A heathen’s epiphany

When I saw God, as religions seemed to want me to see God, as an all-seeing supernatural entity with a great personal interest in my life and behaviour, laying down laws, demanding worship and promising me an afterlife in return, I had no interest, and still don’t. I don’t believe it. But when, later, I began to see that perhaps this was a common human interpretation of an experience of something greater than the individual ego – when I began to understand that all religions and all spiritual traditions have their mystics who had interpreted this great spirit, this Dao, this experience of the divine, very differently – then I began to see that perhaps it was something I could understand after all. I began to see that perhaps what some people call God, or the sacred, or the divine, was what I experienced as some power, some strange greatness, immanent in the wild world around me.

In other words, perhaps I do after all understand the perpetual human search for the sacred, whether I can adequately explain it or not, and I think I may know why it still matters, despite my culture’s frantic attempts to convince me otherwise. I have experienced the feelings that charge the concept with so much electricity. It’s just that I have never experienced them in places that people designate as holy.

Call me a heathen (I’d take it as a compliment) but for me, the ‘sacred’ can’t be found in human things alone. This is not an intellectual or a political position; it’s just how I feel, because of things I have experienced. From as early as I can remember I have regarded trees, rivers, mountains and the ocean with awe. I have had what others would call ‘spiritual experiences’ in all of these places. I have yelled with joy in the heart of rainforests and felt overwhelmed by something much greater than myself in deserts at midnight with no light but the stars, stars I can never see in my overdeveloped homeland.

On wild hilltops, as in the Black Chamber, I have pulled at the edges of some great force that seems way beyond me, and seems embedded in the world itself …

… I imagine – I can never know, and I am glad about that – that the people who created those works of art understood the sacred through the world beyond the human. I imagine that they saw something like what I see. I imagine that they saw something more than meat and sinew in the creatures that moved around them – creatures in which god, or the sacred, or whatever you want to call it this great, nameless thing, was immanent.

In much of the world even today, and certainly for the decisive majority of our human past, this sense of other-than-human nature as something thoroughly alive and intimately interwoven with human existence is and was the mainstream perception. A world without electric lights, a world without engines, is a different world entirely. It is a world that is alive. Our world of science and industry, of monocultures and monotheisms, marks a decisive shift in human seeing.

Our world is not alive; it is a machine, not an animal, and we have become starkly desensitised to the reality beyond the asphalt and the street lights. There are no mammoths outside the entrance to Niaux today, only a car park and a gift shop. We are here now, above the ground, and above the ground is where we must live.

Last year, a group of futurists, businessmen and scientists launched an initiative called ‘Revive and Restore’. The purpose of the project was simple: to use biotechnology to revive extinct species, such as the mammoth, the aurochs and the passenger pigeon, and return them to the Earth again.

Though the excitement that the de-extinction prospect raised was palpable, there were some objections. Conservation biologist David Ehrenfeld was among those who pointed out that this would not be ‘de-extinction’ at all: the ‘mammoths’ it might create would not be mammoths, but elephants modified with mammoth genes. They might look like the originals, but they would be something quite new. In any case, if Brand and his ilk considered themselves to be conservationists, they should have better things to do. Given that the living African elephant is facing very real threats to its future, Ehrenfeld said, ‘why are we talking about bringing back the woolly mammoth? Think about it.’

There are other objections, too. What if the science went wrong? And where exactly would you put a woolly mammoth if you ‘rebuilt’ one? Given that they lived in herds across vast areas of steppe, producing a single animal might be the only the start of the challenges in a world of rapidly-shrinking wild areas. Others worry that if ‘de-extinction’ becomes possible it will provide a handy excuse for those who want reasons not to worry about causing extinctions in the first place.

Responses like this are what one commentator called the ‘valid criticisms’ of the de-extinction idea. That is to say, the ones that can be conceptualised and explained by the rational mind, and which are stretched on the same framework of assumptions as the original proposal. But what about the invalid criticisms? These are what interest me. I can see where Brand’s idea has come from. I can understand why some people might support it. I can understand the arguments against it, too. And yet beyond and underneath all this, my reaction to the idea is much simpler and starker, and it remains once the facts have been examined on all sides. My reaction is horror.

In trying to work out why this might be, and to explain it, I am hampered by the pre-eminence, in discussions of this kind, of Haidt’s ‘rationalist delusion’. If you believe that all reactions ought to be ‘rational’, which means open to examination by calculative reason, then all reactions which stem from felt intuition, but which reason has trouble explaining, are at a disadvantage. This explains why a mystic will never win a debate with an atheist: he may have a truth on his side, but it will not be demonstrable through anything other than personal experience, and that doesn’t count. Therefore, he loses.

Still, I’m not trying to convince Stewart Brand of anything; I’m just trying to understand why I feel revulsion when I hear people talking about bringing back mammoths. Writing in Earth Island Journal earlier this year, Jason Mark came closest to rationalising what my intuition is telling me. The de-extinctors might believe that reborn ground sloths or passenger pigeons would revive our sense of wonder at the wild world, and thus our desire to protect it, he said, but they were missing a key point:

“The Manhattan skyline at night amazes us with the scale of human invention; the Milky Way amazes us with the scale of the universe. They are both an arrangement of lights, but the first makes humanity seem huge, the second makes us feel small. The difference matters because it influences how we think about our place on this planet.”

‘I am Stewart Brand, reviver of extinct species’, declaims Brand on the web forum Reddit. I am Ozymandias, king of kings: pleased to meet you.

… Aldous Huxley, a keen follower of the science of his time, put it well:

“Reality as actually experienced contains intuitions of value and significance, contains love, beauty, mystical ecstasy, intimations of godhead. Science did not and still does not possess intellectual instruments with which to deal with these aspects of reality. Consequently it ignored them and concentrated its attention upon such aspects of the world as it could deal with … in the arts, in philosophy, in religion men are trying – doubtless, without complete success – to describe and explain the non-measurable, purely qualitative aspects of reality.”

I’ll say it plainly, because I’ve worked myself up to it: in ‘nature’ I see something divine, and when I see it, it moves me to humility, not grandiosity, and that is good for me and good for those I come into contact with. I don’t want to be a god, even if I can. I want to be a servant of god, if by god we mean nature, life, the world. I want to be small in the world, belong to it, help it along, protect myself from its storms and try to cause none myself.

Paul Kingsnorth, In the Black Chamber, circa 2014.

Paul Kingsnorth was baptized into the Orthodox Church on January 6, 2021, “in the cold waters of the River Shannon, near his home in rural western Ireland.” (H/T Rod Dreher, God’s Work In County Galway.

It’s Time to Talk About Violent Evangelical Extremism

I began the draft of this blog quoting well-framed criticism of political figures you’d recognize if you haven’t been living in a cave. But I suspect they thrive on any publicity, even bad publicity, so in a rare act of self-control, I deleted it.

You’re welcome. I need a drink.


In the original Star Trek series, there was an episode in which M-5, a revolutionary computer created by Dr. Richard Daystrom, is designed to handle all ship functions without human assistance.

It’s thought to be an impressive achievement—until M-5 takes total control over the USS Enterprise and begins to attack other Federation ships. Captain Kirk tells Daystrom to disengage the M-5 unit, but it proves to be impossible. M-5 has grown far more powerful and dangerous than anyone could have imagined; the crew scrambles to shut it down.

“Reverse thrusts will not engage, sir,” the chief engineer, Montgomery Scott, tells Kirk. “Manual override isn’t working either.” Mr. Spock, the first officer, chimes in: “No effect on any of the M-5 controls, Captain.” And then the chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy, utters this line: “Fantastic machine, the M-5. No off switch.”

Peter Wehner, The Moral Inversion of the Republican Party, thinks the GOP may have created an M-5.


David French sets the record straight not only on Robinhood/GameStop but also on Parler: The Fog of War Shrouds the Battle Over Online Censorship.

A named Republican politician who knows better has shouted out hasty bullshit versions of each — think of it in terms of rightwing demagogues racing to stupid conclusions much as CNN and Washington Post did on the Covington Catholic story two years ago. But since he hasn’t defamed any fresh-faced boys, he’ll never be called to account with money damages and an apology.


