School Devolution

Too many of my blogs are a mish-mash. I’m going to publish a series of short blogs over the next hours or days.

First up:

A student who [spoke at the Fairfax County School Board meeting] that evening defended the contested [library] material, saying “there is nothing that is inappropriate unless you go looking for it.” [PTSA President Harry] Jackson takes it as a backhanded admission. “I am glad to see we agree there’s pornographic material in the library,” he says.

Like many of those rallying outside Thursday night’s meeting, Mr. Jackson wore a T-shirt saying “Parents are not ‘domestic terrorists.’ ” It’s a reference to a Sept. 29 National School Boards Association letter asking President Biden to investigate threats or disruptions at school board meetings as a possible form of “domestic terrorism.” In response, Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. attorneys to look into the threats.

Mr. Jackson sees the school board protests as fallout from the Covid-19 lockdowns. “Because kids were home and learning online, parents got a look at what their kids were being taught in the classroom, and they didn’t like it,” he says. “Now they’re speaking up.”

They’re also learning the school system isn’t interested in what they have to say. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s Democratic candidate for governor, confirmed suspicions during a recent debate when he declared, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” It was the ultimate gaffe—a politician inadvertently telling the truth.

William McGurn, WSJ

These are parents, mostly Democrats and racially very mixed, with students at Thomas Jefferson High School. These are not yahoos and riff-raff.

Take school devolution seriously.


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 Potpourri, 10/3/21

Religion

A voice crying in the wilderness?

I am not asking Christians to stop seeing superhero movies or listening to pop music, but we need to be mindful of how we use our time. Many of the popular stories in our culture leave us worse off. Instead of haunting us, they glorify vice, distract us from ourselves, lift our mood without lifting our spirits, and make us envious and covetous of fame, sexual conquests, and material possessions.

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Rawls’ secular convolution

[I]t took [John] Rawls several hundred pages of Harvard-level disquisition and ‘veils of ignorance’ analogies to restate Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Mathew 7:12.

‌Antonio García Martínez, in the course of an essay on why he is embracing Judaism.

First, I almost laughed out loud at Martínez’s summary of Rawls’ best-known, laboriously-constructed, moral (?) principle.

Second, Martínez makes a good case for fleeing secular modernity to a religion of some sort, and makes a good-enough case for Judaism — pretty movingly, actually. I could gladly have quoted much more.

But he makes no case for why he needed to leave Roman Catholicism, to which all of the Old Testament is likewise available, to secure the Old Testament for his children, nor did he even acknowledge that he’s leaving Catholicism, not secularism.

Is Roman Catholicism indistinguishable from secularism to him? Was he living as secular within the Latin Church?

PRE-PUBLICATION "UPDATE": Rod Dreher, who apparently is friends with Martínez, says he "was baptized Catholic [but] lost his faith in adulthood … AGM does not make a theological argument for Judaism, explaining why he chose it over returning to the Catholicism of his youth, or over any other religious option. It sounds like he’s taking a leap of faith that God really did reveal Himself to the Hebrews, and that unique revelation was not improved on by Jesus of Nazareth or Mohammed."

I had not heard of his loss of faith.

Good news, fake news

Nobody escapes suffering. Trite words, but true ones. I think the main reason I get so mad at happy-clappy forms of Christianity is because they seem to function to deny suffering, rather than help us to let it refine us. A Christianity that minimizes suffering is fraudulent; its gospel is fake news. Mustapha Mond’s phrase “Christianity without tears” applies here. Suffering is a sign of grave disorder in the cosmos — a disorder rooted in sin, and ending in death. These are heavy mysteries.

Rod Dreher, ‌Into The Darkness

Politics

For your prayerful consideration

barring a serious health issue, the odds are good that [Donald Trump] will be the [Republican] nominee for president in 2024

New York Times Editorial Board (italics added).

Consider adapting that italicized clause for your daily prayers.

I personally cannot presume to pray "Please, Lord, smite Donald Trump." But I can prayerfully share my concern about his toxicity, and that I like the USA well enough to lament it, and that our future worries me half sick when my faith is weak.

Chutpah

However the legislative gamesmanship playing out on Capitol Hill is resolved over the coming days, one thing is certain: The Democrats got themselves into this mess. They tried to enact an agenda as sweeping as the New Deal or Great Society though they enjoy margins of support vastly smaller than FDR or LBJ — and though their razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress are themselves deeply divided between progressive and moderate factions.

The Greeks would have called it hubris. A Borscht Belt comedian would have talked of chutzpah. Either way, it’s hard to deny the Democrats have fallen prey to delusions of grandeur.

Damon Linker, ‌Why do progressive Democrats expect their agenda to pass with such a small majority?

Mutually-profitable kayfabe

Did you know that Russians hacked our electrical grid? Did you know that Trump was connected to a server communicating with Russians? Did you know that Russians were paying bounties for dead American soldiers in Afghanistan? Get his taxes—the answers are there. When The New York Times eventually got ahold of them and parenthetically noted, amidst a cloud of dire innuendo concerning profits and losses of his real estate business, that no evidence existed in them pointing to any ties to Russia, the narrative was already too well entrenched to dislodge.

