Potpourri 2/3/22

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

A Return to Sanity?

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

But this was what most surprised and heartened me:

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

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

Crotchety Old Icons

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

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

Jenkins continues:

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

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

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

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

Flores v. NFL

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

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

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

Hmmmm. That’s pretty bad.

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

What’s different about our civilization

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

Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

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

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

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

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

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

Life in 2022

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

Fill in the blanks

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

Eric Larsen, The Splendid and the Vile

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

Adiaphora

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

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


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

Many and various thoughts 1/15/22

Seeking to destroy the liberal framework

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, on a network news show, responded to a question about January 6 thusly:

“As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds said, noting that none of the irregularities brought to his attention would’ve changed the outcome in any state. “The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”

45 did not appreciate that:

Trump, who in a statement Monday morning accused Rounds of going “woke” on the “fraudulent” 2020 election. “Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive,” Trump continued, lying. “Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.”

The Morning Dispatch

I could not comprehend how any sensible person, whatever his grievances against our traditional political elites, can think that this vengeful narcissist is a suitable Presidential candidate. But Damon Linker has now explained it:

By the time Trump burst on the scene in the summer of 2015, the traditionalist right had nearly given in to outright despair, even in public, with many moving into a purely defensive position. No longer hoping to reverse the direction of the culture, they now hoped they might merely receive modest federal protection from persecution at the hands of emboldened secular liberals.

At first Trump’s campaign didn’t inspire much cause for optimism among disaffected traditionalist conservatives. He was, after all, a personal paragon of moral decadence. Yet once Trump seized the GOP nomination, and then the presidency itself, a rethinking began among the most pessimistic conservatives. Might his unexpected triumph open other, more radical options for the future? Could his aggressive, unapologetic hostility to liberal norms and institutions signal an openness among American voters to a fundamental rethinking of ideological premises, cultural limits, and the range of political possibilities?

For a series of pessimistic conservatives — especially the "integralist" Catholics (Adrian Vermeule, Gladden Pappin, Patrick Deneen, Sohrab Ahmari, Chad Pecknold) and the philosophically anti-liberal and anti-progressive writers at the Claremont Institute and the American Greatness website — Trump came to represent a new way to achieve old ends. Instead of encouraging Republican presidents to struggle within a liberal framework against the inexorable drift of the country, including its government and its culture, toward the secular left, conservatives could cheer on a political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself.

"A political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself." That’s fancy-talk for what I feared was the motivation in 2016 — "To hell with it! Let’s tear it all down!" — which is notably nihilistic rather than conservative.

These traditionalist Christian "conservatives" might justify that as desperate measures for desperate times (responding to an existential threat, another Flight 93 Election, but one mark of conservatism has been sober recognition that bountiful crops don’t grow in the scorched earth of revolution.

What a difference a day makes

My Friday reaction

Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, authorities said Thursday.

Ten other people also were charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, when authorities said members of the extremist group came to Washington intent on stopping the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

AP Report.

That’s close enough to a domestic terrorism charge to satisfy my curiosity (and desire for retribution) about why nobody had been charged with terrorism in the January 6 whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

My Saturday course correction

We have an adversarial legal system because there are often two plausible sides to a case.

Did the Oath Keepers commit seditious conspiracy? I thought so, and so did a law prof. An ex-prosecutor, who has actually convicted seditious conspirators, says not so fast, pal.

I’m with the second now. And the reason why, in a nutshell, is that the President of the United States sent them off to "stop the steal" — ritually disavowing violence but almost assuring it by his inflammatory "fight like hell" and "stop the steal" rhetoric. To those foolish enough to believe Trump, the notion that if we don’t stop the steal, we won’t have America any more is a potent incitement to "any means necessary."

This all matters because unless the prosecutors have filed multiple counts, including counts that don’t require proving that the Oath Keepers consciously were trying to overrule a legitimate election rather than gullibly trying to stop the nonexistent steal, they could well be acquitted. Since they are dangerous fiends or fools who need to be out of circulation for a good long time, both for safety and to deter others, I don’t want that.

Go for the easy single, guys, not the home run.

No particular place to be

I can take a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or of the deepest underwater caverns, nearly as easily as I glance across the room. Every foreign wonder, hidden place, and obscure subculture is immediately available to my idle curiosity; they are lumped together into a uniform distancelessness that revolves around me. But where am I? There doesn’t seem to be any nonarbitrary basis on which I can draw a horizon around myself—a zone of relevance—by which I might take my bearings and get oriented. When the axis of closer-to-me and farther-from-me is collapsed, I can be anywhere, and find that I am rarely in any place in particular.

Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

We’re all experts now

When Covid hit, we were knee-deep in spoofed phone numbers slamming our cellphones about fake car warranties. We were wading through emails trying to steal our identities. We were triangulating Yelp reviews and Consumer Reports summaries with testimonials and marketing research just to buy a new mattress or an air fryer. We were checking out our own purchases at the grocery store and waiting on hold to replace the credit card that got hacked for the umpteenth time. We were staring, bleary-eyed, into apps that promised less “friction” in our everyday lives if we would just consent to tracking — not that we had a clue as to what exactly we were consenting to. The tiny boxes to “sign up” are labeled “terms and conditions,” after all, and not “Here is how we are going to farm your personal data for profit.” And when we complained — to a manager, to a clerk, to our spouses, to the internet — someone was all too glad to tell us how we could have prevented all of this if we had just become an expert in everything.

