“Pro-Abortion” is now official (more)

Blogging the ineffable

It occurred to me recently that my blog is an odd project because, increasingly, the things that matter most to me are ineffable.

I’ve read at least one book that “effed the ineffable” by going on and on, shifting to reflect from varying angles. I actually thought it was pretty effective, but you had to be keenly interested in the topic to wade through so much overlapping, kaleidescopic quasi-repetition. (I did find that 24 years of immersing myself in Orthodox Christian worship, as my Parish’s cantor — and not just the Sunday Liturgy — had “communicated” the same things.)

I’ve taken a stab at poetry occasionally, but rarely have thought it remotely successful. Anyway, I once heard it said that the person who becomes a poet to say something is less poetic than someone who becomes a poet because he/she likes messing around with words.

I guess the reason I keep blogging may be that I, too, am going on and on, in prose, shifting to reflect from varying angles — just not between the covers of a single book and without an explicit Master Goal. But in a lot of ways, my blog is a very large commonplace book, but an online friend (we’ve narrowly missed meeting IRL) already took that in his blog (now Substack) title.

Anyway, I actually looked briefly at what WordPress says about my blog (something I rarely do since I’m not writing to be popular), and apparently it’s emailed to 350 addresses, and I assume that some others get the RSS feed. I’m pretty sure that some of the emails are bogus, created for god-knows-what purpose. But a heartening number probably are real people, and to them I say thank you for your indulgence.

A partisan scold as arbiter of “Disinformation”

The preoccupation with “misinformation” and “disinformation” on the part of America’s enlightened influencers last month reached the level of comedy. The Department of Homeland Security chose a partisan scold, Nina Jankowicz, to head its new Disinformation Governance Board despite her history of promoting false stories and repudiating valid ones—the sort of scenario only a team of bumblers or a gifted satirist could produce.

Barton Swaim, How Disagreement Became ‘Disinformation’ (Wall Street Journal)

Janus-faces

There is something so disingenuous about critical theorists both arguing that they are revealing the real truth about the world in order to change it, and then claiming that they’re just offering an alternative take of history within a liberal context. You can see this intellectually dishonest bait-and-switch in the 1619 Project. It claims something truly radical — that the real founding of America was in 1619 because the core meaning of America is white supremacy, not liberal democracy — and then, when called on it, turns around and says no, silly, we’re just engaging in a thought-experiment to explain how racism has affected all of us, and to provoke debate. Well: which is it? In theory, they tell you it is all compatible with liberalism; in practice, they prove and believe the opposite.

Andrew Sullivan, Don’t Fight CRT. Expose It.

Dobbsian thoughts

Well, then: I’ll be glad to say “pro-abortion”

From an official Planned Parenthood website, an about-face that reveals a lot:

Well-meaning folks often contrast “pro-choice” with “pro-abortion,” as in, I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion. But that’s hurtful to people who’ve had abortions. It implies that abortion isn’t a good thing, that legal abortion is important but somehow bad, undesirable. That’s deeply stigmatizing, and contributes to the shame and silence around abortion, making people who’ve had abortions feel isolated and ashamed. At least one in four people who can get pregnant will have an abortion during their lives, and they should be supported and celebrated. It’s time to retire the phrase “pro-choice, not pro-abortion” for good.

Maia Baker, What’s wrong with choice?: Why we need to go beyond choice language when we’re talking about abortion.

I heard a youngish woman recently describe her long-ago long bus trip to a D.C. “pro-choice” rally. Older women were talking of abortion as if it were good, not a lesser evil. One even bragged that she’d had 6 abortions, and it was her primary birth control.

The youngish woman emerged from the bus pro-life.

Amnesiac même advocacy

From a supplemental Andrew Sullivan substack May 13:

[Sullivan’s critic1]: You’re conveniently forgetting that five of the nine justices (Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett) were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote.
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: That is completely irrelevant. But even it it weren’t, both of Bush’s appointees were picked during his second term, after he won the popular vote against Kerry.

[Sullivan’s critic2]: Currently, several state legislatures have big GOP majorities that in no way reflect the number of votes each party received in the preceding election. My guess is that one or more of these legislatures will act quickly this summer, after Roe is overturned, to outlaw abortion. Will that be an instance of democracy working well?
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: Yes, it absolutely will. And voters can vote again in November. Again: is it the pro-choice position that no states be allowed to legislate on abortion because gerrymandering exists? What else are they barred from voting on?

[Sullivan’s critic3]: While I am certain there are women who would never have an abortion — and they cannot imagine allowing any other woman to have an abortion — the majority you refer to as “pro-life” is deeply affected by another condition: religion. The majority of the pro-life women you speak of, through their faith, surrendered any sense of having power that isn’t subjected to the approval of the church or their husbands! They have no distinct awareness or appreciation of the fullness of their own free will — their liberty — or their innate freedom to make decisions on their own, entirely independent of their faith. 
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: I’m afraid this completely misunderstands Catholic teaching on this. Women are not supposed to submit their moral views to their husbands’ approval. And the thinly veiled contempt for religious people — they don’t have any autonomy or agency — is a form of bigotry, in my view.

On that last point, see Eugene Volokh’s contemptuous response to that kind of motivated reasoning, which he no doubt hears a couple of times each week if not each day.

Talk less, Smile more.

Now when Chief Justice Roberts speaks of the Court as an “institution,” he approaches that concept from a PR perspective–5-4 decisions are bad, incoherent 9-0 decisions are good. Thomas could not care what final votes are. Rather, he worries about attacks on the Court by the political branches, and more recently, from within.

Unlike Justice Ginsburg, no one knows where Chief Justice Roberts is. To quote Aaron Burr, “Talk less, Smile more, Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” NFIB v. Sebelius may have saved the ACA, but the controlling opinion destroyed the Supreme Court as we know it. The anonymous conservative told Politico:

“There is a price to be paid for what he did. Everybody remembers it,”

Roberts won the battle, but lost the war. Now Thomas is making this point explicitly.