The Russia hysteria served a psychological function for those at a loss as to how the country they led had slipped from their grasp. It allowed them to offload the blame for the serial failures through which they rendered themselves beatable by a carnival barker onto the machinations of a foreign power. It allowed them to indulge fantasies of the president’s imminent replacement. It helped media companies reverse a downward spiral and restore themselves to profitability as they turned all of public life into a mutually profitable kayfabe with the object of their obsession.

Wesley Yang (Hyperlink added because I had no idea what "kayfabe" was. Once you know, "mutually-profitable kayfabe" becomes an elegant distillation of much of our public-life-as-reported — though I get the feeling that a lot of the true political animosity between parties is all-too-real now.)

My remaining concern is: Isn’t "mutually-profitable kayfabe" at least semi-redundandant? What kayfabe is zero-sum?

Perspective

As far back as Leviticus, priests were given the power of quarantine (13:46), masking (13:45), and even the destruction of property (14:43-47) in the interest of managing and containing disease. Throughout history, political authorities have exercised all sorts of powers for the sake of protecting the health of those God has given them authority over. The interdependent nature of the created order means that there is hardly a law that can be passed which does not have some effect on health. The health of our bodies is not a penultimate summum bonum requiring slavish insistence on removing all potential hazards, but our existence as embodied creatures means that whatever other endeavors are going on, health is always somewhere nearby either as a constitutive process or an important outcome.

‌Biopolitics Are Unavoidable

Just a little quibble over whether one human can own another

Even during the Civil War—I think we’re more divided now than we were then. As Lincoln said, we all prayed to the same God. We all believed in the same Constitution. We just differed over the question of slavery.

Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute, explaining to Emma Green how America is more divided now than in the Civil War.

"Just differed over the question of slavery." This man is too tone-deaf to be President of the Dog Pound, but he’s atop a big Trumpist-Right "think" tank.

What if there’s no omelet?

There’s a famous French Revolution-era maxim that declares that one does not make an omelet without breaking eggs. That maxim has served as a shorthand warning against Utopianism ever since.**

But what if there’s not even an omelet? What if the movement is simply about breaking eggs? What if “fighting” isn’t a means to an end, but rather the end itself?

David French, ‌A Whiff of Civil War in the Air

Culture and Culture War

Some limits of liberalism

The American Political Science Association was faced with the Claremont Institute wanting two panels that included John Eastman — he of the notorious memo on how Mike Pence could legally steal the election for Trump. It offered a sort of Covid-era compromise: those panels would be virtual (thus lessening the likelihood of vigorous protests of the live portion of the meeting).

I have not read what Claremont said upon withdrawing from the meeting, but I’d wager it invoked classically liberal values:

Liberalism stands for the free and open society. But does that mean it must make space for those who would destroy the free and open society? If the answer is yes, liberalism would seem to have a death wish. If the answer is no, liberalism looks hypocritical: Oh, so you’re for open debate, but only if everyone debating is a liberal! There really is no way to resolve this tension except to say that liberalism favors a free and open society, but not without limits. It can tolerate disagreement and dissent, but not infinitely. And writing a memo to the president explaining precisely how he could mount a coup that would overturn liberal democratic government in the United States crosses that line.

Damon Linker, ‌An academic scuffle tests the limits of free debate

Tacit misogyny?

It is striking that there is no … zealous campaign to abandon the word “men” in favour of “prostate-havers”, “ejaculators” or “bodies with testicles”.

The Economist, ‌Why the word “woman” is tying people in knots

Uprooted

Even if you are living where your forefathers have lived for generations, you can bet that the smartphone you gave your child will unmoor them more effectively than any bulldozer.

In all the time I have spent with people who live in genuinely rooted cultures — rooted in time, place and spirit — whether in the west of Ireland or West Papua, I’ve generally been struck by two things. One is that rooted people are harder to control. The industrial revolution could not have happened without the enclosure of land, and the destruction of the peasantry and the artisan class. People with their feet on the ground are less easily swayed by the currents of politics, or by the fashions of urban ideologues or academic theorists.

The second observation is that people don’t tend to talk much about their “identity” — or even think about it — unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, it seems, the more you have probably lost. The range of freewheeling, self-curated “identities” thrown up by the current “culture war” shows that we are already a long way down the road that leads away from genuine culture.

Paul Kingsnorth

Plus ça change …

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories

Cecil Rhodes, quoted by Edward Goldsmith, Development As Colonialism.

More:

Throughout the non-industrial world, it was only if such conditions could no longer be enforced, (usually when a new nationalist or populist government came to power), that formal annexation was resorted to. As Fieldhouse puts it, “Colonialism was not a preference but a last resort”.

