Sunday 9/18/22

Liturgies

How Elizabeth experienced her coronation

Over here, people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the by the sacramental side of what we going on.

C.S. Lewis on the 1953 Coronation of Elizabeth II Regina, attributed to a personal letter.

In contrast to sacramentality, America developed …

Proto-Populism in the Pews

Simply put, the Antichrist now worked his evil machinations through elites of all kind, particularly the clergy.

Nathan Hatch, Thundering Legions in The Democratization of American Christianity

Or so Americans leaned to think. Bereft of sacrament, they invented tawdry substitutes, personal and collective:

C.S. Lewis on Christian patriotism

From Screwtape Letters:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

I think things would be better if supposedly serious Christian people stopped talking like demons, don’t you?

Jake Meador

What happens to churches that forsake liturgy

What strikes me about certain low church communities is that they sometimes imagine themselves to have no liturgy at all. In some cases, they might even be overtly hostile to the very idea of a liturgy. This is interesting to me because, in practice, it is not that they have no liturgy at all as they imagine—they simply end up with an unacknowledged liturgy of a different sort. Their services also feature predictable patterns and rhythms, as well as common cadences and formulations, even if they are not formally expressed or delineated and although they differ from the patterns and rhythms of high church congregations. It’s not that you get no church calendar, for example, it’s that you end up trading the old ecclesial calendar of holy days and seasons, such as Advent, Epiphany, and Lent, for a more contemporary calendar of national and sentimental holidays, which is to say those that have been most thoroughly commercialized.

L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society

What happens to politicians formed spiritually in such churches

When Vice President Mike Pence delivered his speech at the Republican National Convention, it was like witnessing a Walker Percy satire. Pence remixed Hebrews 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:17, by replacing “Jesus” with “Old Glory,” the “saints” with “this land of heroes,” and even interjected his own biblical gloss—“that means freedom always wins.”

In Love in the Ruins, the Roman Catholic Church has split into three groups, one of which is the American Catholic Church, whose new “Rome” is Cicero, Illinois. The protagonist Tom More attends church there with his mother to celebrate Property Rights Sunday, a major feast day for the church.

Unlike its forebear, the American Catholic Church “emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin Mass, and plays ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the elevation.”

In response to Pence’s speech, some Christian leaders denounced his idolatry, a great start to warding off Percy’s “Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world.” However, if we want to avert the American apocalypse, we need better readers and thinkers of the Word. As Americans, we should prioritize reading well, learning what words mean, why context matters, and how to be comfortable with mystery.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, Percy and Pence and the American Sense of Scripture

The Religion of American Greatness

Paul D. Miller, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University, recognizes that most of the existing works on Christian nationalism “are rather extreme and almost comical examples of beating up on straw men—or would be, if they weren’t also fear-mongering scurrilous libel masquerading as scholarship.” In The Religion of American Greatness, Miller, who identifies himself as a “Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer,” proposes to offer a “detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism.”

Mark David Hall, Christian Nationalism: An Existential Threat?

Deja Vu

I guess it’s time for somebody to mention, and even to elaborate upon, white Evangelicalism’s pathetic, unbiblical obsession with celebrities: Richard Ostling Is celebrity culture eroding American evangelicalism? This publishing insider says ‘yes’

Yes, I send “unbiblical.” Elevating novice Christian celebrities is pathetic and it’s dangerous to the celebrities themselves.

None of the periodic commentary on this weakness has changed a damned thing, of course.

Hidden life

Enough of my rough and critical thoughts on American religious life.

God Saved the Queen

In all of human history Queen Elizabeth II is the single person who has been most prayed for. From her birth in 1926 she was included in a petition myriads of people prayed day after day: It called upon the Almighty to bless and preserve “all the Royal Family.” From her accession to the throne in 1952, millions began to pray for her daily by name: “That it might please thee to keep and strengthen . . . thy Servant Elizabeth, our most gracious Queen and Governor.” A modern form introduced during her reign that is often used today pleads, “Guard and strengthen your servant Elizabeth our Queen.”

Prayers Answered: God Saved the Queen via Alan Jacobs. The author goes on with other notable things about the late Queen.

Learning to Let Things Be

We seem to be on the verge of choosing what and whether human life—and with it, all life—will continue to be on this planet. Whether science fiction or not there are a lot of brainy people with a lot of money behind them trying to turn us into something quite different than what we have been. I think they will fail. But I don’t really know, maybe they won’t. They will likely do tremendous of damage in the process regardless. Yet nobody is able to give a fully coherent explanation of what we are doing or why. Instead, we are drowning in partial, often unhelpful explanations. I have to wonder whether our situation even can be understood. Have we reached our cognitive and moral limits? Or are the cacophony of reasons we give merely an implicit way of admitting we don’t really know why we do what we do? Admitting our fundamental ignorance would at least be refreshing in its honesty. Instead, it is not unusual to find various deep, sincere, erudite, and eloquent views of our situation that are in nearly complete contradiction with one another. It actually is quite common. Many of them are done with the same air of certainty—where there likely is none.

