Entangled musings

So long as worship of the Emperor as a God was required by law of all citizens, to become a Christian meant to become a criminal. In consequence, the Christians of the first four centuries A.D., subject like everyone else to the temptations of the Flesh and the Devil, had been spared the Temptations of the World. One could become a converted and remain a thorough rascal, but one could not be converted and remain a gentleman.

(W.H. Auden, in the Introduction to The Complete Poems of Cavafy)

My former activism on behalf of unpopular causes (e.g., against abortion, against mandatory social leveling on behalf of practitioners of trendy vices) was never a strategy to “get my name out there” so people would seek my legal services. Insofar as it did bring me clients, they strongly tended toward eccentricity if not outright crackpottery.

We were not formally criminals, my clients and I, but we knew that we could not aspire to unequivocal worldly respectability, either. (That is not a characterization of all my clients — just the ones who I knew as co-belligerents in lost causes.)

Most of these activism-related clients were “conservative” Protestants, as was I then. Most of them plainly were either tacitly Nominalists or at least utterly incapable of framing a confident argument in Realist terms. They were the proverbial “Bible-thumpers,” pulling out their favored proof-texts that sodomy is sinful, or that God knows each of us en ventre sa mère. The problem came connecting such things to law.

In a recent podcast, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon opines that Nominalism is probably, “the deepest flaw in the whole Protestant enterprise” (Luther referred to William of Ockham, the Franciscan popularizer of Nominalism, as his “mein meister”, and the Church of England still commemorates Ockham on April 10.) Fr. Pat’s podcast is actually a pretty succinct introduction to the Nominalist-Realist contrast. (Quick: is adultery wrong because God forbade it or did God forbid it because is wrong — contrary to reality as he created it?)

Somehow, I was a Realist, or leaning strongly Realist, even before I knew the Nominalist-Realist distinction and well before Orthodoxy. I frequently lamented, if only in private, the embarrassing and counter-productive arguments of my co-belligerents in the causes we all supported (or, likelier, opposed).

My tacit Realism (which I’m fairly sure developed unawares after my adolescence) may have been another factor, along with my earlier-in-life onset of temperamental partiality to contemplation more than action, that made Orthodox Christianity click for me when I finally encountered it. I wish I were confident that North American Orthodox Christians, especially my fellow converts, were solidly Realist, because we’re living in parallel ecclesial realities if they’re not.

But I began talking about “my activism.” Do I contradict myself, interjecting contemplation? I think not. My “activism” was argumentation, verbal and in writing, which is a fairly contemplative form of activism. I’ve never raided a draft board, lain down in a street, or otherwise gotten into the physical scrum.

And is there some latent negativity in my oppositional activism (rather than supportive activism)? Again I think not, though it may, once more, dovetail with an aspect of Orthodoxy: apophasis, known in Latin as the via negativa. More specifically, I’m less confident of the location of the “this is right and good and pure” bullseye than I am about “wherever that bullseye is, it ain’t here.”

After more than 22 year in Orthodoxy, I’m still picking up threads that I think helped to lead me here. Picking them up, and acknowledging their entanglement and, sometimes, ineffability seems true to life — which is notoriously messy — more generally.

* * * * *

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

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Posted in Discrimination, Nominalism and Realism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Sacramental Tapestry

Perverse rejoicing

With a provenance like the Wall Street Journal’s “Houses of Worship” opinion series and a title like Thank God, American Churches Are Dying, you’d be justified in expecting a mix of self-conscious perversity and unhealthy, un-reflective antecedent bias.

You’d be right.

It’s true that denomination-based churches—Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic—have been on a downward slope for years. But nondenominational evangelical churches are growing in number, from 54,000 in 1998 to 84,000 in 2012 …

Fresh churches replacing and created from old ones, armed with modern ideas to attract and tend to a new generation of believers …

… The leaders … generally focus on creating churches that cater to specific needs. There is a church exclusively for employees of Disney World. Spanish-language services are more popular than ever. “House churches,” composed of neighbors meeting for informal services—usually in living rooms—are on the rise as well. Popular Christian leaders like Francis Chan, a former megachurch pastor who now advocates house churches, offer free training for this model.