Slowly as traditional society disintegrated under the impact of colonialism and the spread of Western values, and as the subsistence economy was replaced by the market economy on which the exploding urban population grew increasingly dependent – the task of maintaining the optimum conditions for Western trade and penetration became correspondingly easier. As a result, by the middle of the twentieth century as Fieldhouse notes: “European merchants and investors could operate satisfactorily within the political framework provided by most reconstructed indigenous states as their predecessors would have preferred to operate a century earlier but without facing those problems which had once made formal empire a necessary expedient”.

What could possibly go wrong?

Back in 1991, I saw the late Professor Derrick Bell, a well-known Critical Race Theorist from Harvard Law School, talk about how proud he was that he got his students, including a specific Jewish woman, who did not think of themselves as white, to recognize and become much more conscious of their whiteness.

What strikes me about this literature is how it ignores what seems to me to be the obvious dangers of encouraging a majority of the population to emphasize and internalize a racial identity, and, moreover, to think of themselves as having racial interests opposed to those of the non-white population. I mean, what could go wrong? It would be one thing to note the obvious dangers of increased ethnonationalism, racial conflict, and so on, and explain why the author believes the risk-reward ratio is favorable. But the literature I came across (which admittedly is not comprehensive), the possibility that this could backfire is simply ignored.

David Bernstein, “White Racial Consciousness” as a Dangerous Progressive Project – Reason.com

A relatively harmless polarity

Some parents react to a child being a National Merit Scholar by saying "Woohoo! A shot at Harvard, or Yale, or Princeton!" Others say "Woohoo! Full scholarship to State U!"

[I]n 2018-2019, more National Merit Scholars joined the Crimson Tide than enrolled in Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Michigan the University of Chicago, and virtually every other top university in the land.

David French, ‌American Higher Education, Ideologically Separate and Unequal

Miscellany

I’ll have to take a pass

I want small businesses to succeed, but having just heard about a local Bourbon & Cigar lounge, I’ll have to take a pass.

I have no problem with the bourbon, but it took me about 16 years to kick tobacco, with pipe and cigar being my favored poisons. I haven’t touched tobacco during the subsequent more-than-half of my life, and I’m not starting again.


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.

We loves us some next big thing

America: scrambling for the Next Big Ephemeral Thing

George Bush reputedly confided in Tony Blair that ‘The problem with the French is they have no word for “entrepreneur.”’ Musing on the success of this farm, I would counter: the problem with the US and the UK is that we idolise entrepreneurship, with all the associated impatient capital, innovation and marketing, at the cost of just getting on with doing what you do well. One reason why the farm is flourishing is because I have not been around making ‘innovative’ suggestions about new crops and radical ways of growing them.

No doubt it is important to embrace the opportunities that come with change in the rapidly evolving world of tech start-ups, but when it come to growing veg there is more to gained from progressive, incremental improvement and patient investment. The same is true across the UK more broadly: there is a nobility in doing something well, that lasts, which is lacking from the restless and undignified scramble to identify the ‘next big thing’ and turn it into money.”

Gracy Olmstead (emphasis in original), quoting a little newsletter that comes with each delivery of fruits and vegetables from Riverford Organic Farmers.

Corrupt Hillary

Whatever you hear on Twitter, this [Attorney Sussman Russiagate indictment] is a different kettle of fish from the after-the-fact lies charged by the Mueller task force against certain Trump campaign associates that, if they were lies at all, were incidental to the special counsel’s search for collusion crimes. Mr. Sussmann’s alleged lie, a charge he has now formally denied, would have been intended to spark an FBI investigation so the investigation’s existence could be leaked to the press on behalf of the Clinton campaign to influence a presidential election. If media reporters can’t see this, they aren’t trying very hard. The first sentence of the indictment filed by the Justice Department’s John Durham refers not to Mr. Sussmann or his allegations but to their appearance in the New York Times a week before Election Day.

By now, the pattern is familiar thanks to the Steele dossier, which Mr. Sussmann’s firm also promoted. Unsupported allegations aren’t reportable; the existence of a federal investigation is. The FBI and the Justice Department have strong institutional interests in not being manipulated in this way and it’s tempting to interpret Mr. Durham’s indictment partly as a reminder to them of this.

Let’s be realistic: Mr. Sussmann also likely knew the FBI knew he was not being forthright if, as alleged, he claimed he wasn’t working for a client; he may have assumed the FBI wouldn’t care about a small cosmetic lie if the purpose was the popular one of tainting Mr. Trump. Again, Mr. Durham may be sending a message here to the FBI and Justice Department as much as to any outside witnesses whose cooperation his broadly and deliberately informative indictment is meant to encourage.

Mr. Durham obviously still faces an uphill battle to be allowed to proceed. Washington’s institutional establishment is hardly keen on the truth coming out. Neither are many in the media. Our world is truly turned on its Woodstein head when the press is part of the coverup, but here we are.