Josh Blackman (emphasis added)

Selective non-enforcement

Of the laxity of law enforcement in protests at Justices’ homes:

When it comes to the contrast to Jan. 6, what stands out to me is actually a similarity: a large protest gathered on Capitol Hill and authorities responded with much too little force to disperse it — including after it got way out of hand. Where things differ has been the aftermath, with federal prosecutors now aggressively prosecuting people who merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside. That seems like overreach in the opposite direction — discretion erring on the side of undue harshness. We should absolutely be throwing the book at everyone who ransacked the building and sought to commit acts of violence against members of Congress or the vice president in order to overturn the election. But that likely doesn’t describe everyone, or even most of the people, present at the protests that day.

Damon Linker (who, should it not be clear, favors discretionary non-prosecution of smallish, non-menacing demonstrations at the Justices’ homes).

I’m acquainted with someone who “merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside” the capitol on 1/6/21, but is being prosecuted nonetheless. The Feds have lost at least one such case at trial, and I’m hoping they’ll now relent on the others.

Point is: I’m willing to extend the same grace I want for him to wrong-headed people who peacefully protest at justices’ homes – even if there’s a federal law that facially makes that illegal.

Overturning nature

[T]he lawn signs in university towns announce, “Hate has no home here.” This sentiment amounts to reversing the fall of man and proclaiming the kingdom of God. And as I have argued, today’s progressive cultural politics seeks to overturn the authority of nature. Thus we have at once widespread resignation—and God-like ambition.

It’s really very strange. One hundred thousand people die of opioid overdoses in a single year, and elites throw up their hands and do nothing. Meanwhile, they put untold millions into transgender activism and insist that the fullest resources of the medical-industrial complex must be employed to attain its goals.

R.R. Reno.

I generally don’t like arguments in the form of “Why are you writing/worrying about X?! You should be writing/worrying about Y!” But I can’t help but suspect that elites have noticed that the people dying of opioid overdoses are mostly deplorables, not real people.

Oh: And that the trans cause is stylishly pseudo-transgressive.

Words to live by

We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.

French writer Charles Péguy via R.R. Reno. I’m not sure that Reno is seeing what he’s seeing, but he’s seeing one of the right problems.


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.

Ukraine and closer to home

Ruso-Ukrainian conflict

Historians losing the narrative battle

[P]ossession of scholarly credentials doesn’t automatically confer the authority to determine which claims about the past will be believed and which will not. On the contrary, fussy objections to the sweeping historical contentions deployed by powerful populist politicians frequently prove impotent in the face of grand narratives.

[F]or many (perhaps most) people, what makes one story about the past more persuasive than another isn’t the application of some set of standards approved by a professional guild of scholars but whether the story feels *right.

Damon Linker, ‌Putin, Trump, and the irresponsible wielding of history.

My daughter-in-law returned from a month in Russia very recently. She avoided political discussions because it quickly became all-too-obvious that Trump’s MAGA is matched or overmatched by Putin’s MRGA — make Russia the great thing it was in Putin’s telling — which tends to prove Linker’s point.

Shifting narratives, too

From the right, we were told that this was absolutely not going to happen. And now that it very much is happening, the argument from Steven Bannon and Co. is that the West deserves it because we are weak and decadent and unserious. More: American conservatives ought to support Russia, since that’s a country that doesn’t put up with LGBTCRT nonsense, he and his pal, the military contractor Erik Prince, said recently. “The Russian people still know which bathroom to use,” Prince said. (So do the Ukrainians, for what it’s worth.) Tucker Carlson asked Americans to consider why they hate Putin, anyway: “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”

To the small but meaningful movement of the ethnonationalist right, Russia is the last great white, Christian nation with solid gender-norms and 19th-century race relations. If your vision of owning the libs means embracing authoritarian regimes that hate America and its people, you’ve lost the plot.

Nellie Bowles, Common Sense (emphasis added)

Not "put[ting] up with LGBTCRT nonsense" gets a favorable glance from me, but no more than a glance. That said:

I inserted all the necessary caveats in my columns, but I must admit I didn’t believe Putin would launch a full invasion. As a Russian, everything in me resisted the thought. War on Ukraine is the absolute worst thing Russia can engage in. It’s unforgivable, a Cain’s mark.

Leonid Bershidskiy on Twitter. Me, too, but I didn’t pretend to be an expert. I’m not even certain that I scoffed publicly at the American Intelligence Narrative (but I scoffed in my own head at least).

Meanwhile, Putin tries to control the internal narrative

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, said it would restrict access to websites that refer to the war in Ukraine as an “attack, invasion, or a declaration of war”. It will also target publications that mention the shelling of Ukrainian cities and civilian casualties.

The Economist Daily Briefing

Future narrative

It takes balls to predict what comes next, but the Economist takes a stab at it:

[S]hould Mr Putin seize a large swathe of Ukraine, the gatherer of the lands will not stop to make peace at its borders. He may not invade the NATO countries that were once in the Soviet empire, at least not at first. But, bloated by victory, he will subject them to the cyber attacks and information warfare that fall short of the threshold of conflict.

Mr Putin will threaten NATO in this way, because he has come to believe that NATO threatens Russia and its people. Speaking earlier this week, he raged at the alliance’s eastward expansion. Later, he decried a fictitious “genocide” that he says the West is sponsoring in Ukraine. Mr Putin can’t tell his people that his army is fighting against their Ukrainian brothers and sisters who gained freedom. So he is telling them that Russia is at war with America, NATO and its proxies.

By the way: the Kremlin has an English-language translation of Putin’s February 27 speech/rant/tirade, but it repeatedly refused to load for me. Here’s a separate source. The speech is consequential, and our government and pundits are widely lazy, herd-minded or dishonest. I want my own copy of this speech.

Miss Peggy’s response to the new right "I don’t care" isolationists

Russia isn’t Upper Volta with a gas station; it’s Upper Volta with a gas station, the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, and a furious owner. What he does may have repercussions. If you would lead, you don’t get not to care.

