Friday 10/12/18

1

There is nothing new about disinformation. Unlike ordinary lies and propaganda, which try to make you believe something, disinformation tries to make you disbelieve everything. It scatters so much bad information, and casts so many aspersions on so many sources of information, that people throw up their hands and say, “They’re all a pack of liars.” As Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide and former leader of Breitbart News, succinctly put it in an interview with Bloomberg, “[T]he way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with shit.”

Although disinformation is old, it has recently cross-pollinated with the internet to produce something new: the decentralized, swarm-based version of disinformation that has come to be known as trolling. Trolls attack real news; they attack the sources of real news; they disseminate fake news; and they create artificial copies of themselves to disseminate even more fake news. By unleashing great quantities of lies and half-truths, and then piling on and swarming, they achieve hive-mind coordination. Because trolling need not bother with persuasion or anything more than very superficial plausibility, it can concern itself with being addictively outrageous. Epistemically, it is anarchistic, giving no valence to truth at all; like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading.

… By being willing to say anything, they exploit shock and outrage to seize attention and hijack the public conversation.

That last tactic is especially insidious. The constitution of knowledge is organized around an epistemic honor code: Objective truth exists; efforts to find it should be impersonal; credentials matter; what hasn’t been tested isn’t knowledge; and so on. Trolls violate all those norms: They mock truth, sling mud, trash credentials, ridicule testing, and all the rest.

Jonathan Rausch. Donald Trump is our Troll-In-Chief.

How do you balance:

  1. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and slowing of regulatory assaults on orthodox Christians; against
  2. The daily tacit denial from Trump and Sarah Sanders that there exists any such thing as objective truth and reality — “flooding the zone with shit”?

Something tells me that the long-term costs of #2 — and not just in terms of damaging the credibility of Christianity (of which Evangelicals have dubiously made themselves avatars) — outweigh and perhaps vastly outweigh the benefits of #1. I can’t yet put my finger on it; maybe it’s ineffable or self-evident.

We’ve gone from agreeing that there is “Truth” (even if we disagreed about its content), to referring to “your truth” versus “my truth,” and now we hover on the edge of the Emperor’s truth being the only truth, with the Emperor smirking as he mocks us by changing that “truth” at will.

2

Purdue University,”mother” to an astonishing proportion of early astronauts and now sporting a rather new, large and prominent Neil Armstrong engineering building and archive, is atwitter over the release of “First Man” and should be (pardon the expression) over the moon at Joe Morgenstern’s Wall Street Journal review.

Speaking of which, our local TV news, which regularly interjects inadvertent comic relief into the news, covered the Armstrong archive last night with a comment about it housing “N pieces of his life,” reminding me of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women.”

3

Pushing back against talk about Texas Evangelical women pushing Beto O’Rourke past Ted Cruz in the Senate race:

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

Bobby Ross, Jr.

It’s good that this is in print, because one can read it categorically or presumptively (had it been spoken, the inflection likely would have disambiguated it):

  • I can’t support Beto  — because he’s pro-choice ….
  • I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice ….

I believe the moral law would permit Ross’s sister, for sufficient cause, to vote for Beto despite his being pro-choice, but never because he’s pro-choice.

The decisive question is the sufficiency of Cruz’s cynicism and lying. His cynicism stinks to the heavens, but I haven’t kept a scorecard on his lying. Texans probably have a better reading on that.

4

Be it remembered that Jeff Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters for the Presidency but Trump is getting ready to replace him because he won’t corrupt the Justice Department by conducting show trials against Trump’s enemies or by firing Robert Mueller.

This is the treatment Evangelicals can expect if they ever reach a “we must obey God, not Caesar” moment. Whether they have the integrity to reach that moment is an open question.

Add this to item #1 as a reason why Trump should be voted out either in the 2020 Republican primaries or against many potential Democrat nominees in the General Election.

Since we’re apparently slow learners, though, God may ordain that 2020 be a repeat of Trump versus Hillary or maybe even Trump versus Beelzebub.

5

Be it noted, too, that Atifa, at least in Portland, has itself become a fascistic mob, just as I figured would happen in this world where every evil has a euphemistic name.

At the beginning, they came out only when conservatives, including trolls like Milo or Ann Coulter, came to town. Now they call protests, take over the streets, redirect traffic, and threaten anyone who doesn’t comply.

That’s why I say “fascistic.”

6

Consider two recent surveys released before the Senate voted Saturday to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. After the riveting Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked: “If there is still a doubt about whether the charges are true, do you think Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed?” Respondents said no by 52% to 40%.

A Harvard-Harris poll released Oct. 1 asked: “If the FBI review of these allegations finds no corroboration of the accusation of sexual assault, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?” Sixty percent said yes and 40% no, with 86% of Republicans, 58% of independents and even 40% of Democrats supporting confirmation.

The 20-point swing between these two survey questions shows public opinion is malleable ….

Karl Rove.

I doubt that we’ll really know until November 7, if then, which way the Kavanaugh hearings cut politically.

7

I’ve periodically mentioned and lamented that “Christianity” in the U.S. Seems to have just two avatars, Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.

Roman Catholicism got that status by being huge and by claiming that it is The Church uniquely (a claim attenuated since Vitican II). Its claim had purchase in the West, which knew little of the four patriarchs from whom the proto-Popes went into schism (and which now are known as “Eastern Orthodox”). You were either Catholic or ex-Catholic via the Reformation. Those were the mental options.

I just realized, though, that I had that bit of history or Evangelicalism stored away that perhaps not everyone is aware of it.

Evangelicals got their status differently. I don’t discount the Great Black Swan, Billy Graham, and the boost William Randolph Hearst decided to give him, nor the sizzle of the Moral Majority and the rest of the Religious Right (which finally brought Evangelicalism into what the press thinks of as “reality”: contentious politics).

But it started earlier. Some evangelical visionaries early on saw the evangelistic potential of radio and, later, television. They scarfed up hundreds or thousands of FCC broadcast licenses in order to preach their version of the Gospel. Try to find a “Christian” radio station that isn’t Evangelical.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Crickets)

Domination of the airwaves had a big influence on perceptions of non-Catholic Christianity.