It is no wonder that so many of us think that we can parse vaccine trial data, compare personal protective equipment, write school policy and call career scientists idiots on Facebook. We are know-it-alls because we are responsible for knowing everything. And God forbid we should not know something and get scammed. If that happens, it is definitely our fault.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, ‌We’re All ‘Experts’ Now. That’s Not a Good Thing.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, skipped vaccine and treated with Ivermectin and Hydrochloroquine when they contracted Covid.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, are convinced that the CDC is sluggish and wimpy and that it’s vitally important that we get vaccinated, boosted, and put on our N95 masks and quarantine until the end of January.

I value my friends, but having fallen for pseudoscience more than once in my long life, I’m trying to trust the CDC directionally, titrating with common sense. I’m 73, and I’m going to die of something some day. Meanwhile, I don’t want to live in irrational fear or with irrational exuberance.

Trafficking in racial animosities

There are strong incentives to provoke the left on race, and that provocation can often take the form of rhetoric that looks a lot like outright racism. Take, for example, this comment from Tucker Carlson regarding immigration and the alleged Democratic effort to “replace” the American electorate with immigrants:

I know that the left and all the gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term replacement, if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World. But, they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.

Carlson says his comments have nothing to do with race—with the so-called Great Replacement theory (a white-supremacist theory that, in its current American incarnation, holds that Democrats—often led by Jews—are trying to replace white voters with nonwhite immigrants). “This is a voting-rights question,” says Carlson. “Every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter,” he claims.

David French, How the Right’s Rules of Rhetoric Create Racial Provocateurs . If you can show me a meaningful difference between "new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World" and "nonwhite immigrants," I’ll buy you a burger at your favorite burger joint.

Tucker Carlson is definitely trafficking in racial animosities.

Hospitalized with Covid or hospitalized because of Covid?

New data published by New York’s Department of Health show that, although the state’s topline COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are near record highs, 43 percent of COVID-positive patients currently hospitalized were admitted for another reason, and only tested positive for COVID-19 incidentally.

The Morning Dispatch, 1/1/22

Human motivations are rarely unmixed

"Admission changes to [Loudon County Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High] were driven by jealously infused xenophobia and racism against the Asian community,” says Mr. Jackson. “Most of the internal deliberations focused on a tailored solution to get just enough black and Hispanic kids in to open the floodgates for rich white affluent families, the primary beneficiaries."

William McGurn, quoting Harry Jackson, former president of the Thomas Jefferson PTA.

Worthy new center-left Substack

I believe it was on this blog that I solicited suggestions for left-leaning honest brokers on the internet, since so much of my reading has become, at least in popular parlance, right-leaning, Several of the writers still identify as liberals or even, in one case, communist — but their honest brokerage gets them branded otherwise. I read them more for the delight and reassurance that I and other conservatives aren’t the only ones who "get it."

Well, the center-right Dispatch recommended a new Substack from Josh Barro, Very Serious, just such a center-left figure, as a likely counterpart to the Dispatch. And the introduction is promising:

The conversation that gets erroneously called a “national conversation” — conducted among select journalists, operatives, activists and academics — is essentially a conversation by and for people who supported Elizabeth Warren. It reflects the values and preferences and linguistic quirks of one minority part of one political party’s coalition. And sure, I am contrarian in relation to that subculture, but not to our overall politics or society, within which I sit closer to the median than most other people you will hear from in the press.

Dissenting from and complaining about this subculture is not novel; it’s become a cliché to jump to Substack and complain about it. But my beef with this subculture isn’t quite the usual one, and that’s why this newsletter is going to be different. I don’t feel oppressed by the subculture. But I do think it has caused certain influential people to become badly misinformed in ways that have been damaging to the interests of both the press and the Democratic Party.

Josh Barro, in his introductory post in his new Very Serious.

(I believe his is a Substack blog — it certainly looks like one in the invitation to paid subscription — but the domain is Barro’s own, which presumably gives him control of the content should he ever leave Substack.)

Riddle solved

[T]here’s a simple solution to the seemingly complicated riddle of Hawley, Cruz and Pompeo. And Marche provides it: Right now their surest path to power, or firmest grip on it, involves the theatrical trashing of their own trappings, the reinvention of themselves as characters in a story other than their own. They haven’t had some post-Ivy moral or philosophical epiphany. Their makeovers are fundamentally commercial: They sized up the current marketplace and manufactured what sells best.

And for them — as for too many people in this age of runaway vanity — brand dictates belief.

Frank Bruni, ‌Trump’s pride goeth before our fall

Bait and switch

This week, the writer Colin Wright posed on Twitter the following question: “What rights do trans people currently not have but want that don’t involve replacing biological sex with one’s subjective ‘gender identity’?” And the response was, of course, crickets. The truth is: the 6-3 Bostock decision places trans people in every state under the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It’s done. It’s built on the sturdy prohibition on sex discrimination. A Trump nominee wrote the ruling.