Shifting a bit, I note that Politico interviewed Elizabeth Neumann, who was raised Evangelical and who was high up in the Department of Homeland Security. Neumann gave insight into a religiosity that proclaims itself Real Christianity® but suffers from undiagnosed theopenia:☦︎

[They conclude] that eventually, pastors will not be able to preach against homosexuality or abortion, and if [they do], they’re going to end up arrested and unable to preach. I’ve heard that argument made multiple times over the last 10 years. The irrationality is the idea that there are no protections, that the courts wouldn’t step in and say, “No, the First Amendment applies to Christians as well.”

It tries to assert that they are losing power and must regain that power by any means necessary — which is why you can justify voting for Trump, so that we can, for God’s purposes, maintain this Christian nation.

The article, titled It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism, really should be titled It’s Time to Talk About Violent Evangelical Extremism. The interview subject was raised Evangelical and that movement, and its vulnerabilities to Christian nationalism, apocalypticism, authoritarianism and violence, was her entire focus. There was no effort to implicate any other Christian traditions in violent extremism.

More:

She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same.

Do you see anything about the evangelical tradition that could make its believers more susceptible to QAnon?

I really struggle with this question. I’ve been trying to figure out how it is so obvious to me …

There is, in more conservative Christian movements, a strong authoritarian streak, where they don’t believe in the infallibility of their pastor, but they act like it; they don’t believe in the infallibility of the head of the home, but they sometimes act like it; where you’re not allowed to question authority. You see this on full display in the criticisms of the way the Southern Baptist Convention is dealing with sexual abuse, which is so similar to the Catholic Church [sex abuse scandal]. There is this increasing frustration that church leaders have [this view]: “If we admit sin, then they won’t trust us to lead anymore.” But if the church is not a safe place to admit that you messed up, then I don’t know where is — or you clearly don’t believe what you preach.

The authoritarian, fundamentalist nature of certain evangelical strands is a prominent theme in the places where you see the most ardent Trump supporters or the QAnon believers, because they’ve been told: “You don’t need to study [scripture]. We’re giving you the answer.” Then, when Rev. Robert Jeffress [a prominent conservative Baptist pastor in Dallas] says you’ve got to support Donald Trump, and makes some argument that sounds “churchy,” people go, “Well, I don’t like Trump’s language, but OK, that’s the right thing.” It creates people who are not critical thinkers. They’re not necessarily reading scripture for themselves. Or if they are, they’re reading it through the lens of one pastor, and they’re not necessarily open to hearing outside perspectives on what the text might say. It creates groupthink.

Another factor is Christian nationalism. That’s a huge theme throughout evangelical Christendom. It’s subtle: Like, you had the Christian flag and the American flag at the front of the church, and if you went to a Christian school, you pledged allegiance to the Christian flag and the American flag. There was this merger that was always there when I was growing up. And it was really there for the generation ahead of me, in the ’50s and ’60s. Some people interpreted it as: Love of country and love of our faith are the same thing. And for others, there’s an actual explicit theology.

There was this whole movement in the ’90s and 2000s among conservatives to explain how amazing [America’s] founding was: Our founding was inspired by God, and there’s no explanation for how we won the Revolutionary War except God, and, by the way, did you know that the founders made this covenant with God? It’s American exceptionalism but goes beyond that. It says that we are the next version of Israel from the Old Testament, that we are God’s chosen nation, and that is a special covenant — a two-way agreement with God. We can’t break it, and if we do, what happened to Israel will happen to us: We will be overrun by whatever the next Babylon is, taken into captivity, and He will remove His blessing from us.

What [threatens] that covenant? The moment we started taking prayer out of [public] schools and allowing various changes in our culture — [the legalization of] abortion is one of those moments; gay marriage is another. They see it in cataclysmic terms: This is the moment, and God’s going to judge us. They view the last 50 years of moral decline as us breaking our covenant, and that because of that, God’s going to remove His blessing. When you paint it in existential terms like that, a lot of people feel justified to carry out acts of violence in the name of their faith.


☦︎ So far as I know, theopenic and its cognate theopenia are my coinage.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Shame Culture and lesser things

In twenty minutes or so, the Saints and the Bucaneers, Brees and Brady, will be competing. 85 total years of quarterback. And they’re both still really good. So I’m done websurfing today.

Someone pointed out that according to the prophecies of Q, in turn according to the consensus of Q scholars (since Q is reportedly pretty cryptic), President Trump is to sweep up the evil, cannibalistic, pizza-pedophile Democrats and RINOs. I confess that I’m no Q scholar, but his days are prima facie dwindling down to a precious few.

I’d bet a modest amount that, rather than admitting their delusion, QAnon scholars will reinterpret things. My money is on some version of “this will all come to pass at the great and glorious second coming of The Donald in 2024. It is prophesied.”

This will be the proof, for those in the real world, that Q goes beyond politics, beyond conspiracy theory, and is in fact a new pagan religion (and one that’s less rational than worshipping nature) even if (this being America), it’s a paganism with some distracting Christianish cammo.

Shame culture

David French is trying to analyze some fundamental things, and not being a Southerner, I don’t quickly grasp it. But my absolute favorite Orthodox Priest-Blogger, Fr. Stephen Freeman, writes much of the crushing weight of shame, and he writes from southern culture, so French has my attention.

[W]hat we’re watching right now in much of our nation’s Christian politics is an explosion not of godly Christian passion, but rather of ancient southern shame/honor rage.

There’s an enormous amount of literature describing shame/honor culture in the South and shame/honor culture generally, but I like this succinct description from David Brooks:

> In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. In a guilt culture people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad.

Shame/honor cultures are very focused on group reputation and group identity. Again, here’s Brooks:

> People are extremely anxious that their group might be condemned or denigrated. They demand instant respect and recognition for their group. They feel some moral wrong has been perpetrated when their group has been disrespected, and react with the most violent intensity.

Brooks was writing about the general growth of shame culture in America, including in left-wing circles on campus. But doesn’t this sound familiar on the right? Have you noticed how much of the GOP, the party of white Evangelicals, is often positively obsessed with grievance, how it marinates in anger at the insults of the “elite” or the “ruling class”?

Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, has done an immense amount of good through his organization, Samaritan’s Purse. He and his legion of Christian employees and volunteers have sacrificially served the sickest and most vulnerable members of society. But when it comes to politics, Graham’s voice is radically angry and viciously tribal.

David French, Where Does the South End and Christianity Begin?

This is of concern to me in part because my Christian tradition has by some accounts grown faster in the south than elsewhere, but angry tribalism contradicts the Orthodox faith profoundly.

Trump’s Big Lie

[I]t was striking that President-elect Joe Biden chose the term [“big lie”] when he slammed two Republican senators — Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — who have amplified Trump’s falsehood.

“I think the American public has a real good, clear look at who they are,” Biden told reporters two days after the Capitol was attacked. “They’re part of the big lie, the big lie.”

Biden nodded to the term’s origin in Nazi Germany, as embodied in Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

“We’re told that, you know, Goebbels and the great lie. You keep repeating the lie, repeating the lie,” Biden said. “The degree to which it becomes corrosive is in direct proportion to the number of people who say it.”

A big lie has singular potency, says Timothy Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University, whose books include studies of Hitler, Josef Stalin, the Holocaust and tyranny.

“There are lies that, if you believe in them, rearrange everything,” he says.

“Hannah Arendt, the political thinker, talked about the fabric of reality,” Snyder says. “And a big lie is a lie which is big enough that it tears the fabric of reality.”

In his cover story for The New York Times Magazine this week, Snyder calls Trump “the high priest of the big lie.”

As for where big lies lead, Snyder writes: “Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president.”

Can The Forces Unleashed By Trump’s Big Election Lie Be Undone?

