Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: The Enlightenment’s Delight

I listened yesterday to the Yasha Mounk podcast The Good Fight, wherein he interviewed Elizabeth Bruenig. Part of the discussion was about our Western, and particularly American, efforts to keep religion and politics separate. They used the metaphor "radioactive" to describe how religion was viewed politically: "too radioactive to allow into politics," essentially. And Bruenig drew something of a corrolary: the dumbed-down, vacuous "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" about which orthodox religious people complain was the very design of enlightenment thinkers for politics-friendly religion.

The replacement of religion by MTD has spawned the Great Awokening and white ethno-nationalism, sublimated religions. As I used to say (though I didn’t coin it), "If you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait till you see the unreligious right."

As always, I detest instrumental religion. If we can no longer believe orthodox Christianity, we should not profess it in order to defeat ideological extremisms. Hypocrisy is rarely a good long-term strategy.

But maybe those extremisms can remind us that orthodox Christianity (better: Orthodox Christianity) just might be true, might correspond to reality (apart from any political valence).

On a related note, Abigail Shrier savages the sheer, perverse and counterproductive tone-deafness of many conservatives. As she sees it, conservatives fought "[t]o keep an unhappy biological girl with a five o’clock shadow [Gavin Grimm] out of the boys’ room".

Here, specifically, is what the Left achieved in the intervening six years: 22 states enacted conversion therapy bans, making it impossible for therapists to offer trans-identified youth any alternative to transition; nearly every medical accrediting organization adopted “affirmative care,” solemnly promising to suspend all medical judgment and rubber-stamp transitions, even by minors; gender ideology wormed its way into public school, laid eggs, and hatched endless confusion; schools across the country, with the explicit approval of the Obama administration, began conspiring to conceal minors’ declared gender identities from their parents; and hundreds of pediatric gender clinics cropped up to meet a sudden demand, heedless of the dangers, peddling phony mental health benefits and dismissing international warnings.

Conservatives’ chief asset is also our chief liability: We are willing to fight unpopular battles because we’ve never been popular. We are less easily seduced by the good opinion of those who’ve always withheld it. But we often lack strategy for this reason, too. We seem to have no idea what would appeal to other humans. Putting conservatives in charge of political strategy is like putting the debate team in charge of prom; the only guarantee is that no one else will show up.

Abigail Shrier, We Must Win the Gender War. Shrier cares about those victories the Left achieved because they are unwarranted, and will harm many minors. The minors it will harm are mostly those in the absolute surge of recently-gender-confused kids — above the historic baseline of kids (a tiny minority, but no less precious for that) who genuinely have deep-seated gender dysphoria. But some of those dysphoric kids will be harmed, too, because transitioning is not always the best answer, and comes with its own long list of problematic side-effects.

Shrier’s "scorching" critique of conservatives’ worse-than-futile response so far to "gender ideology" is well-warranted in its own right, and worth reading in full. But it also reminds me of my own frustrations 30 years ago on another topic.

I’ll avoid yet another replay of "I was right and the powers that be were wrong," and I won’t even name the specific "presenting issue." Suffice that when there were public debates, I went and presented my best conservative Rawlsian "public reason" case against the proposal at hand. But before me and behind me were people with their Bibles in hand (sometimes literally, sometime bearing only cherry-picked proof-texts) inveighing "thus saith the Lord" (figuratively).

They had no idea what might appeal to secularists or Moralist Therapeutic Deists. They discredited our cause. They reflected discredit on me because, despite my Rawlsian arguments, I was known to be a conservative Christian, so my public reasons were assumed to be a deception. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, John Rawls.

The people who brought their Bibles that night, thinking it was still high trump in a "Christian Nation," have had their champion, another Trump, in the Oval Office for four years.

But "in the intervening [thirty, and four] years," progressives have marched, in the culture if not in government, from victory to victory.

Maybe it was fated to be so. Maybe "damned-if-you do, damned-if-you-don’t" is all conservative Christians need to know. But I don’t find that a very satisfying answer. And I find darned few palatable political allies, and little hope of politics restoring a necrotic culture if I could find them.

Being called un-American is like being called “un-Christian” or “un-Islamic,” a charge akin to heresy.

Shadi Hamid, ‌How Politics Replaced Religion in America.

This is a very worthwhile article.

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.

Priorities and more

I heard the other day that most American Christians consider themselves Americans first, Christians second (or lower, I speculate). And they are hostile toward people who are Christians first.

This confirms to me that most American Christianity is nominal only. It also make me wish for a T-shirt or Sweatshirt (if only I weren’t too old to wear messagewear) inscribed "Other."

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet Who Nurtured the Beats, Dies at 101

CPAC (a big annual gathering of "conservatives") isn’t what it used to be. Then again, maybe it never was.

> Somewhere along the line, when the pandemic was raging and Trump was blithely going on TV and telling us not to worry, that the virus was going to suddenly disappear, and not to let fear rule our lives, the response on the left was to insist on the opposite. To my eye, what started among myself and my peers as a genuine concern about the unfolding pandemic — concern for ourselves, our vulnerable loved ones, our vulnerable neighbors and community members — started morphing and hardening into something else, or something additional: a tribal totem. Harboring and expressing extreme anxiety, fear, and outrage about the virus became a crucial component of identifying as a virtuous progressive. > > The feelings were (and are) real, and not unwarranted. But when, in another time and place, we might have received steadying messages of individual and communal resilience (Keep calm and carry on, etc.), instead we on the left found our most despairing, fearful, and angry feelings flamed — by a media industry that’s figured out how to trade fear and rage for clicks, and by a desire to cast ourselves as a compassionate, humanitarian foil to the callous, capital-focused response on the right. (Never mind that it turns out we had plenty of blind spots of our own.)

