Another curated collection

There’s another strange point that I would add, and maybe we’ll talk about this a little bit more because it does touch on broader issues, but it would be a strange doctrine indeed [if] every time the government takes over a new function and starts to contract about it, the scope of free exercise or free speech rights just automatically shrinks. Because that would mean that in order for the government essentially to do what it wants it just has to occupy the field on any particular field …
The growth of the administrative state has been putting a lot more pressure on the exercise of religion, and this would be a good example of that. And this came up in oral argument: Justice Barrett asked this question at one point, “well could the city just take over running all the hospitals and then say that ‘we’re going to contract it out and everybody has to agree with our terms’?”

Marc O. DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian, respectively, Legal Spirits Episode 028: Oral Argument in Fulton v. Philadelphia – LAW AND RELIGION FORUM, starting at about the 12:05 mark (hyperlink added).

Fulton is last Wednesday’s SCOTUS oral argument over Philadelphia taking over foster care and then banning Catholic Social Services because, had a hypothetical gay couple (or any unmarried couple) shown up seeking to foster or adopt, CSS would have referred them elsewhere. Oh, the horror!

It was a strange oral argument, though, as noted both by these two and by David French and Sarah Isgur last week on Advisory Opinions (starting at 49:00).


“There’s a lot of parallels between a community that’s 96% Hispanic and a community that’s 96% white,” said Freddy Guerra, a former mayor of nearby Roma[, Texas]. “Racism is not something that people deal with in Starr County because everybody’s brown. Climate change isn’t something they feel. They prefer bread on the table.”

Elizabeth Findell, How Democrats Lost So Many South Texas Latinos—the Economy – WSJ

This reminds me of my six weeks in Europe and the British Isles in 1968, touring with the Wheaton College Men’s Glee Club.

When we were in Belfast and Northern Ireland more generally, I (good Protestant boy though I was) was appalled at the anti-Catholic bigotry. I was not surprised when the Catholics started fighting back the next year — The Troubles.

Ireland to the south, in contrast, was tolerant of its Protestant minority.

Seeking some explanation other than intrinsic Catholic tolerance (an answer that I’d have found most uncongenial at that point in my life), I was told that it was pretty simple: Protestants were too few in Ireland to worry about, while Catholics were a very large part of Northern Ireland.

I guess our American polarization could be caused by either of two things:

  • No place is so nearly homogenous as Ireland; there’s no place where a dissident minority can be ignored; or
  • We don’t perceive the United States as a bunch of places, so any dissent from our views anywhere is a threat.

Maybe there are other options, or maybe I’m generalizing too hastily.


A great cry went up from Orthodox throats across the globe earlier this year when the Turkish government repurposed Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. The cry was an echo of May 29, 1453, when the city of Constantinople fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. That day, and its pain, have remained an iconic tragedy of a lost world and an abiding sadness. No one dared ask that the Church be returned to use as a Church – better a museum than a mosque. In truth, even as a museum, the loss remains intense. What is lost is not real estate, a building. It is the right place of beauty in the Christian experience. That loss is repeated in museums across the Western world.

Years ago, as a young Anglican priest, I visited the art museum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC (my home town). With me was an Anglican monk. Together we made our way through a surprising collection of Italian Church art, and, at the time, one of the largest collections of Russian icons outside of the Soviet Union. Guards followed us carefully through the museum – not that we were perceived as potential thieves. Rather, I think, we were perceived as potential idolaters. That “Christian” museum was, in many ways, a parallel of Hagia Sophia.

The Russian icons at Bob Jones were originally created not just as exemplars of an abstract beauty, but as objects of veneration. They were (and are) “windows into heaven.” The Fathers said of icons that they “make present that which they represent.” They are a means of communion. In the museum-world of modernity, what is contemplated is our own feelings and thoughts. Beauty becomes “art,” serving only our self-gratification.

That which is made present in an icon is perceived only in the act of veneration. In that action, the one who sees also participates through the extension of the self towards that which is made present ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Museums, Churches, and My Back Yard – Glory to God for All Things (emphasis added).

The reminder that a lot of museum’s misappropriate stuff (legally) was chastening. And I can’t resist poking a bit at BJU given a legitimate opportunity.


I corrected a shocking omission in my education today by finally reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, A World Split Apart:

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to his readers, or to his history — or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist usually always gets away with it. One may — One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none — and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on in the readers’ memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification.

The press — The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary.

More:

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people giving their contribution to public life … There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of a petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

Still more:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.


I also read some less enduring stuff.

The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.

Former Republican President George W. Bush, in a statement congratulating Joe Biden for winning the presidency, quoted in Knowhere News

Only in the fevered mind of Donald Trump is this statement not admirable, but I’ll be surprised if Trump hasn’t mean-Tweeted it.


The fine print on the campaign’s website shows that 60 percent of contributions to Trump’s new “Election Defense Fund” will actually be diverted toward retiring his campaign’s debt, and Axios reported last night that the president plans to “hold campaign-style rallies … in an effort to prolong his fight against apparent insurmountable election results.”