Flight 93 (still)

Somewhere along the line, the “Flight 93 Election” proponents decided that their insane gamble with the country had paid off in a fabulously successful Presidency, and that was that, in saecula saeculorum. After January 6, they’re trying to change the subject:

[Laura] Ingraham says that the idea that character and norms don’t mean anything to people like her is a “straw man argument,” while always only being willing to criticize Trump’s “tone” and “style” and praising Trump for “fighting for others.” Is that what he was doing when he lied about having won the election and encouraged an angry mob of wayward souls to march on the legislative branch and his own vice president? Who was doing the fighting that day? Who was fighting for whom? And how many ultimately died? Ingraham says that the rioters were not intent on overthrowing the republic, but were just “desperate people.” Who, exactly, made them feel so desperate? Who told them their country was being “stolen” from them? It wasn’t Mitt Romney, and it wasn’t National Review.

Enter Anton, who took a brief victory lap on “predicting” that the Left would get crazier before asking if National Review’s subscribers knew that its editor had made the case for supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016 (he didn’t), and blasting Lowry for publishing his column in Politico where they couldn’t see it. Of course, Lowry’s column is now up here at National Review, where all of his Politico pieces eventually go up, but even if it wasn’t, he has not exactly hidden the ball on this site.

That Anton and Ingraham disregard the truth so blatantly and resort to such tinny arguments is probably a sign that they know that their Flight 93 presidency is ending very badly, that the project that they invested in so fully and threw away every standard to support is coming apart at the seams.

They’re letting their desperation show.

Isaac Schorr, Ingraham and Anton vs. Lowry: The Sad Descent of the Flight 93 Apologists | National Review

Cruz’s and Hawley’s Infamy

Some Republicans are hurtin’ because of what their party did over their objections. Not one pair — who are involved not romantically, but as rivals for Trump’s shitty mantle:

After the fact, the White House very quickly found itself in a supercharged version of the situation that Cruz and Hawley are also in. They presumed they could cynically ride this movement for their own ends. They gleefully lit match after match, and eventually to their horror they managed to set themselves on fire along with everyone else. They clearly incited these events. They saw them spin rapidly out of control. They ended Wednesday afternoon with five people dead, the Capitol defiled, and the country stunned. They definitely wanted to overturn the election, which by itself is a subversion of representative government. Their efforts produced a messy putsch into the bargain, and got people killed. They should be punished for it as severely as the law permits, and they should never be allowed to live down their responsibility for what happened.

Kieran Healy, What Happened? H/T Conor Friedersdorf, Recommended Reading (a paid Mailchimp weekly email)

The Falkirk Center — Liberty University’s continuing shame

Helfenbein has stated that the goal of the Falkirk Center is to have “massive cultural influence,” and I believe him after watching 12 hours of Falkirk’s nonsense podcast episodes, reading months’ worth of its articles, and scrolling through its near-endless social media feeds. “This is not your dad’s or granddad’s think tank,” says Helfenbein. Yeah, well it’s not your dad’s or granddad’s critical thinking either.

Much of Falkirk’s content is facially ridiculous, deceptive, or easily debunked. But that’s because Falkirk is not selling truth. Like any propaganda outlet, Falkirk melds partial truths with distortions to create a coherent worldview—one that comforts the audience while misleading it. There is no other way to explain the debunked claims of election fraud that Falkirk treats seriously, or the consistently shoddy interpretations of the Bible and history that would be considered sophomoric in Liberty’s own undergraduate classes. The Falkirk Center doesn’t even do a good job at creating alternate realities. Everything falls apart under the barest level of scrutiny—that is, if you can steel yourself to actually engage with all the mind-numbing content.

The Falkirk Center: Liberty University’s Slime Factory – The Bulwark

Antifa? Yeah, that’s the ticket!

One of the organizers of the Trump boat parade that sank a family’s boat in Portland, Oregon, in August was arrested Wednesday in the attempted coup on the Capitol.

Kristina Malimon, 28, was arrested on charges of unlawful entry and violating curfew. Her mother, Yevgeniya Malimon, 54, was also arrested on the same charges.

Malimon is the vice chair for the Young Republicans of Oregon. According to her bio on the organization’s website, she is also an ambassador to Turning Point USA and Liberty University’s pro-Trump think tank, the Falkirk Center. She is also listed as a delegate for the Multnomah County Republican Party.

Julia Reinstein, Kristina Malimon, Organizer Of A Trump Boat Parade, Arrested (Buzzfeed).

Yeah. It was all Antifa false flag stuff. That’s the ticket.

TOS

We talked about why we need more social media bans earlier this week and a friend who works in a tech-adjacent sector sent along something great. My buddy drafted the “Terms of Service” agreement he would use in the event he created a social network. Here they are:

> This social network is like a party I’m throwing at my house, and you’re all invited. So here’s the deal. I’m not gonna write a whole list of rules on a chalkboard like I’m your third-grade substitute teacher. I don’t mind you being rowdy because this is a fun party in my house. But if you cross the line, I’ll kick you out on your ass. Where is the line? I’m not going to try to explain it to you, so just keep yourself in check so you don’t cross it.
>
> But I’m not going to make any pretense here that I’m “fair” or “objective”. If I like you, I’ll probably let you get away with more. If I don’t like you but you’re still making the party cool, I’ll probably cut you some slack. You might get a warning, or you might not. Look, I’m partying too, and I don’t always have time to do warnings. Sometimes there will be a misunderstanding and I’ll kick you out when I should not have, and maybe I’ll regret it later. But probably not.
>
> But if you’re a real ass, you’ll be kicked out so hard that you’ll be staggering your drunken way down the street, mumbling to yourself about how unfair it was, and hearing the loud music from my amazing party which will be going on without you. And we won’t even miss you.
>
> So don’t complain to me about my party. Behave yourself and know that I am arbitrary and capricious in defense of the rocking time we are having. And don’t ask me to be “fair” because I’m just not.

This is exactly right. A TOS is not Hammurabi’s Code. It’s a set of guidelines subject to change at any minute that exist not to protect any individual “rights” but to make the product the company owns function better.

And people who pretend that this isn’t the case are either lying. Or socialists.

Jonathan V. Last, This Cult Is Ruining People’s Lives – The Triad

This, too, needs to be said:

I am insisting upon a different sort of consistency, one that rejects easy explanations and accepts that occurrences like the breaching of the Capitol on January 6 are as complex as any other part of human life. What I refuse to concede is the inhumanity of the costumed hundreds — a fraction of the total number of those who had traveled to Washington to hear President Trump speak. It is absurd, as Dickens once put it, to talk of such an event

> as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown—as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted to be done, that had led to it—as if observers of the wretched millions … and of the misused and perverted resources that should have made them prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming, years before, and had not in plain words recorded what they saw.

Last year I recognized the unmistakable signs of coming violence, and not only of the sort we are used to regarding as “political,” the surge in crime rates, drug addiction, sexual exploitation of children, and so-called deaths of despair. I for one do not understand how it is that people accustomed to talking about the very real consequences of unemployment, who take mental health seriously and understand the relationship between crime, education, poverty, and civil unrest, were able to wave away the cost of our lockdown measures.

… Washington, D.C., is under martial law, which means thousands of National Guardsmen reading Atlas Shrugged or sleeping under the same statues protesters would have been allowed to destroy only a few weary months ago. Joe Biden’s inauguration will become what President Trump once fantasized about: a military event, a quasi-fascistic spectacle of raw power, like the proclamation of a new emperor by a detail of leering praetorians.

This is the sort of thing people usually protest.

Matthew Walther, Where do riots come from?.

Not all January 6 demonstrators are criminals in any sense, insofar as not all entered the Capitol.

Not all January 6 demonstrators who entered the Capitol are guilty of the same seditious crimes.

For Civic Hygiene and deterrence, we need to hammer the worse offenders with the most serious charges the evidence supports. I don’t know how many of those there are, but I wouldn’t be surprised by hundreds of 10+ year sentences.

But I’ll be disappointed if some who entered the Capitol, if convincingly chastened, don’t get something like probation with low felonies reduced to high misdemeanors if the probationary period is completed without violation of any conditions.

Lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas

This isn’t about, anymore, the Electoral College, this is about the future of the party, and whether you’re going to ostracize and excommunicate President Trump from the party. Well, guess what? Millions of his fans will leave as well.

Rand Paul, quoted by Zachary Evans, Rand Paul: Senator Warns Republicans Will Leave Party if GOP Senators Back Impeachment | National Review

He’s probably right, which is what makes doing the right thing for the country so hard now that Trump has taken the GOP from Zombie Reaganism to the main host of QAnon.