What the trans movement is now doing, after this comprehensive victory, is not about rights at all. It is about cultural revolution. It’s a much broader movement to dismantle the sex binary, to see biology as a function of power and not science, and thereby to deconstruct the family and even a fixed category such as homosexuality. You can support trans rights and oppose all of this. But they want you to believe you can’t. That’s the bait-and-switch. Don’t take it.

Andrew Sullivan, The Trans Movement Is Not About Rights Anymore

Sully on Biden

The appeal of Biden was that he understood the Senate, represented a moderate middle, and wouldn’t polarize the country with divisive, incendiary rhetoric, as his predecessor had. The reality of Biden is that he has lost the Senate’s trust, has been an enabler of the far left, and is now seeking to call all those who object to a Democratic wishlist of electoral reforms the modern equivalents of the KKK. The speech was disgusting. It will do nothing but further alienate the Senators he needs. It sure alienated me. It could have been written by a Vox intern on Adderall.

I’d wax more eloquently on this but don’t feel I can best either Jonah Goldberg or Peggy Noonan. I voted and supported Biden as the least worst option — in the primaries and general election. I favor an urgent reform of the Electoral Count Act — to avoid a 2020 scenario next time. I’d be open to some of the Democratic proposals. So I should be the kind of voter Biden is appealing to.

But Biden’s polarizing rhetoric, as McConnell made clear, has made compromise on any of this toxic.

Andrew Sullivan again (third topic by my count)

Getting the run-around

Alan Jacobs had a few questions on his University’s health insurance. Nobody would admit that they had answers:

It’s important to recognize that what I went through in both of the circumstances did not result from bugs in the systems, but from features — from purposeful design. The goal of all our contemporary Departments of Circumlocution is simply this: To make us give up. To bring us to the point of shrugging our shoulders and crossing our fingers in the hope that whatever illness we have will somehow get better; or to the point that we pay for medicine ourselves because we can’t figure out how to get the insurance we pay for to cover it, and don’t dare try to get by without it. The object of these systems is the generation of despair. Because if the systems make us despair then the companies that deploy them can boast of the money they have saved the organizations that purchase their services.

Wherein I brand myself

J Budziszewski chose an unusually provocative title: Novelists as Pimps. That I agree with him enthusiasticly no doubt brands me as some sort of comic caricature.

Pretty good book

I’m not going to oversell it, but this was a book I felt well warranted the time to read it:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”

To put it bluntly: we are all expressive individuals now. Just as some choose to identify themselves by their sexual orientation, so the religious person chooses to be a Christian or a Muslim. And this raises the question of why society finds some choices to be legitimate and others to be irrelevant or even unacceptable.

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. If you are comprehensively familiar with Philip Rieff, you can skip it.

Worthy book, but I passed up a favorite annual conference this weekend even though Trueman was one of three keynoters.


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

Abortion law, the Performative Jackass Caucus, Race, and more

Abortion Law

Politicization of the Supreme Court

In an exchange with Scott Stewart, the Mississippi solicitor general defending the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Justice Sotomayor had this to say:

Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible.

Here’s what one reader of mine had to say about Justice Sotomayor’s “stench” comment:

Whoever smelt it, dealt it. Sotomayor and Alito are the two most partisan, results-oriented members of the Court. It’s pretty rich of her, of all the justices, to be complaining about politics stinking up SCOTUS—in a soundbite that was clearly crafted to fire up the left.

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

Abortion and adoption

The last thing we should take from our nation’s debates about abortion is that adoption is a problem.

… the very idea that poverty—in this nation, of all places—could be the factor that causes a mother to part with her child is and should be a clarion call for action, both private and public, designed to facilitate family formation.

David French, Don’t Denigrate Adoption to Defend Roe

Politics, briefly

A guy can dream, can’t he?

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California is resigning from Congress at the end of the month to become CEO of former President Trump’s new social media company, Trump Media & Technology Group. First elected in 2002, Nunes served as chair of the House Intelligence Committee from 2015 to 2019, and would have been a contender to lead the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans recapture the chamber next year.

The Morning Dispatch

This seems like an epic bad career move, but given my opinion of Devin Nunes, he’s certainly welcome to it.

I wonder if Trump can get Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the rest of the GOP Performative Jackass Caucus to come work for him, too?

When the only meaningful correlation involves racial ambivalence

After January 6, a team led by Robert A. Pape, head of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats, scoured the profiles of the capital insurgents:

Only one meaningful correlation emerged. Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline. For every one-point drop in a county’s percentage of non-Hispanic whites from 2015 to 2019, the likelihood of an insurgent hailing from that county increased by 25 percent. This was a strong link, and it held up in every state.

Trump and some of his most vocal allies, Tucker Carlson of Fox News notably among them, had taught supporters to fear that Black and brown people were coming to replace them. According to the latest census projections, white Americans will become a minority, nationally, in 2045. The insurgents could see their majority status slipping before their eyes.

Barton Gelman, January 6 Was Practice.

This is a (the?) major article in a brand-new issue of the Atlantic largely devoted to the threat posed by the Trumpist Republican party. Recommended.