I don’t think Evangelicals set out to eliminate other voices from the airwaves, or otherwise to delegitimize those voices. It was more positive than that: spread the Gospel. The rest is epiphenomenal.

And the chaotic internet, where licenses aren’t yet required (but see next item) will perhaps diminish Evangelicalism’s place aside Rome in the Western Christian oligarchy.

8

Late Thursday, Facebook and Twitter began what appears to be a coordinated purge of accounts trafficking in real news our masters would prefer we not know and opinions that no bien pensant should entertain. Caitlin Johnstone, aware that “censorship” proper is a government act, thinks nonetheless that the rise of corporate power and the thin line between corporate and government power make this effectively censorship in our new media age.

I’m likely to have more to say about this, but for now, Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin will suffice.

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Is (Liberal) Democracy Dying?

The Atlantic for October is a theme issue:

840

I can’t provide URLs because it’s still subscriber-only, but you get get to your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. All of the following are from that issue, as was Anne Applebaum, A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come, about which I blogged earlier.

1

It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.

Yuval Noah Harari, Why Technology Favors Tyranny.

And a stunning microcosm:

On December 6, 2017, another crucial milestone was reached when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 had won a world computer chess championship in 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as decades of computer experience. By contrast, AlphaZero had not been taught any chess strategies by its human creators — not even standard openings. Rather, it used the latest machine-learning principles to teach itself chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of 100 games that the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish 8, AlphaZero won 28 and tied 72 — it didn’t lose once. Since AlphaZero had learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to the human eye. They could be described as creative, if not downright genius.

Can you guess how long AlphaZero spent learning chess from scratch, preparing for the match against Stockfish 8, and developing its genius instincts? Four hours.

(Emphasis added)

2

Many progressives, particularly young ones, have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty is an engine of discrimination. Property rights are a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that “a diverse and inclusive society” is more important than “protecting free speech rights.” Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is “essential,” compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

… One of our students told us: “I don’t know any lefty people my age who aren’t seriously questioning whether the First Amendment is still on balance a good thing.”

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, The Threat of Tribalism.

But wait! There’s more! It’s not tribalist without at least two tribes!

In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press “to criticize politicians” was “very important” to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. In other 2017 surveys, more than half of Trump supporters said the president “should be able to overturn decisions by judges that he disagrees with,” and more than half of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it “until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.”

I can’t pick which side is worse. Can you?

3

Jeffrey Rosen incited in me kindly feelings toward California:

Voters in several states are experimenting with alternative primary systems that might elect more moderate representatives. California and Washington State have adopted a “top two” system, in which candidates from both parties compete in a nonpartisan primary, and the two candidates who get the most votes run against each other in the general election — even if they’re from the same party. States, which Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy,” are proving to be the most effective way to encourage deliberation at a time when Congress acts only along party lines.

Madison and the Mob.

4

This author was shot, randomly, with a 22:

Knee-jerk calls for gun control didn’t resonate with me. Yet a reverence toward guns no longer felt right either.

I found my ambivalence unsettling. Everyone else seemed so sure about how to feel about guns—people on campus, on the internet, back home. Unlike most of them, I had made intimate acquaintance with gun violence. I should have had some special insight. If what had happened to me wasn’t fodder for clarity, I feared nothing ever would be.

As we drove, he asked me to remind him what I was writing about. I said some- thing lazy, offhanded: “What it was like getting shot in a place that loves guns.”

“It’s not love,” he said. We pulled into the parking lot of his store, which sits high on a hill. You can see almost all of Tuscaloosa from there. “It’s about necessity.” He mentioned rattlesnakes and coyotes. For people in rural areas — that’s more than 40 percent of Alabamians — guns are still a day-to-day defense against such animals. Yes, there is ample love for guns in Alabama. But to forget that they’re tools is to miss an important point.

Elaina Plott, The Bullet in My Arm.

Perhaps, but they’re not the kind of tools Our People use now, are they dear?

5

A 2018 U.S. Magazine asking whether democracy is dying might be suspected of a hit on 45, but it really was not. He did get more than passing mention in David Frum’s contribution, though:

[A] Donald Trump with impulse control would not be Donald Trump …

When Trump refers to “my” generals or “my” intelligence agencies, he is teaching his supporters to rethink how the presidency should function. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s remark that he and his wife were but “the latest tenants in the People’s House.”

In 2016, Trump supporters openly brandished firearms near polling places. Since then, they’ve learned to rationalize clandestine election assistance from a hostile foreign government. The president pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for violating civil rights in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of violating election-finance laws—sending an unmistakable message of support for attacks on the legal order. Where President Trump has led, millions of people who regard themselves as loyal Americans, believers in the Constitution, have ominously followed.

Building an Autocracy.

6

To stop the rot afflicting American government, Americans are going to have to get back in the habit of democracy.

[In the 19th Century] From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives.

Civic participation was thus the norm, not the exception.

Democracy had become the shared civic religion of a people who otherwise had little in common.

But the United States is no longer a nation of joiners. As the political scientist Robert Putnam famously demonstrated in Bowling Alone, participation in civic groups and organizations of all kinds declined precipitously in the last decades of the 20th century.

Trump turned the long-standing veneration of civic procedure on its head. He proclaimed that America is “rigged”; that “the insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money.” The norms and practices of democratic governance, he insisted, had allowed elites to entrench themselves.

Trump secured the Republican nomination by speaking directly to those voters who had the least experience with democratic institutions. In April 2016, when the Republican field had narrowed from 17 candidates to three, a PRRI/The Atlantic survey found Trump enjoying a narrow lead over second-place Ted Cruz among Republican-leaning voters, 37 to 31 percent. But among those who seldom or never participated in community activities such as sports teams, book clubs, parent-teacher associations, or neighborhood associations, Trump led 50 to 24 percent. In fact, such civically disengaged voters accounted for a majority of his support.

Yoni Applebaum, Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Any More.