The Morning Dispatch: Biden Calls for Unity


Did you even read past the first sentence? Or are you just purposely lying so you can talk tough? No one said give up. I literally said investigate every irregularity and use the courts. You’re a member of Congress now, Marjorie. Start acting like one.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw to Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spouted some chest-thumping misrepresentation of Crenshaw on Twitter.

Thank you, Mr. Crenshaw.


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


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

Glimmers of light at the end

Of course, nobody other than the Illuminati who created this fake pandemic knows what our future holds, but a couple of people have some lovely ideas that “resonate” with me:

It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thoughtabout our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is “essential” but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.

Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.

Peggy Noonan, A Plainer People In a Plainer Time (not paywalled).

[In a sense, coronavirus] is the first invasion of America. This is the first time that a menace has crossed our borders, upended the daily lives of every American and rocked our ancient sense of safety. Welcome to life in the rest of the world.

Aside from a few protesters and a depraved president, most of us have understood we need to suspend the old individualistic American creed. In the midst of a complex epidemiological disaster, to be anti-authority is to be ignorant. In the midst of a contagion, to act as if you are self-sufficient is just selfish.

But something more profound is going on. We are undergoing a more permanent shift in national consciousness, a reconstruction of meanings, symbols, values and narratives. If the old American creed grew up in an atmosphere of assumed security and liberty, the new one is growing up in an atmosphere of vulnerability and precariousness.

David Brooks, The First Invasion of America (The New York Times)

I’m not sure whether this is Brrooks’ analysis or his prayer. It’s my prayer.

We’ve got more troubles ahead, I’m confident, and not all that far ahead as far as I can tell. Getting a little plainer and being aware of vulnerability may help us deal with that — but I’m very aware that tens of millions would like to get their piece of the American Dream first. But that will always be true until the American Dream is pretty clearly dead.

(And yes, the Illuminati crack was a joke, inspired by Atlantic’s reporting on conspiracy theories.)

* * * * *

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.

Enduring legacy

I am among those who appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, his defense of religious liberty (at least for compliant Christians; Muslims’ and Unitarian Universalists’ mileage may vary) and increasingly his immigration policy at its highest level of generality — especially after all 20 Democrat debaters advocated for effectively open borders and lavish benefits for all who cross them.

But I am indicted by his base for morally culpable ingratitude, electoral stupidity, and worst of all, stylistic snobbery when I lament

  • his his sexual predations,
  • his vulgarity (which needs no adjective),
  • his racist-suffused rhetoric,
  • his reality-distorting narcissism,
  • his reflexive, unsurpassed and transparent lying,
  • his abysmal civic ignorance,

and I know not how much longer I could extend this litany.

Why can’t I take a moderately convincing “Yes, I’m on your side” for an answer?

Because of my conviction that the deficiencies, sub specie aeternis, matter more more.

Why that is so is not easy to articulate with clarity that satisfies even me, but Greg Weiner today helped me out:

Constitutions depend on habits and traditions, not the momentary outcomes they produce. Mr. Trump’s upending of these customs, not his transient policies, will form the legacy that endures.

Edmund Burke would recognize the error Mr. Trump’s base makes. He noted similarly flawed logic in the French Revolution. By destroying all political institutions, Burke wrote, the French revolutionaries had doubtless done away with some bad ones. By starting everything anew, they had inevitably done some good. But to credit their successes or excuse their crimes, it was necessary to show “that the same things could not have been accomplished without producing such a revolution.”

Mr. Trump’s defenders are in largely the same position: To excuse his trampling of norms, they must demonstrate that he could not have achieved his policy agenda without doing so. Yet there is no obvious connection between serial dissembling and the success of a policy agenda. Mr. Trump need not behave uncivilly to nominate originalist judges. He can advocate a reassessment of the nation’s foreign commitments without sacrificing the dignity of his office.

In fact, Mr. Trump would be better positioned to accomplish these things if he observed rather than overran norms, which would curb his most self-destructive impulses

There are already indications that Mr. Trump’s bombast will not leave the political scene when he does. At their debates last Wednesday and Thursday, many Democrats pledged to prosecute Mr. Trump if they are elected, which is hard to distinguish from his politicization of law enforcement.

… [T]here is a point at which style overwhelms substance …

[M]any of the same supporters claim to seek a constitutional revival. In particular, they believe that the judges he has named atone for every other presidential sin. It is true that these judges will shape constitutional interpretation for decades. But constitutions depend far more on traditions of voluntary adherence than on judicial decree.

If constitutionalism teaches anything, it is to trust laws over individuals and processes over outcomes. One reason is that power placed in an ally’s hands will inevitably be available to an adversary. Another is the fleeting nature of policy as opposed to the lasting need for constitutional traditions. Judges come and go, even if life tenure places them on a long clock. Taxes rise and fall even more quickly. In Mr. Trump’s case, the legacy of bulldozed norms will outlast the policies.