I apparently lead a sheltered life. I genuinely thought that frank racism (white people are better than darker people) had faded close to extinction, though I thought it likely that stereotypes remained (e.g., that black English did its speakers no favors in the job and other "markets").

Then came Barack Obama, and with it, birtherism and other unreasoning opposition.

Now, the "replacement theory" and the terrors it incites.

I’ve got to think this stuff was latent all along — just not obviously among my usual circle of mostly-Christian acquaintances.

Other

Root causes

Mark Bauerlein and Tim Perry discuss the deterioration of Christian burial practices, for which Perry finds startling roots:

Bauerlein: You link this deterioration to a bigger conceptual trend, and that is what happened with eschatology in the 20th Century. What went on there?
Perry: I think it’s a twofold story and it’s a little bit ironic. On the one hand, the Church lost its eschatological vocabulary. In the mainstream Protestant Churches and perhaps in the Catholic Church, more immediate concerns came to the fore: keeping the machine going in the days of decreasing revenues, decreasing membership rolls. In the churches that I’ve been shaped in as a child, I think we became a little bit embarrassed at our eschatological excesses, where we stopped talking about the traditional last things — death, judgment, hell and heaven — and started talking instead about secret rapture, great tribulation, who’s the antichrist, what’s the mark of the beast. I think evangelicals have, perhaps rightly, become a little embarrassed at that kind of speech. But instead of going back to the far richer and far more important language of the traditional last things, we’ve just stopped talking about eschatology altogether.

First Things Podcast, A Proper Christian Burial.

Well, I guess if you’re coy about death, judgment, hell and heaven, and allergic to orderly "liturgies," you’ve got little but novelties and pabulum to preach at funerals.

God will never forsake chosen America

This occurs to me so rarely, but seems so fitting when it does, that I thought I should capture it this time: a lot of support for Donald Trump, particularly but not exclusively among Evangelicals, results from fear that Democrats are an existential threat to the country, so they should vote Republican because God would never so forsake (or judge) America that we are left with shitty and unsuitable candidates in both major parties. That simply is unthinkable, since America supposedly is some kind of new chosen people.

I disagree — so much that I’m tempted to cease voting for Democrats or Republicans. That would mean I sit out many individual races. It should send at least a teensie-weensie signal of discontent that some voter in my precinct voted American Solidarity Party in the Presidential race, Libertarian or some other third party where ASP has no candidate, and not a single D or R.

Verbal tics

“Look, I’m an up-front guy,” Bear Hobart said. “I have to be honest with you—” Here it comes, Dylan thought. He was pretty convinced that you didn’t ever have to be honest with someone; maybe you should, and maybe you wanted to, but “I have to be honest with you” was a self-defeating sentence, since it was never true.

Eve Tushnet, Amends

There’s a kindred verbal tic: "Do you realize that you just [e.g., accused all the teachers in this school district of being sexual perverts]?", addressed to one who asks unwelcome questions. The italicized portion is a signal that the speaker is going to twist words beyond recognition in order to paint the initial speaker as some kind of crazy.

Modernity’s faith

“[F]aith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.”

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Recently-acquired aphorisms

  • A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. —Edward de Bono, The Mechanism of Mind
  • I am a slow unlearner. But I love my unteachers. —Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World

Via Philip Yancey’s Where the Light Fell.

I recommend this memoir (about which I wrote earlier), but read it to understand Yancey’s inner life, not to lay out a timeline of events in U.S. and American church history, which Yancey confuses or conflates at times.


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.

Ye olde variety store

Reminder to self

I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations lately that various conservatives are white supremacists, or, somewhat more narrowly, that they are adherents of "white replacement theory." My initial reaction was to treat this as a way of mainstream media saying that conservatives have cooties.

But when it comes to white replacement theory, there’s a very important line: it is on one side of the line to think that there is a conspiracy to replace white people with darker skinned people, and that the southern border (for instance) has been thrown open by the Democrats as part of that conspiracy. It is on the other side of the line to note that much of our immigration is darker-skinned people, and that white folks have sub-replacement fertility levels, and that as a matter of fact we are on track for white people to be outnumbered by the year 2050 — without carrying on luridly about how that, ipso facto, will be "the end of America.”

My personal history of dismissing warnings too casually is cautionary. I was slow to see that the charges of anti-Semitism against conservative columnists Joseph Sobran and Samuel Francis were not just epithets thrown by liberals, but true. (Both were brilliant, but both really were antisemitic, though Sobran at least wrote a lot that was not tinged with antisemitism.) I was also slow to see that Patrick J. Buchanan was coming unhinged, as I think he was (and is).

So in dealing with charges of white replacement theory, and giving due allowance to the possibility that somebody like Tucker Carlson is insincerely talking about it just to attract viewers, I need to be aware that even if the comments, prima facie, fall on the right side of the afore-described line, bringing the subject up obsessively is a very bad sign. That’s what should have tipped me off earlier on Sobran.

