Don’t worry: There’s still a northern border

Trinity Western University “asks its faculty and students to observe traditional Christian teachings on marriage through a community covenant.” What happened when it wanted to open a law school with a unique specialty in charity law?

Everyone agreed that Trinity’s program met all the requirements and would train competent lawyers. But law societies across the country held public meetings during which Trinity’s students and faculty were called bigots and worse.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, the nation’s oldest and largest, told the high court in Ottawa during oral arguments on Nov. 30, 2017, that accrediting any “distinctly religious” organization would violate the Canadian Charter, which is similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights. It added that when the government licenses a private organization it adopts all its policies as its own. If these arguments had been accepted, they would have spelled the end of Canada’s nonprofit sector. In their zeal to root out the supposed bigotry of traditional religious believers, these lawyers were prepared to dynamite Canada’s entire civil society.

Thankfully the court passed over some of our opponents’ more extreme arguments. Instead, on June 15 it ruled that making Trinity’s faith-based community standards mandatory could harm the dignity of members of the LGBT community who attend Trinity. The majority of the court concluded that this potential dignitary harm to future LGBT law students was “concrete,” while the infringement on Trinity’s religious liberty from refusing to accredit its qualified law program was “minimal.”

Bob Kuhn, Canada Attacks Religious Freedom (emphasis added).

They used to sarcastically say about anti-anticommunism “Don’t worry: they’re still 90 miles away.”

It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Anti-liberal trolls

Every past administration has used some discretion in targeting whom to deport. They targeted those who were destroying society, not building it. They tried to take account of particular contexts, and they tried to show some sense of basic humanity.

But today, discretion and humanity are being stamped out. The Trump administration has embraced a “zero tolerance” policy. In practice that means that all complexity has to be reduced to uniformity. Compassion is replaced by a blind obedience to regulations. Context is irrelevant. Arrests are indiscriminate. All that matters is that the arrest numbers go up, so human beings in the system are reduced to numbers.

This illustrates something crucial about this administration. It is not populated by conservatives. It is populated by anti-liberal trolls. There’s a difference.

Here’s how you can detect the anti-liberal trolls in the immigration debate: Watch how they use the word “amnesty.” Immigration is a complex issue. Any serious reform has to grapple with tangled realities, and any real conservative has an appreciation for that complexity. But if you try to account for that complexity before an anti-immigration troll, he or she will shout one word: Amnesty!

David Brooks, The Rise of the Amnesty Thugs

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

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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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Simpler than “as simple as possible”

We are back to Paul Valéry’s maxim: “Everything simple is false. Everything complex is unusable.” In the world of computer modeling, this is known as Bonini’s paradox: The more realistic a model is, the more it becomes as complex and difficult to understand as the real world; the simpler and more user-friendly a model becomes, the less accurately it represents the underlying system. Mass democracy and mass media on the American model work to impose on the complex reality of American public life the simplest possible model of politics, aggregating all of political reality into two variables: Us and Them.

Another way of putting this is that the unstated task of cable-news journalism on the Fox/MSNBC model — along with practically all political talk radio, 99.44 percent of social media, and a great deal of inferior writing about politics — is transmuting intellectual complexity into moral simplicity. Even that isn’t quite right: The moral simplicity offered by the “Everybody Who Disagrees with Me Is Hitler” school of analysis is a false simplicity — simplicity for the truly simple, as opposed to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described as “the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

(Kevin D. Williamson)

Of course, Williamson has examples, including from “inferior writing about politics” from two of our premier national newspapers.

UPDATE: Immediately after writing the above, I turned to another article which, if true, is rather terrifying in light of the more obvious truths Williamson notes.

The leader of the free world still begins his day by binge-watching cable news until 11 a.m.; still spends official meetings nattering on about anything other than the subject at hand (even when said subject is how to ensure that this year’s hurricane season does not result in mass death this time around); and, most critically, still cannot be bothered to learn the pertinent facts about a given situation, before dictating a policy response to it.

One of the president’s chief complaints about H.R. McMaster was (reportedly) that the former national security adviser had the temerity to brief him with “a PowerPoint deck dozens of pages long, filled with text” — rather than “simple, short bullets, or a graphic or timeline.” White House aides have grown so desperate to get the commander-in-chief to ingest the most remedial information about the geopolitical affairs he’s mindlessly disrupting, they’ve whittled the bullet points in his briefing book down to “basically slogans,” one administration source told Axios.