Peggy Noonan

Showing my cards

  • The Fog of War is upon us, and our government and media are speaking with unwarranted certainty.
  • The End of History is, ironically, over, history having resumed with a vengeance.
  • I haven’t yet read the entirety of Putin’s February 21 speech, which I suspect contains some preposterous lies and some truths that we can’t see because of a clash of worldviews.
  • An American expat in Russia who I tend to trust has blogged some things about Ukraine’s 2014 version of the color revolutions (i.e., that the legitimately-elected government, having begun looking eastward rather than westward, was overthrown by American proxies), and about Ukraine’s treatment of the Donbas region (e.g., that its citizens are denied voting because they might swing the country back eastward), both of which I’d like to explore a bit more. The net effect, if true, is that the democratic legitimacy of the current government is doubtful.
  • In short, I think Ukraine probably is deeply divided between westernizers and Rusophiles, and while I oppose Russia’s invasion, you’re just going to have to bear with me if I don’t yet cheer on the westernizer Ukrainians as zestfully as seems to be expected.

Not Ukraine

Agricultural specialists

Lacking any moral force or vision of its own, the “objective” expertise of the agriculture specialist points like a compass needle toward the greater good of the “agribusiness” corporations.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Reverse discrimination smacked down

Strict scrutiny applies, and racial balancing is not a compelling interest.

Tyler Cowen, Elite high school TJ will continue as it was (emphasis added).

I’m very glad to see some judicial skepticism toward Knowledge-Class insistence that their every latest great notion is a "compelling state interest." Too long the courts have bowed compliantly to the dubious demands of "diversity" and other disguises for racial reverse-discrimination.

Is it even worth it to shop for a new apartment in NYC?

Freddie deBoer is looking for a larger rental apartment in Brooklyn, and recently lost his pick when someone else offered $500 per month over the listing price before his contract was signed:

I would have enjoyed living there but I have a home, which is more than many can say, and we can still find something else if we want. The apartment would have been more than most people can afford even at the offered price. For me, the bigger issue is just that the situation provokes this New York City weariness that has afflicted me lately, this feeling that everything in this city is harder than it should be, and that everything you want can only be won through some tiring and expensive competition with somebody else. It’s wearing me out and further deepening my conflicted sense that 2023 is the year I move out of New York.

You’d like to look at a bunch of apartments and have time to think them over, weigh the pros and cons of each. But apartments constantly appear on the sites one day and are in contract the following day. People feel compelled to ask to sign at the open house, as awkward as that is in front of everyone, because if they don’t someone else surely well. And that’s the rental market. I harbor quotidian dreams of owning my own home someday, like many or most do. But though I am now in the top 5% of American earners, or thereabouts, I look at the prices of modest two-bedroom apartments in Brooklyn and there’s just no way. I do a little of the back-of-the-envelope math and it’s still a completely distant dream. And that’s to say nothing of the effort and the stress, the endless bidding wars, having to compete with all-cash offers, the innumerable hoops you have to jump through…. Buying a house isn’t exactly easy anywhere, but looking at listings for my hometown in Connecticut I see legitimately nice houses for a quarter of what these apartments cost and, wonder of wonders, properties that actually sit on the market for a little while so you can think it over.

It’s not just about housing costs, though. Obviously, you’re paying a premium for the restaurants and shows that make New York what it is, as well as high taxes. But it’s not even just affordability. It’s the broader sense that you need to hustle and never stop hustling to live here. That’s the subject of a thousand songs, after all, the New York hustle, and part of what’s so often romanticized about the place. But I don’t see much to recommend about that feeling of frantically scrambling just to hold on. Seems less than ideal!

Seems like a compatible pairing

(Motorcyclists become ethnographers of necessity, or rather rank stereotypers, for the same reason that cops do: they face risk. Stereotyping is efficient for snap judgments.)

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head (Parentheses in original)

The irony is that we all—secular or religious people alike—make our biggest life-shaping decisions on faith. Life is too short to learn what you need to know to live well.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God


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.

Potpourri 2/3/22

Socked in by our biggest blizzard since 2007. It’s kind of nice, at least for me and mine. A really bad time to be homeless, though.

A Return to Sanity?

Several members of the West Lafayette (Indiana) City Council are pushing an ordinance to ban "conversion therapy," with fines of up to $1,000 per day. The Mayor, a very liberal Republican, says he’ll veto it. You can read some pretty good coverage of the jockeying here.

But this was what most surprised and heartened me:

And a national group devoted to advocating for LGBTQ rights and counseling gay, lesbian and transgender teens to accept who they are has been lobbying city council members in recent weeks to reject the ordinance, calling it clumsy and vague and saying it could do more harm than good.

Good for them. Now where are the conservatives willing to repudiate clumsy, vague, harmful bans on "Critical Race Theory" or "divisive concepts"? There are some, but far too many play to the peanut gallery.

Crotchety Old Icons

Only in stereotype are the elderly sweet and meek, at least other than when hulked over by someone disturbingly youthful and vigorous. Judge Richard Posner in his book on aging and human nature noted that older people, less dependent on “transacting with others,” actually have less reason than younger people to conceal their obnoxiousness. How much more so two superstars approaching their 80s with a lifetime of royalties in the bank.

Holman Jenkins, Jr. on l’affaire Rogan, Young, and Mitchell.

Jenkins continues:

Audiences seek controversy not just to open their minds, not just to annoy their betters, but because to hear impertinent, unapproved talk feels like freedom.

It’s worth a whole other column, and unfortunately a lengthy one, to disentangle the magical thinking of Covid ideology, which got Mr. Rogan in trouble in the first place. Let’s be satisfied with an example. All through Monday evening’s show, National Public Radio teased a segment about school parents who—get this—are both pro-vaccine and anti-mask. Heads explode, as if masks and vaccines aren’t different tools with different uses. Somehow they have to be regarded as ideological totems and embraced as a package.