Meatloaf on side constraints

The Federalist Society is committed to advancing the rule of law, which is why many of its members, in their individual capacities, have worked so hard for the appointment of judges who believe in the rule of law. And many of those judges, in ruling against meritless election challenges brought by the man who appointed them, stood up for the rule of law in the past few months, to their great credit.

But to sacrifice the rule of law as a value, in the hope of getting four more years of a president who might appoint good judges but is otherwise anathema to the rule of law (sic), is simply perverse. I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, ‌The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?. Lat was commenting in the second paragraph on some individual Federalist Society members. The Society itself cannot lawfully back a candidate, nor did it do so unlawfully.

On choosing to cease choosing

[H]uman flourishing depends, [Antonio García Martínez] says, on the acceptance of various "unchosen obligations" (to family, to community, to God) that form the backdrop of a morally and spiritually satisfying life. Hence his attraction to Judaism, an ancient, communally based system of laws that seems far more secure than our confusingly fluid world of freely choosing individuals.

Which means that García Martínez is converting to Judaism in order to escape secular modernity — but isn’t his own decision to convert itself an individual choice? And as such, isn’t it just as much an expression of the modern mindset as any of the trends he denounces here and in his broader social media commentary?

Yes, it’s a choice to stop choosing, but that still grounds his conversion in an act of the individual mind and will. García Martínez will always know that what can be chosen can also be unchosen — that he can choose to leave Judaism with an ease that would have felt quite foreign to a premodern Jew.

This doesn’t mean that García Martínez is making a mistake in becoming Jewish. (I have my own complicted history with Judaism, Catholicism, and conversion.) But it does mean that doing so isn’t likely to liberate him from modernity, returning him to the premodern world as conservatives like to imagine it — a world defined by fated obligations individuals have no choice but to take on and accept with gratitude and fulfillment.

Choosing is the destiny of human beings, from which we will never be rescued.

Damon Linker

I wish Antonio García Martínez were choosing Orthodox Christianity instead of Judaism, but I had the same types of taunts tossed at me as I approached Orthodoxy: "So, you’re choosing to stop choosing, huh?! Har-de-har-har-har!"

I gotta live in the world as it is. In American law and the American mind, one’s church is a "voluntary association." You can opt in; you can opt out. Nobody can stop you legally and few will try socially*. But I can choose wisely and resolve to let the faith, in that chosen setting, do its work on me, not looking for greener grass elsewhere.

Or looking for sheer novelty, as if it doesn’t matter:

To assert that all religions are really just different paths to God is a denial of the central tenets of these religions. The Hindu Yogin trying to achieve oblivion and utter absorption into the faceless universe is not on the same path as the Jew bowing down before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Scientologist working to become “clear” of alien beings called “thetans.” To suggest that all these believers are really on the same path is to do damage to their theological systems—to assert that somehow we know better than these people do what their teachings really are.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

[* The late Jaroslav Pelikan, perhaps the greatest Anglophone church historian of the 20th Century, left his natal Lutheranism for Orthodoxy very late in life. A Calvinist friends who had studied at Yale said that would "shake Yale up." "Why?" I asked. "I didn’t think Yale still had strong religious identity." "It doesn’t," he replied, "and it will shake them up that one eminent among them cares enough about religion to actually change his."]

I just can’t figure this out

New York Times’s criteria for considering a story religious continue to baffle. Why, for instance, is a call for blessing same-sex couples, from German Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, not there?! It clearly is a religion story and it even flatters the Times’ notion of how arc of history is bending!

My, we are hard to please!

One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (a delightful book, but not Orthodox-with-a-capital-O; it’s Roman Catholic, but in a sort of anticipation of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity).

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

"A recent survey by the American College Health Association showed that, in 2008, one in 2,000 female undergraduates identified as transgender. By 2021, that figure had jumped to one in 20."

But any suggestion that there’s a social contagion involved is a Hateful Transphobic Lie.

The surge doesn’t exist, and it exists because Republicans are adding testosterone to our public water supplies to try to shore up the Eurocentric Heteronormative Patriarchy, and the one in 20 were there all along, but just too embarrassed to say it. Yeah! That’s the ticket!

[In this mad age, I probably should note that this was sarcasm.]

Zeal has its limits

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

St. Isaac of Syria, quoted here

And again:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

How we live today

“After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth,” we use our bodies “only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work."

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

No tribe wants him

I grow weary of the Covid discourse. So, so weary. I am particularly exhausted by the fact that the side that is more correct on the epidemiology, the pro-vaccine side, is also worshipful of expertise, incurious about basic questions, contemptuous of good-faith questions, and shrill in all things. I hate it all.

Freddie DeBoer, reprising this blog

Practicing silence

Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day, not to become more "productive", but to become more human and, ultimately, more Christlike.

This is advice to myself.

Silence?! 20-30 minutes of silence!? It’s so terrifying that I must try it.

UPDATE: A 300- knot prayer rope helps. I couldn’t imagine remaining silent for that long without my scattered mind going hither, thither and yon. But the same faith that (through one of its wise priests) counseled sitting in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day knows how to do that: repetitive prayer — not, I hasten to add, that God will hear me because of repetition, but that my heart (and who knows what else) will be changed by it.