7

And finally:

The cardinal fact always is the loss of contact with objective information. Public as well as private reason depends upon it. Not what somebody says, not what somebody wishes were true, but what is so beyond all our opining, constitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And a society which lives at second-hand will commit incredible follies and countenance inconceivable brutalities if that contact is intermittent and untrustworthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that flourishes where discrimination fails, and only those who are at grips with things themselves are impervious to it. For … the demagogue, whether of the Right or the Left, is, consciously or unconsciously an undetected liar.

Walter Lippman, November 1919 (before my father was born), quoted in a side-bar.

I’m venturing a guess that nobody born since 1970 will understand his use of “discrimination” unless they have a liberal arts college education.

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My blog overfloweth

Oh dear! So much that’s shareable today!

The Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal

1

Nike reportedly is facing a boycott for an ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, who famously “took the knee” during the NFL’s repulsive and gratuitous pre-game patriotic frenzies.

Kaepernick

We’ll see if Nike actually believes in something, “even if it means sacrificing everything.” Nike has set itself up nicely to illustrate how “courage” no less than “patriotism” can be insincerely weaponized for commercial purposes.

Contrast:

Viganò

2

Ross Douthat … in a twitter thread which noted, among other things,

One of the striking things about the Hebrew Bible is that it’s the record of a people that makes extraordinary claims for itself — that their tribal god is the Only God, that they are His chosen people, that all nations will eventually worship him, etc.

And they buttress those claims with an extensive history in which they are … terrible. Morally terrible, politically impotent, constantly apostasizing, ignoring their prophets, the works.

Basically the Hebrew Bible says: “Hi, we’re the true chosen people of God, and to prove it let us tell a long series of stories about how our patriarchs were sinners, our kings were even worse, and we failed God completely time and time again.”

The best king of Israel, the awesome all-conquering one, is a philanderer and murderer. The second-best one, the temple-builder, becomes an idol-worshiper. And about the rest, the less said the better.

Pace certain evangelicals-for-Trump and certain RC churchmen, this is not an argument for tolerating ugliness in service of some higher good. God and His prophet deal very harshly w/David when he kills Uriah, and the attitude of the prophets throughout is horror at Israel’s sins.

But for all their horror the prophets never doubt that Israel is the elect, the chosen people, God’s intended bride. And if the Old Testament is supposed to be a revelation with big implications for the new covenant, for the Christian church, that part is important.

Eve Tushnet quoting, obviously, Ross Douthat.

Trump & the Vichy Republicans

3

News:

Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff.

(Another damned Tweet by our Tweeter-in-Chief, who thinks an Attorney General is a wingman.)

News analysis by Peter Baker and Nicholas Fandos:

  • His tweet over the holiday weekend chastising Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for the Justice Department’s recent indictments of two Republican congressmen because it could cost the party seats in November crossed lines that even he had not yet breached, asserting that specific continuing criminal prosecutions should be decided on the basis of partisan advantage.
  • “I think it was appalling,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine, another Republican, told reporters asking on Tuesday about the tweet. “It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable.”
  • Over nearly 20 months in office, Mr. Trump has repeatedly castigated the Justice Department and the F.B.I. for investigating his associates and not investigating his enemies. He has threatened time and again to fire Mr. Sessions because his recusal from the Russia investigation meant that he could not protect the president from the inquiry.
  • Mr. Trump’s suggestion would have been a major scandal under any other president, veterans of past administrations said. “His interference in an ongoing criminal investigation may be the single most shocking thing he’s done as president,” said Walter E. Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general under President Bill Clinton.
  • Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican who has been among the president’s most outspoken critics in his own party, had the same reaction. “Those who study this kind of thing say it’s a lot more evidence for abuse of power or obstruction,” he said. “I just know it’s not healthy for the institutions of government to have the president want to use the Department of Justice that way.”
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, likewise criticized the president’s comments. “I’m looking at them just as you are looking at them,” she told reporters. “I thought that yesterday’s comments were not appropriate and they upset me.”

I agree with Walter Dellinger. If Trump is impeached, I hope his browbeating of law enforcement people for doing their jobs is prominent among the charges.

4

Ross Douthat imagines the defense theme of the Vichy Republicans in the court of public opinion:

Yes, they would say, the president is erratic, dangerous, unfit and bigoted. But notwithstanding certain columnist fantasies you can’t impeach somebody for all that — or for pretending to be a dictator on Twitter, for that matter. And by the standards of any normal presidency we still have him contained.

Sure, the trade wars are bad, but every president launches at least one dumb trade war. We stopped the child migrant business, his other immigration moves are just stepped-up enforcement of the law, we’ve stepped back from the brink (however bizarrely) with the North Koreans, we’re still sanctioning the Russians.

Meanwhile he’s nominated the most establishment Republican jurist possible to the Supreme Court, and we won’t even let him fire his own attorney general, let alone Bob Mueller.

Look, we’re not enabling an American Putin here. We’re just babysitting the most impotent chief executive we’ll ever see, and locking in some good judges before the Democrats sweep us out.

5

I have given my qualified approval to President Trump’s defense of religious freedom. The qualification is that he hasn’t shown any solicitude for the religious freedom of anyone other than Evangelical Protestants (though we other Christians collect crumbs from their State Dinner Table).

Here’s someone else’s expression of one instance of where Trump has been bad on religious freedom.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings

6

Ben Sasse Conducts a Two-Minute Master Class in American Civics

7

Democrats Open Contentious Hearings With Attack on ‘Partisan’ Kavanaugh

When the New York Times puts in scare-quotes “partisan” as a description of a Republican Supreme Court nominee, I think it’s a sign that the Democrats beslimed themselves pretty good yesterday.

Is Steve Bannon fit for polite company?

8

A Venn diagram showing New Yorker readers and Trump fans would contain two circles miles apart. The folks in the New Yorker circle are far more likely to believe that Trump is a nascent despot than to believe that he is anything like a normal president. Nor are they likely to change their minds simply by spending an hour in the physical presence of Bannon.

