Contrariness

Correcting the Record

Over the weekend, I had coffee with a Hungarian friend who spent a lot of time in America as a kid and teenager, because his father is an academic. He has a critical view of the US system because of its tolerance for economic precarity for so many. He supports the Orban government, and agrees with me about how totally biased and distorting the news media are, based on the kinds of things that middle and upper middle class reporters care about. For example, said my friend, in the long wake of the 2008 global economic crash, Viktor Orban’s government passed a law forbidding banks from expelling people who had defaulted on their mortgages from their homes. “Barack Obama didn’t do that,” said my friend. And then we talked about how with the US left, as long as you fly the rainbow flag and say “Black Lives Matter,” you can do whatever you want with the economy, and you won’t hear a word of protest from the supposed champions of the little guy versus Capital.

Rod Dreher, Who Is Viktor Orban, Really? (emphasis added)

Assaulting Hades

[A] liturgical practice … in Orthodoxy … is a frontal assault on Hades.

The traditional name for these celebrations is “Soul Saturdays.” They are celebrations of the Divine Liturgy on Saturday mornings offered for the souls of the departed … They make a fitting prelude for Holy Week and Pascha. At Pascha, Christ Himself “tramples down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestows life.” This is the Great and Holy Sabbath – the true and Great Soul Saturday. This is the great theme of Pascha itself. Christ’s Resurrection is, strangely, not so much about Christ as it is about Christ’s action. Many modern Christians treat Pascha (Easter) as though it were a celebration of Jesus’ personal return after a tragic death. Orthodoxy views Christ’s Holy Week, Crucifixion, Descent into Hades and Resurrection as one unending, uninterrupted assault on Hades. This is the great mystery of Pascha – the destruction of death and Hades. Death is the “last enemy.” Those who forget this are like soldiers who have forgotten the purpose of the war in which they fight.

And so the battle forms a significant part of the liturgical effort of the Church. The boldness of the third prayer is quite striking …

I can recall the first time I offered this prayer in my priesthood. I had a copy in front of me, but had not read it before the service, nor had I ever heard it. I trembled as I offered the words … astounded by their boldness. I had never heard such boldness before the Throne of God within the walls of the Church itself. It is also a reminder of the weakness and infirmity of the legal imagery of salvation. The legal view requires of God that He be the enforcer of Hades. To such a prayer He could only reply: “I cannot grant such things because of my Justice!”

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Pentecost and the Liturgy of Hades (emphasis added).

Bait-and-Switch

If there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be—and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it …

One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, "How does someone else’s marriage affect me?" and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change …

It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core "live and let live" argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.

Andrew Sullivan, quoted by William McGurn

CRT

An old friend we visited Saturday en route to our favorite vacation spot asked my thoughts on Critical Race Theory, and I think I shocked him with my mild dismissiveness, which I couldn’t explain all that well on the spot. "Well, the reported excesses, like telling white school kids that their skin tone makes them irredeemable oppressors, already constitute racial harassment or a racially hostile environment under Title VII, so why do we need new laws?" was the gist of my answer. Very lawyerly.

The incompleteness of that answer has bothered me, and I’ve surfaced two more reasons:

  • Laws banning ideas are a bad idea, especially when the ideas sought to be banned are ill-defined or mis-defined, which is the case with most or all of the anti-CRT laws. Similarly, the inability to define CRT suggests that much of the murmuring about it is mostly Shibboleth.
  • The reported excesses of CRT exemplify progressive overreach, which generates its own cultural backlash. I don’t need to enter that fray.

Reading Between the Lines

There were three kinds of evangelical leaders. The dumb or idealistic ones who really believed. The out-and-out charlatans. And the smart ones who still believed—sort of—but knew that the evangelical world was shit, but who couldn’t figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else. I was turning into one of those, having started out in the idealistic category.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God. I don’t really recommend Schaeffer, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of reading between the lines here to explain how Schaeffer became the equivocally-Christian author of kiss-and-tell Exvangelical books and Huffington Post columns.


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.

Catching up …

I’ve been, as previously mentioned, focusing on a fun personal project, which entails lots of rabbit-trails and techie learning. But I’ve noticed a few things that seem worth sharing.


The longer Trump is out of office, and the more the press treatment of Biden so starkly contrasts to that of Trump when they take identical substantive positions (e.g., no action against Saudi Arabia for the killing of Jamal Khashogi), the more I understand (not to say “agree with”) the Trump revolution. I don’t expect to be backtracking after reading Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites and Martin Gurri’s Revolt of the Public, both on my bookshelf awaiting me.