Let’s understand about the media: Anybody can say anything. When a reporter is confronted with astonishing but unsupported accusations, 99% of the time the story stops then and there because a reporter asks himself a simple question: If these claims are true, would I be hearing about them now, in this way, from this source, with this total absence of documentary evidence?

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., ‌Durham Delivers on Russiagate.

I confess that I thought this indictment was a bit of a yawner. I’m obliged to Holman Jenkins for reminding me of the insidious purpose of the lie — and for rubbing other media’s noses in their "coverup."

I said in 2016 that "Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton has God’s judgment written all over it." But time has past, and reading now Holman Jenkins and also Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of the indictment tempts me toward the fallacy that Clinton was so very "Corrupt Hillary" that ipso facto Trump was the better candidate.

I repeat: fallacy.

Some people in the Trump campaign were playing footsie with Russians for their own profit, and Donald Jr. was keen to get dirt on Hillary when a Russian offered to meet and deliver. That’s not what team Clinton was manufacturing, but it’s not nothing.

Still, the sleaze in Clinton’s camp was at the top, to the core, and the press was deeply complicit.

How the disciplinary society manufactures consensus

Take a deep breath and set aside all distractions. This is dense:

What remained to be done was to ensure that the rest of the country, much of which still believed ("clung to the belief" — the sole way the benighted relate to the beliefs deemed to belong to the past by those who have arrogated to themselves the authority to decide which direction the arc of history bends) that the ability to discriminate between and assign differential rights to citizens and non-citizens was constitutive of the nation-state itself and therefore a fundamental aspect of sovereignty that the people have a right to enforce by virtue of their existence as as a nation, would be brought on board. At minimum, those continuing to cling would be made to understand that resistance is presumptively out of bounds, and would therefore not be represented within the political system, existing outside the bounds of the respectable and thus the sayable and thinkable.

"No human being is illegal" portrayed itself as merely etiquette and sensitivity while subtly smuggling in other implications: documentation was a mere formality, a matter of positive law that did not and could not speak to the underlying moral right. What remained to do was to complete the circuit taking us from "rights conferred on on us by virtue of our being human" to "rights conferred on us by virtue of being a citizen of the United States of the America."

A few years prior, the University of Berkeley office of student life issued a series of racial micro-aggressions that professors should avoid. They included "America is a melting pot," and "I think the best person should get the job." Under the guise of protecting student health and safety, the student life office resolved an ongoing debate about whether we should be a "salad bowl" that preserves cultural differences of sub-national units or a "melting pot" where a process of amalgamation in pursuit of a single unified national identity and declared one of the two competing propositions presumptively illegitimate — an act of harm, if not hate and harassment to be policed out of existence. Under the guise of protecting student health and safety it declared meritocracy as presumptively illegitimate as an institution. And though it did not formally declare these "racial micro-aggressions" to be subject to disciplinary action, it was a formal pronouncement that taking certain positions on contested debates was not merely wrong substantively, (the purpose of open debate and free speech being thus to discover what is wrong or right through an exchange of ideas) but an offense against the community itself existing beyond the bounds of decency and subject to disciplinary action by the entity (student life bureaucracy) with the authority to protect the community from harm.

We can therefore see here what the Successor Regime aims for and how it goes about obtaining its ends, which in turn tells us about the sociology of the movement of which it is a part: the manufacture of consensus around a range of issues through the capture of disciplinary power by adherents sharing a common set of values and goals that seeks to rule out various aspects of political action as presumptively illegitimate (border control, policing, prisons, standardized testing) by policing any debate out of them out of existence. It is a vision of a radically less disciplinary society of the street obtained through a radically more disciplinary society of the seminar room, workplace, board room, and bedroom — an ongoing distributed process of moral revolution without central direction but converging relentlessly around the same handful of goals — a politics of persuasion without persuasion, abjuring persuasion for coercion.

Wesley Yang, ‌"Undocumented Citizens" and the new Newspeak.

Yang, who coined my preferred alternative to "wokeness" (his coinage is "the Successor Ideology"), can write some tortuous sentences, but read carefully he’s landing solid punches.

Big philanthropy

[B]ig philanthropy today flatters itself that monster donations can enable “systemic change.” A better approach may be to endow cities with amenities available to everyone. Why not make people’s lives better in the here and now?

Howard Husock, ‌Tech Billionaires Ignore the Philanthropy of Things.

In contrast, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg build stuff like parks (High Line, Little Island). So boring! I’ll bet they’re so boring that they’re not even planning to have their brains frozen or uploaded so they can "live" forever and benefit from all the "systemic change" their dollars bought.

By and large, our billionaires are moral cretins and narcissists of Trumpian dimension.

Ruling out everything

Skewing too far toward a left-hemisphere view of the world

is ruling out so much. I can’t begin to tell you, but you can imagine, all the things that this very reduced, abstract, schematic, bureaucratic — essentially, it’s bureaucratic, you know, push something, it has an action on something else and we can predict the outcome, we can organize it — that’s the left hemisphere’s vision of the world: inanimate stuff that we can move about. Very much, the industrial revolution was a kind of acting out in the outer world of the world picture of the left hemisphere … It’s ruling out everything, really. It’s ruling out our ability to understand, to see, to see at all.