Left-leaning cultural arbiters became too skillful with their weapon of choice, mastering those institutions so completely that certain kinds of progressivism became not merely normal, but mandatory. But by leaving less and less room for dissenters, the hegemons created a counter-tribe of outsiders who reject their authority as vehemently as they exert it. And thus, for the same reasons that the beliefs of New Yorker readers are in no danger from Steve Bannon, the views of Trump fans are entirely safe from David Remnick.

What’s left is a kind of ceremonial cleansing of the sacred city, a mighty labor to make sure that the two circles on the Venn diagram never, ever come into contact. There’s something admirable about uncompromising ethical purity, but also something rather dangerous. For it means that outside your circle, there’s an entirely different normal. And if you abdicate any influence over that alternate normality, while rigorously expelling your own heretics, you may one day awake to find that your impeccably maintained ring of truth has been swamped by that other normal, now grown entirely beyond your control.

Megan McArdle

9

I agree with those who think that he should never have been invited. Steve Bannon keeps failing in his various projects to overthrow the establishment or create a political mass movement. Were it not for the lavish media attention he still gets, he’d be a classic coffee-house revolutionary, regaling strangers about how he came “this close” to ruling and how, with a little help from you, he can get the revolution restarted. But because he provides relatively good quotes and calls back journalists, the mainstream media have an investment in keeping him more relevant that he really is. He was fired by Trump, defenestrated by Breitbart and the Mercers, and lives on largely as a useful prop for the media he claims to despise.

Jonah Goldberg

10

New Yorker, editor David Remnick, explaining why he had extended, and then quickly rescinded, an invitation to former presidential adviser Stephen K. Bannon to be interviewed on a public stage.

[I]t’s worth considering what Remnick’s disinvitation has actually achieved. Here’s my list:

It has kept Bannon’s name prominently in the news, no doubt to his considerable delight. It has turned a nativist bigot into a victim of liberal censorship. It has lent credence to the belief that journalists are, as Bannon said of Remnick, “gutless.” It has corroborated the view that the news media is a collection of left-wing group thinkers who, if they aren’t quite peddling “fake news,” are mainly interested in advancing only their own truths. It has kept readers of The New Yorker locked in their usual echo chamber. It has strengthened the belief that vulnerable institutions can be hounded into submitting to the irascible (and unappeasable) demands of social media mobs. Above all, it has foreclosed an opportunity to submit Bannon to the kind of probing examination that Remnick had initially promised, and that is journalism at its best.

The next time we journalists demand “courage” of the politicians, let’s first take care to prove that we know what the word means, and to exhibit some courage ourselves.

Bret Stephens

As Rod Dreher points out, The Economist did it better.

Miscellany

11

John McCain, well aware of his impending death, orchestrated a Resistance Funeral.

It’s currently obligatory to overlook his flaws as well as to remember his virtues, and I’ll not breach my obligation just yet. Indeed, I expect canonization forthwith.

But what I didn’t expect is hectoring pundits posing “WWJMD” criticisms every time Republicans do something deemed insufficiently bipartisan.

12

If you consider yourself a sane conservative, I’d suggest you bookmark the US edition of the Spectator. It’s pretty lively, with some voices other than the usual suspects.

It was there, for instance, that I learned that:

The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft (PCMW) in Maryland has just been afforded Tax Exempt Status by the IRS, which recognised it as a legitimate place of worship, or rather a ‘place of lesbian faith’. Serving a lesbian-feminist congregation, the PCMW is described on its website as, ‘a congregation of female-born, lesbian-led Women devoted to the liberation of Women and Girls from the oppression we face based on our sex.’

 

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Spleen ventings (and more)

1

Spleen venting #1: I’m pleased that the American Bar Association, which marginalized itself over decades, will now be denied its long preeminence in advising the Senate on federal judicial nominees.

I’m one of those who quit the ABA in 1992 when it endorsed abortion. I still say “to hell with ’em.”

They can line up with all the other conservative and liberal interest groups, as a liberal interest group is all they are these days.

2

Spleen venting #2:

This is what court evangelicals do. They tell the president to fire an Attorney General who rightly recused himself from the Mueller investigation. Falwell Jr. wants Sessions fired in the hopes that his replacement as Attorney General will end the investigation. In other words, Falwell Jr. wants to protect Trump against accusations that he is an adulterer, a liar, and a felon.

John Fea, Jerry Falwell Jr. Told Trump to Fire Sessions

This strikes me, a former Evangelical, viscerally, as I was enrolled for three semesters, during the Vietnam War, in a Christianish educational institution where support of that war was a litmus test.

I don’t think that educational mis-step of mine was why I left Evangelicalism; it certainly was not the proximate cause (the proximate cause was disenthrallment with Dispensationalism and discovery of Calvinism, which I also left decades later — see below). But I’ve never given a dime to that place after leaving.

Falwell, too, is making enemies of many of his growing number of former students.

And because all American Christians are judged disproportionately by the doings of “Rome” and Fundamentalists/Evangelicals, I’m feeling a bit slimed again.

(Hereditary Evangelical fiefdoms, by the way, are a scandal too rarely highlighted.)

3

Trump hates the media because he hates the news, and he hates the news because the news about him is bad. Unable to attack the news itself, he attacks those who report it. He isn’t the first president to attack the press, but he’s the first to label it “the enemy of the people” — a Stalinist term so odious that Nikita Khrushchev banned it. President Richard Nixon said, “The press is the enemy,” but at least he said it privately, as a means of venting, not on social media or to raucous crowds who prefer the Second Amendment to the First.

In his book The True Believer, Eric Hoffer wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” …

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that colleges were turning young people into sensitive snowflakes. Trump is the ultimate snowflake. He wants all of cyberspace to be his safe space.

As Harry Truman famously didn’t say, if you can’t stand the heat, complain about the heat, lie about the heat, and, if possible, ban ovens and stoves.

To find out what Truman really said, Google it.

Windsor Mann, Please be sensitive to our snowflake president’s need for safe space.

Gotta either laugh or cry. I try to choose laughter, even if derisive.