We are a sick country when Netflix has a show top 10 show, Marriage or Mortgage, featuring couples agonizing over whether to have a vulgarly lavish wedding or whether to buy a vulgarly lavish house and postpone any wedding.

Does nobody ever think of a modest wedding and a modest starter home?


America has gone through four Great Awakenings. The first (1730–1755) and second (1790–1840) were rooted in the conviction that Christ reigns victorious over the invisible economy, that the debts incurred by human transgression have been offset by divine innocence. Christ the Scapegoat, through his unmerited death on the Cross, did what we could not: He paid our debts. He took on the stain of sin in order to wipe it clean. These awakenings had a political significance. By preaching the universality of sin and the wideness of God’s mercy, they helped shape the disparate colonies, and later states, into a nation. One could say something similar about America’s third awakening (1855–1930), which was fired by the social gospel. It sought to employ the universality of divine solicitude to unify the country beyond the divisions of economic class.

We are now undergoing a fourth awakening, and matters are very different. The previous awakenings took place under the firm hand of American Protestantism. But today, Mitchell observes, “we are living in the midst of an American Awakening, without God and without forgiveness.” In the century that separates us from the outburst of the social gospel, our society lost its hope in the Cross but not its sense of guilt. The panic over righting wrongs remains, but gone is the promise of redemption. Without the Cross of Christ, the transactions of the invisible realm must be set to balance wholly within the power dynamics of the visible world.

Mitchell sees the rise of identity politics as a crisis of the invisible economy erupting into the visible. No longer guided by the Christian insight that the universality of sin means its resolution must be a divine act, identity politics apportions guilt and innocence according to a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, each weighed according to intersectional theory. Guilt and innocence no longer attach to one’s freely chosen actions over the course of a life but are imputed on the basis of one’s inherited and immutable characteristics, skin color above all. The idea of original sin abides but is tragically twisted. It is still something one is born with, but it is no longer universal. Rather, like the Angel of Death, it passes over some and lands upon others.

James F. Keating, Woke Religion, reviewing Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time.


I grew up fundamentalist and we avoided rhythm for fear it would lead to dancing and copulation so we praised God in slow mournful voices, like a fishing village whose men had been lost in a storm. We never learned to play a musical instrument for fear we might have talent and this would lead to employment in places where people drink liquor.

What it’s like to be old, if you want to know | Garrison Keillor


When I hear descendants of the Magisterial Reformation saying that sola scriptura isn’t what I think it is, I’m reminded of the perennial excuse of die-hard Communists that “real Communism hasn’t been tried.”

Protestantism was fissiparous (schism-prone) even during Luther’s lifetime. And if one glosses sola scriptura to require heedfulness to the interpretations of one’s clergy, then what you’re left with is simply scriptura, with no the sola. And adherence to scriptura is not at all uniquely Protestant if one insists on proper and not private interpretation.


The coverage of the Atlanta massage parlor murders this week may have destroyed any vestige of respect for media and elite opinion. I was thinking along those lines, but Andrew Sullivan says it better:

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex. Just this morning, the NYT ran a second piece which confirms that the killer had indeed been in rehab for sexual impulses, was a religious fanatic, and his next target was going to be “a business tied to the pornography industry.”

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran ninenine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an antiAsian white supremacist hate crime. Sixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

When The Narrative Replaces The News – The Weekly Dish. There’s more than that:

  • Harvard sent out a note to students premised on this being an anti-Asian crime.
  • Nikole Hannah-Jones wove it into her narrative of “racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”
  • The Root ominously prophesied that “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect ….”
  • Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false (direct quote from Sullivan).

All of that, on the currently-available evidence, is false and absurd. Sullivan again:

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it. 

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

The longer Trump is out of office, and the more the press treatment of Biden so starkly contrasts to that of Trump when they take identical substantive positions (e.g., no action against Saudi Arabia for the killing of Jamal Khashogi), the more I understand (not to say “agree with”) the Trump revolution. I don’t expect to be backtracking after reading Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites and Martin Gurri’s Revolt of the Public, both on my bookshelf awaiting me.


We are a sick country when Netflix has a show top 10 show, Marriage or Mortgage, featuring couples agonizing over whether to have a vulgarly lavish wedding or whether to buy a vulgarly lavish house and postpone any wedding.

Does nobody ever think of a modest wedding and a modest starter home?


