A markedly different—and jarring—model of a disillusioned evangelical

I also happened to sincerely believe in my father’s message, though “believe” is perhaps the wrong word. Rather, I had not yet begun to question my indoctrination.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God.

I have almost certainly grumbled about Franky Schaeffer here in the past (he’s so like me in so many ways that his biliousness worries me), but his distinction between belief and indoctrination has some merit, and has its analogs in my own Christian pilgrimage.

But what do you do when your indoctrination gives way to incompatible belief? What do you do particularly if you have made a career of passing the indoctrination along? In some cases, obviously, people just go right along as before, becoming the rankest hypocrites in the process.

Immediately preceding the block-quote above is this revealing glimpse into Schaeffer:

What is sad to me now (in a maudlin, self-pitying way) is that some of my paintings were good. And they were getting better. If I’d had the discipline to concentrate on my art and had found a way of distancing myself from the evangelical community (and the easy money it soon offered), I might have gotten somewhere. In fact, I was getting somewhere in New York, Geneva (Aubonne), and London. But I was also broke. And Genie was pregnant with our second child.

I think that Franky Schaeffer came to a place where he didn’t believe as an Evangelical Christian any longer, and deeply regretted his (exaggerated) role in the Religious Right. I give him partial credit for not continuing to sell a product in which he no longer believed.

But, having foregone art training, he also lacked marketable skills other than polemical writing, so to polemical writing about his parents, his Evangelical acquaintances, and his former political allies he turned with unseemly ardor. At last sighting, he was a regular at the Huffington Post, preaching to a choir of "all those religious people are phonies" types.

That type certainly comes from somewhere, of course, and Southern Baptist misfit Russell Moore (via Anglican Alan Jacobs), lays out a damning thesis:

When I was fifteen years old, I considered suicide—and it was because I didn’t want to lose my religion. As I’ve written about elsewhere, I went through a prolonged spiritual crisis then because of what I was seeing all around me in Bible Belt Christianity. Not only were the televangelist scandals all over the news, but also I knew that this wasn’t the half of it.

I started to wonder whether religion itself—or at least the kind of Christianity that showed up in the slogans all around me—might really be about something else: southern culture or politics. If so, I thought, that would mean that Jesus is not the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but a means to an end. And that would mean that the gospel is not “You must be born again,” but “You must be one of us.”

[T]he evidence is mounting that a significant amount of secularization is accelerated and driven not by the “secular culture,” but by evangelicalism itself.

Many of us have observed, anecdotally, a hemorrhaging of younger evangelicals from churches and institutions in recent years. What seems different about this quiet exodus is that the departures are heightened not among the peripheries of the church—those “nominal” or “cultural” Christians who grow up to rebel against their parents’ beliefs—but instead among those who are the most committed to what were previously thought to be the hardest aspects of Christian religion in modernity: belief in “the supernatural,” the rigorous demands of discipleship, and a longing for community and accountability in a multigenerational church with ancient roots and transcendent authority.

Where a “de-churched” (to use an anachronistic term) “ex-vangelical” (to use another) in the early 1920s was likely to have walked away due to the fact that she found the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection to be outdated and superstitious or because he found moral libertinism to be more attractive than the “outmoded” strict moral code of his past or because she wanted to escape the stifling bonds of a home church for an autonomous individualism, now we see a markedly different—and jarring—model of a disillusioned evangelical. We now see young evangelicals walking away from evangelicalism not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches. The presenting issue in this secularization is not scientism and hedonism but disillusionment and cynicism.

(Emphasis added)

Alan Jacobs, who pointed me to the Moore article, adds his own take:

Thousands upon thousands of young people are leaving evangelicalism because they have been told all their lives that evangelicals hold up Jesus as Lord and the Bible as God’s Word — and have seen all their lives that many evangelical leaders ignore Jesus and ignore Scripture whenever those witnesses conflict with the leaders’ preferred cultural politics. “And what if people don’t leave the church because they disapprove of Jesus, but because they’ve read the Bible and have come to the conclusion that the church itself would disapprove of Jesus? That’s a crisis.”

My own initial reaction to Moore was an unspoken "What a stinging indictment! I hope it produces repentance and course correction!"

But as things fermented a bit more I realized that the political offensiveness is a feature, not a bug, in a faith whose Great Commission is "go ye into all the world and own the libs." There is no hypocrisy because there is no awareness that the Christian faith must never be instrumentalized. So there will be no repentance.

A subsidiary reaction was "Moore is being typically evangelical-insouciant, referring to ‘the Church’ as if Evangelicalism was all the Church there is.

I can speak with high confidence only about my own Orthodox Parish, since I don’t get around to many others, but of it I can say it is not the "kind of Christianity that showed up in the slogans all around" younger Russell Moore. It’s my strong impression that Orthodox Christianity in other parishes is also, if only because of structural constraints, politically agnostic: there’s almost no opportunity to inject politics into Orthodox liturgy outside of the homily.

Should a newly-minted "none" of the sort Russell Moore describes happen to read this, I implore them to come and see how Orthodox Christian Churches does believe the Christian faith it professes.