4

It’s interesting to consider, but the Protestants I’ve known who became Catholic were not angry at the church they left behind. They’re been simply grateful to have embraced what they consider to be a more truthful, richer form of the Christian faith. The ex-Catholics I’ve known tend to be angry. In all honesty, I haven’t known many ex-Catholics who were Protestant or Orthodox. Almost all of the ex-Catholics I know ceased to practice any form of the Christian faith. It hadn’t occurred to me until this morning, but I think that’s interesting. Why might they leave Christianity entirely, instead of just become Episcopalian or Southern Baptist?

The answer, I believe, is that Catholicism is such a totalizing faith. That’s not a criticism at all …

I describe having lost the ability to believe in it anymore as like leaving a bad marriage. I wanted so bad for this “marriage” to work, but I realized one day that my bride didn’t love me, that she loved herself, and was going to do whatever she wanted to do, and to hell with me and the kids. Staying in this marriage meant putting up with her abusiveness. I couldn’t do it anymore ….

Believe it or not, one reason I write so often about this current Catholic scandal is that I want the Catholic Church to be healthy and holy. I may not be part of it anymore, but if she is sick unto death, then that affects the entire Body of Christ. If I had no Christian faith at all, I would still want the Church to be healthy, because as that scintillating atheist Camille Paglia has said in the past, the Church is a pillar of our civilization. No church, and we descend into barbarism.

Rod Dreher, reflecting, musing broadly on Damon Linker’s leaving the Roman Church (bold in original, italics added — though italics seem to disappear in this stylesheet).

I may have mis-gauged how coherent this excerpt would be without the elided material. It’s another powerful way of expressing the sense of loss Rod felt and still feels. I hope Linker feels it too, and finds Christ too compelling to forsake His Church (a very loaded term in this context) entirely.

For what it’s worth, my experience echoes Rod’s in this regard: I left Evangelicalism for Calvinism, pretty bitter about what I perceived as its pervasive Dispensational Premillennialism (it dawned on me later that I did not get that from my parents, but from my Christian Boarding School — proof, had I noticed it, that nondispensationist Evangelicalism was possible), but left Calvinism for Orthodoxy “simply grateful to have embraced … a more truthful, richer form of the Christian faith.” I still consider Calvinism a pretty good place to come from, and I don’t think that would change even if my wife had followed me from Calvinism to Orthodoxy.

5

Consider recent state and local actions punishing those who decline to use an individual’s pronouns of choice. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year threatening jail time for health-care professionals who “willfully and repeatedly” refuse to use a patient’s preferred pronouns. Under guidelines issued in 2015 by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, employers, landlords and business owners who intentionally use the wrong pronoun with transgender workers and tenants face potential fines of as much as $250,000.

… For those with a religious conviction that sex is both biological and binary, God’s purposeful creation, denial of this involves sacrilege no less than bowing to idols in the town square. When the state compels such denial among religious people, it clobbers the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, lending government power to a contemporary variant on forced conversion.

[I]ndividuals need not be religious to believe that one person can never be a “they”; compelled speech is no less unconstitutional for those who refuse an utterance based on a different viewpoint, as the Supreme Court held in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). Upholding students’ right to refuse to salute an American flag even on nonreligious grounds, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” This is precisely what forced reference to someone else as “ze,” “sie,” “hir,” “co,” “ev,” “xe,” “thon” or “they” entails. When the state employs coercive power to compel an utterance, what might otherwise be a courtesy quickly becomes a plank walk.

Abigail Shrier, The Transgender Language War (emphasis added)

6

Socialism moves human goods outside of market relationships and currency exchange. Most of the programs people now describe as socialism simply entail a more muscular welfare state liberalism. It must be repeated over and over again: “the government pays for stuff” is not socialism. And from my vantage, much of the [Democratic Socialists of America]’s national platform is precisely “the government pays for stuff.”

Fredrik De Boer, hyperlink added.

7

[W]hen people ask me why I didn’t try life among the Trads instead of leaving for Orthodoxy, the answer is right here in this tweet. Some of the best Catholic friends I have, and those I most admire, are Trads, but my general experience with Trads is that too often an intense bitterness, a hardness of heart, and barely-banked anger prevails among them. Our Lord told of the Good Shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep to go after the one who is lost. Far too many Trads would deride that lost sheep a weakling and a quitter.

Rod Dreher, reflecting on this pharisaic Tweet:

* * * * *

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Too interesting times

I’m starting light. I’ll end very heavy.

1

What is this? Pronoun pickiness run amok?

2

Signs of wretched excess: Pumpkins Spice in August.

Some pleasures are just meant to be seasonal.

(H/T Smokey Ardisson on micro.blog)

3

I’m sincerely hoping, and strongly suspect as I’ve not read of this elsewhere, that this is a small eddy in an already-small fetid swamp of AlexJonesish conspiracy theorists:

McCain conspiracists say his brain cancer was a hoax

4

Brett Kavanaugh Is a Mensch: When Bethesda, Maryland went NIMBY on a Synagogue, Kavanaugh pitched into the defense of the Synagogue.

5

Within 45 minutes of Ronald Reagan’s announcement that Robert Bork was his pick to replace the retiring Justice Lewis Powell on the high court, Kennedy introduced him to America this way:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Now compare this, for sheer style, with the attempt by Elizabeth Warren, current occupant of the seat once held by Kennedy, to do the same for Mr. Trump’s nominee:

“Judge Kavanaugh is part of a movement to twist the Constitution in ways that are deeply hostile to the rights of everyone but those at the top. He’s been a part of that movement for the majority of his professional life, both before and after he became a judge. And now, he has a record of 12 years of judicial decisions that demonstrate his loyalty to that radical ideology.”

Here’s some bad news for Sen. Warren. I remember Ted Kennedy. I watched when Ted Kennedy turned Robert Bork’s name into a nasty verb. And I say this to the woman who now holds the late senator’s seat: Ms. Warren, you are no Ted Kennedy.

After so many years of crying Bork, Democrats have forgotten an essential in politics: count your votes. Brett Kavanaugh will take his seat on the Supreme Court in the end. And yours truly is betting it will be with the votes of at least two Democratic senators.