I myself offer only the Arsenios Option, i.e., fleeing the world of distraction and ambition, being silent, and dwelling in stillness. I don’t offer it as way to understand our situation. It’s what you do when all explanations have failed and when talking turns to gibberish … It is the hope that we can go deeper than the problem itself. In silence, stillness not-knowing, we might possibly learn to stop trying to fix everything. Maybe thereby we can avoid the inevitable catastrophe our solutions themselves are causing. We can learn to accept that we don’t see things clearly and that we probably never will. We can accept that we don’t really know and that not-knowing is actually the better and more human way to live. We can live humbly with each other and upon the earth and with the Divine. We can finally learn to simply let things be.

For although at certain times and in certain circumstances it is necessary and useful to dwell on the particular situation and activity of people and things, during this work it is almost useless. Thinking and remembering are forms of spiritual understanding in which the eye of the spirit is opened and closed upon things as the eye of a marksman is on his target. But I tell you that everything you dwell upon during this work becomes an obstacle to union with God. For if your mind is cluttered with these concerns there is no room for him.

—The Cloud of Unknowing

Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden (footnotes omitted)


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Grab-bag

After a series, I still have some miscellany left:

These salespeople were … functioning according to a false narrative, in which the good life depends on more weeks at a resort. For these programmed Un-Manned folks, they were selling me happiness. They were ensuring that I could face death, knowing I had spent as much time as possible at the spa or the arcade. We were at odds with these salesmen because we live and move and have our being within a completely oppositional narrative to the one that they assume. We are fish aware of the water that gives us life, and they are fish trying to climb the shore, not realizing they cannot breathe on land.

Jessica Hooten Wilson on a time-share pitch in Orlando (Shudder!)

What’s telling to me is that this is the pitch that sells timeshares to the typical American in America 2021.

In other news from the Culture of Death, our local Gannett rag has a front-page story about how two years of legalized mobile sports gambling is producing gambling addicts. Bear in mind that these gambling companies are listed on stock exchanges now; it’s considered legitimate business.


For some, the religious failures of the 14th century serve to bolster a general critique of religious belief itself. One of the blind spots of modernity is to imagine ourselves to be in a non-religious, secularized world … The modern world is not “disenchanted” so much as it has a “modern enchantment.” We have faith in market forces, medicine, government, democracy, technology, algorithms, and the march of progress.

Fr. Stephen Freeman


Once he was free, Wurmbrand wrote that there are two kinds of Christians: “those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.”

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option


The Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Western publishers, mindful of their likely audience, were careful to excise his criticisms of homosexuality from the American versions of his books.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion


Can anything good come from Berkeley? Darned right. Here (To End Police Violence, Get Rid of the Traffic Cop – The Atlantic) is an example of a sane policy that shouldn’t be dismissed as "abolish the police."


But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


Everything is habit-forming, so make sure what you do is what you want to be doing.

Wilt Chamberlain


The GOP Senate primary races in Missouri and Ohio have become contests to see which candidate can create the stupidest tweet.

One of them will insist the moon was made by gay communists and promise to punch it out of the sky, and win in a walk.

Kevin Kruse


All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Blaise Pascal


Indiana Statehouse reflected after my grandson’s 14th birthday dinner. It probably looked the same before.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Magic Mushrooms

Wednesday evening I watched a Netflix documentary titled Fantastic Fungi. The first voice in the documentary turned out to be the voice of Fungi, who returns for further narration (largely in the form of self-adulation) repeatedly over the 80 minutes of the show.

The last 15 minutes or so built to a crescendo which can only be described as religious in its fervor, leading me almost to expect an altar call. And fairly early in the program, I commented to my wife that there was a little bit "too much of the spirit of Carl Sagan" in the production — a foreshadowing, it proved.

However, there came a point when people described experimental treatment with magic-mushroom type stuff during terminal illness as the most profound religious experience of their lives. 
 At that point, my (Calvinist) wife expressed scorn. At that point, I (Orthodox, having read a lot in popular treatments of neuropsychology lately) thought I perceived an additional "data point" in my case against living life as if it was all made up of data points.

I’m influenced:

  • heavily and recently by Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary.
  • Michael Polanyi’s coinage of "tacit knowledge"
  • the Saints of my Church, not one of whom was canonized for analytical rigor
  • the monastics of my Church, canonized or not
  • a lifetime of singing sacred choral music, mostly in Western Christian tradition.

There probably are other influences, too.

So I’m now going to advance a hypothesis, which has been taking vague shape in my mind over several months (or longer, as in Polanyi).

My hypothesis is that psychedelics, particularly including magic mushrooms or other fungi, subvert the dominance of the analytical left cerebral hemisphere — a dominance that has arisen in part from our adulation of science and its susceptibility of objective proof. Concurrently, our use of the right hemisphere has atrophied.

If I had to refine my hypothesis, it would be that psychedelics give a boost particularly to the more intuitive or emotional right hemisphere, with which we have become so unfamiliar as late modern or early postmodern humans, that the experience of meta-perception via the right hemisphere is overwhelming and perceived as a religious experience. Many people have never experienced such a thing at all and I hypothesize that vanishingly few of us have experienced it as intensely as occurs during a "good trip."