Mo Perry in her Mailchimp mailing of 2/25/21.

It’s nice to see an acknowledgement of progressive Covid tribalism, since there was no mistaking right-wing Covid tribalism

So far, it feels to me as if the Senate is confirming nominees who ought to be confirmed and questioning those that truly are questionable. I hope they refuse confirmation to Xavier Becerra:

> Republicans have both partisan and nonpartisan reasons to bristle at the Becerra nomination. The nonpartisan gripe is based on experience: While Becerra has served in government for decades—he was a member of the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2017—he has never served in an executive health policy role. If there’s one nominee you’d like to be able to hit the ground running in a new administration during a global pandemic, Republicans have argued, it’s the head of Health and Human Services. > > But the more visceral opposition to Becerra stems from what Republicans describe as his radical views on the role of government in health care, his intense opposition to any government limitations on abortion, and his track record in California of wielding state power against groups from crisis pregnancy centers to orders of nuns that didn’t comply with state and federal laws later deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. > > David summed up the Republican case against Becerra in the French Press back in December: > >> Becerra zealously defended a California law that forced pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for free and low-cost abortions. He defied the current HHS Office of Civil Rights to attempt to force churches to provide abortion coverage. He selectively and aggressively prosecuted an undercover pro-life activist, and he litigated against the Little Sisters of the Poor as part of a continuing effort to coerce religious institutions into violating their consciences to facilitate contraceptive coverage. > > In a letter to Biden this week spearheaded by Sen. Tom Cotton, dozens of House and Senate Republicans accused Becerra of “contempt for anyone who doesn’t agree with his radical leftist agenda,” which they said ran afoul of Biden’s pledge to govern on a unity platform.

The Morning Dispatch: Security Officials Blame Intelligence Failures for January 6 – The Morning Dispatch.

Like preachers calling Playboy "hard-core pornography" and then having no stronger words left for Hustler, the GOP has so debased "radical leftist agenda" that it has no sting when it’s really needed. It’s also too broad to be useful even as shorthand in any cases I can think of.

They must think we’re stupid. We keep re-electing them so they must be right.

I’m thinking especially of social conservatives (especially Evangelicals and Catholics) who have clung to the GOP like — well, like black Americans clinging to the Democrat party. In both cases, there’s a feeling that the other major party has nothing to offer, and that’s (in me estimation) true. But we can start to change things by looking for third parties close to our key concerns (mine is the American Solidarity Party) and deprive both unworthy major parties of our votes.

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.

God talk

From the secular point of view, to admit that secular nationalism is just as religious as Islam, for example, would question the whole foundation upon which the secular nation-state claims its legitimacy. From the religious point of view, it would also invite charges of idolatry. Despite the similarities between what is called religion and nationalism, then, we must deny that nationalism is really a religion. We acknowledge verbally that the nation and the flag are not really gods. The crucial test, however, is what people do with their bodies. It is clear that, among those who identify themselves as Christians in the United States, there are very few who would be willing to kill in the name of the Christian God, whereas the willingness, under certain circumstances, to kill and die for the nation in war is generally taken for granted.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

I have seen men, proud of their ability to lie, and exciting laughter by their clowning and joking, who have miserably destroyed in their hearers the habit of mourning.

Vassilios Papavassiliou, Thirty Steps to Heaven

I recently picked up a tract on The Way to God from "World Missionary Press," left in a restroom at a restaurant. I was curious about how the kinds of people who leave tracts in bathrooms viewed the question.

Well, it wasn’t as bad as I feared — nowhere near as bad.

  • It didn’t describe the Fall as tainting humanity with hell worthy sin from the moment of birth, but rather as bringing sin and death into the world. ("Romans 5:12", they cited.)
  • It didn’t do any of the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God scaremongering.
  • It didn’t remotely suggest that one "sinner’s prayer" magically saves you forever, no matter what you do later.
  • It didn’t have even a whiff of the detestable "rapture crap." But …
  • It didn’t mention that Christ’s second coming is for judgment.
  • It didn’t mention baptism, let alone chrismation.
  • It didn’t mention eucharist, let alone its necessity if we want life in us, or indeed Christ in us (though they emphasized somehow-or-other having Jesus in your heart).
  • Actually, it only vaguely hinted at Church in any form. (It printed the Lord’s Prayer, recommended memorization, and noted that "Believers often pray this prayer out loud together.")

In the New York Review of Books, Anne Enright writes about Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann’s continuing research among people of faith. Luhrmann has a new book out titled How God Becomes Real: Kindling The Presence of Invisible Others. Enright says:

American evangelicals speak to God about their feelings, and they do this because they assume their feelings matter. In the Western tradition, according to Luhrmann, the mind is imagined “as a private place, walled off from the world, a citadel in which thoughts are one’s own and no one else has access to them.” Nor can these thoughts leak out to act directly on the world; they cannot, for example, make another person ill or better. For American evangelicals, God is mostly about them. He is a friend, and, like a friend, he helps solve everyday problems—dilemmas about relationships, personal happiness, and the choices people make in life: “You can ask him what shirt you should wear and what shampoo to buy.”