The flight of liberal writers to Substack and other non-mainstream venues in the Covid era is often misinterpreted: It’s not because they’ve had a conservative awakening. They are simply repulsed by such NPR-style stupidity.

(Emphasis added) I used to listen to NPR because it made me feel smarter, in contrast to most news. If I had to commute today, and ran out of smart podcasts, I probably still would prefer it to the alternatives. But I can understand those who won’t.

Flores v. NFL

I don’t exactly "follow" the NFL (when I watch, it’s with a guilty conscience about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), but it seems that one Brian Flores has filed a lawsuit alleging that the NFL discriminated against him and other Black coaches in their hiring practices.

I thought "good luck proving that," but then I saw this:

Stunning details in Brian Flores lawsuit: in texts, Bill Belichick thought he was texting Brian Daboll (not Brian Flores) and congratulated him on getting the Giants head coach job days before Flores was set to interview for the gig.

Hmmmm. That’s pretty bad.

I’m not rooting for or against Flores, but knowledgeable people seem to be taking the lawsuit seriously, and not just people who traffic in controversy.

What’s different about our civilization

There has always been, and probably always will be, economic inequality, but few civilizations appear to have so extensively perfected the separation of winners from losers or created such a massive apparatus to winnow those who will succeed from those who will fail.

Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

"When elected, I’ll nominate a [whatever] to the Supreme Court"

There’s a lot of grumbling about President Biden’s declared intention of nominating a black woman to the Supreme Court. A letters-to-the-Editor writer in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, sees an "inference that Mr. Biden needs to eliminate almost all the competition for them to be considered."

I see no reason for such an inference, even if Sri Srinivasan is better-qualified (as Ilya Shapiro infelicitously argued). The three women getting most of the mention are all well-qualified nominees independent of race and sex. At least one of them would be on any Democrat President’s short-list, and all of them are thought to be to the right of Justice Sotomayor — roughly in the neighborhood of Justice Kagan.

On balance, though, it adds no glory to the perception of judicial independence for any President to promise and pick candidates for their appeal to particular parts of his base. (On that, I’ll give Reagan credit: promising to nominate a woman was not pandering to any part of his base, but trying to reassure moderates that he wasn’t part of the <anachronism> cis-hetero-Christo-patriarchy<\anachronism>).

Side note: The smear campaign against anyone who dares to question the wisdom of Biden’s commitment to nominate a black woman to SCOTUS does, of course, include Adam Serwer, the Atlantic’s most consistently dishonest and partisan hack.

Life in 2022

As I drove Tuesday night from Church (where I sang a Liturgy unmasked — as was everyone else) to a newly-resumed Chamber singer rehearsal (where we all wore masks and some even then won’t come to rehearsal yet), I realized that the pandemic has made me an accomplished code-switcher.

Fill in the blanks

In another entry, Shirer noted that a joke had begun making its way around the more cynical quarters of Berlin: “An airplane carrying Hitler, Göring and Goebbels crashes. All three are killed. Who is saved?” Answer: “The German People.”

Eric Larsen, The Splendid and the Vile

This kind of sets my mind to thinking who I’d nominate for that plane ride today.

Adiaphora

That embarrassing moment when the tendentious quote you Tweet-attributed to Voltaire is traced instead to a neo-Nazi in the 1990s.

("Half the quotes attributed to me on the internet are not true." – Benjamin Franklin)


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.

Miscellany, 6/19/21

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

The comedian Kevin Hart had recently told the New York Times, “You’re witnessing white power and white privilege at an all-time high.” Mr. Maher: “This is one of the big problems with wokeness, that what you say doesn’t have to make sense or jibe with the facts, or ever be challenged, lest the challenge itself be conflated with racism.”

He added: “Saying white power and privilege is at an all-time high is just ridiculous. Higher than a century ago, the year of the Tulsa race massacre? Higher than when the KKK rode unchecked and Jim Crow unchallenged?” …

Bill Maher, quoted by Peggy Noonan (Bill Maher Diagnoses Liberal ‘Progressophobia’ – WSJ)


In essence, [Employment Division v.] Smith demoted the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to a glorified nondiscrimination doctrine. Rather than granting Americans an affirmative right to practice their religion absent compelling governmental reasons to restrict that practice, the Free Exercise Clause becomes almost entirely defensive—impotent against government encroachment absent evidence of targeted attack or unequal treatment.

David French, Four Things You Need to Know After a Huge Day at SCOTUS


The Obamacare battle created an unwritten Roberts rule. The fight against Obamacare has never been the GOP’s finest hour. The party hated the law yet couldn’t repeal the law, even when it controlled the presidency, House, and Senate. It hated the law, yet it couldn’t agree on a replacement for the law. There was never a realistic plan. It’s over, and Obama won.

But I’d also add that the Obamacare trilogy has not represented the Supreme Court’s finest hour …

[I]f you step back and look at the entire trilogy, the contortions … tell me that something was going on, that an unwritten rule might be in play. Remember that Justice Roberts always has one eye on the institutional credibility of the Supreme Court. Overturning an immense piece of social legislation passed by a filibuster-proof legislative majority would create a cultural and political convulsion. Roberts doesn’t want a convulsive court.

So what’s Roberts’s unwritten rule? Perhaps it’s something like this: When the elected branches of government enact truly significant social reforms, opponents should focus on winning elections more than winning cases. Any other approach degrades the cultural and political capital of the court.

David French, Four Things You Need to Know After a Huge Day at SCOTUS


Antifa did it. And it was totally peaceful. And we were expressing our righteous and justified indignation at the Democratic vote steal. And Portland was worse. And the FBI entrapped us.

David Frum, H/T Andrew Sullivan


Discretion to grant exceptions makes a law less than generally applicable, even if no exception has ever been granted, because discretion creates the potential for discrimination. Some lower courts have said that, but this is the first time in the Supreme Court. The Court has long invalidated standardless discretion in free speech cases, and the same rule should apply to free exercise, but they had never said that before.