I find corroboration for this hypothesis in the long-lasting effects of a single trip, without a need to repeat the experience frequently because the sense of well-being persists, and in the evidence that mushrooms were almost sacramental in ancient practices we now would call “religious.”

I further hypothesize that the rebalancing of the two hemispheres is part of what can happen in a modern or early postmodern monastic life. And I confess (no longer hypothesizing) that an ascetic life is the approved Orthodox Christian manner of rebalancing the hemispheres (not referred to in those terms, though, and not the ultimate goal) and, particularly, activating that portion of the right hemisphere that our God-bearing fathers have identified as the nous — a capacity much disabled in our times.

I find a slight analogy to this in my increase appreciation of much poetry after a generous pour of whiskey.

If we do not regain a balance of the hemispheres through changes in our collective life, and if research on magic mushrooms continues (which research I support), I could imagine a day when the church would approve tripping to overcome the disability life has inflicted on us — to jump-start the ascetic life, in essence.

But my hypothesis is pretty far out there, and this is not that day. As a faithful Orthodox Christian, let alone a tonsured Reader, I’m not at liberty to take a stab at chemical or fungal shortcuts to theosis, especially when they’re marketed (for thinly-veiled marketing is what Fantastic Fungi was) as an alternative religion.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thought Dump

This changes everything

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

Here’s one:

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

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

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

And an implied change:

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

René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-discovery

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

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

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

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

Dehumanization

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

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

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

1619 Project drives the conversation … by its wrongness

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

Via Andrew Sullivan‌.

Bowdlerizing the Notorious RBG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Sullivan‌ (emphasis added).

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

Black Lives Matter

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

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

The paragraph concludes:

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

Staying in one’s land

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

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

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

Fr. Lawrence Farley

Heretics

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

Alan Jacobs

Crazy person update:

A man walks a slackline attached to the Eiffel tower

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

(Via the Atlantic)

Partisan Political

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

You have been warned.

Relitigating 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Ross Douthat, Can Biden Recover

Ignoring the base

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

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Sullivan, ‌The Deepening Menace Of Trump.

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

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

Rational Ignorance

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

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

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

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

A guy can hope, can’t he?


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Lite fare


Jonah [Goldberg turned] to the hyperbolic reaction from MAGA supporters to former President George W. Bush’s speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. “If I write a ‘news’letter condemning cannibalistic pederasts and you reply, ‘How dare you insult 74 million Trump voters,’ I’m not the one calling Trump voters cannibalistic pederasts,” he writes. “But when a former president condemns ‘violent extremists’ and the response from Trumpy right-wingers is ‘How dare you?’ I have to ask: What the actual fornication are these people doing?”

The Morning Dispatch commenting on this blog post.

I have no really salient thoughts on Joe Rogan

I have never been able to get even five minutes past the opening obscenity-laced advertising on the Joe Rogan Experience — not even to hear him interview Tulsi Gabbard! I have too few years left to me to subscribe to 2-to-3 hour inteviews laced with potty-mouth.

It turns out that, for different reasons, I could not make it through Freddie DeBoer’s critique of Rogan as "a parody of an open mind." Even Freddie’s (presumably) keen observations, about someone who’s too tedious for me to bother with in the first place, lose their edge.

You can’t taste social justice

You can’t taste social justice. It doesn’t have umami. It doesn’t provide that third kind of heat. No one ever sent back a plate of ravioli saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t taste any commitment to gender equity,” or, “I asked for extra intersectionality awareness.”

I think this matters in part because I actually care about the James Beard Awards—though much less now than I did before this announcement. But it also matters because I think one of the things ruining the culture and our politics is the refusal of institutions, and the people who run them, to stay in their lanes.

Merit is a dirty word these days, but merit matters. If I recommend a surgeon to you and he amputates your leg instead of removing your appendix, you might say, “I thought you told me he was the best surgeon in the area!” If I respond, “Well, as far as the actual medical stuff goes he’s pretty subpar, but I was including his commitment to environmental justice in my evaluation,” you might bludgeon me to death with your prosthetic leg. And rightly so.

I know the Academy Awards have gone a long way toward being the James Beard Awards of the film industry. But at least they haven’t publicly changed the criteria for Best Actor to “Good enough acting plus an exceptional commitment to social justice.”

Jonah Goldberg, on the James Beard Foundation‘s explicit addition of social justice concerns to its award process.

Same column:

In today’s GOP you can get drunk on fever swamp water all day long, rant endlessly about conspiracy theories, or dabble in white nationalism and you’ll be fine. You’ll even prosper.  But refuse to say the election was stolen—when it wasn’t—or decline to treat the January 6 rioters as patriotic political prisoners and you’ll be hounded and harassed. There’s no safe harbor. No room for dissent.

NYT Religion Coverage

It’s kind of fascinating to monitor New York Times‘ religion coverage. Not a single story appearing with query "religion" appears to be simply about religion. It has to have a political, sexual, or other twist.