America has gone through four Great Awakenings. The first (1730–1755) and second (1790–1840) were rooted in the conviction that Christ reigns victorious over the invisible economy, that the debts incurred by human transgression have been offset by divine innocence. Christ the Scapegoat, through his unmerited death on the Cross, did what we could not: He paid our debts. He took on the stain of sin in order to wipe it clean. These awakenings had a political significance. By preaching the universality of sin and the wideness of God’s mercy, they helped shape the disparate colonies, and later states, into a nation. One could say something similar about America’s third awakening (1855–1930), which was fired by the social gospel. It sought to employ the universality of divine solicitude to unify the country beyond the divisions of economic class.

We are now undergoing a fourth awakening, and matters are very different. The previous awakenings took place under the firm hand of American Protestantism. But today, Mitchell observes, “we are living in the midst of an American Awakening, without God and without forgiveness.” In the century that separates us from the outburst of the social gospel, our society lost its hope in the Cross but not its sense of guilt. The panic over righting wrongs remains, but gone is the promise of redemption. Without the Cross of Christ, the transactions of the invisible realm must be set to balance wholly within the power dynamics of the visible world.

Mitchell sees the rise of identity politics as a crisis of the invisible economy erupting into the visible. No longer guided by the Christian insight that the universality of sin means its resolution must be a divine act, identity politics apportions guilt and innocence according to a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, each weighed according to intersectional theory. Guilt and innocence no longer attach to one’s freely chosen actions over the course of a life but are imputed on the basis of one’s inherited and immutable characteristics, skin color above all. The idea of original sin abides but is tragically twisted. It is still something one is born with, but it is no longer universal. Rather, like the Angel of Death, it passes over some and lands upon others.

James F. Keating, Woke Religion, reviewing Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time.


I grew up fundamentalist and we avoided rhythm for fear it would lead to dancing and copulation so we praised God in slow mournful voices, like a fishing village whose men had been lost in a storm. We never learned to play a musical instrument for fear we might have talent and this would lead to employment in places where people drink liquor.

What it’s like to be old, if you want to know | Garrison Keillor


When I hear descendants of the Magisterial Reformation saying that sola scriptura isn’t what I think it is, I’m reminded of the perennial excuse of die-hard Communists that “real Communism hasn’t been tried.”

Protestantism was fissiparous (schism-prone) even during Luther’s lifetime. And if one glosses sola scriptura to require heedfulness to the interpretations of one’s clergy, then what you’re left with is simply scriptura, with no the sola. And adherence to scriptura is not at all uniquely Protestant if one insists on proper and not private interpretation.


The coverage of the Atlanta massage parlor murders this week may have destroyed any vestige of respect for media and elite opinion. I was thinking along those lines, but Andrew Sullivan says it better:

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex. Just this morning, the NYT ran a second piece which confirms that the killer had indeed been in rehab for sexual impulses, was a religious fanatic, and his next target was going to be “a business tied to the pornography industry.”

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran ninenine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an antiAsian white supremacist hate crime. Sixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

When The Narrative Replaces The News – The Weekly Dish. There’s more than that:

  • Harvard sent out a note to students premised on this being an anti-Asian crime.
  • Nikole Hannah-Jones wove it into her narrative of “racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”
  • The Root ominously prophesied that “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect ….”
  • Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false (direct quote from Sullivan).

All of that, on the currently-available evidence, is false and absurd. Sullivan again:

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it. 

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

The media is supposed to subject easy, convenient rush-to-judgment narratives to ruthless empirical testing. Now, for purely ideological reasons, they are rushing to promote ready-made narratives, which actually point away from the empirical facts. To run sixteen separate pieces on anti-Asian white supremacist misogynist hate based on one possibly completely unrelated incident is not journalism. It’s fanning irrational fear in the cause of ideological indoctrination. And it appears to be where all elite media is headed.

Others reached that conclusion about media and elite opinion ahead of me. Just because they jumped the gun doesn’t mean they were wrong.

That’s it for now.


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.

Tragedy and Triumph

Beto O’Rourke says, in the special Thursday Democrat Pander-O-Thon for LGBT votes, that churches, colleges and charities should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

That’s the succinct version. But I wouldn’t blog if that’s all I had to say.