There is no compelling interest in protecting same-sex couples here, because they are fully served in Philadelphia. And the liberals joined that. This passage clearly implies that the fact that gays are angry and offended by the continued existence of CSS does not give rise to a compelling interest. Here too, they had repeatedly so held in free speech cases, and the same rule should apply to free exercise, but whether it does has been disputed.

Douglas Laycock, via National Review, on Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (emphasis added).


In recognizing the Church’s role in providing moral leadership, we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas. We recognize that no political party is perfectly in accord with all aspects of Church doctrine. This fact speaks to the secular nature of American democracy, not the devotion of our democratically elected leaders. Yet we believe we can speak to the fundamental issues that unite us as Catholics and lend our voices to changing the political debate – a debate that often fails to reflect and encompass the depth and complexity of these issues.

We believe the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties and best serve our constituents.

Excerpt from Statement of Principles by nearly 60 Catholic Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The occasion of the statement was the reported progress of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference toward denying communion to politicians who support legal abortion, with our current President serving as Exhibit A.

But I can’t find anything objectionable in this excerpt — and I note that the same sort of logic about "the depth and complexity of issues" gives Catholic neocons clear consciences about opposing the Church on capital punishment and economic policy that seems contrary to Catholic Social Teaching.

(By the way: one signer was Congressman Frank Mrvan, who in the Indiana legislature was foremost among pro-life Democrats.)


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 Equality Act

When I listen to news, I listen to NPR. I’m aware of its liberal bias, which manifests in how it covers news but also — and this is too rarely appreciated — what it considers "newsworthy" in the first place.

But NPR really dropped the ball on the Equality Act, which comes up for vote in the U.S. House today. Its story doesn’t even mention opposition based on the certain (not speculative) effect of requiring that male-to-female transgender persons be permitted to compete in athletic events against biological women.

A guest opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal identifies other problems besides the Act’s adverse effect on religious and conscience rights:

The Equality Act would threaten the existence of women’s prisons, public-school girls’ locker rooms, and women’s and girls’ sports teams. It would limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and scientific inquiry. It would threaten the rights of physicians who doubt the wisdom of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures, and parents who seek to protect their minor children from such treatment.

This isn’t hyperbole. Similar state laws have already resulted in such harm. In California, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits for declining to perform life-altering “gender affirmation” surgery in September 2016. In Connecticut, two biologically male athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, allegedly taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners in June 2019. Alaska’s Equal Rights Commission opened an investigation into a women’s shelter after it turned away a biological male in September 2019. H.R. 5 would impose the most extreme form of these laws on the whole country.

The bill is so broad that even some who support the measure in principle have called for Congress to carve out exceptions. Writing in the Washington Post in 2019, tennis legend and activist Martina Navratilova asked Congress to exempt athletic competitions. “The reality,” Ms. Navratilova wrote, “is that putting male- and female-bodied athletes together is co-ed or open sport. And in open sport, females lose.”

Women forced to compete against male athletes risk not only losing competitions, but also serious injury. Ask Tamikka Brents, whose orbital bone was fractured by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in the latter’s first professional fight as a woman. Ms. Brents said she felt “overwhelmed” by the fight.

The reason that some contexts require separation of the sexes is obvious: Women have unique physical vulnerabilities. Female inmates are kept separate from male inmates for just this reason. How can we possibly reduce the number of sex crimes against women if the law refuses to recognize such basic differences?

Under the guise of fairness, the Equality Act would forbid policy makers from ever taking into consideration the differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and equality of the sexes.

The Equality Act isn’t about protecting people from discrimination; it’s about compelling adherence to gender ideology. Don’t let its name fool you.

The Equality Act Makes Women Unequal – WSJ

Religious freedom was once held in such high esteem that Congress was almost unanimous on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act less than 30 years ago, and Bill Clinton supported it and signed it. Today, it generally appears in scare quotes, often with intensifiers (e.g., "so-called ‘religious freedom’"), and is to the cultural left a bugaboo like saying "George Soros" to the cultural right.

NPR mis-reported the primary objections to The Equality Act, a bit of liberal groin piety analogous to tax cuts on the right, and I can’t help but suspect that they did so to "poison the well." Selma envy is alive and well as a prime motivation of today’s progressivism.

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).

“Because of … Sex”

I’ve tried to let go of my anxieties about things beyond my control, and I’m not doing too badly in my effort.

Part of my calm comes, ironically, from some political realism (call it fatalism if you must): my side lost the culture wars, at least for now and the near future, so there will be adverse legal and political consequences.

Those consequences likely will be worse because so many of the noisesome avatars of American Christianism have been humping Trump’s leg for 42 months, evoking disgust from normal and Left-abnormal alike.

That I wasn’t among them will give no impunity, partly because, God willing, if a knock comes in the night I’ll not say “No! Not me! I’m not that kind of Christian!” Like ’em or not, the leg-humpers are my distant spiritual kin, so to deny them in time of great peril is like denying Christ.

Another bit of calm comes from the realization that, consequences or not, for now and the near future cultural conservatives, mostly Christian, will almost certainly have it incomparably better than most Christians in the past. (This also means that “knock in the night” is pretty unlikely.)

By “past,” I do not mean “since the birth of Evangelicalism in the 18th and 19th century Great Awakenings.” I mean 2000 years of Christianity. Commemorating the Martyrs and Confessors in Matins each week has taught me that. Real believers will survive and perhaps thrive — although things could get worse than I imagaine so they’ll thrive by departing to be with Christ;  “winsome” don’t always feed the devil-dawg’s bloodlust.

But “not anxious” doesn’t mean “disinterested,” and I’m pretty keenly interested in yesterday’s Title VII  decision (hereafter “Bostock“).

“Not anxious” also doesn’t mean “oblivious” to ramifications that are going to roil the nation for a while. The ones that most get my attention are not the ramifications under Title VII, which deals with discrimination in employment in details I’m unfamiliar with, but ramifications on what sex discrimination prohibitions will mean, by exactly the same Bostock logic, in Title IX and elsewhere. Title IX, for instance, is where the “biological males in women’s locker rooms” specter arises, as not many employers have people getting naked in locker rooms, but most educational institutions do.