(Eric Levitz, Trump’s Briefing Book Includes ‘Screen Grabs of Cable-News Chyrons’, New Yorker)

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Woke for what purpose?

David Brooks nails it, though it stings:

In an older frame of mind, you try to perceive the size of a problem objectively, and then you propose a solution, which might either be radical or moderate, conservative or liberal. You were judged primarily by the nature of your proposal.

But wokeness jams together the perceiving and the proposing. In fact, wokeness puts more emphasis on how you perceive a situation — how woke you are to what is wrong — than what exactly you plan to do about it. To be woke is to understand the full injustice.

There is no measure or moderation to wokeness. It’s always good to be more woke. It’s always good to see injustice in maximalist terms. To point to any mitigating factors in the environment is to be naïve, childish, a co-opted part of the status quo.

These days we think of wokeness as a left-wing phenomenon. But it is an iron law of politics that every mental habit conservatives fault in liberals is one they also practice themselves.

(David Brooks, The Problem with Wokeness)

It seems to be my role in life to try to “awoken” people, from the conservative side, to the problems conservatives see, especially in the culture and in religious freedom. I’d be a lousy legislator because I’m weak on solutions. (Hmmmm. Is that what’s behind some of our polarization?) I know people who’ve made pretty good livings being even more woke (or it’s conservative counterpart) than me.

But I’ve begun reading, apropos of one of my longest-standing concerns, Charles C. Camosy’s Beyond the Abortion Wars, which is premised on there being wider-spread disagreement (“agreement” — “disagreement” was a Freudian slip of the fingers) than the warring sides seem to think. I’m skeptical (of course — it’s a reflex), but I’ll try to remember to share a bit if, despite myself, I think there’s much merit in his argument.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Greengrocers, incense and such

This story/parable, of which I learned through Rod Dreher several years ago, remains one of the most powerful and timely (maybe timeless) I know:

Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power — and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs.

Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity. Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth” — and it’s going to cost him plenty.

Because they are public, the greengrocer’s deeds are inescapably political. He bears witness to the truth of his convictions by being willing to suffer for them. He becomes a threat to the system — but he has preserved his humanity. And that, says Havel, is a far more important accomplishment than whether this party or that politician holds power…

(Rod Dreher, quoting Vaclav Havel) I suggest the possibility of it being “timeless” because I suspect that every society needs some rituals, however informal, to bind its members together. The governors of those societies don’t care what you believe so long as you enact the rituals.

It is this, and more than this, that I’m referring to when I categorize a blog as “Pinch of incense,” for offering the “pinch of incense” imperils not just humanity, but eternity:

And there the chief of the police, Herod, and his father, Nicetas, met [Polycarp] and transferred him to their carriage, and tried to persuade him, as they sat beside him, saying, “What harm is there to say `Lord Caesar,’ and to offer incense and all that sort of thing, and to save yourself?”

At first he did not answer them. But when they persisted, he said, “I am not going to do what you advise me.”

Then when they failed to persuade him, they uttered dire threats and made him get out with such speed that in dismounting from the carriage he bruised his shin. But without turning around, as though nothing had happened, he proceeded swiftly, and was led into the arena, there being such a tumult in the arena that no one could be heard. But as Polycarp was entering the arena, a voice from heaven came to him, saying, “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man. No one saw the one speaking, but those of our people who were present heard the voice.

[…] But the proconsul was insistent and said: “Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.”

Polycarp said: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

(The martyrdom of Polycarp, circa 155 A. D.)

Today’s problematic “Workers of the World, Unite!,” today’s pinch of incense, today’s culture-binding rituals, are related to gay pride: pride flags in the window, hosting pride crossfit events and such, baking wedding cakes, observing rules that mandate use of your auditor’s preferred pronouns — you know, trifles like that. (It’s also pledging allegiance to the flag, standing for the national anthem and such — which I’m cussed enough to resist, but which I don’t fault others for observing. )

Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop is our Polycarp, Jordan Peterson our dissident greengrocer (and Peterson is expecting secular martyrdom). Both are among my heroes.

If you think I’m making a big deal out of nothing, then I think you’re part of the problem, and need to reflect more carefully on the eventuality — to you and to your countrymen or fellow believers who dissent, and who will have your pusillanimity thrown in their faces.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Masterpiece Cakeshop

Some fairly preliminary thoughts on today’s Supreme Court decision.