The nice thing about this gigantic rope is that praying the full rope takes me about 21 minutes, and if I add another hundred knots (to the first bead, which is a tactile clue) I’m at almost 28 minutes. I don’t have to try to remember how many times I’ve prayed a 50-knot rope — which is itself a distraction from "silence."

Just for fun

I don’t know if I want to cheer or jeer Dutch artist Jens Haaring.


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.

What do the two major parties really stand for?

There have been so very many arguments along the lines of the title of Politics Is More Than Abortion vs Character that I quickly abandoned it as unpromising.

Specifically, I stopped right after this:

The root problem is not that Trump is mean. The problem is that he is a nationalist, a problem that infects much of the right and thus will outlast Trump himself. Much of his meanness is not a character flaw so much as an ideological choice. Trump is mean because of what he believes about the world, about American identity, and about his fellow citizens.

I tend to disagree with that. I wouldn’t call it Trump’s meanness, but I think the “root problem” of the last four years has been Trump’s character, more specifically his toxic narcissism, which put us at risk of his fundamentally misunderstanding existential threats to the nation — understanding them in terms of how they make him look.

But then Winston Hottman, a thoughtful Baptist I’ve been following on micro.blog, quoted the conclusion:

The most urgent and most moral necessity in American politics is to dismantle the two-party system that artificially forces us into an impossible choice between two immoral options, neither of which represents a majority of Americans, embodies the aspirations of the American experiment, or articulates a vision of ordered liberty and human dignity. The American experiment is a miracle of political order, a miracle that is increasingly fragile and has no champions, no defenders, and no partisans in our contemporary political landscape except for the large and growing number of voters who reject the two parties who claim to govern in their name.

As an early recruit to the American Solidarity Party, I found that arresting enough to revisit the article.

The author, Paul D. Miller of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission elaborates his problems with nationalism, and makes plausible his belief that

[t]he political right has been prone to nationalism for decades; Trump only brought it out into the open. Trump’s bizarre and outsized personality make it seem like he is wholly unique and therefore that the nativism, xenophobia, and footsie-with-racism that has characterized his administration will go away when he leaves office …

Nothing in American history suggests that nationalism will simply go away. Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are persistent and strong tendencies in American political culture.

That’s more plausible than I anticipated when I stopped reading the first time. I will add to his comments four of my own:

  • The GOP has been mostly wandering, directionless, since the fall of European communism — trying to find some schtick that will stick with voters.
  • Where did birtherism come from if not from racism — Trump’s own or at least what he assumed about much of America?
  • Why did Trump malign a Hoosier-born judge of Mexican ancestry as ipso facto biased if not from xenophobia — his own or at least what he assumed about much of America?
  • What are the most prominent and vehement Trumpist Congressmen and Senators touting as they vie to become Trump’s successors? Josh Hawley, for instance (what a bitter disappointment he has been!)? Nationalism, that’s what.

As for the Left, its problem is

progressivism. Progressivism, like nationalism, is a totalistic political religion that is fundamentally inconsistent with the ideals of a free and open society.

Progressivism is best understood as a philosophy of history, a belief that history unfolds in the direction of progressive policy preferences. Today’s progressive elites act like a self-appointed vanguard commissioned by history to open up the next chapter in our story. Such a self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing narrative has no moral horizon or framework and no way to justify what its policy preferences are, other than vague appeals to “the children,” “the future,” and “the right side of history,” which means whatever they want those empty phrases to mean on any given day.

Shorn of any fixed moral commitments, the goals of progressivism deteriorate into the lowest common denominator available within the rhetoric of freedom: individual autonomy, personal discovery, self-expression, fulfillment, and empowerment. Progressivism is an endless pursuit of ever-greater liberation, freedom, autonomy, and self-discovery.

That indictment is familiar and comfortable to me, but Miller goes on to elaborate its fundamental problems (just as he did with nationalism — a critique much less familiar and comfortable).

I commend Miller’s article, which you can read in twelve minutes (if Instapaper is right). It further solidified my “none of the above” stance in the last two Presidential cycles (including the one that ends today).

Yes, friends, the two major parties, as avatars of nationalism and progressivism respectively, have served us up a shit sandwich yet again as we vote today with each pretending to represent something other than what Miller identifies and warning of the destruction of America or even the whole world if the other is elected.

I said in 2016, after Trump’s election and probably after his coronation as GOP nominee, that a big political realignment was under way. At the time, I was thinking of what was happening between and within the two major parties, but I see hopeful signs that more and more people are fed up with them both, ready to entertain third parties.

At the same time, I have become increasingly convinced that the Libertarian party is little if any better — and maybe the worst of both. Its laissez faire economics (it seems to me, but perhaps “Libertarian” now is a term of art that designations something miles and miles from Murray Rothbard) will further gut the middle class while its lifestyle liberalism further immiserates the poor by making family formation even harder (with all that entails).

I have too little knowledge, current or semi-recent, to speak of other third parties except my beloved American Solidarity Party, which has made great strides in four years. It was actually on the ballot today in eight states, and certified for write-in votes in twenty-four more. 20 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined supporting some of its positions, had it existed then, but what we’ve got is broken in more ways than I can count, and ADP points the way to something more humane.