Nevertheless, I’m going to pretty much set aside such sequelae to focus on the decision, it’s logic, illogic, dissents and hints about the current court going forward. Sequelae may get comments when they come.

You can get a skillfully pared-down version (from 120 pages to 30) of the Bostock decision here, by the way. If you don’t at least skim it, don’t you dare make snarky remarks about any of the authors.


First observation: I see no sign of bad faith by any of the three authors. Cases don’t get to SCOTUS unless they’re difficult legally. Specifically, I repudiate demagoguery that Gorsuch was just being true to his elite class (What other class do we want on the court? Anyone who makes it onto any Federal Court is ipso facto subject to the “elitist” charge.) or sucking up to the NYT Editorial Board.

Indeed:

The decision was a remarkably clear illustration of several fault lines that persist within the conservative movement. First, there is the friction between textualism and originalism, two judicial philosophies that are often lumped together but that found themselves squarely opposed in this case.

Speaking for the textualists—those who eschew a law’s authorial intent to focus only on its explicit wording—Gorsuch’s argument was simple: Title VII forbids any and all discrimination on the basis of sex, and “an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.” In short: If you are a business owner, and your female employees are allowed to date men, but you fire a male employee for dating a man, it’s hard to argue his sex was not a determining factor in your decision.

Speaking for the originalists—those who attempt to determine what the intent of a law was at the time it was passed—Justice Samuel Alito fervently disagreed: It was staggeringly plain, he argued, that not a single legislator who voted to codify Title VII would have considered discrimination “on the basis of sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The very concepts would have been foreign to them.

That friction was nothing, however, compared with what became evident between the conservatives who praised Gorsuch’s decision as quality textualism and those who argued that it amounted to a betrayal of the whole point of getting Trump justices on the court: to get the right some policy wins.

… Tweeted Jon Schweppe of the social conservative American Principles Project: “I was told there would be winning.”

The Morning Dispatch: The Supreme Court Expands Discrimination Protections.

Left and Right seem agreed that SCOTUS is a political legislative body in disguise. Left and Right are wrong.


Commentary on the oral argument in Bostock last November:

The argument is this: If an employer would never fire Ginger for taking a romantic interest in men, but does fire George when it learns that he does so, it has treated him differently because of his sex. Similar arguments can reach the case of an employee’s gender identity.

You might call the phenomenon “surprise plain meaning”—a meaning of the text that the drafters did not intend or notice at the time. Every law student learns about this early on, as with the question of whether a “No Vehicles in the Park” rule covers bicycles, skateboards, or a statue of the general in his Jeep.

Of the five conservative Justices, Neil Gorsuch showed himself the most hospitable toward the plaintiffs’ case on Tuesday [i.e., oral arguments], and no wonder: as the most committed textualist, he’s the likeliest to see surprise plain meaning as beating legislative history.

The Supreme Court Is Not Debating Your “Humanity”. The comments on Gorsuch were prophetic, but certainly not unique.

I thought that the dissent by Justice Alito, who faulted Justice Gorsuch’s adoption of the Ginger and George logic, was quite persuasive. Take a deep breath for an argument that’s nothing like television smack-talk:

At oral argument, the attorney representing the employees, [Pam Karlan] a prominent professor of constitutional law, was asked if there would be discrimination because of sex if an employer with a blanket policy against hiring gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals implemented that policy without knowing the biological sex of any job applicants. Her candid answer was that this would “not” be sex discrimination. And she was right.

The attorney’s concession was necessary, but it is fatal to the Court’s interpretation, for if an employer discriminates against individual applicants or employees without even knowing whether they are male or female, it is impossible to argue that the employer intentionally discriminated because of sex. An employer cannot intentionally discriminate on the basis of a characteristic of which the employer has no knowledge. And if an employer does not violate Title VII by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity without knowing the sex of the affected individuals, there is no reason why the same employer could not lawfully implement the same policy even if it knows the sex of these individuals. If an employer takes an adverse employment action for a perfectly legitimate reason—for example, because an employee stole company property—that action is not converted into sex discrimination simply because the employer knows the employee’s sex. As explained, a disparate treatment case requires proof of intent—i.e., that the employee’s sex motivated the firing. In short, what this example shows is that discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity does not inherently or necessarily entail discrimination because of sex, and for that reason, the Court’s chief argument collapses….

I would paraphrase: “If an employer takes an adverse employment action for any reason that he considers legitimate in his sole discretion so long as it is not otherwise forbidden by law—that action is not converted into forbidden sex discrimination simply because the employer knows the employee’s sex.”


Legal experts who watched the arguments unfold weren’t entirely shocked that Gorsuch ruled as he did. The justice is well known as a textualist, someone who holds that the meaning of a law turns on the text alone, not the intentions of its drafters.

“What I saw in the argument [i.e., last November) was Gorsuch really struggling with the fact that the textual argument seemed really powerful to him,” Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor, told me. “There’s no way to think about sexual orientation discrimination without sex being part of it.”

Michelle Goldberg, Surprise! Justice on L.G.B.T. Rights From a Trump Judge


This is not a narrow ruling that just means you can’t fire a person for being gay. Extending civil rights law to protect a whole new category carries with it a host of ancillary protections.

… [T]he Bostock ruling won’t stay confined to employment law. The majority opinion protests, disingenuously, that “sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and dress codes” are “questions for future cases.” But federal law is full of prohibitions on sex discrimination (Justice Alito’s dissent lists over 100 such statutes), and every one of those will have to be reconsidered in light of today’s ruling.

Justice Gorsuch Just Opened Pandora’s Box


[L]et’s be honest: there was no leadership among the national Republicans. At least President Trump was willing to take the heat for a transgender military ban. But even he, and Republican politicians who supported him, did not articulate why they believe what they do.

If they can’t or won’t talk about these things substantively, it’s no wonder that people think it must be what Justice Anthony Kennedy once called “irrational animus.”