William McGurn

6

Well, at Least Sheriff Joe Isn’t Going to Congress

Most heartening headline of the day

Cast aside and left to wallow in the knowledge that his moment has passed, he has a fitting end to the public life of a true American villain.

I’ll forgive Mike Pence the praise he lavished on this villain if he repents publicly and convincingly. That was a moment when I understood why many of my fellow Hoosiers contemned a man I felt was too great a cipher to warrant contempt.

7

President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, announced Tuesday that the administration is “taking a look” at regulating Google’s conduct, given Trump’s complaints earlier in the day that the company’s search results suppress conservative views. Kudlow’s statement raises First Amendment concerns of the highest magnitude.

Floyd Abrams. Click that link to “taking a look.” That’s pure, venomous effort to chill a free press and its modern adjunct, the search engine.

What is potentially dangerous is the assertion in the president’s tweets that “This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” and Kudlow’s intimation that a regulatory response was actually being considered. Of course, Trump and Kudlow may not mean it. Or they may mean it and will not pursue it further. But one cannot tell, and so when such statements are made, it is worth responding immediately ….

And when Floyd Abrams responds this way on a First Amendment matter, it is a warranted shot across the bow of would-be tyrants. Don’t you think for a minute that Brett Kavanaugh will be so grateful to Trump that such nuances will be lost on him.

8

I close with sad but notable news.

I first became aware of Damon Linker when he was at First Things magazine around 16-18 years ago. “First Things” is pervasively Roman Catholic in its staffing, though not in what it publishes, so I sort of assumed that Linker was Catholic. I had no idea he was a new convert when he arrived.

Now he’s leaving. Although I’m skipping most news of American Clergy Abuse Scandal II, personal stories are likely exceptions. I’ve distilled what I find most compelling in Linker’s story:

The core of the church’s problem isn’t personal immorality, or institutional corruption, or hypocrisy. The core of the problem is ugliness.

People too often fail to appreciate the role of beauty in religion …

The singular importance of beauty or nobility to the most profound moral and religious experience was noted centuries before Christ in the dialogues of Plato, where the character of Socrates frequently asks his interlocutors searching questions about elevation. What do we admire? What acts stir us and move us to tears? Often it is those acts involving self-sacrifice, devotion to something loftier, something purportedly higher …

When I converted to the Catholic Church 18 years ago, I did so in large part because I was deeply moved by the act of self-sacrifice that the church places at its heart …

If I didn’t really believe in all of the theological precepts taught by the church, at least I wanted to — because I considered them beautiful, and because I wanted to be a part of the beauty, to elevate myself by assimilating myself to it.

That impulse seems very far away from me now. It began to fade in the church scandals that broke less than two years after I entered the church. The crisis deepened by working for a devout priest who responded to the scandals by circling the wagons against the secular press and its impertinent reporters looking to harm the church with their pesky attachment to uncovering the truth.

[T]o wade through the toxic sludge of the grand jury report; to follow the story of Theodore McCarrick’s loathsome character and career; to confront the allegations piled up in Viganò’s memo — it is to come face to face with monstrous, grotesque ugliness. It is to see the Catholic Church as a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.

No thanks. I’m done.

And I bet I’ll have a lot of company headed for the door.

The “devout priest” he worked for was the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, himself a convert, who I thought very highly of — and still do. But “circling the wagons” and whanging on people like Rod Dreher (“‘Shut up’, he explained”) was both wrong and ugly.

I don’t know if Linker is leaving Rome for another Christian tradition or if his entire faith is crushed, but his brokenness is a sad, sad commentary.

Millstone. Neck. Sea. Kyrie eleison!

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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If you promise, deliver

[John] McAdams, a professor of political science, wrote on his personal blog, Marquette Warrior, about a recorded interaction in which a graduate student philosophy instructor told her student that his opinions opposing gay marriage “are not appropriate.”

A month later, without presenting him with any formal charges, Marquette suspended McAdams, cancelled his classes, and banned him from campus. The college later insinuated that McAdams violated a harassment policy, and that his punishments stemmed from his naming the instructor in his blog post and linking to her own, publicly available, blog.

“As FIRE has argued since the beginning, Marquette was wrong to fire John McAdams simply for criticizing a graduate student instructor who unilaterally decided that a matter of political interest was no longer up for debate by students,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “This ruling rightly demonstrates that when a university promises academic freedom, it is required to deliver.”

Though Marquette is a private, Roman Catholic institution not bound by the First Amendment, the university promises faculty “the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms,” and it explicitly guarantees that “dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Press Release by FIRE. From their computers to God’s ear — and the ears of other university administrators:

“Administrators cannot simply decide that they do not like the results of certain faculty speech, and then work backwards to find a justification for firing them,” said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “The court’s decision recognized that allowing a university to do so is incompatible with any meaningful understanding of academic freedom. Colleges and universities across the country that are facing calls to discipline faculty members for their online speech should pay attention to today’s decision.”

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The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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Δ blindness

The New York Times item (news? analysis? editorial?) on the Right “weaponizing” the First Amendment is, of course, subject to satire and plausible accusations of hypocrisy — as is the Rights newish romance with that Amendment.

But here’s a fresh spin on the story:

[I]f you follow this logic of this Times analysis, then workers at low-budget religious ministries that offer women alternatives to abortion actually represent “the powerful” classes in California, in a free-speech fight with government, Planned Parenthood, et al, over whether ministries can be compelled to give women what amounted to referrals to abortion facilities.

When you apply this to other crucial First Amendment doctrines then you would find yourself defending the rights of a single baker (a traditional Christian) to decline a request to create a one-of-a-kind artistic cake celebrating a same-sex wedding rite (after offering the couple any of the standard cakes or desserts in his shop). The baker’s very narrow, faith-based refusal of this task was offensive and caused pain, yet the gay couple had many other options in the local marketplace. The baker is “the powerful” force in this legal fight?

It would also be possible to defend Catholic nuns who refused government commandments that they cooperate with efforts to provide contraceptive options to their own staff, in violations of important Catholic doctrines linked to their mission. The elderly nuns represent the “the powerful” classes in this legal fight?