Iain McGilquist, interviewed by Jordan Peterson, shortly after 1 hour 19 minutes.

Diversity, schmersity!

When you don’t have the time to research something for yourself, what you should do is trust those who have good intellectual habits.

The upshot is intellectual diversity is a red herring, usually a thinly-veiled plea for more conservatives. Nobody is arguing for more Islamists, Nazis, or flat earthers in academia, and for good reason. People should just be honest about the ways in which liberals are wrong and leave it at that.

[W]e should not care about diversity at all. In fact, on certain dimensions we should seek intellectual homogeneity. If selecting for those with healthy intellectual habits gets us an elite without racial, gender, geographic, or socioeconomic diversity, so be it. Same with diversity across academic disciplines, given that many or most of them are fake.

Richard Hanania, Tetlock and the Taliban

Alan Jacobs admired this posting and distilled it:

The academic enterprise is not a Weberian “iron cage,” it’s a cage made from a bundle of thin sticks of perverse incentives held together with a putty of bullshit. We instinctively known how fragile it is, and so stay well inside its boundaries.

Unintelligent, uncharitable, dishonest. R.I.P.

John Shelby Spong, a celebrity (someone who’s famous for being famous) Episcopal Bishop is gone. I remember the controversies, but Alan Jacobs, an evangelical Anglican, remembers him better:

John Shelby Spong is dead. If he had been an intelligent man, he would have developed more coherent and logical arguments against the Christian faith; if he had been a charitable man, he would have refrained from attempting to destroy the faith of Christians; if he had been an honest man, he would have resigned his orders fifty years or more ago. May God have mercy on his soul.

See also the New York Times’ adoring obituary, John Shelby Spong, 90, Dies; Sought to Open Up the Episcopal Church

So hard to poll

The short version is that fewer than 50% of Evangelicals attend Church at least weekly. 8.4% don’t attend at all. The longer version is that a lot of people with no theology and no real religion started calling themselves "Evangelical" after 2016. Religious polling ain’t easy. (H/T David French)


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.

Potpourri, 6/30/21

Woke Capitalism

The birth of wokeism was a godsend to corporations, Mr. Ramaswamy says. It helped defang the left. “Wokeism lent a lifeline to the people who were in charge of the big banks. They thought, ‘This stuff is easy!’ ” They applauded diversity and inclusion, appointed token female and minority directors, and “mused about the racially disparate impact of climate change.” So, in Mr. Ramaswamy’s narrative, “a bunch of big banks got together with a bunch of millennials, birthed woke capitalism, and then put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption.” Now, in Mr. Ramaswamy’s tart verdict, “big business makes money by critiquing itself.”

Mr. Ramaswamy regards Klaus Schwab, founder and CEO of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as the “patron saint of wokeism” for his relentless propagation of “stakeholder capitalism”—the view that the unspoken bargain in the grant to corporations of limited liability is that they “must do social good on the side.”

Davos is “the Woke Vatican,” Mr. Ramaswamy says; Al Gore and Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, are “its archbishops.” CEOs “further down the chain”—he mentions James Quincey of Coca-Cola, Ed Bastian of Delta, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, John Donahoe of Nike and Alan Jope of Unilever —are its “cardinals.”

Can Vivek Ramaswamy Put Wokeism Out of Business? (WSJ)

“Guarding the Chalice”

Ross Douthat on the rumors that American Catholic Bishops are (were?) considering “a document on the proper reception of communion that might propose, or at least suggest (the document does not actually exist yet), that the Eucharist be withheld from Catholic politicians who favor or vote to fund abortion”:

Withholding communion from politicians who are particularly implicated in those abortions, then, is both a political and a pastoral act. Political, because it establishes that the church takes abortion as seriously as it claims — seriously enough to actually use one of the few disciplinary measures that it has at its disposal. Pastoral, because the politicians in question are implicated in a uniquely grave and public sin, and taking communion in that situation is a potential sacrilege from which not only the Eucharist but they themselves need to be protected.

This kind of straightforward logic does not, however, make the plan to withhold communion from Joe Biden a necessarily prudent one. The first problem is that it is pastorally effective only if the withholding takes place, and in the structure of the church only Biden’s bishops (meaning the bishop of Wilmington, Del., or the archbishop of Washington, D.C.) and the priests under their authority can make that kind of call. So the most likely consequence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issuing some sort of document is that Biden continues to attend Mass and receive communion from friendly priests and prelates, and the bishops as a corporate body, already weak and scandal-tarnished, look as if they’ve made a partisan intervention with no meaningful effect.

Which points to the second problem — that a direct attempt at a communion ban will inevitably be interpreted as a partisan intervention, at a time when the partisan captivity of conservative Christianity, Protestant and Catholic alike, is a serious problem for the witness of the church.