Oh, yeah: Orthodox Christianity is where Frank Schaeffer (last I knew; he said something to the effect that it was the last stop, and if it didn’t work, he’d be out of Christianity altogether) and I both ended up after interrogating our prior traditions in the clumsy and episodic ways people do.


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.

Fragmentary oppositions

Forty years ago, a group of Situationists, building on their original 1968 manifesto, wrote of the progress of the ‘spectacle’, the name that Guy Debord had given to the bread-and-circuses face of modern Machine capitalism. They maintained that ongoing, surface-level conflict – what we would today call a culture war – was not a manifestation of rebellion against the Machine, but an necessary part of its functioning:

Fragmentary oppositions are like the teeth on cogwheels: they mesh with each other and make the machine go round — the machine of the spectacle, the machine of power.

Unlike many of their fellow travellers on the left, the Situationists had identified the true tenor of the times: no longer a clarifying class war over the means of production, but a fog of constructed and managed lies, consumer images, competing media narratives and fomented cultural divisions, all of it serving the interests of those who run the show. Fragmentary oppositions, the machine of the spectacle, the machine of power: it’s a description of our time. There are a lot of people out there who benefit daily from us all being at each others’ throats: arguing furiously over surface trivia while the money and the power funnel upwards, as they ever did.

Paul Kingsnorth, Under the spreading walnut tree, the introduction to his new Substack, The Abbey of Misrule.


Based on the conversations I hear these days among the New Urbanists, there is a division now in the movement between those on-board with a techno-utopian vision of an alt-energy economy that allows us to maintain the current standard of living, with all its comforts and conveniences, and another faction who recognize that something quite different and rather ominous is underway—a combination of economic de-growth, vanishing capital resources, political disorder, and environmental crises. The first group tends to get the most attention, because “green optimism” has such palliative appeal, just as the purity of modernism was so appealing after the gigantic mess of World War II. But the second faction, the adaptationists, have a better grip on reality.

I’m for the adaptationists because they are more in tune with the way circumstances actually roll out, that is, emergently. Societies are organisms that respond to the forces that reality brings to bear at a particular time. They self-organize and reorganize as reality compels them to. The signals now say: get smaller, get simpler, get less technocratic, get finer, and get more local. Despite all the portentous chatter about a “great reset” or a coming global government, centralized authority (in the U.S., anyway) only becomes increasingly impotent and ineffectual. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they will “solve” the problems at hand. The real trend is not to greater concentrations of power but dispersed autarky, or local self-reliance. We’re on our own.

James Howard Kunstler, The Next New Urbanism


For our reading group, we decided to go through N.T. Wright’s 2008 publication Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. This work expanded on many of the concerns Wright had raised when I heard him speak in 2006. He shared a body of evidence which suggested that there has been widespread compromise with the heresy of Gnosticism. “A good many Christian hymns and poems,” he warned, “wander off unthinkingly in the direction of Gnosticism.” Wright used the doctrine of physical resurrection as the linchpin to refute this implicit Gnosticism, as well as to undermine a type of evangelical pietism that is so heavenly minded that it ceases to be of any earthly good. Using scriptural exegesis, Wright showed that although going to heaven is important, it is only one part of the Christian hope. The early Christians, he pointed out, actually believed that heaven is more like a waiting room where we will anticipate the final resurrection. In the final resurrection, the faithful will be given new bodies to enjoy in the renewed heaven and earth. This scriptural hope, Wright suggested, has implications in the here-and-now, transforming how we view the earth and the mission of the church …

I did not expect Surprised by Hope to be particularly controversial, as it simply articulates the historic Christian hope. Nevertheless, much of the public reaction to Wright’s book treated his teaching as something of a novelty. In February 26, 2008, ABC news ran a story claiming that Wright’s idea that “God will literally remake our physical bodies” was “a radical departure from traditional belief.” Although the Nicene Creed contains the statement “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, and although the Apostles’ Creed professed belief in “the resurrection of the body”, the wider public appeared to assume that this is no longer part of traditional Christian belief. The widespread assumption seemed to be that eternal disembodiment is the orthodox Christian hope. For example, in his compendium of information about what happens after death, Biochemical researcher Brian Innes observed that “current orthodox Christianity no longer holds to the belief in physical resurrection, preferring the concept of the eternal existence of the soul, although some creeds still cling to the old ideas.”

The fact that the media treated Bishop Wright as a novelty for simply articulating the doctrine of physical resurrection, convinced me that I needed to take another look at the phenomenon of implicit Gnosticism ….

Robin Mark Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic.

It is astonishing that orthodox, historic, credal Christianity should be flagged by media as a novelty, but I think Robin Phillips was onto something when he proposed that the West’s implicit theology is gnostic.


I just (as I’m writing, undecided when to publish) finished listening to a Vox Conversations podcast about George Soros (Who is the real George Soros?), of whom I have an unfashionably neutral-tending-positive opinion.

There came a point in the podcast, though, where I yelled bad words at the participants. They had just set up a trick bag to the effect that one cannot criticize the "open society" idea because it’s antisemitic to do so because the open society idea is associated with Jews and criticism of it is always, and by definition, implicitly antisemitic.