If self-proclaimed constitutionalists are actually willing to exchange enduring habits for transient policies, they should at least be sure the means are necessary to the ends. There is nothing Mr. Trump has achieved to which his incivility has been indispensable or even useful.

Greg Weiner, The Trump Fallacy.

This appeared in the New York Times opinion pages, by the way. I wish I could believe that the Times would entertain such opinions if the Democrats take over in 2021 and make good on promises that amount to destroying political institutions and civil society’s mediating structures, starting everything anew.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I omitted “constant, reflexive, arguably sociopathic cruelty” from my list of laments.

* * * * *

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).

What’s not to like?

What’s not to like? Federalism vindicated and subsidiarity as national policy. Pretty soon, we might have a full-blown modus vivendi.

(Moi, hier)

The morning wasn’t over before I was thinking about what’s not to like: corporate power possibly becoming even more efficacious.

It is now routine for cities and states to bid against each other to attract corporate headquarters. It is becoming routine for hypocritical corporations and politicians to boycott states that exhibit some residue of sanity in their laws — you know, hypocrites like Apple (most of its manufacturing in China, which makes North Carolina look like the beatific vision), Paypal (business in countries where sodomy is a felony and the law is enforced) and Andrew Cuomo (boycotts North Carolina, visits Cuba).

I fear such corporate grandstanders, bullies and thieves might be even further emboldened by localist devolution, but then I’m not seeing the feds doing anything to stop them anyway.

On balance, it still seems like a good idea, but there is something on the other side of the balance beam.

* * * * *

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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

The most radical guy in the race

I’m going to take the liberty (you can’t stop me) of pulling some quotes from David Brooks but re-arranging them.

  • Only 18 percent of Americans say the federal government does the right thing most or nearly all of the time. In July 2016, as Ronald Brownstein has pointed out, only 29 percent of Trump supporters and 23 percent of Clinton supporters thought that electing their candidate would actually lead to progress.
  • According to a 2015 Heartland Monitor poll, 66 percent of Americans believe that their local area is moving in the right direction.
  • To have a chance, [a] third-party candidate would have to emerge as the most radical person in the race. That person would have to argue that the Republicans and Democrats are just two sides of a Washington-centric power structure that has ground to a halt. That person would have to promise to radically redistribute power across American society.
  • All recent presidential candidates have run against Washington, but on the premise that they could change Washington. Today, a third-party candidate would have to run on creating different kinds of power structures at different levels.

David Brooks, who may have written a great column because of having read a great book (which I haven’t read yet).

When I look at the great New York Times 2016 electoral map, and ponder the eventuality of the populous cities being thwarted in Presidential elections by millions of square miles of geography in the heartland, lowering the stakes by making Washington, DC just one power structure among many, limited to things like national defense, is very attractive.

Caveat: Washington cannot directly devolve power to, say, Tippecanoe County, but it can devolve power to Indiana (sorry, Illinois, Connecticut and other states that have been mis-governed), and can jawbone for further devolution.

What’s not to like? Federalism vindicated and subsidiarity as national policy. Pretty soon, we might have a full-blown modus vivendi.

* * * * *

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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

Why I’m not calling for Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But on the other hand …

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Squashing civil society & culture

Once again, I’m attending the Eighth Day Symposium, this year on the topic of “Cultivating Friendship in a Fractured Age.”

One plenary speaker is Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio Journal. Today from him, one insight, starting with a greeting from “blessed souls depicted by Dante” (presumably Paradiso):

“Here comes one who will augment our loves.” Friendship is an analog of the heavenly community in which the multitude of the Blessed, and I think this is Dante’s term, “increases the fruition each has of God.”

Friendship is an analog of the Church ordered by love and gifted to one another by what Augustine calls a kind of divine lottery. All true human communities are imperfect, incomplete but nonetheless real anticipations of the Church’s life in its fulfillment.

One reason such a claim may sound implausible is that modern politics has undermined the centrality of sharing of common objects of love to define a community by insisting that the point of government is to protect the rights of individuals within the society to love what they want to love. All efforts within communities that attempt to nurture well-ordered loves for what ought to be loved are squashed in modern societies in the name of individual freedom.

So modern states end up enforcing what Pope Benedict call “the dictatorship of relativism.”

(Bold added; underlining emphasized in the original speech pattern.)

So when asked to identify our common objects of love, phrased as “What Unites Us?“, we come up with idiocy like “diversity” unites us!

I would go further than Ken Myers to suggest that by government squashing “efforts within communities that attempt to nurture well-ordered loves for what ought to be loved,” government is squashing community itself, civil society, culture and mediating structures, with the effect (which I suspect is “a feature, not a bug”) that the dictatorship of relativism is manifested in an anti-culture wherein those de jure “free” individuals stand naked and de facto powerless before the state.

UPDATE: I revised the final paragraph, which began with one or two too many snarky asides to be readable.

* * * * *

“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway. (Tipsy)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.