The Four Caucuses of the GOP.

Here’s where we are: the GOP (at least in the House) broke down into four broad groups: The Profiles in Courage; the Sedition Caucus; the Mugwumps; and the Terrified.

I. The Profiles in Courage Caucus

The 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump

II. The Mugwump Caucus

This consisted of representatives who seemed to fully understand the enormity of Trump’s conduct… but still voted against impeachment.

III. The Sedition Caucus

We know their names: the 138 GOP reps who voted to overturn the presidential election, even after the failed insurrection attempt. Many of them had also signed a letter of support for the absurd and mendacious Texas lawsuit that sought to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters, and overturn the presidential election.

They make up nearly 2/3 of the House GOP Conference.

IV. The Terrified.

We don’t know how many Republicans were simply too afraid to vote yes, but fear was definitely a factor.

Charlie Sykes, Defeated, Disgraced, Twice Impeached – Morning Shots


When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud Officer Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both.

In 1922, G. K. Chesterton called America “a nation with the soul of a church.” But according to a recent study of dozens of countries, none has ditched religious belief faster since 2007 than the U.S. Without going into the causes, we can at least acknowledge one cost: For generations, most Americans understood themselves as children of a loving God, and all had a role to play in loving their neighbors. But today, many Americans have no role in any common story.

Conspiracy theories are a substitute. Support Donald Trump and you are not merely participating in a mundane political process—that’s boring. Rather, you are waging war on a global sex-trafficking conspiracy! No one should be surprised that QAnon has found a partner in the empty, hypocritical, made-for-TV deviant strain of evangelicalism that runs on dopey apocalypse-mongering. (I still consider myself an evangelical, even though so many of my nominal co-religionists have emptied the term of all historic and theological meaning.)

Senator Ben Sasse (emphasis added) did not willingly lie down with the Orange dog, but his party did. He really grasps the nettle here. Highly recommended unless you shun politics entirely.

Wherein Tipsy Repents his snarkiness about “Evangelicals”

As a highly distilled stage-setting, I left the Evangelicalism in which I was raised 40-45 years ago and left my Evangelical-adjacent Calvinist Church 23 years ago.

Still, I thought my reading was broad enough that I had a pretty good handle on American Evangelicalism. When I didn’t recognize names of people identified as Evangelical leaders, I chalked it up to the passage of the decades, with inevitable deaths, apostasies, new arrivals and such.

But Julia Duin, one of our very top religion reporters, has convinced me: I really should STFU (if you know what I mean). I really should have stopped generalizing about Evangelicals quite a long time ago, because folks I never considered full-fledged Evangelicals — the charismatics/pentecostals — are typically being lumped in with other Evangelicals in mainstream media stories.

That’s a big deal, and I didn’t know it. I don’t know anything about any of their leaders with the possible exception of the odious Pat Robertson, who I think is more-or-less in their camp. Not only that, but the charismatics/pentecostals are becoming increasingly delusional and authoritarian. They no longer just believe that some people have the “gift of prophesy,” but they posit that some have the “Office of Prophet,” and that other Christians are obliged to heed them. There’s blanket name for this stuff: “New Apostolic Reformation,” which is established enough to have the shorthand NAR.

Now I flirted briefly with charismatic Christianity in the late 60s (i.e., attended an Assemblies of God Church a lot during one summer break and rejected an overture to become a Campus Crusade for Christ staffer because Crusade forbade glossolalia), but while I liked some of the people in it, I never bought the doctrines and practices that accompanied them. I then considered them at best equivocally Evangelical, with the caveat that Evangelical is deucedly hard to define or delimit.

But as for the NAR and their supposed Prophets: screw them. I don’t care if they’ve gotten some things right. They’ve also gotten a lot of things wrong (starting around 1054 A.D., but that’s a very long story about the spiritual ancestors of maybe 98% of American Christians) including last Saturday’s “Jericho March” in D.C.

How can I say the Jericho March was wrong? Setting aside countless other indicia, it was a “Christian” rally that featured the bottomest of the bottom-feeders — a humanoid whose very name beslimes all advocates of robustly free speech — Alex Jones of Infowars, who waved his meaty arms and bellowed stuff about “King Jesus.”

Q.E.D.

I do not believe that we have Apostles or Prophets in the uppercase sense today. I’m inclined to mark those who insist we do as sub-Christian cultists, and I certainly refuse to follow any Tom, Dick, Harry or Paula White just because they say they’re an Apostle or a Prophet and God told them something-or-other. And I dare say a lot of non-charismatic/non-pentecostal Evangelicals agree with me.

So I hereby retract every exasperated generalization I’ve made about Evangelicals over the last 23 year. I can’t count them or track them all down, so I can’t say I repudiate them, but they were presumptuous and unreliable.

I won’t go prattling on, but I will give my highest recommendation to the two stories by Julia Duin that convinced me that I didn’t know what I was talking about when talking about “Evangelicals”:


Saturday’s Jericho March, distilled:

“next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go
and are no more. what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

E. E. Cummings – Next to of course god america i | Genius

A banquet of tasty morsels

No man or woman is an island, and no one should aspire to be one, either. That, at the core, is the claim of illiberalism, post-liberalism, or any of the other names given to the movement that pushes back against individualism as an ideal. The liberalism of Locke, deeply woven into American culture and political philosophy, takes the individual as the basic unit of society, while an illiberal view looks to traditions, family, and other institutions whose demands define who we are.

It always confuses me that illiberalism is taken as a belligerent ideology – both by its detractors and some of its proponents – as though it were rooted in strength and prepared to wield that power against others. It is con temporary liberalism that begins from an anthropology of independence, and presumes a strength and self-ownership we do not in fact possess.

A world that holds up independence as the ideal offers us two rival duties: to obscure our dependence and to be resentful of it. No woman can lightly assent to the illusion of autonomy. Because a baby is alien to the world of self-ownership, every woman’s citizenship in that imaginary republic is tenuous. A world of autonomous individuals can’t acknowledge both woman and child simultaneously. The sheer amount of work it takes to stifle fertility, put eggs on ice, or pump milk for a baby not welcome outside the home makes it clear that there is something untruthful and sharp-clawed at loose in the world.

Fear and hatred of weakness and dependence wound the dependent most obviously, but are poison to all, even the people who are strong at present. Without repeated reminders that the broken are beloved, how can we remember who God is?

Our physical weakness is a training ground for our struggles with moral weakness. There is no physical infirmity we can endure that is more humiliating than our susceptibility to sin. The elderly woman with tremors that leave her unable to lift her cup to her lip is not, in the final sense, weaker than any vigorous young man who finds he must echo Paul and admit, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19).

To give an honest accounting of ourselves, we must begin with our weakness and fragility. We cannot structure our politics or our society to serve a totally independent, autonomous person who never has and never will exist. Repeating that lie will leave us bereft: first, of sympathy from our friends when our physical weakness breaks the implicit promise that no one can keep, and second, of hope, when our moral weakness should lead us, like the prodigal, to rush back into the arms of the Father who remains faithful. Our present politics can only be challenged by an illiberalism that cherishes the weak and centers its policies on their needs and dignity.

Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dependence: Toward an Illiberalism of the Weak, Plough Quarterly.

I admire the heck of of Leah and expect to read her with pleasure until the day I die.


[I]t is her “Declaration of Conscience” speech for which [Margaret Chase Smith] is best remembered. It was 1950 and she was increasingly disturbed by Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist crusade. In February he’d made his speech in Wheeling, W.Va., charging communists had infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels. He claimed to have 205 names of known communists; in later statements he put the number at 57 and 81.

The base of the party found his opposition to the communist swamp in Washington electrifying. His wildness and disrespect for norms was seen as proof of authenticity: He’s one of us and fighting for us.

Smith was anticommunist enough that Nikita Khrushchev later described her as “blinded by savage hatred,” and she was certain communism would ultimately fail. But you don’t defeat it with lies.

She always listened closely when McCarthy spoke. Once he said he was holding in his hand “a “photostatic copy” of the names of communists. She asked to see it. It proved nothing. Her misgiving increased.