If that sounds confusing and circular, it’s because it was. And I have enough sympathy for the case against the open society (and especially some of what have become its corollaries, like open borders) that it infuriates me to hear it insouciantly dismissed out of hand as tainted.


Speaking of open societies:

Because [Karl] Popper did not anticipate threats to open societies outside of grand historical narratives, he did not imagine that the source of fanatical certitude would one day be individuals, who would fashion it out of a veritable flood of discordant facts and suspicions … Americans have increasingly come to see themselves as capable of sifting through all the available evidence to discover unerring truths that their political opponents are too biased, ignorant, or corrupt to see.

The Danger of Fact-ist Politics


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.

Explaining myself

I posted last night some clippings from commentary on the U.S. Presidential debate of September 29, after almost four weeks’ absence and talk of ending the blog.

Problem 1 is that Wordpess, my platform, has been making “improvements” again. I’ve generally used its native editor, and they’ve replaced it with a monstrosity called a “block editor,” which is perfectly indecipherable. It wasn’t worth the effort to learn it since it’s a patently absurd way of writing essay-like things for people to read. [UPDDATE: As I subsequently tried to find a lighter graphic theme than War Correspondence had affected, it appeared that WordPress, or bloggery in general, is focused on commerce, photomontage, and other non-essay activities.] 

Problem 2 is not really a problem at all: even at my advanced age (500 dog years), I’m learning new tricks far more rewarding that mastering a stupid editor, such as not wallowing so much in news and commentary. This was made possible by spiritual adjustments which are best summarized by the advice of Fr. Stephen Freeman (for years, and especially here) and the late Fr. Thomas Hopcko. I’ve said for years that my epitaph should be “Darn! Just when I almost had it figured all out!” — a pathetic joke for a Christian, but an accurate reflection of how I was living. This annus horribilus has been a good one for taking stock of things and changing them as needed, and I can finally consider a better epitaph because that old one doesn’t fit any more.

If you think that’s too much information or a digression, it’s not: It means I’ve had less to say because I’m less “well-informed” and less in need of “venting” about things.

There may be more, but the third factor, the one facilitating my return to blogging, is the realization that I need not use WordPress’s stupid editor. I’ve acquired MarsEdit, on which I composed last night’s blog and am composing this one. It’s worth learning for me.

So I have the blogging tools I need but less to vent about. For that reason, I’ll almost certainly not return to daily blogging, and the conceit of warring against the deathworks already is feeling stale. I may return to the Tipsy Teetotaler name and a brighter graphic theme.

Finally, I commend to you Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not by Lies, which I got on the Tuesday release date and finished yesterday — a relatively ferocious pace for me (facilitated by not wasting time on ephemeral news — see, it all connects). I think Dreher is fundamentally right about the future for cultural conservatives, but I’m partial to a Christian (Lutheran) reviewer who suggested that we may be heading for more open and literal warfare between Social Justice Warriors on the Left and “Traditionalst” atavists on the Alt-Right, with sane Christians mostly suffering collateral damage rather than being the targets of the SJWs.

* * * * *

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

and

You shall love your crooked neighbour

“With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

* * * * *

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.

Return of the potpourri

1

Yet another unanswerable survey:

Do you think voting by mail is more or less likely to be accurate than in-person?

Axios-SurveyMonkey poll

What do they mean by “accurate”? E.g., reflecting (1) each actual voter’s choice, or (2) aggregate registered voters’ overall preference?

2

Are we really going to waste time listening to theme and variations on whether Kamala Harris is “really an African American“?

3

  • [T]here’s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels.
  • In the 1970s, the old Mainline Protestantism starts to break down. A question of what might replace its centrality in American culture emerges. There is a period in the 1990s and 2000s when it seems that Catholicism might provide the moral language that Mainline Protestantism no longer did. In the event, that project failed, primarily because liberal Protestantism did not disappear – it just shifted into post-Protestantism.
  • Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin. If you go through the list, they are exactly what radicals are objecting to now: bigotry, the ignorance of the uneducated, power, corruption, militarism and oppression. It lines up so perfectly with today’s agitation.
  • It is an intense spiritual hunger that is manifesting itself more violently. Because to the post-Protestants, the world is an outrage and we are all sinners.
  • The trouble is that, unlike Original Sin, there’s no salvation from white guilt. But the formal structure of white guilt and Original Sin is the same. How do you come to understand that you need salvation? By deeper and deeper appreciation of your sinfulness.
  • The line that I use is that, if you believe that your ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken, but are evil, you have ceased to do politics and begun to do religion.
  • [T]he young members of the Elect are winning against the old elite. Young staffers at the New York Times forced James Bennett, the editorial page editor, to resign. And that’s incredible. Every old newspaper editor I knew – in generations before mine – would have looked at a letter signed by hundreds of junior staffers criticising an editorial decision, and said ‘I’m sorry that you’re quitting’.

Collins: You refer to the post-Protestants who promote these ideas as the ‘Elect’. From a sociological perspective, why do you prefer to use the term ‘Elect’ rather than say the ‘elite’ or another designation?