By this I mean that however reasonable the bishops’ focus on abortion as a pre-eminent issue, in a polarized nation it’s created a situation where Republicans can seemingly get away with a vast accumulation of un-Catholic acts and policies and simple lies — many of them on display in Donald Trump’s administration, which was amply staffed with Catholics — and be perpetually forgiven because the Democrats support Roe. v. Wade.

Ross Douthat, ‌The Bishops, Biden and the Brave New World

Rod Dreher weighs in in several ways, but this especially caught my eye:

I don’t know how Orthodox bishops have reacted in similar situations. I do know this: that in the Orthodox Church, when I’ve been traveling, I have been refused communion by priests who did not know me when I presented myself for communion. This is how I learned not to do so unless I have been able to speak to the priest before services to let them know that I am an Orthodox Christian who has had a recent confession. Generally speaking, Orthodox priests are zealous about what they call “guarding the chalice”. They do this because of their high view of what Holy Communion is — a view shared by Catholic teaching. They do this in part to protect the laity from receiving communion unworthily. You might not get this, but if you believe what Orthodoxy and Catholicism says about the Eucharist is true, then it should make logical sense to you.

It comes down to this: in this moment, is the Church (not just the Catholic Church) called to be prophetic, or therapeutic? I think that only by being prophetic — calling the world out — can it be therapeutic, and heal the world of its brokenness.

Surveillance capitalism. For instance …

The Sleep Number bed is typical of smart home devices, as Harvard business school professor Shoshana Zuboff describes in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It comes with an app, of course, which you’ll need to install to get the full benefits. Benefits for whom? Well, to know that you would need to spend some time with the sixteen-page privacy policy that comes with the bed. There you’ll read about third-party sharing, analytics partners, targeted advertising, and much else. Meanwhile, the user agreement specifies that the company can share or exploit your personal information even “after you deactivate or cancel” your Sleep Number account. You are unilaterally informed that the firm does not honor “Do Not Track” notifications. By the way, its privacy policy once stated that the bed would also transmit “audio in your room.” (I am not making this up.)

Matthew Crawford in testimony to Congress.

If there were no existential threats, we’d invent one

The post-WW2 military posture of the U.S. has been endless war. To enable that, there must always be an existential threat, a new and fresh enemy that can scare a large enough portion of the population with sufficient intensity to make them accept, even plead for, greater military spending, surveillance powers, and continuation of permanent war footing. Starring in that war-justifying role of villain have been the Communists, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Russia, and an assortment of other fleeting foreign threats.

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community, and President Joe Biden, none of those is the greatest national security threat to the United States any longer. Instead, they all say explicitly and in unison, the gravest menace to American national security is now domestic in nature. Specifically, it is “domestic extremists” in general — and far-right white supremacist groups in particular — that now pose the greatest threat to the safety of the homeland and to the people who reside in it.

Within that domestic War on Terror framework, Gen. Milley, by pontificating on race, is not providing cultural commentary but military dogma. Just as it was central to the job of a top Cold War general to embrace theories depicting Communism as a grave threat, and an equally central part of the job of a top general during the first War on Terror to do the same for Muslim extremists, embracing theories of systemic racism and the perils posed to domestic order by “white rage” is absolutely necessary to justify the U.S. Government’s current posture about what war it is fighting and why that war is so imperative.

Whatever else is true, it is creepy and tyrannical to try to place military leaders and their pronouncements about war off-limits from critique, dissent and mockery. No healthy democracy allows military officials to be venerated to the point of residing above critique. That is especially true when their public decrees are central to the dangerous attempt to turn the war posture of the U.S. military inward to its own citizens.

Glenn Greenwald, ‌What is Behind Gen. Mark Milley’s Righteous Race Sermon? Look to the New Domestic War on Terror.

Gen. Milley From another angle:

You have this pampered man-child trust fund baby calling a decorated veteran a pig and stupid.

Charlie Sykes on Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson on Gen. Mark Milley (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). See also here.

Slightly sinister boy scouts then …

Elsewhere, in a single observation, Leigh Fermor captures the essentially hysterical nature of Nazism better than any philosophical analyst. Watching people salute one another in the street, he writes:

“People meeting … would become performing seals for a second. This exchange, soon to become very familiar, seemed extremely odd for the first few days, as though the place were full of slightly sinister boy scouts.”

‌Patrick Leigh Fermor and the Tensions of Travel

… and now

Rod Dreher hits a grand slam:

“A reader in Madrid sends me this photo from the Spanish city of Valencia. It’s a poster put up by the city government:

“It reads: “In Valencia, there are men with a vulva and women with a penis. Yes.”

“Well, no. This is a lie. This is a lie that the government of the city of Valencia is telling with big street signs. Yet to the European Union elites, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban is the real problem.

(Emphasis added)

Yeah. The real problem is the ones who won’t salute. That’s the ticket.