Evangelicals in other cultures experience God differently, though the practice of their imported Pentecostalism is very much the same. In Chennai, India, where personal feelings are not privileged over family values, people are more likely to experience God “in their human father and through other people.” In Accra, Ghana, where prayers against demons are commonplace, God’s voice is experienced viscerally, often as an exhortation, and he is also expected to enact revenges and punishments in the world. Both Indians and Ghanaians are happy to discuss things that might be felt in some “spirit sense” that is hard to name. Most Ghanaian evangelicals hear God’s voice audibly, which is to say, in the room.

For Americans, the mind is separate from the world. In order to make it available to supernatural experience, they must occupy a mental space these other cultures take for granted, which Luhrmann calls “the in-between.” Believers cultivate a talent for “absorption,” an immersive focus that blurs the boundary between inner and outer experience. This is “the mental capacity common to trance, hypnosis, dissociation, and perhaps imagination itself.”

Rod Dreher, Reaching The Realness Of God

Epitaph for Modernity: I came, I shopped, I died.

Fr.Stephen Freeman

More Trump perspective (and more)

More indictments of Oath Keepers in the January 6 insurrection:

The new case describes the alleged Oath Keepers as being motivated in large part by former President Donald Trump, and an apocalyptic fear of a Biden presidency. One defendant, who was among those earlier indicted, Jessica Watkins, wrote in the weeks before Jan. 6 that if Mr. Biden became president, “our way of life as we know it is over,” the indictment said.

Ms. Watkins, 38, who served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army from 2001-2003 under her previous name, Jeremy David Watkins, was deployed to Afghanistan, and received an “other than honorable discharge” after “the Army determined that my presenting as a female was unacceptable for a soldier,” she wrote in a name-change filing in New York state. Ms. Watkins said she left her six-year tour of duty early because of her gender dysphoria, adding “I was not otherwise disciplined or prosecuted because of the extenuating circumstances of my medical condition.” She changed her name in 2005, court records show.

Kelly Meggs, one of the new defendants, wrote in a Facebook message in late December to another individual, “Trump said It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! SirYesSir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your shit!!”

Mr. Trump was impeached in the House last month for inciting the violent riot. The Senate voted Saturday to acquit him, with Mr. Trump’s attorneys arguing that he was using typical political rhetoric and didn’t act to foment a mob.

Six More Alleged Members of Oath Keepers Militia Indicted – WSJ

Violent MTF transexual Trump fanatic blindsided me. The "wild" stuff is, I think, exactly what Trump hoped for and got. They should have convicted him.

Having seen that 70% of Republicans reportedly believe something tantamount to "Biden stole the election," along with more other depressing poll results than I can remember, I’m more inclined to put "Period. Full stop." after endorsing the consensus of credentialed opinion.

I won’t always be right, but I’ll be wrong less often than if I say "Well a lot of people believe X, so we can’t be sure, so we really shouldn’t act on the opinions of those who believably say non-X."

Having said that, I quote for your consideration the opinion of one Hal Freeman, whose "credential" for writing about Russia is that he’s an Expat there with his younger Russian wife. Judge for yourself how that stacks up against journalists who don’t live there and may have their own biases against Russia and Putin:

I wrote a blog about [Alex] Navalny in September of 2020. His claim was that Putin’s hit men had tried to kill him by slipping him the nerve agent “Novichok.” …

I will set forth the basic reasons I don’t believe Navalny, but I don’t hide the fact that I don’t like him. He is a racist. I don’t use that term lightly, as folks commonly do in America now. I posted a video of him in my earlier blog referring to Muslims living in Russia whose ancestors were from the Caucasus Mountains as “cockroaches,” who need to be eliminated with a pistol. Before Trump and the whole Russia hoax on the elections, the New York Times used to report facts about Russia. Here is an excerpt from the Times, back before they were blinded by Trump Derangement Syndrome:

"He (Navalny) has appeared as a speaker alongside neo-Nazis and skinheads, and once starred in a video that compares dark-skinned Caucasus militants to cockroaches. While cockroaches can be killed with a slipper, he says that in the case of humans, ‘I recommend a pistol.’” Ellen Barry, NY Times 2011.

The U.S. media “narrative” has certainly changed over time. Now they tout Navalny as an honored leader of “the opposition.” Again, I will state as succinctly as possible why I think Navalny is lying when he says Kremlin messengers tried to kill him back in August, 2020.

The main reason is he changed his story too many times. When I wrote on him in September I mentioned that the first explanation his team gave was that Putin’s men put Novichok in his tea, which he drank at an airport restaurant. No one at that restaurant even remembered him being there. When his handlers were questioned how someone knew what establishment inside the airport he would stop at to drink tea, there was no answer. Was there a waiter there waiting with the Novichok in case he came in?

They not-so-deftly moved to a second explanation: Novichok was put in the water bottle from which he drank in his hotel room before departure. But then reporters discovered that there were at least 5 people in the room with him when the water was delivered. How did they know which bottle Navalny would drink from? Was it hotel staff who delivered it? Again, no real answers from the Navalny team.

So Navalny, now healthy, moved to a third explanation. He made a video that supposedly recorded a phone conversation he had with someone from the FSB (Federal Services of Security). In the call Navalny pretended to be an important person in the FSB, and wanted to know how they had tried to kill him and why it did not work.

The alleged security person Navalny was talking to claimed that they had put the Novichok in his clothes. They concentrated on packing it into the inner seam of the crotch of his underwear. All the Novichok absorbed into his system. He said Navalny survived because of the quick work of the medical team at the hospital when he landed.