Bottum: Ross Douthat, in a column in the New York Times, said that one of the things we need to take from An Anxious Age is the distinction between the elite and the Elect. I chose the term Elect because those people who are part of it are not elite in the sense of having a hundred billion dollars. They are not the elite in the sense of being political figures with lengthy careers, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden for that matter. They are not elite in the sense they control things in terms of ownership. So we need another term for them. They certainly have elite educations, but that elite education is not translated into the enormous wealth and power that the true elite has. I could have gone with a class analysis, and I do talk about Milovan Djilas’ analysis in The New Class, which is a fundamental book from the 1950s. There’s also the managerial class analysis that dominated American sociology for many years, and is still really informative. But I wanted to push in a slightly different direction.

Race is the problem that we have never solved in this country. After the Reconstruction era, in the aftermath of the Civil War, we lost the national will for solving the problem of race. Segregation was evil, second only to slavery, but not by much. And the Great Society welfare state of the 1960s has manifestly proven a failure. So, we have never solved this problem.

What I object to is the idea that deep feeling is going to solve the race problem. Or that absurdly utopian ideas like abolishing the police are going to solve the problem. We don’t live in a utopia, and those ideas are only going to cause more problems. The Elect has not been called upon to be responsible. Its members are simply objecting, and they are objecting for reasons that are at least half, and probably more, emotional. Which is to say, they are only objecting to feel good about themselves. To look at that in any objective way, it’s so irresponsible. All it does is create more unhappiness in the name of your own self-righteousness. This is what I call the self-love of self-hatred. It’s ‘I’m such a sinner and aren’t I wonderful for knowing that I’m a sinner’. The irresponsibility comes because they aren’t governing.

Collins: I’ve also noticed a tendency to avoid detailed analysis of economic and social conditions, or concrete policy reforms. Instead, the issue of race after George Floyd is a simple moral denunciation, or a vague reference to ‘systemic racism’. You hear ‘Why do I have to keep explaining this?’, ‘I’m so exhausted’, and so on, as if the issue was beyond debate.

Bottum: Right. But also it’s defining the Church. It’s a way of saying you either have this feeling or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re evil, and if you do, you’re good. Christian theology, and Christian spiritual practice, has dealt with this for millennia. This is the distinction Calvin would make between justification and sanctification. The idea here is that we no longer need to argue it, because any argument of it is engaging with people beyond the pale. They are outside the Church, they are the profane. They are just wrong. What are they wrong about? They are wrong in the central feeling of moral goodness. This is the attempt to get others to shut up.

We are living in the age of the ad hominem. The fundamental way to answer a claim is to say something about the person who said it. Whether it’s a tu quoque, or an abusive ad hominem, or poisoning the well – the ad hominem is a whole genus of different species of fallacy. How do we know others are wrong? They are wrong because some bad people have said it too. Bari Weiss [the former New York Times op-ed editor] must be wrong [about the illiberal environment at the Times], because Ted Cruz forwarded her tweet. That’s a wonderful ad hominem – guilt by association. It’s not about the content of what is said, it’s about the people who said it.

Wokeness: old religion in a new bottle – spiked (Joseph Bottum interview)

My old friend Jody Bottum thinks that the various Woke movements amount to a kind of post-Protestantism. I think this is wholly wrong. Wokeness is aspirationally Roman Catholic in its structure. It already has:

  • magisterial teaching that one must hold de fide in order to belong
  • the pronouncing of anathemas upon those who dissent from that magisterial teaching
  • a distributed Inquisition devoted to unearthing and prosecuting heresy
  • an ever-growing Index of Prohibited Books

Wokeness despises the fissiparousness of Protestantism and wants to replace it with Real, Substantial, and Visible Unity under its banner. It’s basically a secularized Counter-Reformation.

Alan Jacobs, wokeness as Counter-Reformation – Snakes and Ladders

On wokeness as religion, see also Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice – Areo (long read – I skimmed)

4

The trouble with Evangelicals is that too often we’ve been wise as doves and innocent as serpents.

Alan Jacobs, paraphrasing Mark Noll, author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll’s book is 25 years old, but somehow this aphorism seems truer than ever.

5

Are these trustworthy people to think with?

Alan Jacobs, suggesting a key life question (shortly after reflecting on C.S. Lewis’s Mark Studdock and his wife, Jane). If you know That Hideous Strength, that should resonate.

6

Incompetent narcissist is a really hard sell.

The Remnant, on the 2020 election as a referendum on President Trump, who is neither a competent narcissist nor a lovable bumbler.

7

Nobody wants to be on Team Lesser Evil. You want to feel like you’re on Team Good. (David French, guest-hosting on The Remnant. When you vote Lesser Evil, you’re emotionally joining the team.

8

[O]n June 22nd, the president suspended the arrival of new au pairs … Wealthier families … have begun poaching au pairs from households with lower incomes.

Au-pair wars – America’s au-pair programme is under assault from Donald Trump and the left | United States | The Economist

9

Recommended: The end of secularism is nigh – UnHerd. I thought the Atlantic’s article on the topic (or should I say on the same two foreign developments?) was inferior.