Orbán is not “far right”

“A hero to Europe’s far right, Mr. Orban says he wants to overhaul education and reshape his country’s society to have a more nationalistic, conservative body politic. But his critics argue that the donation is legalized theft, employed to tighten Mr. Orban’s grip on power by transferring public money to foundations run by political allies.”

That “far right” smear again. The New York Times, like most Western journalism outlets, is incapable of telling the truth about Orban and his party. They are not “far right.” Fidesz is center-right. Hungary actually has a far-right party. It’s called Jobbik, and it’s openly anti-Semitic — or was, until it underwent some kind of strange makeover, and now says its Jew-hating is in the past. Last December, Jobbik formally teamed up with the left-wing opposition, in hopes of beating Orban in the 2022 race. Yes, the left-wing parties are now formally allied with a party whose stars have called their capital city “Judapest,” and called for making a list of Hungarian Jews who pose national security threats. But please, New York Times, tell us another story about Viktor Orban being mean to George Soros.

Rod Dreher, Head East, Conservative Intellectual.

More:

Among US journalists, you often hear bitter complaints about the bias of Fox News, and sometimes you hear expressed a grudging belief that the existence of Fox means there is balance in the American media. This is because journalists are so overwhelmingly liberal that they can’t perceive how far to the left, and how unbalanced, their viewpoint is. I’ve written before about a study, now over 20 years old, by two professors at Baruch College, who demonstrated that the US media did a good job of reporting on the rise of the religious right as a force within the Republican Party, but missed entirely the parallel rise of the secular left as a force within the Democratic Party. Their thesis was that the media didn’t see what was right in front of their eyes because to them, it was only natural that secular liberals would grow more dominant within the Democratic Party. It wasn’t news; it was nature.

Progressophobia

Last week Bill Maher of HBO’s “Real Time” did a commentary on something he believes deeply destructive. Maher, who has described his politics as liberal, libertarian, progressive and practical, is a longtime and occasionally brave foe of wokeness in its extreme manifestations. He zeroed in on one aspect that fuels a lot of grievance, and that is the uninformed sense that America has largely been impervious to improvement.

Mr. Maher called this “progressophobia,” a term coined by the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker. Mr. Maher defines it as “a brain disorder that strikes liberals and makes them incapable of recognizing progress. It’s like situational blindness, only what you can’t see is that your dorm in 2021 is better than the South before the Civil War.”

His audience laughed uncertainly. You could tell they didn’t want to get caught laughing at the wrong thing and weren’t certain what the wrong thing was. Normally they’re asked to laugh at right-wing idiocy, which is never in (sic)

“If you think that America is more racist now than ever, more sexist than before women could vote, you have progressophobia,” Mr. Maher said. Look at the changes America has made on disputed issues like gay marriage and marijuana legislation. “Even something like bullying. It still happens, but being outwardly cruel to people who are different is no longer acceptable. That’s progress. Acknowledging progress isn’t saying, ‘We’re done,’ or, ‘We don’t need more.’ And being gloomier doesn’t mean you’re a better person.”

“The ‘Friends’ reunion we just had looked weird, because if you even suggested a show today about six people all of whom were straight and white, the network would laugh you out of the room and then cancel you on Twitter. And yet there is a recurrent theme on the far left that things have never been worse.”

Peggy Noonan, Bill Maher Diagnoses Liberal ‘Progressophobia’

Protestant Clergy Sex Abuse

[C]ompared with evangelicals, Mainline churches have “seemingly” been “less susceptible to pervasive sexual abuse,” and related cover-ups or minimizing of the problem.

Reporters should seek to eliminate the “seemingly” hedge word and figure out whether their performance is in fact superior. If so, are Mainliners simply more moral?

Tooley finds the explanation in church structures and cultures.

First, Mainline groups are rapidly aging and often lack the thriving youth ministries that supply ample targets for predators.

Second, Mainline churches have “a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability” whereas the bulk of evangelicalism is “congregationalist,” so each local church governs itself without oversight and accountability …

Richard Ostling, ‌Mainline Protestants and Sexual Abuse Scandals

I think Tooley is spot-on in both observations, though I had only thought of poor “accountability” of independent founders/pastors before he pointed out the “youth ministry” angle.

Postscript: The Vaccines

I’m starting to regret, at least a little, trusting the government that Covid vaccines were safe:

So somehow there’s enough bias in the system to shut down anything generic, cheap, and safe and to amplify things that are dangerous, new, still under patent.

If there is an argument to be made about our economic and political system, it is that our system can allow you to evaporate trillions of dollars of wealth in the pursuit of billions of dollars of wealth. And that’s what we’re seeing here.

‎Bret Weinstein, DarkHorse Podcast: How to save the world, in three easy steps.

A fuller description of the participants in the podcast, which is very long (3 hours 16 minutes):

Dr. Robert Malone is the inventor of mRNA Vaccine technology.
Mr. Steve Kirsch is a serial entrepreneur who has been researching adverse reactions to COVID vaccines.
Dr. Bret Weinstein is an evolutionary biologist.
Bret talks to Robert and Steve about the pandemic, treatment and the COVID vaccines.