Here’s a complete (if tendentious) list of the stories that appear with that query:

  • After coming out as a transgender woman more than two years ago, Roman Catholic enters ELCA Lutheran Seminary.
  • Linda Greenhouse fulminates, yet again, on her enduring theme of God Has No Place in Supreme Court Opinions (or much of anywhere else, it seems).
  • Some people who work at the A.C.L.U. have thoughts about vaccine mandates and want to share them with us. (Spoiler alert: They save vulnerable people. Imagine that!)
  • Linda Greenhouse fulminates about trends in Supreme Court treatment of claims for religious exemptions from laws. (Well, I suppose if you butt your laws into every nook and cranny, people are going to push back.)
  • Vaccine Resisters Seek Religious Exemptions. But What Counts as Religious?
  • Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
  • Ross Douthat opines that "From vaccine mandates to religious liberty, your allies often matter more than your ideology."
  • When Dictators Find God, which in NYT-speak means "when political leaders we don’t like deploy religious imagery, or invoke religion to promote national unity, in ways we don’t like."
  • Supreme Court Stays Execution in Dispute Over Pastor’s Role in Death Chamber. (This may be the closest to a story that’s simply about religion, since the Times isn’t generally obsessed with the death penalty. Stay tuned for an angry Linda Greenhouse reaction.)
  • What you need to know about corporate vaccine mandates.

Gosh, one hardly even needs church with religion coverage like that!

Simile of the Week

Everybody now feels that they have to feed the Trumpian monster. It’s sort of like a horror movie where everybody is living in this haunted house and there’s this creature in the basement that must be fed — blood. And you’ve got to constantly be feeding the monster or the monster’s going to take over.

Linda Chavez on The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast of September 16.

Runner-up metaphor:

… The same belling the cat problem that made Trump the GOP nominee has led to the GOP worshipping the intellectual bathtub residue he left behind.

Jonah Goldberg

Newspeak update:


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Legal defense funds, Bitcoin, and other rat-holes

January 6 Legal Defense Funds

If you are contributing for the legal defense of January 6 rioters because you think everyone is entitled to a good legal defense against criminal charges, I salute your intentions but caution you that some pretty fishy lawyers are stepping forward and may be snorting your money up their noses.

If you are contributing for the legal defense of January 6 rioters because you think they are patriot heroes being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then by all means fulfill your evolutionary destiny by giving generously — maybe your entire IRA — and forget what I just said about fishy lawyers. I probably was lying.

Since when did the Italians become such prudes?

I’ve met a surprising number of Italian conservatives – not think-tank intellectuals, who are my usual crowd here, but normies – who startled me with their anti-Americanism. It’s the same kind of thing: they blame American pop culture for debasing their kids. They’re right to, in my judgment. What startled me, though, was how this sometimes went hand in hand with sympathy for Vladimir Putin’s government. The argument seemed to be that whatever Putin’s faults, at least he won’t force us to be woke. This was the same thing I heard from some Hungarians when I expressed concern about Orban’s flirting with the Chinese. Personally, I am far more worried about Orban and the Chinese than I am about Orban and anything else. I do note, however, that many ordinary Hungarians seem to be open to the Chinese for the same reason that Italians are open to the Russians: because they fear American cultural hegemony more than they fear whatever Russia and China stand for.

This is not something I had imagined before going to Hungary. And frankly, it blows my mind that this kind of thing is never reported on in the US media. The American people have no idea how much our country’s progressivist pop culture disgusts people in other countries, even European countries. Of course, the Hungarian woman I spoke to ended up conceding that her son’s generation may well be lost on these questions – which, if true, means that Hungary, as a democracy, will eventually become a Magyar Sweden. That might be inevitable, but I certainly understand why people like her – and she’s a Fidesz supporter – are angry about it.

Is Dreher wrong? Are we beloved? Are complaints about our pop culture some kind of prudery? From Italians?

Liberal Democracy versus traditional moral and cultural values.

Just as communism was not possible with families adhering to the feudal-patriarchal system, so liberal democracy is believed to be incomplete and unsuccessful with schools respecting traditional moral and cultural authoritarianism. The arguments are analogous. Just as a person coming from a noncommunist community could not become a full-fledged, dedicated, and efficient citizen of the communist state, so a graduate of a traditional school will never be a faithful and reliable citizen of the liberal-democratic state.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy.

So far, liberal democracy has not shut us down, but there’s battle going on for the soul of democracy. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." (Paraphrasing John Philpot Curran, who I have reason to believe is the true source of this oft-misattributed wisdom.)

Cybercurrency

Bitcoin, for the uninitiated, is a technology that purports to solve a host of problems with old-fashioned national currencies. It is designed to safeguard wealth against the depredations of inflation, public authorities and financial intermediaries.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Some products become popular because they’re useful. Bitcoin is popular despite being mostly useless. Its success rests on the simple fact that the value of a Bitcoin has increased dramatically since its introduction in 2009, making some people rich and inspiring others to hope they can ride the rocket, too.

It’s not really a virtual currency at all. It’s virtual gold, a vehicle for speculative investment made possible by some interesting technical innovations. It’s the absurd apotheosis of our financialized economy, an asset unmoored from any productive purpose. In the beginning were bonds and then synthetic bonds and then Bitcoin.