She didn’t want to move against him. She was new to the Senate; he was popular in Maine. She waited for her colleagues. They said nothing.

Finally she’d had enough. On June 1, 1950, she became the first Republican to speak out. On the way to the chamber Joe McCarthy suddenly appeared. “Margaret,” he said, “you look very serious. Are you going to make a speech?”

“Yes,” she said, “and you will not like it.”

When history hands you a McCarthy—reckless, heedlessly manipulating his followers—be a Margaret Chase Smith. If your McCarthy is saying a whole national election was rigged, an entire system corrupted, you’d recognize such baseless charges damage democracy itself. You wouldn’t let election officials be smeared. You’d stand against a growing hysteria in the base.

You’d likely pay some price. But years later you’d still be admired for who you were when it counted so much.

Peggy Noonan, Who’ll Be 2020’s Margaret Chase Smith?

I also admire the heck out of Peggy Noonan, but we’re too close to contemporaries for me to expect her writing to outlive me.


I don’t know if I was oblivious, or just too avoidant of National Review during his tenure there, or if being there forced him to write things he didn’t entirely believe, but I am rediscovering Jonah Goldberg since his co-founding of The Dispatch. This excerpting captures the full gist of what I think is a powerful argument:

You aren’t a conservative if you believe in conspiracy theories.

[T]he incompatibility of conservatism with conspiracy theories is … fundamental. One of the central tenets of conservatism is the idea that society is too complex to be easily controlled by a despot or even cadres of well-intentioned social engineers and bureaucrats, or what Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, dubbed “sophisters, calculators and economists.”

The “sophisters, calculators and economists” had real power. They had the power to make laws, and to order police and armies to enforce them.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that conspirators—globalists, the deep state, lizard people or, as QAnon would have you believe, blood-drinking pedophiles—can pull off whatever they want in total secrecy and with no formal power?

Here’s a simple fact: The more you know about how government actually works, the less likely you are to believe anyone is actually in control. The idea that secret cabals could blow up the World Trade Center or steal the election, with the active participation of hundreds or thousands of conspirators, is beyond laughable when you consider that passing a budget is often beyond the capabilities of those “in charge.”

One of Buckley’s top priorities in fashioning modern American conservatism was that it be a worldview grounded in realism. Conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in anything beyond the vaporous phantasms of paranoia. They can certainly be “right-wing.” But conservative they’re not.

Jonah Goldberg, Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism


There was no chance in the world that in the autumn of 2001, I would have seen the towers fall and thought, ah-ha! this was a sign to us that we should behold the evil capacities inside ourselves, and repent. Would anybody?

Rod Dreher, Why Does God Show Us Evil?

Yes, some would. I know because I did. Then in January 2005, I repudiated the GOP when Dubya did an anti-repentance, declaring as President of the World’s Savior-Nation that we were going to eradicate tyranny from the world.

That others did not see this was the source of my now-consistent belief that the self-willed blindness of our land leaves us past the point of no return: that nothing will bring us to repentance, and that nothing good will come of our hubris. (The 2016 Presidential Election was another warning we refused to heed.)

The only open question is how our decadence will play out. For instance, who foresaw a pandemic playing out as this one has? (Some foresaw pandemic, and warned of it, and prepared plans that Trump seemingly ignored, but did they foresee the economic shut-down, the isolation, the acedia?)


I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates is, I believe, an atheist. I have never understood where atheists find bedrock on which to build their ethics. But I’m glad most do find it. The world would be a grimmer place if they didn’t.


We long ago gave up the wish to have things that were adequate or even excellent; we have preferred instead to have things that were up-to-date.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on “doing us good” according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These salespeople are now with most of us, apparently, even in our dreams.

The first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But, then, this is also the first duty of everybody else.

Wendell Berry again.


As Nietzsche put it, “no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.”

My Journey from Born Again Christian to the Church of Woke—And Halfway Back Again – Quillette

This tickled me because “owning yourself” (a/k/a “self-own”) is the eventuality of following Nitezsche’s advice.


The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike—it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.

T.S. Eliot, via The Crack In The Tea-Cup

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Amusing Ourselves to Death

In 1985, Neil Postman published, to immediate critical acclaim, Amusing Ourselves to Death. For some reason, I did not read it at the time, but it has endured if not grown in value — so say all my friends in cyberspace (about which more later) — so I read it Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share some highlights with you, or if I shared all my highlights (though that is technically easier to do), because phrases I found arresting in context might well be boring in isolation. So here goes.

First, Postman is at great pains to distance himself from the Luddites. He acknowledges major communicative changes in the past, with some of what was lost and gained in each, before exploring how television is toxically different.

  • Regarding the Commandment against idols, “The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking.”
  • “Although one would not know it from consulting various recent proposals on how to mend the educational system, this point — that reading books and watching television differ entirely in what they imply about learning — is the primary educational issue in America today. America is, in fact, the leading case in point of what may be thought of as the third great crisis of Western education. The first occurred in the fifth century BC, when Athens underwent change from an oral culture to an alphabet-writing culture. To understand what this meant, we must read Plato. The second occurred in the 16th century when Europe underwent a radical transformation as a result of the printing press. To understand what this meant, we must read John Locke. The third is happening now, in America, as a result of electronic revolution, particularly the invention of television. To understand what this means, we must read Marshall McLuhan.”
  • “Each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility. Which, of course, is what McLuhan meant in saying that the medium is the message. His aphorism, however, is in need of amendment because, as it stands, it may lead one to confuse a message with a metaphor. A message denotes a specific, concrete statement about the world. But the forms of our media, including the symbols to which they permit conversation, do not make such statements. They are rather like metaphors, working by unobtrusive but powerful implication to enforce their special definitions of reality.”
  • “It is my intention in this book to show a great media-metaphor shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense.”
  • “[W]e do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities, but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations.”

There were waystations en route to television land, telegraphy featuring prominently (perhaps as synecdoche), for its obliteration of distance:

  • “Telegraphy … destroyed the prevailing definition of information, and in doing so gave a new meaning to public discourse. Among the few who understood this consequence was Henry David Thoreau, who remarked in Walden that ‘We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.… We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through the end of the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.’ … Only four years after Morse opened the nation’s first telegraph line on May 24, 1844, the Associated Press was founded, and news from nowhere, addressed to no one in particular, began to crisscrossing the nation. Wars, crimes, crashes, fires, floods — much of it the social and political equivalent of Adelaide’s whooping cough — became the content of what people called ‘the news of the day.'”

Now that we’re in television land, Postman also is insistent about not floating conspiracy theories about commies or lizard people deliberately using TV to make us stupid. For instance:

  • “The single most important fact about television is that people watch it. Which is why it is called “television.” And what they watch, and like to watch, are moving pictures — millions of them, of short duration and dynamic variety. It is in the nature of the medium that it must suppress the contact of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest; that is to say, to accommodate the values of show business.”
  • “What is happening here is the television is altering the meaning of “being informed” by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this word almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. This information does not mean false information. It means misleading information — misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information — information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I did not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans have a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say this when the news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result.”

It is a commonplace in Evangelical Protestantism that mediums (I know the plural is properly “media,” but that has accumulated distracting connotations) are neutral. Christianity being something I care about very much, Postman’s Chapter Shuffle off to Bethlehem really hit me:

Though it may be unAmerican to say it, not everything is televisible. Or to put it more precisely, what is televised is transformed from what it was into something else, which may or may not preserve its former essence. For the most part, television preachers have not seriously addressed this matter. They have assumed that what had formally been done at a church or a tent, and face-to-face, can be done on television without loss of meaning, without changing the quality of the religious experience. Perhaps their failure to address the translation issue has its origin in the hubris engendered by the dazzling number of people to whom the television gives them access.
“Television,“ Billy Graham has written, “is the most powerful tool of communication ever devised by man. Each of my primetime specials is now carried by nearly 300 stations across the US and Canada, so that in a single telecast I preach to millions more than Christ did in his lifetime.“ To this, Pat Robertson adds: “To say that the church shouldn’t be involved with television is utter folly. The needs are the same, the message is the same, but the delivery can change.… It would be folly for the church not to get involved with the most formative force in America.“
This is gross technological naïveté. If the delivery is not the same, then the message, quite likely, is not the same. And if the context in which the messages experienced is altogether different from what it was in Jesus’ time, we may assume that it’s social and psychological meaning is different as well.