Hal Freeman, Biden, Navalny, Protests and Propaganda

Does Limbaugh explain Trump?

There’s a tension between being a bomb-thrower and a leader, and the fact that so few people understand that today is emblematic of how dysfunctional our politics have become. Newt Gingrich, a creature of the Limbaugh era if ever there was one, never really figured out how to resolve that tension. But at least he tried when he was speaker (occasionally). Donald Trump, whom Limbaugh once said wasn’t a conservative, dismissed this tension altogether by simply redefining leadership as bomb-throwing. Trump was a piss-poor commander in chief, but he was the ultimate commentator in chief, hurling brickbats at the very government he ran.

Rich says Rush had an “absolutely unbreakable bond” with his listeners. Obviously, in the context of eulogizing Rush, that’s a fair comment. But it’s not entirely true. If that bond were unbreakable, Limbaugh would not have so often moved to stay on the good side of his audience. Like so much of the right Limbaugh helped create, when the people (or customers) moved, the “leaders” followed.

Of course, people change their views over time for all sorts of intellectually honest reasons, and I have no doubt many of Limbaugh’s evolutions can be explained in that light. But I also have no doubt that many can’t be. At the end of his career, Limbaugh was defending—or allowing himself to be understood as defending—political violence, conspiracy theories, and even secessionism.

If you want to defend that by saying, “We’ll that’s what a lot of right-wingers believe today,” I won’t argue with you. I’m just not sure it’s the defense you think it is.

Jonah Goldberg, Rush Limbaugh, RIP – The G-File

For five years, I tried to figure out the appeal of Donald Trump to an electoral majority of the country. I made essentially no progress.

Now, reading retrospectives on the late Rush Limbaugh, I’m starting to apprehend it, I think. Rush made the world in which owning the libs was its own summum bonum.

But that doesn’t mean I can see how to avoid a repeat. For instance, do I really want the Fairness Doctrine reinstated?

A proposal for reporters covering Republican candidates and officeholders over the next four years:

Every interview should begin with two questions.

Sir/Ma’am, I need one-word answers from you:

  • Who won the 2020 U.S. presidential election?
  • Was this the legitimate result of a free and fair election?

This shouldn’t take long. The questions can be asked in less than 5 seconds. The answers are one word each: “Biden” and “yes.”

Ask Every Republican These Two Questions

What if sometimes you have to choose between two goods? What if you actually can’t have both? Wow, that would really suck. Therefore it cannot be true.

Alan Jacobs, writing trade-offs from frigid Waco.

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

Toxic Trump’s Toxic Traces

On the day Trump leaves office, we’ll still have a younger generation with worse life prospects than their parents had faced. We’ll still have a cultural elite that knows little about people in red America and daily sends the message that they are illegitimate. We’ll still have yawning inequalities, residential segregation, crumbling social capital, a crisis in family formation.

Trump’s rise in 2016 was a symptom of all these crises, long before he had a chance to become an additional cause of them.

What’s the core problem? Damon Linker is on to a piece of it: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole — of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.”

I’d add that this individualism, atomism and selfishness is downstream from a deeper crisis of legitimacy. In 1970, in a moment like our own, Irving Kristol wrote, “In the same way as men cannot for long tolerate a sense of spiritual meaninglessness in their individual lives, so they cannot for long accept a society in which power, privilege, and property are not distributed according to some morally meaningful criteria.”

A lot of people look around at the conditions of this country — how Black Americans are treated, how communities are collapsing, how Washington doesn’t work — and none of it makes sense. None of it inspires faith, confidence. In none of it do they feel a part.

If you don’t breathe the spirit of the nation, if you don’t have a fierce sense of belonging to each other, you’re not going to sacrifice for the common good. We’re confronted with a succession of wicked problems and it turns out we’re not even capable of putting on a friggin’ mask.

David Brooks, The Coronavirus and America’s Humiliation

American leadership has politicized the pandemic instead of trying to fight it. I see no preparedness, no coordinated top-down leadership of the sort we’ve enjoyed in Europe. I see only empty posturing, the sad spectacle of the president refusing to wear a mask, just to own the libs. What an astonishing self-inflicted wound.

On June 26, a day when the U.S. notched some 45,000 new cases—how’s that for “American carnage”?—the European Union announced that it would loosen some travel restrictions but extend its ban on visitors from the United States and other hot-spot nations. On Tuesday, it[confirmed][4] that remarkable and deeply humiliating decision, a clear message that in pandemic management, the EU believes that the United States is no better than Russia and Brazil—autocrat-run public-health disasters—and that American tourists would pose a dire threat to the hard-won stability our lockdown has earned us. So much for the myth that the American political system and way of life are a model for the world.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, Americans Don’t Get How Badly They’re Handling COVID-19

President Trump on Thursday morning appeared before reporters in the White House briefing room to rattle off a bunch of numbers — unemployment numbers, stock-market numbers, consumer-confidence numbers. For much of the presentation, he was reading off of prepared materials. But this is a fellow who can’t resist ad-libbing.

And so at one point, he added, “It’s coming back faster, bigger and better than we ever thought possible,” said Trump of a bounce-back in economic indicators. “These are not numbers made up by me. These are numbers.

… Someone who lies as much as Trump needs a way to signal when he’s not lying.

Eric Wemple, Trump drops bombshell: ‘These are numbers’ (emphasis in original)

The American experiment has always been messy. In fact, that’s part of the appeal. But this is not America at its best. America, at its best, is not banned from traveling to Europe because it has so badly failed to contain a disease that a mere tourist is considered a public health risk. At its best, America does not get so swept up in the mob mentality that it indiscriminately tears down monuments of abolitionists and patriots, nor does it shrug its collective shoulders when it learns a foreign adversary placed bounties on the heads of our servicemen and women.