Religious liberty advocates got the opinion they wanted. Unfortunately, it was a concurrence by Justice Thomas with Justice Gorsuch joining. More on that in a moment.

Justice Kennedy’s much narrower majority opinion is a disappointment not only because it’s not what my side (or the other) was hoping for but because it dodged the core issues with some hand-waving that I view as disingenuous.

The free speech aspect of this case is difficult, for few persons who have seen a beautiful wedding cake might have thought of its creation as an exercise of protected speech.

That’s uncommonly stupid even for Anthony Kennedy. Few people who watch a Irish ethnic pride parade in Boston, or people watching a lewd dance, or people watching flag-burning, or any number of other things, will think they’re watching exercises of free speech. So what?

One of the difficulties in this case is that the parties disagree as to the extent of the baker’s refusal to provide service.

It’s true that the parties disagreed, but their disagreement was about nuances that needn’t be resolved as the core issue was resolved. As justice Thomas points out in his concurrence, the Colorado Courts resolved that question sufficiently to permit a ringing decision on free speech grounds:

The Court does not address this claim because it has some uncertainties about the record.  See  ante, at 2.  Specifically, the parties dispute whether Phillips refused to create a custom wedding cake for the individual respondents, or whether he refused to sell them any wedding cake (includ­ing a premade one). But the Colorado Court of Appeals resolved this factual dispute in Phillips’ favor.  The court described his conduct as a refusal to “design and create a cake to celebrate [a] same-sex wedding

Even after describing his conduct this way, the Court of Appeals concluded that Phillips’ conduct was not expres­sive and was not protected speech. It reasoned that an outside observer would think that Phillips was merely complying with Colorado’s public-accommodations law, not expressing a message, and that Phillips could post a disclaimer to that effect.  This reasoning flouts bedrock prin­ciples of our free-speech jurisprudence and would justify virtually any law that compels individuals to speak. It should not pass without comment.

(Emphasis added) And comment he does.

Of course, conduct does not qualify as protected speech simply because “the person engaging in [it] intends thereby to express an idea.” United States v. O’Brien, 391 U. S. 367, 376 (1968). To determine whether conduct is suffi­ciently expressive, the Court asks whether it was “intended to be communicative” and, “in context, would reasonably be understood by the viewer to be communicative.” Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U. S. 288, 294 (1984). But a “ ‘particularized message’ ” is not required, or else the freedom of speech “would never reach the unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schöenberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll.” Hurley, 515 U. S., at 569.

The conduct that the Colorado Court of Appeals ascribed to Phillips—creating and designing custom wedding cakes—is expressive. Phillips considers himself an artist. The logo for Masterpiece Cakeshop is an artist’s paint palate with a paintbrush and baker’s whisk. Behind the counter Phillips has a picture that depicts him as an artist painting on a canvas. Phillips takes exceptional care with each cake that he creates—sketching the design out on paper, choosing the color scheme, creating the frosting and decorations, baking and sculpting the cake, decorating it, and delivering it to the wedding. Examples of his crea­tions can be seen on Masterpiece’s website. See http://masterpiececakes.com/wedding-cakes (as last visited June 1, 2018).
Phillips is an active participant in the wedding celebra­tion. He sits down with each couple for a consultation before he creates their custom wedding cake. He discusses their preferences, their personalities, and the details of their wedding to ensure that each cake reflects the couple who ordered it. In addition to creating and delivering the cake—a focal point of the wedding celebration—Phillips sometimes stays and interacts with the guests at the wedding. And the guests often recognize his creations and seek his bakery out afterward. Phillips also sees the inherent symbolism in wedding cakes. To him, a wedding cake inherently communicates that “a wedding has oc­curred, a marriage has begun, and the couple should be celebrated.” App. 162. Wedding cakes do, in fact, communicate this message. A tradition from Victorian England that made its way to America after the Civil War, “[w]edding cakes are so packed with symbolism that it is hard to know where to begin.” M. Krondl, Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert 321 (2011 (Krondl); see also ibid. (explaining the symbol­ism behind the color, texture, flavor, and cutting of the cake). If an average person walked into a room and saw a white, multi-tiered cake, he would immediately know that he had stumbled upon a wedding. The cake is “so stand­ardised and inevitable a part of getting married that few ever think to question it.” Charsley, Interpretation and Custom: The Case of the Wedding Cake, 22 Man 93, 95 (1987). Almost no wedding, no matter how spartan, is missing the cake. See id., at 98. “A whole series of events expected in the context of a wedding would be impossible without it: an essential photograph, the cutting, the toast, and the distribution of both cake and favours at the wed­ding and afterwards.” Ibid. Although the cake is eventu­ally eaten, that is not its primary purpose. See id., at 95 (“It is not unusual to hear people declaring that they do not like wedding cake, meaning that they do not like to eat it. This includes people who are, without question, having such cakes for their weddings”); id., at 97 (“Nothing is made of the eating itself ”); Krondl 320–321 (explaining that wedding cakes have long been described as “inedi­ble”). The cake’s purpose is to mark the beginning of a new marriage and to celebrate the couple.