Again, I ask you: what, from a social conservative viewpoint, is the function of the Republican Party? Maybe:

  • to separate conservative Christians from their money and their votes
  • to dose Deplorables anxious about cultural decline with the Pill of Murti-Bing, a drug that induces a sense of happiness and blind obedience

What else?

Rod Dreher, Religious Conservatism’s Potemkin Power (emphasis added).

The problem is not just that your run-of-the-mill Congressional hack can’t talk about these things substantively, but that even the good arguments of people like Ryan T. Anderson are greeted with slack-jawed refusals of comprehension and then dismissed as lipstick on an irrational animus pig. (That this treatment is the real irrational animus is, of course, a posssibility that must not be uttered.)


Some conservative Evangelicals who work at Evangelical institutions (they told me their names and affiliations) have reached out to me tonight after reading this. Their collective view: [Bostock] is a real moment in which we can see the slow-motion collapse of conservative Evangelicalism.

Dreher, supra. Tacit admission that “Evangelical” is now a political label, not religious?


This decision hands LGBT activists the coercive machinery of civil rights law.

R. R. Reno


Interesting point about Bostock: It assumes that the original public meaning of “sex” in Title VII was “status as either male or female [as] determined by reproductive biology.”

In other words, it assumes the “gender binary” that some idiots pretend to find problematic. That assumption is not incidental, but central, though I’ve only heard one comment on it so far. From such subtle acorns mighty legal oaks may grow.

So the gender identitarians may have won a legal battle while losing a philosophical war (with future legal consequences to be determined).


Bostock‘s “textualist” (whether is is sound textualism is contested by the dissenters) decision on the meaning of “because of … sex” vindicates Phyllis Shlafly’s opposition to ERA on the basis of what the cognate “on account of sex” would come to mean.


Finally, I remember the rent garments, weeping, and gnashing of teeth among religious liberty advocates (including me) when Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith overruled Wisconsin v. Yoder (he pretended to be drawing out its real meaning, but nobody was fooled).

But it turned out that — well, let’s just say that for a couple of decades Employment Division v. Smith changed legal strategies and theories, but not many outcomes. Then Scalia’s imagination met its match in categorical bans on discrimination that cleared his “neutral law, general applicability” threshold.

Similarly, some people claim to see signs that Catholic Gorsuch has enhanced protections of religious liberty concealed in his coat pocket, ready for an appropriate case to apply them. Basically, they’re saying that he’s ready to create a judicial version of the rarely-successful “Fairness for All” legislative approach to the long struggle between sexual liberation and religious freedom.

Since the religious liberty cause has fared poorly in courts and commissions, obsessed as they seem to be with vindicating a right of sexual minoritiess to live life unaware that anyone disapproves for any reason,  I would like that more than a little.

UPDATE: Here’s David French talking, among other things, about the potential “Fairness for All” jurisprudential coup.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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.

Entangled musings

So long as worship of the Emperor as a God was required by law of all citizens, to become a Christian meant to become a criminal. In consequence, the Christians of the first four centuries A.D., subject like everyone else to the temptations of the Flesh and the Devil, had been spared the Temptations of the World. One could become a converted and remain a thorough rascal, but one could not be converted and remain a gentleman.

(W.H. Auden, in the Introduction to The Complete Poems of Cavafy)

My former activism on behalf of unpopular causes (e.g., against abortion, against mandatory social leveling on behalf of practitioners of trendy vices) was never a strategy to “get my name out there” so people would seek my legal services. Insofar as it did bring me clients, they strongly tended toward eccentricity if not outright crackpottery.

We were not formally criminals, my clients and I, but we knew that we could not aspire to unequivocal worldly respectability, either. (That is not a characterization of all my clients — just the ones who I knew as co-belligerents in lost causes.)

Most of these activism-related clients were “conservative” Protestants, as was I then. Most of them plainly were either tacitly Nominalists or at least utterly incapable of framing a confident argument in Realist terms. They were the proverbial “Bible-thumpers,” pulling out their favored proof-texts that sodomy is sinful, or that God knows each of us en ventre sa mère. The problem came connecting such things to law.

In a recent podcast, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon opines that Nominalism is probably, “the deepest flaw in the whole Protestant enterprise” (Luther referred to William of Ockham, the Franciscan popularizer of Nominalism, as his “mein meister”, and the Church of England still commemorates Ockham on April 10.) Fr. Pat’s podcast is actually a pretty succinct introduction to the Nominalist-Realist contrast. (Quick: is adultery wrong because God forbade it or did God forbid it because is wrong — contrary to reality as he created it?)

Somehow, I was a Realist, or leaning strongly Realist, even before I knew the Nominalist-Realist distinction and well before Orthodoxy. I frequently lamented, if only in private, the embarrassing and counter-productive arguments of my co-belligerents in the causes we all supported (or, likelier, opposed).

My tacit Realism (which I’m fairly sure developed unawares after my adolescence) may have been another factor, along with my earlier-in-life onset of temperamental partiality to contemplation more than action, that made Orthodox Christianity click for me when I finally encountered it. I wish I were confident that North American Orthodox Christians, especially my fellow converts, were solidly Realist, because we’re living in parallel ecclesial realities if they’re not.

But I began talking about “my activism.” Do I contradict myself, interjecting contemplation? I think not. My “activism” was argumentation, verbal and in writing, which is a fairly contemplative form of activism. I’ve never raided a draft board, lain down in a street, or otherwise gotten into the physical scrum.

And is there some latent negativity in my oppositional activism (rather than supportive activism)? Again I think not, though it may, once more, dovetail with an aspect of Orthodoxy: apophasis, known in Latin as the via negativa. More specifically, I’m less confident of the location of the “this is right and good and pure” bullseye than I am about “wherever that bullseye is, it ain’t here.”

After more than 22 year in Orthodoxy, I’m still picking up threads that I think helped to lead me here. Picking them up, and acknowledging their entanglement and, sometimes, ineffability seems true to life — which is notoriously messy — more generally.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Montana’s Blaine Amendment case

I know I’ve written about this general topic before, maybe for my private journal or maybe published, so forgive me if this is plowing old ground.