Here’s hoping the country feels more like celebrating next year.

The Morning Dispatch: American Pride Hits Record Low

* * * * *

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.

Organized Chaos


L’affaire Reno

My friend Damon Linker has posted a column that denounces me as a toady for Randian libertarianism. But Linker’s reasoning (which is widespread these days) fails to recognize the distinction between killing and letting die. A woman choosing an abortion and the doctor performing it directly intend the death of the child, and they adopt lethal means to realize that intention. The same is true for euthanasia, when the doctor intends and causes the death of the ill or suffering person. As the literature in medical ethics makes clear, killing is very different from refraining from heroic interventions to save a life.

In the Catholic tradition of medical ethics, heroic efforts to save lives must meet two tests. They must have a good probability of success, and they must not be excessively burdensome. In my estimation, we have embarked on a society-wide, heroic effort that fails not just the second test, but the first as well.

At the present moment, we are compelling millions of hourly wage earners to give up their livelihoods. And we are on a trajectory that may have unknown political, social, and spiritual costs. Where will our political system end up? I’m anguished by the fear that so many feel, most unnecessarily.

This is not an argument against the present “shelter in place” policies. Perhaps they are the wisest course of action. But it is not morally serious to suggest that our present policies are obligatory—and that if one dissents, one is a moral monster.

R.R. Reno (emphasis added)

The more I read, the more I think Linker was right. Reno’s treatment of heroic efforts is shockingly superficial — mere hand-waving.

Rod Dreher, like many of my friends, has adopted the view that pro-life Christians are obligated to preserve life at any cost. This requires one to hold, as a matter of principle, that physical death is the greatest evil, since preventing death is the highest good. No ancient philosophers held such a view. Nor did the Old Testament prophets. Jesus certainly didn’t.

R.R. Reno, who has no answer for his critics and thus is reduced to lying about them.

Rod is not impeccable, but this simply wasn’t and isn’t his position.

In his own rejoinder to Reno, Dreher pointedly skewers Reno:

Look at what’s happening to New York City’s hospitals now, and try to maintain with a straight face that being told you can’t have a small dinner party amounts to the state making geldings of magazine editors. It’s just perverse.

But he still calls Reno a friend and professes fondness for contrarians.

When the facts get in the way of the narrative, print the narrative.

Alan Jacobs, criticizing, not exhorting.

Some will protest that there won’t be hundreds of thousands of deaths, and anyone who says so is a fear-monger. My hope too is that the death toll will be relatively low, but if so, it will only be because we listened to the so-called “fear-mongers” or because we got incredibly lucky. The vast majority of the epidemiological data points to a grim scenario in the absence of dramatic intervention. To be sure, models are sometimes wrong and experts are not omniscient, but we rarely hesitate to cut our beach vacations short when a major hurricane—something far less predictable than an epidemic curve—is on its way, so it’s hard to see the rational ground for blithely ignoring the threats of this other force of nature—infinitesimally smaller, perhaps, but far more deadly.

Traditionally, Christians have taught that the sixth commandment imposes on us not merely an obligation not to kill but to do whatever we reasonably can to preserve life: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others…” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 135)

Among … non-negotiables, it seems to me, should be honor and respect for the aged. Utilitarianism says that these people have the least time left to live anyway, so they are the most expendable. The Judeo-Christian heritage says that the aged are priceless repositories of wisdom, that they gave us life and wealth and left us forever in their debt, that they demand our honor and respect. They do not deserve to die alone at home or in an overflowing hospital hallway, gasping for breath.

At the root of our protest that “the cure is worse than the disease,” I suspect, is a fear that our own way of life may have to change. Comforts that we once took for granted might turn out to be luxuries. Luxuries that we once aspired to may have to be shelved for another decade or two. Freedoms that we thought were our birthright, we will be forced to realize, were in fact simply the lucky blessing of having been born at the right time. For every generation in human history before those now living, “the economy” lived in a state of constant fragility, subject to forces of nature large and small. Epidemics and quarantines were facts of life. The freedom to live under your own vine and fig tree without interference was an eschatological hope rather than a political given.

Bradford Littlejohn, “No Wealth but Life”: Moral Reasoning in a Pandemic at Mere Orthodoxy (which, be it remembered, is Reformed, not Orthodox; that’s why he cites Westminster).

I’m very glad for that last paragraph, which gives voice to something I’ve been thinking. Yeah, it’s fairly easy for me to think that way, which is part of why I hadn’t said it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it with a wave of the hand or a derisive snort.

This is the best thing I’ve read yet about some of the rash, performative “faith” or “hard-headedness” I’ve been seeing.

Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2269, interjected by me because Reno is conspicuously Roman Catholic.


Trump is not making an argument that the DPA would be counterproductive. Tonight on Hannity, Trump said that he doesn’t believe there’s a need for all those ventilators!

Rod Dreher

And Donald “No Quid Pro Quo” Trump demands a quid pro quo for saving, e.g., New Yorkers’ lives.

To be sacrilegious requires some recognition of what is actually sacred — a type of knowledge Trump has never displayed. To him, choosing Easter must have been like selecting Independence Day or Arbor Day or Groundhog Day — a useful date on which to hang a ploy.