Binyamin Appelbaum, ‌Bitcoin Cosplay Is Getting Real

Bitcoin first really caught my attention when criminals were demanding ransoms paid in Bitcoin. "Oh, a special super-secret money for criminals. What won’t they think of next?"

But James Poulos now proposes that Bitcoin (and other cybercurrencies) can protect thought-criminals from the emerging American "soft social credit" system.

I can imagine myself a thought-criminal. Heck, I probably already am a thought-criminal since I believe some of the things one just doesn’t say. But I still don’t understand cybercurrency, and I tend to agree with Binyamin Appelbaum about it.

And anyway, if I’m forbidden to buy or sell because I’m a thought-criminal, how am I going to find sellers and buyers, respectively, who are criminal enough to do business with me but who insist on being paid in Bitcoin or Ethereum or something?

Maybe I’m out of my depth even trying to write about crypto, but I have no practical doubt that, failing to understand it, I’d be well-advised to stay the hell away from it.

The job of tenured federal judges — higher and lower

If anyone ever asks a Justice if they are concerned with public perception of the Supreme Court, the answer is simple: "No. I focus on my job. People can perceive the Court however they choose." The existence of life tenure presupposes the Court will be criticized. And life tenure is designed to insulate jurists from those criticisms. Often, it is difficult to resist that pressure. Indeed, protestors are demonstrating outside Justice Kavanaugh’s house! But judicial independence is essential to the judicial role. And preserving judicial independence is inconsistent with trying to monitor public sentiments about the Court.

Josh Blackman, Did Justice Barrett Say She Was “Concerned About Public Perception of [the] Supreme Court”? – Reason.com

Darkness — but a glimmer of dawn

[T]hanks to the lies of Donald Trump and the self-serving gullibility of millions of Republican voters, the GOP has actively embraced the position that American elections are systematically and unfairly rigged against them.

This is hands down the most dangerous political development in recent American history — a civic time bomb placed smack dab at the center of American democracy.

Damon Linker.

This was written of the California gubernatorial recall.

Important update: Though California Republicans were screaming ‘fraud’ as soon as the recall count on Gov. Gavin Newsom was running against them, their candidate — black conservative radio talk-show host Larry Elder — was quick to concede the loss.

As they said about this on the Bulwark podcast, it’s a heck of a note to have to congratulate a Republican for acting in accordance with long-settled norms, but congratulations, Mr. Elder. May your tribe increase.

Is Elizabeth Holmes on trial because she’s a "she"?

The Sexism That Led to the Elizabeth Holmes Trial
In tech, brash male founders are allowed to overpromise and underdeliver, time and again. Not so much for women.

Interesting take on the Theranos saga.

Bottom line is that the tech bros who overpromise and underdeliver, time and again, should also be in the dock.

Stress-testing Covid vaccine religious objections

In Arkansas, about 5 percent of the staff at the privately run Conway Regional Health System has requested religious or medical exemptions.

The hospital responded by sending employees a form that lists a multitude of common medicines—including Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Preparation H, and Sudafed—that it said were developed through the use of fetal cell lines.

The form asks people to sign it and attest that “my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true and I do not use or will not use” any of the listed medications.

In a statement, Conway Regional Health President and CEO Matt Troup said: “Staff who are sincere … should have no hesitancy with agreeing to the list of medicines listed.”

‌Religious Exemption Requests Spike as Employers Mandate Vaccine

Because of my many decades as an ardent supporter of religious freedom, I feel liberated to say that my patience is being taxed by vaccine objectors with implausible claims that their weird tribalism is really "religious."

I know, abusus non tollit usum. And confabulation to explain one’s visceral reaction is not unique to religion. But bullshit exegesis of scripture and selective objection to benefitting from one type of medical research will give religious freedom a worse name than it has already gotten by legitimate (but countercultural) claims.

In related news, Yasmin Tayag at the Atlantic wants us to Stop Calling It a ‘Pandemic of the Unvaccinated’. For my money, her best argument is this paragraph:

It’s important to differentiate between the vaccine hesitant, who are on the fence for legitimate reasons, and the vaccine resistant, who flat-out don’t support vaccines. By one estimate, 8 percent of the U.S. population consistently identifies as anti-vaxxers. Bacon said there’s no use trying to persuade them. It’s the former group we should be careful not to push away with divisive policies, because they are key to getting the pandemic under control.

She fails in the end to dissuade me from calling a spade a spade. The vaccine-hesitant, too, are part of the pandemic of the unvaccinated.

No true leftist …

[T]hinking you know best does not qualify for making a better world. Unless you are willing to debate your ideas openly, you are by definition an authoritarian conservative.

The modern-day book-banners, no-platformers, deniers of free speech and opponents of universalism in the name of identity politics are not of the left, the liberal left or even the New Left of the 1960s.

Tor Hundloe, Emeritus professor, University of Queensland. I’m a bit surprised that an Emeritus Professor would commit a No True Scotsman fallacy, but there it is.