I believe that I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.

I’ve long not been a fan of televangelists, but I hadn’t thought it through as Postman did. I can’t even say “Aha! He put my intuition into words!”, as I so often feel, because I tacitly bought the idea that mediums are neutral. Maybe the single most important lesson of this book, for me if not for everyone, is that “neutral medium” is rubbish.

And I should have known better all along. Every sick-Sunday or Covidtide streamed Divine Liturgy screamed at me “I am inadequate!” Each was inadequate as “television” and as Christian worship. Every medium shapes all messages it mediates.

To a slightly lesser extent, I care about education. Postman sets forth three commandments of televised education, which I distill:

The three Commandments that form the philosophy of the education which television offers:
– Thou shalt have no prerequisites.
– Thou shalt induce no perplexity.
– Thou shalt avoid exposition like the ten plagues visited upon Egypt.
The name we may properly give to an education without prerequisites, perplexity and exposition is entertainment.

Postman’s concluding chapter not only brings back a lot of stuff for a curtain call, but summarizes colorfully:

An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, than a Huxleyan. Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist the prison when the gates begin to close around us. We are not likely, for example, to be indifferent to the voices of the Sakharovs and the Timmermans and the Walesas. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Bacon, Voltaire, Göethe and Jefferson. But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusement. To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?

What I suggest here is a solution is what all does Huxley suggested as well. And I can do no better than he. He believed with H.G. Wells that we are in a race between education and disaster, and he wrote continuously about the necessity of our understanding the politics and epistemology of media. For in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.

Now for a bit of critique.

Television is still with us, but with a fourth broadcast network (Fox, which I recall being announced on NPR in April 1988 — recalled because (a) I was driving a rented Camry around San Francisco and down Highway 1, and (b) I thought it was a stupid idea for which Rupert Murdoch would pay dearly) and countless cable offerings. I don’t think this changes anything. The news is as stupid or stupider than ever, and has us broken into tribes to boot. So much for a peaceful Huxleyan world — and for my ability to spot a good money-making idea when I see it.

But we also can control television, which means relying on it for entertainment — which is all it’s good for — and nothing else. We can only do it at the family level, though, which means we still swim in polluted waters when we step out into the work-world.

Computers, however, Postman underestimated — perhaps because he did not foresee the “technology” of ARPANET expanding to the public and becoming virtually its own “medium.” I am aware of its potential for harm, pornography having become ubiquitous, for instance (and the emergence of “ethically-source porn” and the happy “sex workers” to replace unhappy, exploited “prostitutes”, both to make sensitive wankers feel better about their vice), but I dare say, from personal experience and experiment, that it is concurrently a great power for good. I have Anglophone “friends” around the world as a result, for instance.

Dare I say that the world awaits a treatment of the internet equal in stature to Postman’s treatment of television? Or perhaps it’s here and I just haven’t read it. There are definitely efforts being made to write it.


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

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening, November 1937

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

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Potpourri 11/17/20

Wisdom of the Ages

We can endure neither our vices nor their cure.

Livy


This acceptance of the classical tradition, even in so partially and fragmentarily recovered a form, was a course completely at variance with one type of Christian teaching, influential to varying degrees throughout the middle ages, which dismissed all pagan teaching as the devil’s work and sought to find in the Bible an all-sufficient guide. Luther indeed was the heir of this medieval tradition.

Alasdair MacIntyre, After virtue

I do not reject all pagan teaching as demonic, and neither do the Eastern Church Fathers.


The assumption behind systematic theology is that the universe is actually a “uni-verse” – that is, it has a unity throughout …

This consistency and stability across creation is what is meant by “system” in “systematic theology” …

I recall someone presenting a paper on the doctrine of God in the writings of the radical feminist Catholic, Rosemary Radford Ruether. When the student finished reading the paper, there was a dead, stunned silence in the room. Finally, a sheepish voice piped up, “Isn’t that the Force in Star Wars?” We broke out in laughter because it was precisely what she had articulated. It might make for interesting reading, but it certainly could not be called “Christian.”

Orthodox theology is not studied or written in the manner of Protestant systematics. Orthodox thought is largely what has been traditioned and is drawn from the Fathers and our liturgical life ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Orthodoxy, Systematic Theology, and Music – Glory to God for All Things

Crooked Hearts

Here’s a quote for you:

“This crisis is more important than any crisis we’ve had in my time. Our people are waiting for the bishops to say, O.K., we’ve got it under control, we’re on the same page, we hear you and we’ve listened to you and now you can be sure that this will never happen again.”

Know who said that? Cardinal Ted McCarrick, on June 12, 2002.

I’m writing this to you, young man, but I’m also writing it to myself. You cannot imagine how much I need to believe this, to know that it is true. That sentimental saying you see on coffee mugs at gift shops? ‘Be Kind, For Everyone You See Is Fighting A Great Battle’?

Yeah, it’s true.

The Hidden Heroes – Daily Dreher

The one person you don’t see is fighting a great battle, too. Auden captured it:

You shall love your crooked neighbor
with your crooked heart


The number of people coming forward with sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was approaching 90,000 by the Monday deadline for filing such claims against the organization.

The Nov. 16 deadline was established by a Delaware bankruptcy court, where the BSA had filed as it sought to cope with lawsuit damages and to restructure.

The BSA spent millions of dollars advertising the deadline across the nation, and the claims have poured rivaling sexual abuse claims against the Catholic church. Abused in Scouting, a group of over 8,000 men who say they were abused in the Boy Scouts, said experts had expected over 50,000 claims.

“I knew there were a lot of cases,” Paul Mones, an attorney involved in BSA sexual abuse cases for nearly 20 years, told The New York Times. “I never contemplated it would be a number close to this.”

How much money claimants will eventually receive from the Boy Scouts will depend on the size of a compensation fund the bankruptcy court will establish and the length and severity of the abuse suffered by the individuals making claims against the organization.

The BSA national organization, insurers, and local councils will all contribute to a compensation fund for victims.

The BSA said it was “devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting and moved by the bravery of those who came forward.”

“The BSA bankruptcy is an unmasking of … its decades’ long problem of sexual abuse that they deliberately concealed,” Mones said on Twitter when the BSA filed for bankruptcy in February.

Knowhere News

I will not wallow in this news, but how can we learn from it? Is it as simple as “Do not entrust the formation of your children to others”?

Carpe diem

An Arabian proverb of our time goes something like this: “My father rode a camel, I drive a Rolls-Royce, my son flies a jet airplane, and his son will ride a camel.”

James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency

Perhaps those Arabian boys will ride the Hendricks High-Wheel. (H/T Like Peloton but Analog, and With Alcohol – WSJ)

Politics

If you’re still doing a political purge after our four-year binge, you may stop here.

[I]t is fair to say that, despite what his critics on the left have said to the contrary, Obama did succeed in his stated ambition of fundamentally transforming the United States, albeit through inaction. Every bit as much as the conservative public intellectuals of the last two decades, Obama’s failure was not the result of Eliotic fatalism but (to quote his own letter) of ignorance. Even today he resembles them in his instrumentalization of religion, as a tool that will “restore a sense of meaning” to public life rather than as the activity of a body of believers undertaken for its own sake, as a divine mandate.

Matthew Walter, Barack Obama, failed conservative


… the occasional rapper who supported Trump. I have to remind myself that if you listen to rap music, it’s all about the bling, the women, the money. A lot of rap videos are using the same measures of what it means to be successful as Donald Trump is. Everything is gold-plated.

Barack Obama in Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic

A great interview with a serious man who once, believe it or not, occupied the highest elective office in the land.


Obama is actually nicer to his enemies than Trump is to his friends. (Jeffrey Goldberg’s observation in Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic)

Can anyone deny the truth of this?