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Trade-offs of pluralism

I’m still bereft of worthy, fresh ideas for blogging since blogging for me is part of an iterative search for truth and I don’t have a good enough handle on coronavirus to say a whole lot confidently and truthily.

Except maybe this: If you think the coronavirus is a hoax and not very serious, pull your head out of those nether-regions where the sun don’t shine (i.e., shut off Limbaugh, Hannity and their ilk), get a few basic facts, and think about how many Chinese, Italian and Spanish people died, how many international organizations sounded alarms, in this elaborate hoax to dethrone King Donald. Does that sound plausible?

Lacking something fresh, I found another incomplete draft, from September 9, took it and dusted it off. Enjoy!

* * *

Sohrab Ahmari and David French finally faced off live at Catholic University of America Thursday evening [September 5?], moderated by Ross Douthat.

In debating terms, it was no contest: French cleaned up. In fairness to Ahmari, his wife had a child on Wednesday, so he had things on his mind more important than a mere livestreamed national debate of sorts.

But again and again, French, in good Evangelical style, spoke of the freedom to preach the Gospel in a content-neutral public square, to lead drag queens to Jesus, and such. That’s pretty consistent with the forward-facing values of ADF, the Evangelical-leaning public-interest law firm for or with whom he formerly worked.

It started to sound as obsessive as Ahmari’s concern over Drag Queen Story Hour. So I was glad to see Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy argue for something a bit thicker than mere neutrality:

For most of the … campus ministries at Nebraska, …universities were convenient social institutions because they rounded up a large number of demographically similar young people into a single place where they would have broadly identical routines, all of which made it very easy to evangelize them. Many of these groups did not think anything of taking their students away from campus regularly on retreats, heavily programming their weeks (thereby cutting into their time to give to their studies), and even sometimes suggesting that their academic work was of mostly incidental importance. The real life happened in Bible studies and when you prayed and over coffee with your discipler or disciplee. College, much like one’s eventual career, was mostly a necessary evil that simply secured material goods for you.

While watching the French-Ahmari debate last night it occurred to me that French seems to have a fairly similar vision of the nation—it’s an incidental good that is useful for advancing certain strictly material goods but it pales in significance when set next to the work of the church …

The point is not necessarily that French should endorse some species of integralism, although it is worth noting that in his handling of rights and the nature of religious doctrine as it relates to public life French is far closer to the Baptists than he is the traditional views of the reformed tradition to which he belongs. But that point aside, French could preserve many of the rights he cares about preserving while anchoring his account of the political in something more real than the pragmatic adjudication of disputes within a pluralistic society.

… That the government could be something more than a mere arbiter who threatens to hit you in the head with a brick if you don’t play nicely with your neighbor seems to be unimaginable ….

There’s much more Jake wrote, but you can go read it yourself readily enough.

By lifelong mental habit and eventual initiation into the solemn mysteries of “thinking like a lawyer,” I don’t suppose I’ll ever be able to leave the camp of classical procedural liberalism, but the Ahmaris and Meadors of the world at least drive home that there are trade-offs in our pluralistic experiment.

One of the trade-offs is the risky one of declaring, a priori, that we must never agree on just what is the “common good” because we know that there’s no such thing as human nature, just humans with various and sundry natures, each, probably, as unique as a snowflake. I disagree with both dogmas, but for the foreseeable future, I’m a loser. It will take some undeniable anthropological catastrophe, the equivalent of COVID-19, to turn those tables.

* * * * *

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Cultural Liturgies

America does not have a liturgy of repentance. The days of fasting once enjoined upon us are a thing of the past. Even then, for all the prayers and fasting of Lincoln’s republic, no particular liturgy ever marked the end of slavery, much less sought to repent for its evils. To this day, many seek to justify its history.

When the Soviet Union fell, within a few short years, Russians began to create memorials and liturgies for the atrocities of the Soviet Union. In Moscow, at the killing fields of Butovo, a Church now stands as a memorial to its victims. Public liturgies are held there on a regular basis. It is one of many such memorials across the country.

Our public narrative is very thin. The Church historian, Martin Marty, once said that American Christianity was “2,000 miles wide and 2 inches deep.” When our Christian theology mimics the triumphant patriotism of our culture, nothing deeper ever begins. Depth comes with suffering. Suffering creates sorrow, and sorrow, of a godly sort, produces repentance.

We are bad at enough stuff and have a history sufficiently marked with sorrow to create fertile ground for repentance. It lacks the humility to greet it.

It is ever so much more than a game.

Fr, Stephen Freeman

I suspect that Fr. Stephen’s blog entry was spurred by Sunday’s SuperBowl LIV, with the only liturgical elements our nation knows: patriotism with a dash of remembrance. It might even have been influenced by Fr. Steven browsing the Eighth Day Books book table at the Eighth Day Symposium a bit over a week ago, on which table I’m pretty sure James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies trio was on display.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

Who is Cultural Proximate to the U.S.?

There is a genuine rift in conservative thought on immigration, illustrated by contrasting takes on the National Conservatism Conference speech of Amy Wax.