Elsewhere in this week’s Economist letters to the editor regarding last week’s take-down of wokeism was this:

One thinks of Michael Macy’s sociology experiments illustrating how, when faced with an illogical group consensus, individuals tend to publicly agree and even condemn dissenters, while privately expressing concern.

Unsupported theories, such as those of the illiberal left, that have taken root in societies require brave individuals to break the cycle and express their disagreement, regardless of the condemnation. But someone else can go first.

Of course, the first paragraph is as true of the Trumpified Right as it is of the woke Left, but the really priceless thing is that last sentence, and that the letter was, indeed, Anonymous.

Insignificant yet … telling

And there are the million goofy things that are insignificant and yet somehow feel . . . telling. The Met Gala the other night showed the elite of a major industry literally losing the thread. Google the pictures. It was a freak show. There was no feeling of a responsibility to present to the world a sense of coherence or elegance, to show a thing so beautiful it left the people who saw it aspiring to something they couldn’t even name. All this was presided over by a chic and cultivated woman who is cunning and practical. If freaky is in she’s going freaky deaky to the max. Follow the base, even if it’s sick. Do not lead. Leading is impossible now.

That’s what I see with leaders all over America’s business life. What follows the lost thread is go-with-the-flow. Even when you know it isn’t going anywhere good. Especially when it’s going nowhere good.

Peggy Noonan, ‌America Has Lost the Thread

What’s the plural of "conundrum"?

  • Why are arts expected to pay for their own venues while taxpayers pay for sports venues through tax abatements and other gimmicks?
  • Rooting for a professional sports team, a business, is like rooting for Coke against Pepsi.
  • Why is cock fighting illegal while boxing and MMA are legal?

(H/T Fran Liebowitz, Pretend it’s a City, on Netflix)

Give them better dreams

Little kids should not dream of being YouTubers when they grow up.

Give them better dreams: become like your grandma, your preacher, your teacher, like Dorothy Sayers or John Lewis or Yo-Yo Ma.

Do something beautiful with your life, even if you think no one’s looking.
— Jessica Hooten Wilson (@HootenWilson) September 16, 2021

I discovered Jessica roughly two years ago as a speaker at a symposium. She was astonishingly good — especially for (then) a professor at a "university" I attended for three semesters and left shaking the dust from my feet. She also was very conversant with, and friendly toward, Russian Orthodox giants like Dostoyevsky.

Of course, it’s small surprise that she left there and, I have reason to think, no longer adheres to the Evangelical Protestantism for which said "university" stands. Alas, I think she swam the Tiber rather than the Bosphorus, and not just because she went to the University of Dallas.

Is there nothing Fox News won’t stoop to?

I had no idea that anything could make me like Fox News less, but they found something:

Inbox: Piers Morgan is joining Fox News

Piers Morgan will join News Corp and FOX News Media in a global deal, launching a new TV show in early 2022. Morgan will also join The Sun and the New York Post as a columnist.
— Aidan McLaughlin (@aidnmclaughlin)
September 16, 2021

Ameliorative measure

If English Departments were shut down and their students given jobs driving cabs and given the classics to read while they wait for fares, this would be a step forward.

Garrison Keillor, ‌ Women: don’t read this, for men only

A periodic sorta invitation

A friend on micro.blog has new business cards describing himself as "Master Generalist." He says it’s easier than “Writer, Speaker, Technology Consultant, Home Restorer, Circus Rigger and a few other significant things I’m leaving off because brevity.”

No, he’s not typical. But micro.blog is a fascinating place which disproves the common judgment that social media are inherently toxic.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

War, education, leisure, Soros, Roe and more

Seven Days on the Roads of France, June 1940

Within the past few days, I finished Seven Days on the Roads of France, June 1940 by Vladimir Lossky. I should get to Lossky’s theological masterpiece, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, within the next few months.

Meanwhile, selected highlights from his account of fleeing Paris ahead of the Nazis, hoping to enlist and fight them. As indicated by my added emphasis, I thought his reflections on war, in the chapter "Day 1," were timely as, by some accounts, we’re headed into dark times or worse:

Preface to the original French edition of 1998, by Nicholas Lossky

To begin with, it must be made clear that for this Russian Orthodox theologian – who remained very authentically Russian in many respects – France was not, as it was for many émigrés, simply a land of asylum. To be sure, it was that; but above all, in this case it was a land chosen quite deliberately. Indeed his great love for the country began in childhood. It came first of all from his governess ….

On the notion of dogma from an Orthodox perspective, [Olivier] Clément writes as follows: “For Orthodoxy, Lossky insists, a dogma is not an attempt to explain a mystery or even an attempt to make it more comprehensible. Rather, it seeks to encircle the ineffable and to compel the mind to surpass itself by a clear minded sense of wonder and adoration. […] Thus a dogma is not a solution to a problem but the protection of a mystery, in the Christian sense of Revelation of the unfathomable, the inexhaustible, the personal. In defining a dogma, the sole aim of the church is to preserve the possibility for each Christian of participating in revelation with his whole being; that is, of communicating with the very life of the One who reveals Himself.“

Day 1: Thursday 13th June 1940

Those who resigned themselves to staying in their homes, their streets, their quartier, their city – now become a prey to enemy invasion – were right. Equally right were those whose conscience dictated that they should set out on the great adventure of the open road.