I am left, once again, wondering what label to assign to contemporary people and groups that are weak in their defense of free speech, weak in their defense of freedom of association and weak in their defense of the free exercise of religion. What should fair-minded journalists call them? What should the Times team have called the powers that be on the “progressive” side of the debate (including the newspaper’s editorial-page team)?

The one label that cannot be assigned to these groups is “liberal.” That just won’t fly, in the wider context of American political thought.

(Terry Mattingly, emphasis added)

Progressives and Conservatives have different characteristic blindnesses.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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Why I’m not calling for Revolution

I cannot forgive or forget Trump’s praise for the most hideously totalitarian regime on the planet, for a bloodthirsty scion who conducts regular public hangings, keeps his subjects in a state of mind-control, holds hundreds of thousands in concentration camps, and threatens the world with nuclear destruction. To watch an American president give his tacit blessing to all of that, to laud Kim for being “rough” on his people, right on the heels of attacking every democratic ally, is an obscenity.

And this was the response of the secretary of State, when asked, inevitably, how the U.S. could in any way verify North Korea’s promised denuclearization: “I find that question insulting and ridiculous and, frankly, ludicrous.” It’s ludicrous, he explained, because the president said there will be verification of denuclearization. And so there will be. Get that? Just lean into the delusion, and everything will be well. Trump’s various mouthpieces have resorted to exactly that formula, when asked difficult or obvious questions that assume a reality different from Trump’s. The empirical questions — those that reference the real world — are “ludicrous,” “inappropriate,” or “ridiculous.” But then when the Trump peons can’t answer the question, because it would reveal Trump as a fantasist, what else are they supposed to do? Show a propaganda video made by the National Security Council?

[Vaclav] Havel had a phrase: “Living in the truth.” In a totalitarian society, living in the truth can be close to impossible, and yet it was possible for someone, as Havel analogized, as lowly as a greengrocer to refuse to “live in a lie”:

The original and most important sphere of activity, one that predetermines all the others, is simply an attempt to create and support the independent life of society as an articulated expression of living within the truth. In other words, serving truth consistently, purposefully, and articulately, and organizing this service. This is only natural, after all: if living within the truth is an elementary starting point for every attempt made by people to oppose the alienating pressure of the system, if it is the only meaningful basis of any independent act of political import, and if, ultimately, it is also the most intrinsic existential source of the “dissident” attitude, then it is difficult to imagine that even manifest “dissent” could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life.

No, that’s not Rod Dreher. It’s Andrew Sullivan, Trump Is Making Us All Live in His Delusional Reality Show.

We are not (yet) living in a totalitarian society, and a series of Tweets from POTUS falls short of actual (versus aspirational) authoritarianism.

But we are governed by a man who has a severe personality disorder and is, if not delusional, perhaps even scarier for that. As just one microcosm (called to my attention by my brother in a Facebook exchange), our President, self-proclaimed master deal-maker, apparently knows nothing of win-win; our adversaries and even our allies must lose for him to feel that he has won bragging rights.

Be resolute. Do not surrender to the lie. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

But on the other hand …

Although I may have overdone “Trump versus Clinton has God’s judgment written all over it” in the run-up to the election, it was because I discounted God’s graciousness and patience (scripture citations omitted), of which discounting I’m repenting.

But the “Resistance” party is scary — very scary — in its statist impulse to cut down every structure of civil society that doesn’t conform to the latest progressive pieties. Only the space inside the “four corners” of our homes is spared, and that only for now.

Consider Catholic Charities, driven from adoption licensure in several states because it won’t place children with same-sex couples (who have alternate agencies for adoption, be it noted), or Trinity Western University in Canada, a Christian University which cannot start a law school, and presumably will soon lose its other accreditations, unless it declares open season for fornication and sodomy among its students.

If it’s just me (or me plus some feckless institutions that won a government Seal of Docility) versus the government, then I’m as powerless as Roper when the laws of England were mowed down so he could pursue the devil. This conviction was germinating in me fifty years ago and has grown stronger as I gained vocabulary, added contexts, and watched the mowing down proceeding in ways I never thought I’d live to see.

God’s judgment or just the denoument of liberalism, we really are in a pickle. That’s why I’m trying to remain vigilant but not calling for revolution, the results of which are highly, highly likely to be, hard though it be to imagine, as bad or worse than the status quo.

* * * * *

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

We’re not asking for much

[Masterpiece Cakeshop] did not decide the question about religious freedom and the rights of sexual minorities. However, one key element of the decision drew my attention. The court recognized how anti-Christian bias on the part of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission negatively impacted the chances of the defendant – Jack Phillips. I have done research on Christianophobia, and some individuals choose to ignore the data to say that it does not exist. But now the Supreme Court not only acknowledged its existence but also ruled that it can negatively impact Christians.

The challenge to the religious freedom of Christians comes from those with Christianophobia defined as an unreasonable fear and hatred of Christians. In the United States they generally target conservative Christians. Those with Christianophobia tend to be white, male, wealthy, highly educated, politically progressive and irreligious. These qualities describe individuals with power in our cultural institutions such as academia, media and the arts.

The way anti-Christian attitudes manifest themselves is generally though measures that concentrate on removing Christians from the public square rather than overt discrimination. A great example of this can be seen in the recent University of Iowa ruling. The university attempted to impose a rule by which student religious groups had to allow those nonbelievers to be leaders on a Christian group but not on a Muslim group. On the surface the administrators claimed that the rule is religiously neutral, but clearly they treated non-Christian groups differently than Christian groups. Non-Christian groups were to be allowed to have a cultural presence on the campus that was to be denied to Christians.

George Yancey, Will Loss of Religious Liberty Doom Evangelicalism?

A lot of religious liberty lawyers would join me in opining that most anti-Christian bias (“Christianophobia” if you must) would disappear if only our elites would afford Christians:

  • the same respect they generally afford everyone else,
  • they specifically afford Muslims, as at the University of Iowa, or
  • they afford bakers who refuse commissions for cakes with Biblical “slam passages” artfully applied to the frosting.