… At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period. Trump is not only proposing a celebration of the Resurrection that would fill graves. He is implying that one way to “own the libs” is by further exposing the elderly to a cruel illness. He is urging his “pro-life” followers to increase their tolerance for death.

This represents a different kind of sickness — a moral sickness that took hold in Trump long ago. His immediate, selfish interest is the cause — the only cause — to which he has dedicated his life.

Michael Gerson. Gerson, a Protestant (for so I consider Anglicans), does not share a very Orthodox view of Easter, but this is mostly very solid.

I guess one of the reasons I’m so furious about Donald Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic (and it’s still bungled; many who get tested don’t get timely test results, like both Ross Douthat and Peggy Noonan) is that I first learned of the virus from Rod Dreher morre than two months ago and he had the gist of its rapid spread and mortality rates, which both bode pandemic.

Rod freakin’ Dreher, of Baton Rouge, LA. Blogger and author on social matters, not scientific. But the Trump administration couldn’t figure out that we needed to get ready?!

This is not Fauci’s faullt. It’s not the fault of our “intelligence community” in their national security work.

It’s pig-headed Donald Trump’s fault, and history will not judge him kindly.

This particular plague hits us at exactly the spots where we are weakest and exposes exactly those ills we had lazily come to tolerate. We’re already a divided nation, and the plague makes us distance from one another. We define ourselves too much by our careers, and the plague threatens to sweep them away. We’re a morally inarticulate culture, and now the fundamental moral questions apply.

In this way the plague demands that we address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. The plague brings forth our creativity. It’s during economic and social depressions that the great organizations of the future are spawned.

David Brooks

Eight days in I entered the living hell of attempting to find my results through websites and patient portals. I downloaded unnavigable apps, was pressed for passwords I’d not been given, followed dead-end prompts. The whole system is built to winnow out the weak, to make you stop bothering them. This is what it’s like, in a robot voice: “How to get out of the forest: There will be trees. If you aren’t rescued in three to seven days, please try screaming into the void.”

Peggy Noonan, who still doesn’t have her March 17 coronavirus test results. Her fever, though, seems to have broken after 21 days.

One reason many people are deeply skeptical of climate change is that a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway. And often, the stuff they want to do in the name of fighting climate change has nothing to do with climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s original proposal for a Green New Deal includes trillions in funding for Medicare for All but nothing for nuclear power. The former would do zilch to reduce CO2 emissions; the latter would do a lot.

During the debate over the economic-rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instances of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

If you want to persuade normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously, too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a sure-fire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

Jonah Goldberg

Mistaken identities

Katherine Stewart apparently has decided that the term “evangelical” should be usd indiscriminately, as “fundamentalist” has been used for decades. Most of the people she names in The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, insofar as I recognized them or tracked them down, are dubious candidates for the Evangelical label. They’re Presbyterians, Reformed, Charismatic, Seventh Day Adventist — not unequivocally evangelical.

It’s not my fight to fight. Evangelicals can mount their own defense if and as they like. But if they say “these guys aren’t ours,” I’ll be inclined to believe them.

Max Boot angrily left the GOP during the Trump era, and it’s easy for me to understand why he did. He’s taken a lot of shots at the party since then.

But today’s column takes a counterproductive shot at “the ‘pro-life’ movement” which, in Boot’s evil eye, is too willing to sacrifice born lives to the virus to spare the economy.

There’s just one problem: few of the examples he cites are plausibly from the pro-life movement. They are conservative officials, pundits, celebrities and provocateurs:

  • Ann Coulter
  • Laura Ingraham
  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
  • Brit Hume
  • Dennis Prager
  • Glenn Beck
  • R.R. Reno
  • The Federalist

Of that list, I think Reno and probably Prager have been reliably pro-life, though franky I so rarely read Prager that I’m not sure.

The others have used abortion as a wedge issue, and to secure an important part of the Republican base, but they have never exhibited the seamless-web tendencies of actual movement pro-lifers.

Instead of preaching to the liberal choir, Boot should have said “Dear Movement Pro-Lifers: Look at the creeps you’ve idolized and elected. Care to reconsider your knee-jerk fealty to the GOP?”

Inessentials  & Miscellany

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich has decreed that priests may not perform emergency baptisms without permission, despite the fact that canon law gives every Catholic—even a layman—the right to baptize in case of emergency.

Because of coronavirus, my wife and I baptized our infant son with only the godparents and the clergyman present. The parish at which it would have been logical to baptize him turned us away. But another said it would accommodate us. Hand sanitizer had been placed at the entrance. We refrained from shaking the cleric’s hand. The only audience for the ceremony was a man at the far end of the church, kneeling alone in a pew. I was grateful that the church showed concern for us physically. And more grateful still that it did not abandon us spiritually.

Matthew Schmitz

We have to learn to love our crooked neighbors, with our crooked hearts. What else is there?

Rod Dreher

* * * * *

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’ve been reading and clipping less news because it’s all coronavirus and I got reasonably up to speed on that early. By reading less news, I have less to pop off about. But here’s (most of) what a wrote in my Common Place book today:

Both of my choirs have cancelled concerts and rehearsals. But since you’ll not hear us this Spring, here’s some second best:

If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.

Halting Virus Will Require Harsh Steps, Experts Say

I’m not positive of this, but I believe the media have been treating “it’s going to disappear; one day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear” as a lie. I think it’s scarier than that, and that it (conveniently) “confirms my priors.”

Of course Trump was wrong. Of course he was spinning a fantasy. But what if he believed it?