“We shall conquer,“ we were told, “because we are the strongest, because we are the richest. We shall conquer because we have the will to do so.“ As if bons d’armement in themselves could bring about victory. As if war were nothing other than a vast industrial undertaking, a mere matter of capital. Such a war – a war of equipment and weaponry, inhuman, materialistic – yes, we have no doubt lost such a war. We must have the courage to say so. What is more, France could never have won such a war. Otherwise, she would no longer have been France, preeminently humane. If she had won such a war – one without a human face, a war of equipment (the kind of war being presented to us) – she would have lost the most precious thing she possesses, the essential characteristic of her very being. She would have lost that which makes her France, that which differentiates her from every other country on earth. (emphasis added)

There was another heresy, too -spiritual, this time – one which sought to superimpose itself on the materialism of the ‘war of equipment’ argument, to infuse into it an artificial soul. This was the ideology of a ‘holy war’, ‘crusade’. It came in several varieties: the struggle for democracy, for freedom, for human dignity, for western culture, for Christian civilization, even for divine justice itself. I say ‘heresy’ because such ideas, often just in themselves, were not based on lived experience. They did not well up from a deep, wholesome spring, which alone could have transformed them into ideas having a motivating force. Moreover, such words rang false, like all abstractions. They rang false above all since they sought to present as absolutes, concepts and values that are secondary, relative … No, war is not waged for absolute values. This has been the mistake of all so-called ‘religious’ wars, and the main cause of the atrocities associated with them. Nor is it waged for relative value that one endeavors to turn into absolutes, nor yet for abstract concepts which have been lent a religious character. Even if one were to set against the idol of a ‘pure race’ the more benign idol of Law, Liberty and Humanity, they are still idols – concepts that have been personified and made into absolutes. This would still result in a war of idols. The only just war – in so far as a war may ever be styled just – is a war for relative values, for values known to be relative. A war in which man – a being destined for an absolute end – sacrifices himself spontaneously and without hesitation for a relative value that he knows to be relative: his native soil, his land, his country. It is the very sacrifice that acquires a value that is absolute, incorruptible, eternal. (emphasis added)

Day 3: Saturday June 15th

Suddenly I was struck by the sound of a hoarse, muffled voice. I was not alone, after all. A tall old man with a stoop, wearing an old-fashioned fin-de-siècle frock coat, was waving his arms about, threatening and cursing someone. He had a fine face, the look of a well bred provincial gentleman, a devout and God-fearing type. I drew nearer to see who he was so angry with. He was going round the cathedral, stopping before each statue of a saint. It was to them that he was addressing his curses, his cries, his threats. “Alors, quoi?” Damn it all, then! Don’t you want to help us? Can’t you help us?“

I left the cathedral, quite overcome. You really need to have a faith that was deep and sincere, a genuine inner freedom before God and his Saints, to be able to talk to them like that. No, he wasn’t a madman. Rather, a noble Christian soul, seized with despair and bitterness, pouring out his pain to the Saints, who remained motionless and silent, guides of the divine ways that are so painful for us to follow.

Day 4: Sunday 16th June

[R]evolutionaries are always in the wrong since, in their juvenile fervour for everything new, in their hopes for a better future and a way of life built on justice, they always base themselves on theories that are abstract and artificial, making a clean sweep of living tradition which is, after all, founded on the experience of centuries.

Conservatives are always wrong, too, despite being rich in life experience, despite being shrewd and prudent, intelligent and sceptical. For, in their desire to preserve ancient institutions that have with stood the test of time, they decry the necessity of renewal, and man’s yearning for a better way of life.

The Royal Court, grouped round the Imperial Chapel and, seized with theological fervour, sought to ensure the triumph of a novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pressure from the Frankish empire caused this strange teaching to triumph in the West. After resisting for a while, the Popes were in the end obliged to alter the traditional, sacred text of the Creed. From then on, schism from the Eastern Patriarchates became inevitable. (Byzantium, on the other hand, never experienced such an extreme case of Caesaropapism.)

Day 5: Monday 17th June

Faced with Latin Christianity and its tendency to abstractions, to homogenization and sterilization; faced with a pagan and only too concrete pan-Germanism founded upon a mystique of “blood and soil“ that seeks to refashion the world according to its creed, France could then become a focus of regeneration for Western Christianity in a Europe that is becoming de-Christianized.

"Not very concerned with how much money you make when you grow up … where you go to college"

Genuine red-pilling from a classical educator:

Welcome to your sophomore humanities class.

This year, we will be reading early modern literature, which is roughly the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century. I have some fairly lofty goals for this class and I hope you do, as well. To be honest, when this class finishes nine months from now, I won’t know if I have accomplished any of those goals. I will need more time. Perhaps when you are forty or so, which is how old I am, we will both know whether this class has done you any good.