Much of the commentary on Wax’s comments have been reactive in the bad sense, accusing her of racism. I’ve looked at the most controversial parts (I’m having trouble finding a transcript or, now, even the video on the Conference’s YouTube channel) and I summarize it thus:

We should have an policy bias toward immigrants who are culturally proximate to us rather than culturally distant. That means a bias in favor of  Western European immigrants. And that — let’s face it — will mean a disproportionately white batch of immigrants, though race is not our real criterion.

My three representative conservative takes are those of Rod Dreher, David French and Mark Bauerlein.

Dreher came out first:

I can see some problems with Wax’s proposal. What does it mean to be “Western”? Russia is a European country, and a Christian country, and a country of white people … but it’s not really Western. Should we limit Russian immigration? Ghana is an African nation that is vastly more Christian than, say, Sweden, but it’s certainly not Western, and it’s in the Third World. Would America be better off with a policy that favored atheist Swedes over Christian Ghanaians? Asians — South Asians and East Asians — are not Western, obviously, not Christian, and many of them do not live in what we consider the First World. Yet they tend to be “model migrants,” in that their children obey the laws, study hard, and achieve professional success disproportionately. Is an immigration system that puts them at a disadvantage over Europeans better for America?

It’s certainly debatable, but one of Wax’s points is that we can’t even talk about it, because it is widely assumed that any immigration system that results in disproportionate racial impact is racist and therefore bad.

French came close behind. For him, Amy Wax’s speech wasn’t racist, but it was wrong:

  1. Western Europeans are not necessarily more culturally proximate because there’s “quite a bit of evidence that nonwhite immigrants (including nonwhite immigrants from developing countries) do very well in a key measure of American assimilation — economic industry.”
  2. Western Europeans are decidedly less culturally proximate insofar as “American culture and European culture have been drifting apart for decades on a key metric — religiosity. Secular nationalists may not care about this, but European-biased immigration is secular-biased immigration, and that will alter American culture in appreciable ways.”
  3. “[O]ne of the core, virtuous objectives of the new conservative nationalism [is] social cohesion [but] the most polarized population in America is the white population.”

Bauerlein just appeared in print on Wax, and he clearly implies that she’s right about Western European cultural proximity:

A cardinal premise of leftist thought is that cultural traits run deep. They reach down, past behavior, to unconscious values and concepts, shaping how we think. I went to graduate school in the 1980s, when critical race theorists and postcolonialists talked about “Western ways of knowing.” …

This is why we must take the outrage over Amy Wax’s remarks at the National Conservatism Conference in Washington earlier this month with a grain of salt …

What her detractors haven’t addressed, however, is Ms. Wax’s assertion of the deep acculturation that makes people who they are. This must be respected. The great divide Ms. Wax identifies is between peoples that have passed through the Enlightenment and peoples that haven’t. Immigrants from countries that don’t have a tradition of individual rights, free markets and fair elections must undergo a firm and steady induction if those mores are to sink into their souls. Social conservatives and identity-politics leftists agree on this: People can’t easily drop their heritage and adopt another one.

It is liberals and libertarians who think that migration is a smooth process. They imagine a world of free and flexible people who pick and choose the elements that will form their characters. Neither conservatives nor progressives trust this cosmopolitan faith. They know that culture molds character.

Ms. Wax’s great sin in the eyes of the left wasn’t her recognition of cultural differences and incompatibilities. It was, instead, her frank declaration of the West’s cultural superiority …

This outspoken praise for the West is anathema to the left, but not because the left hates the idea of cultural superiority. Far from it. The left most definitely believes in cultural superiority—but the kind that runs the other way. To them, the West isn’t a story of the advancement of rights and scientific knowledge, as Ms. Wax believes. It is a record of exploitation, enslavement, colonialism, environmental devastation and imperialism against suffering and benign non-Western peoples. When we speak of the West, the U.S. and whites, we must confess guilt.

This is a dogma in academia, advocacy groups and the Democratic Party. No, it’s a taboo. It has extraordinary force, too, having intimidated Republicans for decades. Amy Wax violated it. She’s not afraid. The left knows it, and if she isn’t punished, she may inspire others.

This debate doesn’t neatly fit the other rift, that between procedural liberalism (David French) and “virtue conservatism” or “substantive good conservatism” (Sohrab Amahri). Which group has which preference? I think Bauerlein and Amahri are converging in general, but would Amahri join French in prefering the black and brown Pentecostals?

For the time being, though, Amy Wax wins: we conservatives are talking, and disagreeing, about ideas that were taboo very, very recently.

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I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Whither immigration policy?

I’m very happy to learn that the National Conservatism Conference immigration comments of law professor Amy Wax were, in context, not racist.*

I first read some of them through Rod Dreher who had gotten only excerpts that sounded pretty damning. I gratefully got the broader context this morning from David French.

Wax’s point was that cultural closeness matters in immigration policy because it eases assimilation, and that if we restrict immigration from backward, culturally-distant places, we are ipso facto favoring disproportionately white immigration.

French plausibly thinks that means, and that Wax intended it to mean, favoring immigration from Europe. If she said that, I missed it, but it’s a fair interpretation anyway.