Liberals will say, “Don’t worry about it. Beto is scraping the bottom of the polls. What he says doesn’t really matter.”…

This conservative said that, too, but

… Huh. Don’t you believe it. If this belief isn’t already held by all the Democratic candidates now, it will be. As Brandon McGinley says, there really is no principled reason to resist it, given what the Democrats already believe about the sanctity of homosexuality and transgenderism. Haven’t we all lived long enough now to recognize that the Law of Merited Impossibility — “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it” — is as irrefutable as the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Even at this late date, we hear from many liberals that orthodox Christians are “obsessed” with homosexuality. They can’t grasp why, aside from bigotry, that we are so concerned about the issue. It’s largely because the march of LGBT ideology to conquer our culture tramples over the rights of orthodox/traditionalist religious people, and indeed of anybody who objects to whatever claim LGBTs make.

What Beto O’Rourke said last night is a perfect example of why many orthodox Christians who despise Donald Trump will vote for him anyway. The survival of our institutions depends on keeping the Democrats out of the White House (and Congress) for as long as we can ….

Rod Dreher (emphasis added).

Insofar as Dreher is describing why many Christians will hold their noses and vote for Trump, he is surely right.

Insofar as he is saying that the survival of our Christian institutions hinges on Donald Trump’s reelection, he is selling God short.

But this is admittedly a situation with high stakes, where the horrible terribleness of Donald Trump has emboldened the Democrats to veer sharply to their left and to promise their base the heads of orthodox Christians on a platter.

Trust in God comes hard in these circumstances, and the trusting ones need to abandon any illusion that Romans 8:28 means only good things happen to those who love and are called by God.

I’m still strongly inclined never to vote for Trump, come whatever may.

It’s not just “all things considered and on balance.” It’s a question of my ingrained, pre-theoretical ethical orientation. I just couldn’t vote for Richard Nixon, in my first Presidential election, once I’d concluded he was a crook. 47 years later, with a bit more ethical theory under my belt and a lot less starry eyes in my residual optimism, I still cannot begin to articulate a convincing deontological or virtue ethics argument for voting for Trump, and I reject Dreher’s implicit consequentialism.

I’d encourage any Christian readers inclined to vote for Trump to grapple with articulating at ethical case for voting for Trump, aware that consequentialism squares pretty badly with Christianity.

On the other hand, my scriptures (the Christian scriptures before the Reformers bowdlerized them — see this, for instance) do include this bit of consequentialism:

A large force of soldiers pursued them, caught up with them, set up camp opposite them, and prepared to attack them on the Sabbath.

There is still time, they shouted out to the Jews. Come out and obey the king’s command, and we will spare your lives.

We will not come out, they answered. We will not obey the king’s command, and we will not profane the Sabbath.

The soldiers attacked them immediately, but the Jews did nothing to resist; they did not even throw stones or block the entrances to the caves where they were hiding. They said,

We will all die with a clear conscience. Let heaven and earth bear witness that you are slaughtering us unjustly.

So the enemy attacked them on the Sabbath and killed the men, their wives, their children, and their livestock. A thousand people died.

When Mattathias and his friends heard the news about this, they were greatly saddened and said to one another,

If all of us do as these other Jews have done and refuse to fight the Gentiles to defend our lives and our religion, we will soon be wiped off the face of the earth.

On that day they decided that if anyone attacked them on the Sabbath, they would defend themselves, so that they would not all die as other Jews had died in the caves.

(Emphasis added)

Make of that passage what you will. It does seem a pretty consequentialist, and Judas Maccabeus remains a mythical hero.

Maybe the polls in your state will say, in 13 months, that your state’s a toss-up, so that choosing between evils feels compulsory.

What I make of the passage from I Macabees is that I at least must be gentle with fellow-Christians who vote for Trump or (because of his horrible terribleness) his Democrat opponent — and that I should hope and pray that they will recognize such a vote as at best a tragic, not triumphant.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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.

* * * * *

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)

* * * * *

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

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Twiblings

As if on cue, an example of today’s version of satanic banality. I’m really sticking my neck out on this, but here goes.

But first, remember the conclusion to my latest blog when you parse “satanic”:

The man who approaches Paradise Lost expecting to find the same Satan venerated by Scandinavian black metal bands and Anton LaVey will turn the final page of the poem and suffer sore disappointment. Milton’s Satan never kills anyone, neither does he rape, steal, or utter vulgarities. He does not kidnap children, establish cults, teach magic, participate in Halloween, or teach teenagers to play Led Zeppelin records backwards. He is not even terribly interested in conning others into such foul activities. Rather, one could triangulate the personality of Milton’s Satan using just three figures from popular culture: singer Katy Perry, fictional boss Michael Scott, and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

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I have no reason to think that Dr. Robert Luo or George Arison rape, steal, utter vulgarities, kidnap children, establish cults, teach magic, participate in Halloween, or teach teenagers to play Led Zeppelin records backwards. They’re just in love, and love is love, and they’re living the American dream. They’re just so gosh-durn normal (in a way that only gay couples with $300,000 to spare can be) that “‘We got pregnant before we were married …,’ Dr. Luo said.”