No major American political figure in my lifetime has triggered the moral revulsion I feel toward Donald Trump; it explains why I was one of his earliest and toughest critics. (I continue to believe that moral revulsion was the proper response to Trump’s tenure.) So I understand how, in the twilight of his presidency, with the president engaging in a series of final civic desecrations, it’s easy to react with indignation one more time. And the fact that Trump supporters like Lindsey Graham and countless others are complicit in those desecrations shouldn’t vanish down the memory hole.

But Trump has dominated too much of our thinking for too long; his transgressions, provocations, and sheer abnormality have made him an omnipresent figure in our lives. Time and time again I’ve spoken with people who are not particularly political yet feel not only deeply unsettled by Trump but enveloped by him. He’s had too much power over too many of us. It’s time we move on from him.

> “My entire personality is hating Donald Trump,” Melissa Villaseñor’s character puts it in a Saturday Night Live political ad parody, “Trump Addicts for America.” “If he’s gone, what am I supposed to do? Focus on my kids again? No thanks.” (“You know he’s bad for you,” the ad concludes. “But it’s hard to imagine life without him.”)

Peter Wehner, Choose Repair, Not Revenge – The Atlantic.

Life without Trump will mean, for me, many more books read. Because, yes, he dominated too much of my time, this Orange Man. (What was his name?)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Another curated collection

There’s another strange point that I would add, and maybe we’ll talk about this a little bit more because it does touch on broader issues, but it would be a strange doctrine indeed [if] every time the government takes over a new function and starts to contract about it, the scope of free exercise or free speech rights just automatically shrinks. Because that would mean that in order for the government essentially to do what it wants it just has to occupy the field on any particular field …
The growth of the administrative state has been putting a lot more pressure on the exercise of religion, and this would be a good example of that. And this came up in oral argument: Justice Barrett asked this question at one point, “well could the city just take over running all the hospitals and then say that ‘we’re going to contract it out and everybody has to agree with our terms’?”

Marc O. DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian, respectively, Legal Spirits Episode 028: Oral Argument in Fulton v. Philadelphia – LAW AND RELIGION FORUM, starting at about the 12:05 mark (hyperlink added).

Fulton is last Wednesday’s SCOTUS oral argument over Philadelphia taking over foster care and then banning Catholic Social Services because, had a hypothetical gay couple (or any unmarried couple) shown up seeking to foster or adopt, CSS would have referred them elsewhere. Oh, the horror!

It was a strange oral argument, though, as noted both by these two and by David French and Sarah Isgur last week on Advisory Opinions (starting at 49:00).


“There’s a lot of parallels between a community that’s 96% Hispanic and a community that’s 96% white,” said Freddy Guerra, a former mayor of nearby Roma[, Texas]. “Racism is not something that people deal with in Starr County because everybody’s brown. Climate change isn’t something they feel. They prefer bread on the table.”

Elizabeth Findell, How Democrats Lost So Many South Texas Latinos—the Economy – WSJ

This reminds me of my six weeks in Europe and the British Isles in 1968, touring with the Wheaton College Men’s Glee Club.

When we were in Belfast and Northern Ireland more generally, I (good Protestant boy though I was) was appalled at the anti-Catholic bigotry. I was not surprised when the Catholics started fighting back the next year — The Troubles.

Ireland to the south, in contrast, was tolerant of its Protestant minority.

Seeking some explanation other than intrinsic Catholic tolerance (an answer that I’d have found most uncongenial at that point in my life), I was told that it was pretty simple: Protestants were too few in Ireland to worry about, while Catholics were a very large part of Northern Ireland.

I guess our American polarization could be caused by either of two things:

  • No place is so nearly homogenous as Ireland; there’s no place where a dissident minority can be ignored; or
  • We don’t perceive the United States as a bunch of places, so any dissent from our views anywhere is a threat.

Maybe there are other options, or maybe I’m generalizing too hastily.


A great cry went up from Orthodox throats across the globe earlier this year when the Turkish government repurposed Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. The cry was an echo of May 29, 1453, when the city of Constantinople fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. That day, and its pain, have remained an iconic tragedy of a lost world and an abiding sadness. No one dared ask that the Church be returned to use as a Church – better a museum than a mosque. In truth, even as a museum, the loss remains intense. What is lost is not real estate, a building. It is the right place of beauty in the Christian experience. That loss is repeated in museums across the Western world.

Years ago, as a young Anglican priest, I visited the art museum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC (my home town). With me was an Anglican monk. Together we made our way through a surprising collection of Italian Church art, and, at the time, one of the largest collections of Russian icons outside of the Soviet Union. Guards followed us carefully through the museum – not that we were perceived as potential thieves. Rather, I think, we were perceived as potential idolaters. That “Christian” museum was, in many ways, a parallel of Hagia Sophia.

The Russian icons at Bob Jones were originally created not just as exemplars of an abstract beauty, but as objects of veneration. They were (and are) “windows into heaven.” The Fathers said of icons that they “make present that which they represent.” They are a means of communion. In the museum-world of modernity, what is contemplated is our own feelings and thoughts. Beauty becomes “art,” serving only our self-gratification.

That which is made present in an icon is perceived only in the act of veneration. In that action, the one who sees also participates through the extension of the self towards that which is made present ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Museums, Churches, and My Back Yard – Glory to God for All Things (emphasis added).

The reminder that a lot of museum’s misappropriate stuff (legally) was chastening. And I can’t resist poking a bit at BJU given a legitimate opportunity.


I corrected a shocking omission in my education today by finally reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, A World Split Apart:

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to his readers, or to his history — or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist usually always gets away with it. One may — One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none — and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on in the readers’ memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification.

The press — The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary.

More:

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people giving their contribution to public life … There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of a petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

Still more:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.


I also read some less enduring stuff.

The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.

Former Republican President George W. Bush, in a statement congratulating Joe Biden for winning the presidency, quoted in Knowhere News

Only in the fevered mind of Donald Trump is this statement not admirable, but I’ll be surprised if Trump hasn’t mean-Tweeted it.


The fine print on the campaign’s website shows that 60 percent of contributions to Trump’s new “Election Defense Fund” will actually be diverted toward retiring his campaign’s debt, and Axios reported last night that the president plans to “hold campaign-style rallies … in an effort to prolong his fight against apparent insurmountable election results.”

The Morning Dispatch: Biden Calls for Unity


Did you even read past the first sentence? Or are you just purposely lying so you can talk tough? No one said give up. I literally said investigate every irregularity and use the courts. You’re a member of Congress now, Marjorie. Start acting like one.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw to Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spouted some chest-thumping misrepresentation of Crenshaw on Twitter.

Thank you, Mr. Crenshaw.


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

It’s over, and Brian Carroll did not win

What I dared not hope for may happen: Biden in the White House (my preference between the two major parties) with the Senate still in Republican hands. I will not support the QAnon Georgia Republican Senate candidate, but I may try to push David Perdue over the top in the January Georgia runoff.


My struggling local newspaper, always eager for free content that will interest readers, has a panel of Rapid Responders who it periodically polls with rather open-ended questions. One of two this week was “what are your take-aways from this election?” My (50 words or fewer) response, written in a sudden burst of late-night energy:

  1. The median American loathes Donald Trump slightly more than he/she fears The Squad and the rest of the Democrats’ Left.
  2. The Republican Workers Party is an emergent force to be reckoned with.

I stand by both.


The networks have just called the election for Joe Biden. Sic transit gloria MAGA.

The (Wall Street) Journal story is pretty incredible … but about what you would expect from a president whose mouth writes checks the rest of him can’t cash. Seriously, how is it that you spend months telling your supporters that you are going to fight this in court if you have to, but then half-ass the legal prep? When the GOP went down to Florida in 2000 to wage legal war in the Bush-Gore contest, they sent the lawyer equivalent of Seal Team Six. Now? The fact that Trump doesn’t take this seriously telegraphs to conservatives how seriously we should take him from now on.

Rod Dreher, MAGA Blues And Bitter Klingers | The American Conservative (emphasis added).