* * * * *

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A masterpiece of prudence

I’m relieved in a way that the Supreme Court decided to punt on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. We could do with a little fudging in the culture wars these days. So instead of tackling the deeper, perhaps irresolvable, conflicts of religious freedom and gay rights, Kennedy just narrowed the ruling to the single case in question, and cited the anti-religious statement of one member of the state commission as the crux of the case. Money quote:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical — something insubstantial and even insincere.

Kennedy was referring to one of the state civil-rights commissioner’s contemptuous statement about the baker’s faith. The trouble is, a growing number of people, many of them exactly kind of person who sits on a civil-rights commission in a blue state, do actually and sincerely feel contempt for religion and religious belief. They think that all religious thought and practice is bonkers, irrational, based on ancient, strange texts, and with no relevance in the modern world, and a force, on the whole, for bigotry. When those texts and beliefs are used to do what many consider harm to someone based on an involuntary characteristic, it’s a no-brainer. Of course gay rights will increasingly win out in these cases, especially now the state commissioners won’t be so dumb as to air their real views in public.

And this is true even for weak-kneed Christians like me who have no interest in hitting anyone else over the head with our faith. When it comes to full-on fundamentalists, the capacity for some scrap of mutual understanding is increasingly remote. The more distant you are — socially, geographically, generationally, culturally — from anyone who practices religion in any serious way, the harder it is to empathize, and to see these cases as a conflict at all. It simply seems incredible that someone would hold these views faithfully.

I’m not criticizing the right to see religion in this way; I’m worried simply about how this kind of contempt and mutual incomprehension spill over into civil intolerance. Which is why I still hope we can muster up as much respect for the homosexual person as we can for the faithful one. Most of the time, if we use a little restraint, we can avoid these ugly and difficult conflicts. For those many of us who are both gay and Christian, it would surely be a mercy.

(Andrew Sullivan)

Elsewhere, Mark Shea, Catholic provacateur (I was tempted to say “iconoclast” but I don’t want to perpetuate that ugly word’s favorable current connotations), planted a seed from which a resolution to many of these controversies might just grow:

So how do we think bigger?

Well, to begin with, drop the pose of defensive hostility. At this point in the game, a gay couple coming into a bakery to get a cake is probably there to get a cake, not to launch a Supreme Court challenge calculated to destroy a Christian baker and inaugurate a nationwide purge of all Christian businesses.

But even if a customer is a militant jerk with a chip on his shoulder there are ways of dealing with this recommended to us by the gospel and modeled by the Tradition. Let’s consider them.

In Jesus’ day, Jews really did (unlike butthurt American conservative Christians with no problems bigger than Starbucks coffee cups, Google doodles, and Target clerks who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”) face oppression for their faith. The Roman occupier could dragoon any Jewish guy into carrying his heavy armor for a mile. It was not only a pain in the neck, it was ritually defiling for the tender consciences of some Jews under the influence of the hyper-purity of Pharisaism.

What was Jesus’ counsel?

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Mt 5:38–41).

[R]ather than immediately leaping to the headspace of fantasizing about ridiculous doomscapes of Domination by Totalitarians (something Christianists, not Christians, habitually do) I think it wiser to leap to the gospel and to the virtue of Prudence.

That means trying to build bridges of trust, not walls of hostility ….

So the plant I see growing from this is an alternative script for the Masterpiece Cakeshop conversation:

Customers: We hear you do fabulous wedding cakes. We’d like you to make us a cake for our big fat gay wedding.

Jack Phillips: Well, thanks for the compliment. Can we talk about this?

Customers: Sure, that’s why we’re here: to talk about getting a wedding cake from you.

Jack Phillips: Thanks. My specialty is custom cakes with a lot of artistry in them. I don’t bake wedding cakes just for fun and then hope someone comes to buy them. But there are custom cakes I won’t bake. I don’t do Halloween cakes, for instance, because my conscience tells me that our celebrations of Halloween are not healthy. No law says I have to bake Halloween cakes.

My conscience also would prevent me designing and making a cake that includes rainbows, or figures of two grooms on top, or anything like that, because of my convictions about what marriage is or should be. Apparently, you have different convictions. But if I make you a cake, I’d only want to make one that looks pretty much like a cake for any other wedding, weddings of men and women.

Are you okay with that?

The conversation can go several ways from here:

Customers: No we’re not okay with that. What kind of bigot are you?!

Jack Phillips: I don’t think that makes me a bigot, but suppose it does. Do you want to do business with a bigot?

 

Or:

Customers: What if we’re not?

Jack Phillips: In that case, you’ll probably be happier with one of the bakers in town whose heart would really be in this, because my heart wouldn’t be, and I may not live up to my advance billing.

If you insisted, I might even refuse, but I’d rather not go there ….

Or:

Customers: That sounds fair.

Jack Phillips: Then when would you like to talk about cake designs?

None of these scenarios seem as likely to end in litigation than did The Real Jack Philips’ pretty mild remark.

Mark Shea wants such prudence because Christ called for something pointing that direction (i.e., not standing on what you think your God-given rights are) you’ll never evangelize people by asserting your right to oppose them.

I want such prudence because if the Customers really are virulently anti-Christian provocateurs out to “get the Christian baker,” I want to disarm them, or at least discuss things with them in a way that makes them the unreasonable ones. There are signs in the Supreme Court briefs and opinions that carrying the conversation further down the artistic path before any refusal would have made Jack’s case stronger.

I don’t fault Jack for not being a lawyer or thinking like one. I still think he should have won on more substantive ground than he did win on. Free speech sometime can offend, and if “he offended me deeply” ever becomes trump to free speech, free speech is dead.

I don’t fault Jack for drawing a line where even some serious Christians might disagree with him. The gravamen of “if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” might suggest that he simply bake the cake, even with rainbow flags and “Congratulations, Adam and Fred!” inscribed on top, though I really can see myself in Jack’s shoes, and I have a hard time thinking it would be one of his best works because he’d be doing it with no pleasure and little rapport with the customers. And I don’t think it’s the government’s job to interpret and enforce “if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

But graciousness (Jack was pretty gracious actually) and dialog might go a long way both religiously and legally.

* * * * *

I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.