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

“What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?”

Around 24 years ago, I had a series of related epiphanies (epiphanies have marked my whole religious life) that made me loosen my Calvinist grip and eventually to pitch Calvinism overboard, It seems to have survived alright without my nurture, and insofar as I’m not 100% Orthodox yet, the residue likely is Calvinist.

And that’s not entirely bad because they got some things quite right. The Westminster Larger Catechism‘s elaboration of the Ten Commandments, for instance, is very good, which brings me to today’s topic:

Q. 143. Which the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Ex. 20:16.

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own: appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; study and practising of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Zech. 8:16; 3 John 1:12; Prov. 31:8-9; Ps. 15:2; 2 Chr. 19:9; 1 Sam. 19:4-5; Josh. 7:19; 2 Sam. 14:18-20; Lev. 19:15; Prov. 14:5, 25; 2 Cor. 1:17-18; Eph. 4:25; Heb. 6:9; 1 Cor. 13:7; Rom. 1:8; 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 1:4-5, 7; 2 Tim. 1:4-5; 1 Sam. 22:14; 1 Cor. 13:6-7; Ps. 15:3; Prov. 25:23; Prov. 26:24-25; Ps. 101:5; Prov. 22:1; John 8:49; Ps. 15:4; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:21; Prov. 17:9; 1 Pet. 4:8.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence; suborning false witnesses; wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause; out-facing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence; calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery; concealing the truth; undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vain-glorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumours, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defence; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavouring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt; fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report; and practicing or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

1 Sam. 17:28; 2 Sam. 16:3; 2 Sam. 1:9-10, 15-16; Lev. 19:15; Hab. 1:4; Prov. 19:5; Prov. 6:16, 19; Acts 6:13; Jer. 9:3, 5; Acts 24:2, 5; Ps. 12:3-4; Ps. 52:1-4; Prov. 17:15; 1 Kings 21:9-14; Isa. 5:23; Ps. 119:69; Luke 19:8; Luke 16:5-7; Lev. 5:1; Deut. 13:8; Acts 5:3, 8-9; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Kings 1:6; Lev. 19:17; Isa. 59:4; Prov. 29:11; 1 Sam. 22:9-10; Ps. 52:1-5; Ps. 56:5; John 2:19; Matt. 26:60-61; Gen. 3:5; Gen. 26:7, 9; Isa. 59:13; Lev. 19:11; Col. 3:9; Ps. 50:20; Ps. 15:3; Jas. 4:11; Jer. 38:4; Lev. 19:16; Rom. 1:29-30: Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29; 1 Cor. 6:10; Matt. 7:1; Acts 28:4; Gen. 38:24; Rom. 2:1; Neh. 6:6-8; Rom. 3:8; Ps. 69:10; 1 Sam. 1:13-15; 2 Sam. 10:3; Ps. 12:2-3; 2 Tim. 3:2; Luke 18:9, 11; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 4:6; Acts 12:22; Ex. 4: 10-14; Job 27:5-6; Job 4:6; Matt. 7:3-5; Prov. 28:13; Prov. 30:20; Gen. 3:12-13; Jer. 2:35; 2 Kings 5:25; Gen. 4:9; Gen. 9:22; Prov. 25:9-10; Ex. 23:1; Prov. 29:12; Acts 7:56-57; Job 31:13-14; 1 Cor. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:4; Num. 11:29; Matt. 21:15; Ezra 4:12-13; Jer. 48:27; Ps. 35:15-16, 21; Matt. 27:28-29; Jude 1:16; Acts 12:22; Rom. 1:31; 2 Tim. 3:3; 1 Sam. 2:24; 2 Sam. 13:12-13; Prov. 5:8-9; Prov. 6:33.

Does observance of the Ninth Commandment describe our politics and journalism today? Are we better or worse than we were ten or twenty years ago? How do, say, QAnon or the Comet Ping Pong conspiracy theories square with “unwillingness to admit of an evil report” or avoiding “doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions …”?

One of the great shames of many supporters of Donald Trump is that they act as if anything short of an outright lie about a political opponent is okay for a Christian — and I may be giving too much credit to think they draw even that line.

I acknowledge the availability of “whatabouts” to Trump’s supporters. But it is a great and grave shame when a putative Christian is willing to suspend the moral law in an effort to “win” politically, even if the other side is doing it.

H/T to David French for the reminder of what his denomination’s Catechism says about the ninth commandment.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

When politics becomes a religion

Religionized politics bodes to kill us:

I’m convinced that 2020 is going to be the most spiritually challenging year for politically engaged Christians of my adult lifetime. In an increasingly de-Christianized America, politics itself is emerging as a competing religious force, and it’s a religion that’s increasingly based on hate and fear, rather than love and grace.

[T]he idea that a person is “good, but wrong” or even “decent, but wrong” is vanishing. Instead, the conventional wisdom is that our political opponents are “terrible and wrong.” Our opponents not only have bad policies, they are bad people.