Scratching your head about that? Wondering if one of these men might be suspected of being a woman?

Nay, nay! It’s just that before they enjoyed their first-world destination wedding in Bora Bora and their legal-positivist union at San Francisco City Hall, they enjoyed the WEIRD perk of “engineering” a family.

Yes, there are two buns in hired ovens.

Their story is a veritable rats-nest of ARTsy deathworks, howsoever winsome and seductive.

Yes, I’ll admit it’s winsome and seductive (maybe I should be viscerally repulsed, but I’m not). Still:

  • They’re not really married. (I say that as someone who thinks he knows what marriage is, and this isn’t it.)
  • Their pseudo-marriage is inherently infertile.
  • They’re “commodifying” wombs to bear children that would be the product of high-tech, white-smock adultery (There! I said it!) if only they were really married.
  • They revel in all this and engineer their way into the fawning New York Times Weddings section.
  • Society apparently has already coined a term for children like the boy and the girl currently being gestated by the women they’ve commodified: “twiblings.”

So am I saying these two guys are evil all the way down?

Not at all — if only because then I’d have to think the same sort of thing about personal friends of mine who are, variously, gay, or who are in “same-sex marriages,” or who have resorted to questionable reproductive technologies in the face of infertility.

Indeed, I’d like to think that, even if I didn’t have such friends, I could (1) remember that I’m not the ultimate judge and (2) take an empathetic trip along the imaginative path from a prototypical fecund conjugal marriage to the surrogacy simulacrum thereof in a rich gay couple “getting pregnant.”

For instance, their respective desires for the quasi-normalcy of children made them pariahs in the gay dating scene until they found each other. There’s the seed of something good there.

The Church has been too reticent about addressing these issues. The ethical principles are not right there on the surface, in the classical forms of decalogue sins.

And it wouldn’t necessarily dissuade anyone if the church did address them, as the sexual revolution is a juggernaut, and there’s nobody here but “consenting adults. Mr. Arison is ethnically Georgian, yet dismisses the Georgian (Orthodox) Church as “espous[ing] homophobia.” He’s living according to his own principles, and we have fashioned a world to “enable” him and his boyfriend — or we’d call if “enabling” if this wasn’t all so fashionable.

As it is, I’m oddly grateful for the obscurity of this blog, and understandably grateful that I have no job anyone can take from me. I doubtless have unpersoned some certified victim groups by this paroxysm of phobias.

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You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Clippings and comment, 1/22/19 pm

1

David Brooks:

[I]n the age of social media [polarization is] almost entirely about social type. It’s about finding and spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own.

It’s about finding images that confirm your negative stereotypes about people you don’t know. It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.

You don’t have to read social theory on this phenomenon; just look at the fracas surrounding the Covington Catholic High School boys.

… [I]t’s important to remember that these days the social media tail wags the mainstream media dog. If you want your story to be well placed and if you want to be professionally rewarded, you have to generate page views — you have to incite social media. The way to do that is to reinforce the prejudices of your readers.

… The crucial thing is that the nation’s culture is now enmeshed in a new technology that we don’t yet know how to control.

It’s hard to believe that people are going to continue forever on platforms where they are so cruel to one another. It’s hard to believe that people are going to be content, year after year, to distort their own personalities in service to a platform, making themselves humorless, semi-blind, joyless and grim.

I want Brooks’ story to “be well placed” and Brooks “to be professionally rewarded” for his synthesis of the weekend incident and his framing of the problem it reveals.

2

[T]he vilification of Mrs. Pence makes prophetic Justice Samuel Alito’s prediction in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision throwing out all state laws against same-sex marriage. Justice Alito saw a perilous future for those who still embraced the view Mr. Obama once claimed to hold. “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” he wrote, “but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

In the larger sense the faith-shaming of Mrs. Pence exposes an inversion of tropes. In history and literature, typically it has been the religious side that can’t tolerate the slightest disagreement from its dogma and behaves like outraged 17th-century Salemites when they think they have uncovered a witch.

Now look at the Immanuel Christian School. Those who run it know they and those who think like them are the big losers in America’s culture war. All they ask is to be allowed, within the confines of their community, to uphold 2,000 years of Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality and the human person.

