graham’s methods could not avoid.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Do you want to go away?

When I experience Church conflict and disappointment, John 6:67-69 mercifully comes to mind:

Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

(Those who “went away” were scandalized by Christ’s preceding teaching on the Eucharist, during which teaching whenever anyone objected, Christ upped the ante. Today we have huge swaths of denominations, independent congregations and “parachurch” ministries who have “gone away” but don’t know or admit it.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.