Ac­cording to the individual respondents, Colorado can com­pel Phillips’ speech to prevent him from “ ‘denigrat[ing] the dignity’ ” of same-sex couples, “ ‘assert[ing] [their] inferiority,’ ” and subjecting them to “ ‘humiliation, frustration, and embarrassment.’” Brief for Respondents Craig et al. 39 (quoting J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 U. S. 127, 142 (1994); Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U. S. 241, 292 (1964) (Goldberg, J., concurring)). These justifications are completely foreign to our free-speech jurisprudence.

(Emphasis added)

That the court could not muster a 5-4 majority for such an opinion, but relied on a couple of technicalities (so to speak — nobody thought the fairness of the proceedings was the core issue in the case) I fear as a bad omen.

But omen’s are just omens. I thankfully could be wrong. David French is more upbeat.

Both sides surely will be mining the opinions in the abstract and, all too soon, in the context of another case akin to this. I only hope they will leave Jack Phillips alone now, but the way this was decided, he’s at risk of targeting as soon as he resumes offering wedding cakes to those who are actually entering into real marriages.

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Progressive clobber passages

A Facebook exchange a few years ago produced a minor epiphany.

I observed that my Facebook friend, a high school classmate at an Evangelical boarding school (who now has expressly apostasized and gone kind of New Agey and knee-jerk Left), was credulous about some leftish things, but that we both were products of the sixties. “We are so much reverse mirror images” I wrote. He replied:

I don’t consider myself to be a Christian, but I do think the philosophy [Jesus] preached is a good one. You know, peace, love and helping your fellow man. Also protest the actions of the money-changers. The Republicans who claim to be Christians have no use for that kind of nonsense. Democrats, at least, are more inclined to think in those terms.

The epiphany was that the phenomenon, which I’ve long noted, of non-Christians, or progressive Christians, trying to shame conservative Christians with cherry-picked Bible passages (“Judge not” is the Progressives’ equivalent of John 3:16) or supposed themes. The exegetical skill displayed in wielding these progressive clobber passages is distinctly inferior to that of the people who, in the obvious counterpart, oppose sodomy with their “clobber passages.”

In the present instance, “peace, love and helping your fellow man” is (to avoid my own proof-texting) at best a debatable summary of Jesus’ “philosophy,” and I distinctly recall that where the money-changers had set up business was crucial to Christ’s decisive action.

It’s odd that the Bible still has such purchase even for those who try to reject it — at least those of my generation, who knew a little about it. I suppose I’m such a malcontent that I’ll complain when kids are too illiterate even to misuse the Bible.

Paragons of … er, virtue?

I truly don’t think the Left understands how the relentless drumbeat of sexual scandal looks to Americans outside the progressive bubble. Left-dominated quarters of American life — Hollywood, the media, progressive politics — have been revealed to be havens for the worst sort of ghouls, and each scandal seems to be accompanied by two words that deepen American cynicism and make legions of conservative Americans roll their eyes at the Left’s moral arguments: “Everyone knew.”

Let’s put this in the clearest possible terms: For years, as Hollywood positioned itself as America’s conscience and as the media lauded its commitment to “social justice,” it was harboring, protecting, and indeed promoting truly dreadful human beings as leaders and taste-makers. Progressive politicians who proclaimed support for women’s rights on Twitter were groping women on airplanes or punching them in the bedroom.

All this was happening at the precise time that the dominant argument — particularly against social conservatism — was that “you people are haters and bigots.” It’s difficult to overstate the extent to which conservative Americans have felt scolded and hectored. So how do you expect us to react when it’s revealed that all too many of the self-appointed moralists weren’t just the kind of preachers who’d run off with the secretary, they were the kind of monsters who’d press a button in their office, lock the secretary in the room, and assault her?

And again, people knew ….

(David French)

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.