When Obergefell was decided, it was sold as live-and-let-live. But as Justice Alito foresaw, today some sweet mysteries of the universe are more equal than others. In other words, it isn’t enough for the victors to win; the new sense of justice requires that those who still don’t agree must be compelled to violate their deepest beliefs ….

William McGurn

3

A very good point:

But for the sake of arguing let us assume that the boys did just what the initial story alleged them to do. They went and harassed a Native American while that Indian made his protest. What then? Is what they did terrible? Yeah. Should they be punished? Absolutely. Should that punishment be that they are doxed, tarred as a racist, and casted out of respectable society for the rest of their lives? Once again, have you ever been 16? Or to put it another way do you want to be judged for the rest of your live by the worst thing you have ever done?

My point is that even if the initial story was correct this overreaction says a lot about what we have become. Do we really think that we should not forgive them? Criminals who break into our homes can get forgiven, but not 16 year old kids. Assault them? Dox them? Did people actually listen to what they are saying, or read what they are writing, when they decided to dehumanize these boys? Or did it just feel good to have a villain that we can treat like dirt?

[L]et us not let the elephant in the room go unnoticed. The boys made for convenient villains because they were wearing MAGA hats. They also white males who are likely heterosexual and Catholic. For certain groups in our society individuals with such characteristics should not have a place in our public square. Therefore, we are allowed to dehumanize individuals with these characteristics. There is a narrative whereby we should not be concern with “white tears.” After all even if whites are mistreated, it is nothing compared to how they have mistreated, and continue to mistreat, other right? This argument gives some people license to ignore any complaints from white Christian males.

4

While the petition now before us is based solely on the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, petitioner still has live claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 … Petitioner’s decision to rely primarily on his free speech claims as opposed to these alternative claims may be due to certain decisions of this Court.

In Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990), the Court drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause, and in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63 (1977), the Court opined that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion does not require an employer to make any accommodation that imposes more than a de minimis burden. In this case, however, we have not been asked to revisit those decisions.

Statement of Justice Alito, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, respecting the denial of certiorari in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 586 U.S. ____ (January 22, 2019). Eugene Volokh thinks this signals willingness of these justices to reconsider Employment Div. v. Smith, and

What’s more, Justice Breyer had earlier (in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)) made clear that he thought Employment Division v. Smith was indeed wrongly decided and should be overruled.

Reading the two first-quoted paragraphs in context, I emphatically agree with Volokh about what they signal. So there may be a majority ready to restore a more robust free exercise clause, which I’ve supported ever since Employment Div. v. Smith emasculated (can one still say that?) free exercise (or at least lowered its testosterone level dramatically).

Unlike either of the stereotypes Volokh describes regarding who favored broad free exercise right in the past versus now, I have always favored them, with little concern for government efficiency (is that an oxymoron?). But I must admit that the people getting the short end of parsimonious free exercise rights these days are more like me (Christian, traditional on sexual behavior and marriage, etc. — see item 2, above) than free exercise claimants used to be, and that would make broadening particularly congenial.

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Why vote for Trump?

Resolved: This is the most plausible explanation to date of Donald Trump’s presidency:

[W]hat genuinely excites Mr. Trump’s crowds and draws them to him is their shared antiliberalism.. By liberalism … I refer to the liberalism now metamorphisized into progressivism ….

The man who attends a Trump rally turns on his television set and that night’s news leads off with a Black Lives Matter protest in his city. If that city is Chicago, he might recall that this year some 2,619 people have been shot, 475 shot and killed, the preponderance of these being black people shot by black youth gangs. If it is another city, there is a distinct possibility, as fairly often in the past, that the protest will lead to looting of nearby shops. Al Sharpton, nattily turned out, is likely to have flown in for the festivities to remind everyone about the world’s injustice.

Our man changes channels and is greeted by a story of a long and happy lesbian marriage. He reads in the papers that people are fired from jobs for remarks that, under the reign of political correctness, are interpreted as racist, sexist, you name it; that students feel unsafe at Yale; that a year’s tuition, room and board at Dartmouth is $74,000. Doubtless before long he will read a story about an 11-year-old who is suing his parents for not allowing him to transgender himself.

Oh God, he thinks, make America great again, make America straight again, make America anything but what it is becoming. What elected Donald Trump, and what sustains him, is not his rather dubious charisma, his ideas, his obvious jolt to the country’s earlier slow economic growth, and no, not even the wretched campaign run by Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump was chosen as a rebuke to the progressivism that has made life in America seem chaotic, if not a touch mad, and that now threatens to take over the Democratic Party.

Joseph Epstein

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.