I think it’s very likely that he did because, as I’ve been saying for rather a long time now (years, not weeks or months) his narcissism is so profound that he cannot perceive the world accurately. That presents us with greater danger than him being an habitual liar (though I think he’s that, too; the two are not mutually exclusive.)

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Rand Paul, “libertarian,” is just an arrogant, selfish a**hole.

[T]he mortality rate suffered by Americans in World War II is modest when compared to their enemies (including those of all ages who died under the rain of bombs dropped on Tokyo and Dresden) and most of their allies. Two thirds of males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 were dead by 1945, with a 7.2 percent death rate for Soviet soldiers of all nationalities. And it wasn’t just the Germans who killed Soviets: the Red Army executed 217,000 of its own men for desertion, over half the number of total U.S. combat deaths throughout the entire war. (“It takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army,” Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov observed.)

So while no one is underestimating the potential human tragedy we are facing with the coronavirus (in which, by some estimates, many more Americans will die than in all of our wars combined), it seems unlikely to come anywhere close to the 26 million dead (counting civilians) of the Soviet Union in the four years from 1941 to 1945, or the approximately 75 million dead of all nationalities, as grim a reaping as any in human history.

Mark Perry

There are a thousand coronavirus-related things you can legitimately fault Donald Trump for, but two people in Arizona eating fish tank cleaner because the president said that a legitimate drug that sounds like the active agent in the aquarium powder might show promise against coronavirus — that’s not one of them.

Rod Dreher

One acquaintance, in a position to know, once said of another “Watch out. He’s not as he pretends.”

I’ve never been able to shake that, though I’ve seen no sign that it’s true.

True or toxic? If toxic, the toxins are still nasty years later. Watch what you say.

His well-known shortcomings — his disdain for expert advice and evidence, his penchant for grievance, his narcissism and self-congratulation— are problematic in the best of times. During this pandemic, those characteristics are positively dangerous to the country he leads.

A growing number of journalists are calling on news and broadcast networks to quit showing Trump’s briefings live — arguing that public safety is best-served by fact-checking the president’s statements before reporting them out to the broader public.

“Even this far into his term, it is still a bit of a shock to be reminded that the single most potent force for misinforming the American public is the current president of the United States,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote over the weekend. “On everything that involves the coronavirus Donald Trump’s public statements have been unreliable.”

Joel Mathis, The worst possible president for this crisis

I’m not sure I can bear to renew First Things after Reno’s latest screed. And I’d bet a modest amount that David French’s sensible Sunday column is what set him off (remember: Reno is the guy who published Sohrab Ahmari’s unprovoked attack on French).

It is, for me, the equivalent of The End of Democracy: Our Judicial Oligarchy, which led to resignations from the First Things Board.

David Warren’s (On living dangerously) is subversive in a gentle, irenic way — sharp contrast to R.R. Reno’s rage-monkey:

… The most restless society since the invention of restlessness cannot cope with “downtime.” … Without the “events” which help to distinguish one day from another, we will need to start a war.

Had we books, and to have developed the habit of using them, we might read history instead; and even a bit of poetry on the side. But now, at loose ends, we are inspired to do something. Also, please note, the doctrine of original sin. I’m a big fan.

My political dogma has surely been established by now. I am against “doing” anything. Fight for a world in which nothing exciting happens, other than the pursuit of beauty, goodness, and truth. Fight relentlessly — by example.

The victory of Body over Spirit is confirmed in the Church. A correspondent forwarded a particularly obnoxious, but catatonically glib, remark by one influential ecclesiastical hierarch. He and others say that “keeping people safe” is their “highest priority.”

As another priest explained — this one a believing Catholic, unlikely ever to suffer advancement — the hierarch in question probably didn’t think he was uttering Catholic doctrine, just mindlessly repeating what he had learnt by rote. If quizzed meticulously, he would probably realize that Christ was not a gym instructor; and that the salvation of souls is in many ways unlike a public health operation. He was just going with the flow, as the trivial consequence of being an idiot.

For the record: Catholicism does not keep people safe. Verily, Christianity is dangerous …

By all means follow their pandemic instructions, until you get bored and have to start a war. But the most dangerous life is not licking doorknobs. It is trying to become a saint.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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.

Democrat face-plant

[I]n the area of historical consciousness [Donald Trump] is, truly, a hopeless cause. But this week Democrats joined him in the pit.

Do they understand what a disaster this was for them? If Mr. Trump wins re-election, if in fact it isn’t close, it will be traceable to this first week in February.

Iowa made them look the one way a great party cannot afford to look: unserious …

And what happened a day later in the House was just as bad.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi shattered tradition, making faces, muttering, shaking her head as the president delivered his State of the Union address. At the end she famously stood, tore the speech up and threw down the pieces.

“But he didn’t shake her hand.” So what? Her great calling card is she’s the sane one.

Some progressive members refused to attend, or walked out during the speech—one said, without irony, that she was “triggered.” …

The speech itself was shrewd and its political targeting astute …

More than ever, more showily, this was an aligning of the GOP, in persons and symbols, with “outsiders”—with those without officially sanctioned cultural cachet, with the minority, the regular, the working class. It was plain people versus fancy people—that is, versus snooty liberals and progressives who talk a good game about the little guy but don’t seem to like him much; who in their anger and sarcasm, in their constant censoriousness and characterological lack of courtesy, have managed to both punch above their political weight and make a poor impression on the national mind.