Mark Movesian at the St. John’s Law School Center for Law and Religion blogs at the Law and Religion Forum that he thinks the petitioner will prevail in Espinoza v. Montana Dep’t of Revenue, a case wherein the Montana Blaine Amendment led the state Supreme Court to invalidate an entire, modest program of state aid to private schools, including religious schools, but (let us presume, as it appears to be true) “wholly as a result” of parents’ “genuine and independent choice” (two criteria of a prior Supreme Court precedent).

That’s a mouthful I know. Here’s a longer, more relaxed account.

Because the Supreme Court took the case, I think Movesian is correct about the outcome: if the court wasn’t inclined to overrrule the Montana Supreme Court, it could have just rejected the case.

I hope Movesian is correct that the decision will be a shot across the bow of states that retain Blaine Amendments, rather than a vehicle to invalidate all Blaine Amendments. I hope that because, in my mind, it would be “conservative” judicial activism to rule more broadly (more correctly, it would require a whole lot of ‘splainin’ why it wasn’t judicial activism to persuade me).

I’m a strong advocate of religious freedom in an expansive sense, including some instances where some people would contend that one’s religious freedom causes harm (usually, “dignitary” harm) to another. Consequently, I detest Blaine Amendments’ typical operations today.

But the outcome in Montana is that religious parents and parochial schools are not being treated any differently than “secular” parents and their private schools. If I was a Montana legislator, I might be mad at my Supreme Court for striking down the program, but were I a Montana judge, I might well have found it the best balancing of my state Blaine Amendment’s ban with federal equal protection requirement to strike down the whole law, just as Montana’s Supreme Court did.

The best argument I can see for petitioner Espinoza is that “but for” (a causal connection) the state Blaine Amendment, the whole program would have stood and dollars could be going to the religious school of my preference — an argument that, lacking a complaint of unequal treatment, I find too weak, given my current ignorance of the arguments in the briefs.

Maybe my hesitation means I’m, oh, I dunno, a temperamental conservative or something,

* * * * *

In the fearful day of judgment, O Lord, forgive my prissy efforts at purity.

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.

Single standards

I commented just a bit earlier about the good news for religious freedom out of Michigan, courtesy of Masterpiece Cake Shop.

But now, I must quibble about my second encounter of the story:

For those who don’t recall, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips [proprietor of Masterpiece Cakes] in large part because a commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’s claim that he enjoyed a religious-freedom right not to be forced to design a custom cake for a gay wedding a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The commissioner also denigrated religious-liberty arguments as being used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

While all agreed that it would have been preferable had the court simply ruled that creative professionals could not be required to produce art that conflicted with their sincerely held beliefs, the question was whether Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong condemnation of anti-religious bigotry would resonate beyond the specific facts of the case.

David A. French (italics added)

David French is a very good lawyer and a steadfast friend of both free speech and the free exercise of religion, but he blew this one (I suspect a bit of cerebral flatulence; I doubt that he would disagree with me if he caught wind of my existence).

I, too, know something about the law in this area and I do not agree that it would have been preferable to carve out special immunity for creative professionals with sincerely held beliefs. I wanted the court to rule “that creative professionals could not be required to produce art.” Period. Full stop.

Carving out a exemption only for sincere religious belief is a retreat from the sound principle of artistic freedom and would, I believe, perversely feed into the designer narrative that “religious freedom is just an excuse for bigotry.”

Yes: because nobody should be able to coerce an artist to produce something he doesn’t want to produce for whatever reason, spoken or unspoken, I want a creative professional to be able to say to me “I’m an ardent atheist, hater of all things and all peoples religious, and I won’t create art for Christians. If you don’t like it, put it where the sun don’t shine.”

He’d be smarter to “just say no, thank you,” but polite bigots don’t deserve special exemption from legal coercion.

I do not mean to imply that bigoted utterances are completely harmless. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can bruise feelings. But as a general rule I think the harm of disrespecting someone, even openly, is lesser than the harm of coercing artistic expression — and we need to make laws for general cases, not rare exceptions. Coerced expression, after all, profoundly disrespects the artist.

A fortiori, I’d support the atheist if, for instance, he was a florist and we wanted him to deliver flowers to our Church early every Sunday morning, designed to complement our liturgical calendar or the sermon themes the pastor phoned in. Or a baker, and we wanted a “Jesus Loves Me” inscribed sheet cake.

I wouldn’t even call him a bigot for that: How is an artist supposed to artistically express something he thinks is at best hocus pocus, likelier an opiate of the people?

No doubt some can do it (I suspect impiety in some composers of great 20th Century English language religious choral works, the art form I know best, for instance), and I’ll leave it to them to deal with qualms of conscience. But I don’t expect, let alone want the law to compel, artists to prostitute their art.

This hypothetical atheist florist is very, very close to a reverse mirror-image of Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman and other artisans who have been punished (in Stutzman’s case, obsessively pursued by an evil elected official) for refusing orders to adorn same-sex weddings — the lightning-rod du jour.

Phillips and Stutzman both served gays gladly, but drew a line at celebrating by tangible proxy a “wedding” they considered something on the lines of wicked, or impious mummery.

For what it’s worth, I doubt that the law would punish the atheist florist for declining weekly expressive bouquets to a church. There has been a double-standard that could well be dubbed “the LGBT distortion factor,” to go along with the “abortion distortion factor” (normal legal rules suspended in the presence of abortion) and the lesser know “creationist distortion factor” (any science teacher who both attends church and exposes evolution to critical examination loses and gets branded with a scarlet “C”).

I don’t like legal double-standards, which is precisely why I don’t like David French’s presumably inadvertent expression of what Jack Phillips’ partisans were hoping for in Masterpiece Cake Shop. I don’t doubt that there are some protections that free exercise of religion affords where free speech falls short, but compelled artistic expression surely isn’t one of them.

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I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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