I’m even happier, though, that French argues against Europhile immigration leanings, in three interesting points, the first of which is obvious almost to the point of being banal:

  1. “[N]onwhite immigrants (including nonwhite immigrants from developing countries) do very well in a key measure of American assimilation — economic industry … The bottom line is that skilled immigrants do well in the United States no matter where they’re from.”
  2. “[S]he wildly overestimates the extent to which European society represents some sort of cultural match with the United States. American culture and European culture have been drifting apart for decades on a key metric — religiosity. Secular nationalists may not care about this, but European-biased immigration is secular-biased immigration, and that will alter American culture in appreciable ways.” He’s right that I had no idea how non-religious Europe has become, and he illustrates it vividly: Poland (!) would rank 48th, near the religiosity bottom, were it an American state. All other European nations are off our national scale.
  3. “My final objection relates to one of the core, virtuous objectives of the new conservative nationalism — social cohesion. Perversely enough, the most polarized population in America is the white population … America’s black and brown populations are more moderate and more religious than white liberals.”

I’m grateful for this because I had been thinking along the same line Wax was thinking along, and was also troubled by the racial implications of disproportionately European immigration.

I like French’s summary of his own immigration views, but I’ve borrowed enough and will let you ferret them out on your own.

Enjoy.

[* Her comments will almost certainly continue being treated as racist by those who, exactly as she describes, think any immigration philosophy that focuses on culture is ipso facto racist because of correlations between race and culture. Suffice that I’m more concerned with intent than with effect when I say “racist.”]

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Clippings from 1/27/19

1

It just beggars belief that the same liberals who fret about “micro-aggressions” for 20-somethings were able to see 16-year-olds absorbing the worst racist garbage from religious bigots … and then express the desire to punch the kids in the face.

Our mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism. My own trust in it is eroding. I’m far from the only one.

What was so depressing to me about the Covington incident was how so many liberals felt comfortable taking a random teenager and, purely because of his race and gender, projected onto him all their resentments and hatred of “white men” in general.

This is the abyss of hate versus hate, tribe versus tribe. This is a moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror of social media and see what we have become. Liberal democracy is being dismantled before our eyes — by all of us. This process is greater than one president. It is bottom-up as well as top-down. Tyranny, as Damon Linker reminded us this week, is not just political but psychological, and the tyrannical impulse, ratcheted up by social media, is in all of us. It infects the soul of the entire body politic. It destroys good people. It slowly strangles liberal democracy. This is the ongoing extinction level event.

Andrew Sullivan

2

That so much of the progressive-media discourse on the Covington episode consisted of the emotional revisitation of petty (and some unpetty) childhood traumas has given the whole project a Freudian odor, and, like the work of Sigmund Freud himself, it consists largely of intellectual fraud bolstered by manufactured or distorted evidence — claims of fact that are said to speak to a higher metaphysical truth no matter how frequently and how thoroughly they are debunked as claims of fact.

In the Covington fiasco, the very American progressives who boast so tirelessly and tediously that they are “for the People” have reclaimed an ancient prerogative of aristocracy: the whipping boy.

Kevin D. Williamson

3

One of the unexpected and very pleasant comments I heard over the weekend was on the excellent Left, Right & Center podcast, and I believe from Josh Barro, the podcast moderator (who never tires of the “full disclosure” that his “husband’s” emails were among those leaked by Wikileaks in the 2016 election runup). It went like this (not a direct quote):

Quite recently, we excused an inquisition into the decades-old high school acts of one Brett Kavanaugh. It was carefully explained that the justification was that his acts back then, if they were as alleged by Christine Blasey Ford, were seriously criminal, and he was seeking one of the highest offices in the land, with essentially life tenure.

There is no justification remotely approaching this for the inquisition against the Covington Catholic lads.

Thank you, Josh.

4

[Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo] recalled an exchange with college students not long ago. One of them said: “I get who you are. You’re one of those spineless centrists.”

“And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’,” she said. “It takes a lot of spine to be a centrist in America today. You get whacked from the left and whacked from the right. That’s my life. I get whacked.”

Frank Bruni

5

[T]here are several difficulties with the current briefs for impeachment, which suffice for now to keep a Pence presidency out of reach.

The first is the gulf between the democracy-subverting powers that the briefs ascribe to Trump and the actual extent of his influence …

Much of the case for “trampling” … is a case against Trump’s rhetoric. And one can acknowledge that rhetoric’s evils while doubting that the ranting of a president so hemmed in, unpopular and weak is meaningfully threatening the Constitution.

… [T]he second problem with the case for impeachment … might be summed up in a line from a poem that Trump often quoted in 2016: You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in. … [L]ittle about his rhetorical excess, his penchant for lies and insults or the seaminess of his courtiers was hidden from voters on the campaign trail in 2016, in an election that by the Constitution’s standards Trump legitimately won.

[Yoni] Appelbaum … analogizes Trump’s race-baiting to Andrew Johnson’s efforts to impede Reconstruction in the late-1860s South. But when he was impeached, Johnson was literally using his veto to abet the possible restoration of white supremacy. Whereas Trump is conspicuously losing a fight over some modest border fencing, and his last race-inflected policy move was … a criminal justice reform supported by many African-Americans. The president may be a bigot, but the policy stakes do not remotely resemble 1868.