So these are not some random crackpots.

They got me thinking about my own vaccine experience, but if I were to write about it, it would be:

  • unreliable (I’m not sure that this problem emerged after the vaccine)
  • anecdotal and
  • maybe just a denial that I’m a fat old man, and that age catches up with people like me quite brutally.

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.

Reflections on America

Having largely lost our religion(s), modernity has seen fit to create new ones. If we wonder what constitutes a modern religion (or efforts to create one) we need look no further than our public liturgies. Various months of the year are now designated as holy seasons set-aside to honor various oppressed groups or causes. It is an effort to liturgize the nation as the bringer and guardian of justice in the world, an effort that seeks to renew our sense of mission and to portray our nation as something that we believe in. It must be noted that as a nation, we have not been content to be one among many. We have found it necessary to “believe” in our country. It is a symptom of religious bankruptcy. As often as not, major sports events (Super Bowls) are pressed into duty as bearers of significance and meaning. The pious liturgies that surround them have become pathetic as they try ever-harder to say things that simply are not true or do not matter. This game is not important – it’s just a game.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, When America Got Sick


Rod Dreher spent a few days in Bucharest and gave a talk where they hoped to have maybe 100 people and to sell maybe 50 copies of the Romanian translation of Live Not By Lies. They had more like 500 (some traveled 12 hours by train), sold 400 books, and Rod spent a long time signing books and chatting with people:

As I was preparing my remarks, I reflected on something I have picked up on a lot in my nearly two months here in Central Europe. The peoples of this part of the world looked to the West for hope and direction when they suffered under Communist dictatorship. They still hold the West in high esteem. Yet they also experience a great deal of Western arrogance, mostly from western Europeans, but also Americans — liberal elites who treat them like primitive children who need to be taught how to be proper moderns. Perhaps the main source today of Western contempt has to do with the natural conservatism in this part of the world vis-à-vis LGBT rights. Billionaire George Soros, among others, has poured money into countries like Romania via his NGOs to try to undermine traditions on the family, and religious authority. I had heard on my first night in Romania, and in various conversations throughout the day, that political elites in Bucharest routinely mock social and religious conservatives, in particular over their views on family and sexuality.

Well, in my talk, I told the audience that they may hear from the West, and from their Western-oriented elites, that they should be ashamed of their faith, of their traditions, and of their moral beliefs. This is one of the big lies that they must reject with all their heart, soul, and mind, I said. You have looked up to America for so long, but look at us now: we are destroying ourselves, because we have forgotten God. With this woke ideology, we have nothing to offer you but destruction. You don’t need to learn anything from us; we Americans need to learn from you, and your saints.

I worried for a moment that I might be flattering the crowd, but I actually believe every word of this, one hundred percent. I felt the anger rising inside me — anger at American and EU elites, their NGO agents, and progressives within institutions and political life here, all doing their best to make these people ashamed of themselves, their history, and their traditions. I’m truly beginning to understand what Ryszard Legutko meant in his great book The Demon in Democracy, about how the Communist nomenklatura did an about-face after Communism’s fall, and easily re-invented themselves as Eurocrats. They already shared a common faith in materialist modernity, and a contempt for religion and tradition. The Western left is eager to condemn 19th century colonialism, but it hasn’t the faintest sense that what it’s doing now is a 21st century cultural version of the same. No, it considers what it’s up to today as liberation from ignorance and the chains of the past.

(‌What I Saw In Bucharest)

If I could sum up the message [Romanians in Bucharest] gave me, in comment after comments, it’s this:

“Thank you for telling us that we don’t have to be ashamed of our faith and our traditions to be decent democratic people. We hear all the time from Western Europeans and our own elites that there is something wrong with us, and that we have to throw away our inheritance to join the civilized world. You have reminded us who we are, and that we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

I’m not exaggerating here. When I was checking in at the airport for the flight back to Budapest yesterday, the young woman behind the counter saw my passport and said, “Oh, you’re the guy who had the conference this weekend.” We talked briefly about it, and I signed a copy of my book for her as a gift. She thanked me, and said, “They always try to make us feel ashamed.”

I can scarcely express how angry that makes me as an American, knowing that my country — its government, its NGOs, and its corporations — are behind all this. Over and over I heard that the political and cultural leaders of contemporary Romania, the ones seeking to curry favor with the West, look down on the Christians as backwards barbarians — “relic-kissers,” they call them.

Rod Dreher, The Wild Men of Romania

“Behind all this” and also behind sometimes-nefarious population-control efforts. It’s things like this that confirm my impression that we’re not a force for unmitigated good in the world. Perhaps it’s even a net negative, more evil than good — but there’s no objective measure of that, and my suspicions are probably a matter of temperament (I did come of age in the 60s, after all).


George Packer, The Four Americas is a very broad-brush look at America’s current divisions, worth reading, but not so good I expect to buy his book.


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.


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

* * * * *

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).