This was the president putting the Republican Party on the side of the nobodies of all colors as opposed to the somebodies. (Van Jones on CNN had it exactly right: Trump is going for black and Hispanic men, and the Democrats are foolish not to see it.) This is a realignment I have supported and a repositioning I have called for and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t please me to see it represented so effectively, and I very much regret that the president is a bad man and half mad because if he weren’t I’d be cheering.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added) Note that this is her blog, with no paywall (unlike the Wall Street Journal version).

I quote at length because this is the rare occasion when I was uncomfortable with her column. Apart from

  • the snooty liberals and progressives talking a far, far better “common man” game than they’ve played in decades,
  • that there is a realignment of parties still going on, and
  • that Trump is a bad man and half mad.

we were not seeing things alike.

But put those three bullet points together and subtract the Republican loyalty she retains but I’ve abandoned, and we are seeing things substantially alike! I just had to read more carefully and mull it a bit.

I try to avoid watching that man because I don’t enjoy feeling enraged. So I might conceivably have noticed “shrewd” or “astute” had I been watching. She is paid to watch things like that and to call them to others’ attention.

I thought it meet and right to share the impressions of someone shrewder and of cooler head than my own. You may enjoy the entirety, of course, by clicking the link, which I recommend.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

Notable, quotable

Yes, the Wall Street Journal got “Notable & Quotable,” but they’re still regular English descriptive words.

[W]hat still escapes most of us who “opt out” of Facebook and the like: making a loud declaration of our deletion of social media is still letting the very norms we desire to disrupt set the terms of the debate.

Amanda Patchin, recommending Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, which presents as a self-help, digital detox type book but, they say, turns subversively into much more.

Promoting his new podcast, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted, “Last week we had Lev Parnas on Maddow & ‘secret tapes’; this week, the ‘Bolton revelations.’ It’s the same approach Dems & media followed during the Kavanaugh hearing.”

Except it’s not at all. The only thing similar about the two controversies is that new allegations kept inconveniencing politicians who wanted to move on. By that standard, nearly every unfolding Washington scandal is like the Kavanaugh hearings.

Jonah Goldberg

Some things never really change. Ted Cruz’s creepy manipulativeness is just one of those things.

I did not expect to laugh out loud at Kyle Smith’s Inside the Hillary Bubble, but then he opened with a pitch-perfect simile:

Imagine a socially maladept but extremely wealthy friend of yours was told, “People like tap dancing. You should tap-dance more.” You would cringe when the person was telling you about a major career setback and suddenly lurched into a little tap-dancing interlude. “Did I ever tell you about the time the world turned to ashes for me?” Tap-tap, tappity-tap. You’d feel sorry for your friend but mainly you’d feel that this person is deeply weird.

At some point in recent years, one or more of Hillary Clinton’s many handlers, advisers, or consultants told her, “You should laugh more. People like laughter.” Except she is sour, dour, and without a humorous molecule in her body. Her laughter is always feigned, hence always a non sequitur. When she reminds herself it’s laughing time, it comes across as a tic. It’s as bizarre as sudden-onset tap dancing.

In historic footage going back many years in the new documentary Hillary, Clinton presents as an inveterate scold and crusader. In more than a quarter of a century as a public figure she has never, as far as I know, said anything funny that wasn’t written for her. Yet in a fresh new batch of interviews taken for Hillary, the title figure becomes the second major movie anti-hero of recent months to exhibit a problem with bursting into unexplained, mirthless, and (hence) deeply disquieting laughter.

[A]llowing Bolton to testify about what’s apparently in his forthcoming book … would force Republicans to clearly reveal where they stand on the most important issue dividing the party.

That issue is, of course, Donald Trump himself.

Senators may not be willing to convict and remove Trump from office, but that’s where the unanimity stops. There is a spectrum of relative Trumpification in the GOP — and Bolton’s testimony would compel Republican senators to make a definitive choice about where to place themselves on it, and then oblige them to defend it in public ….

Damon Linker

There are … great problems with shame as a means of governing. For one thing, opposition does not disappear but only becomes unspeakable, making the public even less knowable to its rulers. For another, shame as a government weapon works only on people capable of feeling shame. It thus purges high-minded people from the opposition and ensures that, when the now-mysterious public does throw up an opposition, it will be led by shameless people and take a shameless form.

Christopher Caldwell via Rod Dreher, with Rod rejoicing at this CNN clip (which the GOP is already exploiting).

The Pentagon announced Friday that 34 American service members suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of Iranian airstrikes earlier this month. Prior to the Defense Department’s announcement, President Trump had described the injuries as “not very serious.”

Via The Morning Dispatch.

Am I the only one to notice that Donald Trump sometimes — how shall I put this? — lies? Will this lie prove his Benghazi? Nah! He’s a member of the right tribe.

Brian Burch’s has identified 199,241 Wisconsin Catholics “who’ve been to church at least 3 times in the last 90 days” but of whom “91,373 … are not even registered to vote!”

He’s not kidding. He’s not making up numbers like Joseph McCarthy did.

If you attend an evangelical or a Catholic Church, a women’s rights march or a political rally of any kind, especially in a seriously contested state, the odds are that your cellphone ID number, home address, partisan affiliation and the identifying information of the people around you will be provided by geofencing marketers to campaigns, lobbyists and other interest groups.

And Democrats are scared. Worth reading, though there’s a New York Times paywall, to get the skinny on how microtargeting does politics.

One really should read, if possible, Robert P. George’s fond remembrance of Roger Scruton, by way of summarizing key themes in his conservative philosophy.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.