The one person who I won’t give the benefit of the doubt to is Trump himself. He is lying. He anticipated this scenario precisely so he could lie about the election being stolen. For months he told his voters that they should vote on Election Day—and they listened to him. Meanwhile, Biden voters didn’t. That’s why early votes went wildly for Biden and Election Day votes went wildly for Trump. We knew this would happen. We talked about this happening. Trump knew that the early votes would be for Biden. He said in advance that he would claim victory on Election Day if he was ahead before the early votes—which were cast first but counted last in many jurisdictions—were counted. He even telegraphed that he would claim those mail and absentee votes were fraudulent. And lo and behold, that’s precisely what he did. If he actually had the power to “stop the voting”—which really meant “stop the counting”—in those states, he would be guilty of the greatest example of mass voter fraud in American history. He tried—and is still trying—to commit voter fraud, and it is flatly outrageous and disgusting. He’s literally the one trying to steal the election, and—as is so often the case—he’s trying to do it by claiming his enemies are the guilty ones.

I could vent more. But if you can’t see the incredible shame of this series of events by now, you’re part of the problem.

Jonah Goldberg, Mandates, Clowns, Oh My – The G-File (emphasis added).


Just this morning, Nancy Pelosi said that Biden will have a bigger mandate than JFK. This is ridiculous for a bunch of different reasons, which I’ll get to in a second. But my point here is just to note that, having said Trump didn’t have much of a mandate with 306 Electoral College votes makes it much easier for me to say the same thing about Biden. If you went around yammering about how Trump had a massive mandate to do whatever he wanted, denying that Biden has a mandate is just that much harder.

As I’ve been saying to my Trumpy friends throughout the Trump era, think about your answer to the question: “What can the next Democratic president do that you won’t be a hypocrite for criticizing?”

The moment he takes the oath of office he will have already fulfilled his core mandate: to not be Donald Trump. His second most obvious mandate will be well on its way to fulfillment the moment he starts taking Anthony Fauci’s phone calls.

After that, everything else is up for negotiation …

Jonah Goldberg, Mandates, Clowns, Oh My – The G-File


Note these names as people never to trust again:

Senator Ted Cruz: “What we’re seeing tonight, what we’ve been seeing the last three days, is outrageous. It is partisan, it is political and it is lawless. We’re seeing this pattern in Democratic city after Democratic city, with the worst in the country right now is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “You have a group of corrupt people who have absolute contempt for the American people, who believe that we are so spineless, so cowardly, so unwilling to stand up for ourselves, that they can steal the presidency … No one should have any doubt: You are watching an effort to steal the presidency of the United States.”

Senator Lindsey Graham: “The allegations of wrongdoing are earth-shattering … So Senate Republicans are going to be briefed by the Trump campaign Saturday, and every Senate Republican and House Republican needs to get on television and tell this story.”

Fox News Hits a Dangerous New Low – The Atlantic


In what must surely be among the most noxious claims printed in recent years by the New York Times, he concludes that, “All of this to me points to the power of the white patriarchy and the coattail it has of those who depend on it or aspire to it. … Some people who have historically been oppressed will stand with the oppressors, and will aspire to power by proximity.”

Blow’s gross accusation follows “analyses” from several other writers blinded by staring incessantly through the same racial lens. Nikole Hannah-Jones of 1619-Project fame solves her conundrum by deciding that some minorities who support President Trump actually are white while The Root’s Michael Harriot explains that such support is how they become white. Washington Post reporter Eugene Scott says they “support white supremacy” and his colleague Karen Attiah describes them as “going along to get along” with white supremacists as a “survival strategy.” A befuddled Paul Krugman, perhaps looking backward through his binoculars, declares that he has “no idea what the true lessons are.”

Turn the binoculars around, and it is easy to see a realignment of working-class voters, regardless of race, toward the party that expresses an interest in their economic concerns.

The idea of conservatives as the vindicator of workers’ interests may sound strange, but only because we have forgotten what conservatism means. The market fundamentalism that we call “conservative,” celebrating growth and markets without concern for their effects on family and community, and trusting that the invisible hand will invariably advance the interests of the nation, is libertarian. Conservatives are moving beyond it. And experience now suggests that, as they do, a broad-based, multi-ethnic coalition of working families could be eager to join them.

Oren Cass, A Multi-Ethnic, Working-Class Conservatism – American Compass

(I made my Rapid Response before I read this, though I was already somewhat familiar with Cass’s thinking.


Bookend 1, a case for not reading or watching news.. Bookend 2, a case, essentially, that today’s news environment causes acedia. Between the two stands sanity.

I could add to these C.S. Lewis, who wrote of modern news as, basically, exceeding our design specifications – a similar very point to the second bookend.

Like my other diets, I broke my news diet during th’illiction, but hope to get back on track.


I suspect Trump is going to file lawsuits so he can blame incompetent lawyers or corrupt judges for his loss instead of admitting it’s on him alone.


Trump Isn’t Going Anywhere
“There is nothing about him that goes gently into the night.”
Peter Nicholas

That threat — that the Trumps would undermine any future presidential candidate who didn’t support them in their hour of need — is only powerful if Trump himself can still draw eyeballs. Without Twitter, without the ability to get live television coverage wherever he goes, that power will be diminished. And without that power, what exactly does Trump have going for him to ensure the loyalty of ambitious Republicans?

The day the world stopped paying attention to Donald Trump

Peter Nicholas seems right, Joel Mathis too hopeful. The media have made millions if not billions off Trump, and are unlikely to un-person him if there’s more to be made.

But:

A Twitter account belonging to President Donald Trump’s former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was permanently suspended late Thursday after he suggested Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded for failing to adequately back Trump.

USA Today

Bannon actually said some thoughtful things in the distant past. His loss to the fever swamps, of which he was a builder, is a shame.


Blogging note: For years, I criticized the GOP for “Zombie Reaganism,” a resort to the Gipper’s tropes in changed times. I even created a category for it.

Say whatever else bad you will about Trump, but he was not a Zombie Reaganite, and he quickly suppressed it in the GOP. I haven’t needed that category for years. We’ll see if that holds with the GOP out of the White House.


And finally, one a more timeless topic:

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

A good religious reason for opposing Trump

I actually don’t think Trump’s almost unfathomably toxic personality and decades of indecency on every level should tip the scales in the other direction if you [support his policies]. Policy is bigger than any one person’s dysfunctions. On some hard-nosed realist level, it doesn’t make sense to mortgage all your policy preferences for the sake of choosing someone who is nicer and more decent. You can hold your nose to vote for the guy because of what he can deliver you in terms of right and far-right policies, if that’s your thing. A 6-3 Supreme Court majority is a 6-3 Supreme Court majority, and the ramifications will long outlive Trump.

Jesse Singal, Even If You Are, For Some Reason, A Liberal, Single-Issue Anti-Wokeness Voter, You Still Shouldn’t Vote For Trump – Singal-Minded (likely pay wall).

Singal is a progressive, and isn’t giving away much here because of how tendentiously he characterizes Trump’s policies. Nobody who supports the policies as Singal describes them is even going to think about voting against Trump on character grounds.

But I actually do think Trump’s almost unfathomably toxic personality … should tip the scales in the other direction even if you prefer his policies.

[W]e’re no longer in a position (especially in parts of the American Christian community) where one can point out a political leader’s serious moral defects and expect believers to think there is any serious problem with those defects—unless and until one can tie those defects to specific poor policy choices. The leader, in this conception, is essentially a producer of specific laws and policies, and it’s the laws and policies that then shape the nation, not the character of the man or woman in power.

Interestingly, I’ve never really seen this principle applied outside of politics—and I never heard it strongly argued before the age of Trump. In the world of business, for example, we see even CEOs or managers who run profitable enterprises fired and even disgraced for personal scandals that are completely unrelated, say, to their plans for a new product line.

Moreover, outside of politics, we don’t even think twice about these character tests. Why? Because their necessity is self-evident. In a company, in a church, in a military unit—everywhere, really—leaders are culture-makers. They’re culture-shapers. And they have an immense impact on the institutions they lead, the people they lead, and the communities they influence.

David French, A Christian Leader Reminds Believers of the Power of Character – The French Press.

I find it bewildering that Christians can be so sure that greater damage will be done by bad judges, bad laws, and bad policies than is being done by the culture-infecting spread of the gangrene of sinful self-exaltation, and boasting, and strife-stirring (eristikos).

John Piper, Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin | Desiring God