It will take at least this long to determine if I have accomplished my goals because I am not very concerned with how much money you make when you grow up, which means that I am not all that interested in where you go to college. Many of my students still labor under the delusional belief that if they can just get into the right college, they will be successful. If you are primarily concerned about getting good grades so you can get into the right college, you’re worrying about the wrong things, because beyond the age of 22 or 23, what matters is not grades, but whether you’re good at doing something that matters and whether you can be content doing that thing for the next thirty years. If the only thing you’re good at doing is getting good grades, your life is going to fall apart after you graduate college ….

Joshua Gibbs. Read it all.

We get leisure all wrong

Leisure is useful—but only insofar as it remains leisure. Once that time is viewed as a means to improve employee morale and higher growth, then leisure loses the very quality that makes it so potent. As Pieper wrote, “Leisure is not there for the sake of work.” Leisure is doing things for their own sake, to pursue what one wants. We should fight the urge to reduce it to a productivity hack.

We yearn to “make the most of” our free time, so we are constantly giving our evenings, weekends, and vacations over to our self-advancement. Labor-market precarity and the growth of the gig economy have sharpened these incentives. Pure leisure now feels like pure indulgence.

If leisure is justified by its contribution to other social ends—innovation, productivity, growth—it stands to lose any perceived worth as soon as it comes into conflict with those goals. An eventual clash between the two will always be settled in favor of work. The result is 768 million hours of unused vacation days. And even when employees take time off, they feel an urge to log in to their work email between dips in the ocean.

Krzysztof Pelc, ‌Why Your Leisure Time Is in Danger

When all your colleagues are, by definition, prickly progressives

George Soros’ Open Society Foundations are restructuring:

The tensions boiled over at the all-staff meeting in early May. On the eve of the voluntary buyouts, executives took part in a video call, in which staff members shared their misgivings and grievances.

After looking at a series of slides prepared by Bridgespan, which painted the organization as less streamlined than Gates or the Ford Foundation, with large numbers of staff approving lots of small grants, employees called out executives for their handling of the restructuring, according to several staff members who participated in the call and transcripts of both the video call and the simultaneous chat, where things got even rougher.

One commenter in the group chat called the process “unaccountable, and unscientific.” Another referred to the “frustration with respect to racism and sexism and other forms of oppression that are alive and well within the institution.”

Lie down with progressives, rise up with vague charges against you.

How to overturn Roe

“It grinds my gears when people say what’s been done here is genius, novel or particularly clever — it was only successful because it had a receptive audience in the Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit,” said Khiara M. Bridges, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, referring to the conservative-leaning federal appeals court that also weighed in on the Texas law.

“If you want to overturn Roe v. Wade, you create a law that is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s precedent and someone will challenge it and you work it through the federal courts,” she said. “You don’t create a law that is designed to evade judicial review.”

The Conservative Lawyer Behind the Texas Abortion Law – The New York Times

The second paragraph is, in a nutshell, why the Texas law is a sideshow and the real action (currently) is the Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.

Ah, California!

“Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra,” declares Assembly Bill 338, which passed both chambers by wide margins and now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. None of that is true. While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people. The lawmakers behind the bill drew their ideas from a single tendentious book written by journalist Elias Castillo.

Abp. Salvatore J. Cordileone and José H. Gomez, ‌Don’t Slander St. Junípero Serra

This sort of self-important nonsense, California, as much or more than envy, is why the rest of us make fun of you.

Shorts

  • Because of the divorce from the historic Church, Evangelicalism has sought for a new way to satisfy the need for materiality. This is why such believers have welcomed pop music and rock-n-roll into their churches. It is why emotion is mistaken for spirituality. It is why sentiment is substituted for holiness. Sincere feeling is the authenticator. Instead of icons of Christ, whose piercing stare calls you to repentance, the Evangelical can go to a Christian bookstore and buy a soft-focus, long-haired picture of Jesus. He’s a “nice” Jesus, but it is hard to believe that He is God. (Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy)
  • The project, begun at the time of Constantine, to enable Christians to share power without being a problem for the powerful, had reached its most impressive fruition. If Caesar can get Christians there to swallow the “Ultimate Solution,” and Christians here to embrace the bomb, there is no limit to what we will not do for the modern world. (Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens)
  • The perfect fictitious charity benefit, for "Rich People Who Wish To Help Poor People Without Having To Be In Physical Contact With Them," joins up with the perfect limerick for a well-nigh perfect blog post from Garrison Keillor.
  • Seekers of religious exemptions to vaccine mandates demonstrate that there is literally no limit to what folly you can "prove" from motivated reasoning recast as "personal bible study." Vaccine Resisters Seek Religious Exemptions. But What Counts as Religious?
  • It is a signal characteristic of “hermeneutic philosophy” to say we can no longer believe in something rather than arguing that it is false. (R.R. Reno, Return of the Strong Gods)
  • As parishioners, we believed that Christ had come to give us abundant life, yet the nature of that abundant life was conceived as simply more of what we already had as pleasure-seeking, comfort-loving Americans. (Robin Mark Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

The moral horse and the doctrinal cart

Once again, Fr. Stephen gets my juices going:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Perpetual Catechumen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

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.


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