Ross Douthat, 1/27/19 (emphasis added).

Take heed of this. Much as I detest Trump, I think all three points are valid, and the second one worries me most.

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Clippings and comment, 1/22/19 pm

1

David Brooks:

[I]n the age of social media [polarization is] almost entirely about social type. It’s about finding and spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own.

It’s about finding images that confirm your negative stereotypes about people you don’t know. It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.

You don’t have to read social theory on this phenomenon; just look at the fracas surrounding the Covington Catholic High School boys.

… [I]t’s important to remember that these days the social media tail wags the mainstream media dog. If you want your story to be well placed and if you want to be professionally rewarded, you have to generate page views — you have to incite social media. The way to do that is to reinforce the prejudices of your readers.

… The crucial thing is that the nation’s culture is now enmeshed in a new technology that we don’t yet know how to control.

It’s hard to believe that people are going to continue forever on platforms where they are so cruel to one another. It’s hard to believe that people are going to be content, year after year, to distort their own personalities in service to a platform, making themselves humorless, semi-blind, joyless and grim.

I want Brooks’ story to “be well placed” and Brooks “to be professionally rewarded” for his synthesis of the weekend incident and his framing of the problem it reveals.

2

[T]he vilification of Mrs. Pence makes prophetic Justice Samuel Alito’s prediction in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision throwing out all state laws against same-sex marriage. Justice Alito saw a perilous future for those who still embraced the view Mr. Obama once claimed to hold. “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” he wrote, “but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

In the larger sense the faith-shaming of Mrs. Pence exposes an inversion of tropes. In history and literature, typically it has been the religious side that can’t tolerate the slightest disagreement from its dogma and behaves like outraged 17th-century Salemites when they think they have uncovered a witch.

Now look at the Immanuel Christian School. Those who run it know they and those who think like them are the big losers in America’s culture war. All they ask is to be allowed, within the confines of their community, to uphold 2,000 years of Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality and the human person.

When Obergefell was decided, it was sold as live-and-let-live. But as Justice Alito foresaw, today some sweet mysteries of the universe are more equal than others. In other words, it isn’t enough for the victors to win; the new sense of justice requires that those who still don’t agree must be compelled to violate their deepest beliefs ….

William McGurn

3

A very good point:

But for the sake of arguing let us assume that the boys did just what the initial story alleged them to do. They went and harassed a Native American while that Indian made his protest. What then? Is what they did terrible? Yeah. Should they be punished? Absolutely. Should that punishment be that they are doxed, tarred as a racist, and casted out of respectable society for the rest of their lives? Once again, have you ever been 16? Or to put it another way do you want to be judged for the rest of your live by the worst thing you have ever done?

My point is that even if the initial story was correct this overreaction says a lot about what we have become. Do we really think that we should not forgive them? Criminals who break into our homes can get forgiven, but not 16 year old kids. Assault them? Dox them? Did people actually listen to what they are saying, or read what they are writing, when they decided to dehumanize these boys? Or did it just feel good to have a villain that we can treat like dirt?

[L]et us not let the elephant in the room go unnoticed. The boys made for convenient villains because they were wearing MAGA hats. They also white males who are likely heterosexual and Catholic. For certain groups in our society individuals with such characteristics should not have a place in our public square. Therefore, we are allowed to dehumanize individuals with these characteristics. There is a narrative whereby we should not be concern with “white tears.” After all even if whites are mistreated, it is nothing compared to how they have mistreated, and continue to mistreat, other right? This argument gives some people license to ignore any complaints from white Christian males.

4

While the petition now before us is based solely on the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, petitioner still has live claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 … Petitioner’s decision to rely primarily on his free speech claims as opposed to these alternative claims may be due to certain decisions of this Court.

In Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990), the Court drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause, and in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63 (1977), the Court opined that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion does not require an employer to make any accommodation that imposes more than a de minimis burden. In this case, however, we have not been asked to revisit those decisions.

Statement of Justice Alito, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, respecting the denial of certiorari in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 586 U.S. ____ (January 22, 2019). Eugene Volokh thinks this signals willingness of these justices to reconsider Employment Div. v. Smith, and

What’s more, Justice Breyer had earlier (in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)) made clear that he thought Employment Division v. Smith was indeed wrongly decided and should be overruled.

Reading the two first-quoted paragraphs in context, I emphatically agree with Volokh about what they signal. So there may be a majority ready to restore a more robust free exercise clause, which I’ve supported ever since Employment Div. v. Smith emasculated (can one still say that?) free exercise (or at least lowered its testosterone level dramatically).

Unlike either of the stereotypes Volokh describes regarding who favored broad free exercise right in the past versus now, I have always favored them, with little concern for government efficiency (is that an oxymoron?). But I must admit that the people getting the short end of parsimonious free exercise rights these days are more like me (Christian, traditional on sexual behavior and marriage, etc. — see item 2, above) than free exercise claimants used to be, and that would make broadening particularly congenial.

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