Now, let’s thrown in an additional complicator for people of faith. Perhaps a religious partisan could attempt to justify the animosity if they could map out a nice, neat religious divide. “Of course they’re terrible people—they’re all heretics.” After all, “reasoning” like that has launched countless wars of religion. And indeed, Republican partisans do make the claim that the GOP stands as a bulwark against increasingly godless Democrats.

But here’s the very different truth. The bases of both parties are disproportionately composed of the most God-fearing, church-going cohort of Americans—black Democrats and white Evangelicals. So, no, while there are serious differences regading abortion, religious liberty, immigration, and a host of other vital moral issues (and blue states tend to be more secular than red states), American politics cannot be neatly defined as a battle between the godly and the godless.

Thus, while the stakes of our modern political conflicts are thankfully lower than the awful carnage of the Civil War, the political division between black Democrats and white Evangelicals reminds me of Lincoln’s famous words in his second inaugural: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” And we face a similar reality: “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”

David French (emphasis added).

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(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).

Genocidal White Nationalist Democrats of the 80’s

We’re hearing more and more that abortion is necessary to keep blacks, immigrants, etc. from outnumbering or overrunning us.

Some like abortionist Edward Allred put it crudely, offering to set up an abortuary in Mexico for free if he could.

Some put it nicely, like Geraldine Ferraro bewailing that Welfare mothers beget welfare mothers, and that it is awfully expensive to break that cycle.

So, Nat Henthoff observes, it’s not just a matter of individual rights. Abortion is a public service responsibility to keep the population down. Especially the ghetto population. 43% of those aborted are black.

The charge of genocide is sounding less like hyperbole, even as Jesse Jackson drops it to run for President. Congressman Steny Hoyer (D, Md.) asks what about a woman impregnated by Willie Horton? An anti-abortion Republican, cornered in private by a pro-abortion colleague, is asked ‘What if your daughter were raped by some black?’

The issue is not just whether women have the right to abort at will. It’s also whether abortion is being used as a method of controlling the minority population.

Josoph Sobran, October 26, 1989

* * * * *

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).

True, not faux, pluralism

I blogged a few days ago on Our Great Death Struggle. A key part, at least in my intent (if I didn’t covey its centrality, blame the writer), was this:

Brooks’ counter [to anti-pluralism] — a hymn to pluralism — sounds just a little too much like whistling past the graveyard, but I’ll give him credit for this introduction to his hymn:

The struggle between pluralism and antipluralism is one of the great death struggles of our time, and it is being fought on every front.

(The Ideology of Hate and How to Fight It)

If I admit some ambivalence, so long as the antipluralism is rigorously nonviolent, both physically and rhetorically, will you think I’m a monster? Read Brooks’ hymn to pluralism (not quoted) and see if you find it completely satisfying.

Frankly, I was feeling pretty down by the time I got done.

Then it occurred to me that pluralism versus anti-pluralism isn’t a binary decision. These are tendencies, and to some extent, political positions — and thus susceptible of normal political give-and-take.

I had in mind things like an immigration policy that is enforced and that protects our relatively unskilled workers from wage-depressing unskilled new immigrants. In other words, between closed-and-locked-down border and wide-open border.

Well, Damon Linker, like me, was impressed with Brooks’ framing of “struggle between pluralism and antipluralism,” and had some additional ideas for give-and-take:

It is not always entirely unreasonable to be unhappy with the consequences of pluralism. It may well be that, for some, human flourishing is incompatible with the “diversity, fluidity, and interdependent nature of modern life.”

… A productive response to the anti-pluralists might … involve backing off on the progressive insistence that every corner of the United States must affirm the moral outlook of its most liberal cities under penalty of social and economic censure.

This second item is especially important because it would demonstrate that progressives are willing to put their proudly proclaimed pluralism where their mouths are. Ask a progressive why she cheers on a lawsuit seeking to bankrupt an evangelical Protestant baker for refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding, and she’ll likely talk about the scourge of bigotry and discrimination and explain that pluralism demands that they be stamped out everywhere they exist.

But, as paradoxical as it may seem, that conviction is itself another form of anti-pluralism, albeit one that believes itself to be acting in the name of pluralism …

Progressives have no problem … pronouncing the dignity of … differences, when it concerns people who are non-white, especially when they are non-Christian, and even when their metaphysical convictions entail a rejection of pluralism. But when it comes to the distinctive outlook of, say, conservative white Christians, that acceptance and even affirmation of difference vanishes in an instant. Now the power of the state must be marshaled to force these anti-pluralists to embrace the comprehensive moral outlook of progressivism, with those who resist shamed and penalized into submission.

If pluralism really is our ineradicable reality and a social and moral good worth defending (it is both), then it needs to be applied equally to all — to those who substantively affirm pluralism as well as to those who do not (as long as they refrain from incitement to, and acts of, political violence).

Among its other benefits, extending pluralism equally to all just might have the effect of giving parts of the country more resistant to pluralism the time to catch up to changes in the broader culture (though there’s no guarantee that they will). Pluralists may wish the anti-pluralists would get with the program sooner, but pushing too hard and too fast has a way of generating a backlash — precisely the kind of backlash that is roiling the nation (and much of the world) at this very moment.

I wish I’d said that. Occasional gems like this are why I still follow Damon Linker.

* * * * *

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).