Those with denominational affinity will be sad to see a certain kind of church fall away. But the success of new models shows significant groups of people looking for ways to live faithfully, albeit in a less structured way. Could this really signify a religious awakening?

Ericka Andersen.

Wow:

  • “Nondenominational evangelical[s]” (but she repeat herself)
  • “armed with modern ideas” and
  • “cater[ing] to specific needs;”even
  • a church that excludes you based on who employs you.

Yet the cockles of my heart remain ice-cold. I must be some kind of monster. All I can think of is the one holy catholic and apostolic church, and the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints without any license to pander, negotiate over it, or erect barriers around it.

I will not deny a certain je ne sais pas, a certain frisson, at the closure of some churches. And God works in mysterious ways, about which circuitousness I can be awfully dense.

But if this is truly God’s work, it surely is to use these curated, Disneyfied simulacra to prepare postmoderns for the real thing.*

I fear, though, that it’s not God’s work at all. There’s another who sometimes appears as an angel of light, and who does his best work these days with counterfeits more than with frank apostasy.

(* The article’s reference to “House Churches” doesn’t trigger quite so strong a gag reflex. Those might prove to be Benedict-Option necessity in coming darkness here, as they have elsewhere in the world.)

* * * * *

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

(Jude 3)

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Posted in American Folk Religion, Atheism, Damn rackets, Evangelicalism, Faith & Ideology, Free-range Christians, Orthopathos, Sundry flakes, Transvaluation of Values | Tagged

Truth-tellers not welcome

Trump Berated Intelligence Chief Over Report Russia Wants Him Re-Elected

President chastised official after staffer informed bipartisan House panel that Moscow might again seek to boost his campaign

WASHINGTON—President Trump lashed out at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, earlier this month after learning that one of his subordinates had briefed the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s apparent preference for Mr. Trump in the 2020 presidential contest, people familiar with the matter said.

The Oval Office confrontation occurred after Mr. Trump learned that Shelby Pierson, the top election-security official in Mr. Maguire’s office, delivered information on election interference in a classified hearing before bipartisan members of the House panel, alongside national security officials from other federal agencies, three of the people said.

During that hearing, Ms. Pierson said Russia appeared to favor Mr. Trump over Democratic challengers and might seek to act on that preference, two of the people said, in a move that would reprise Moscow’s efforts during the 2016 election to boost his candidacy.

… The president … expressed his agitation over the substance of what Ms. Pierson told lawmakers about Russia’s possible interest in interfering on his behalf, these people said, with one person describing it as a prolonged and pointed interrogation of Mr. Maguire. Officials from other agencies were also present in the room, these people said.

Mr. Trump on Wednesday said he was replacing Mr. Maguire, a retired Navy vice admiral, as acting director of national intelligence with Richard Grenell, the current ambassador to Germany. Mr. Grenell has scant experience with intelligence matters and is viewed by Democrats as an ardent loyalist to the president. Mr. Maguire had been rumored to be in the running to be nominated to the position full-time, and Mr. Trump had praised him publicly during his tenure ….

Dustin Volz, Wall Street Journal (emphasis added)

Firing the acting head of an agency whose sole raison d’être is careful analysis to discern the unvarnished truth for the protection of the country from hostile foreign powers.

This is why it’s — ahem! — scary to have a prickly narcissist (see below for more) living in the White House.

* * * * *

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

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Posted in deathworks, Intricate malice, Naked Emperors, Political Matters, Russia, the worst are full of passionate intensity

Holdovers vs. Loyalists

One of my bigger inner conflicts over the past few months is how to view the National Security Council, its affiliates and constituent pieces.

I’ve been listening to the Intelligence Matters podcast, and I’m impressed by the sobriety and relative political neutrality of our “intelligence community.” Dissatisfaction with Trump is implicit fairly often, but so are defenses of Trump against some of the most strident criticisms of him. I heard one of them just yesterday mildly say that Trump’s penchant for economic sanctions has forced the intelligence community to up their game on economic analysis.

That same speaker, addressing an audience heavy with students who likely were considering intelligence work, described it by analogy:

  • How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles? Okay, keep your hands up.
  • How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is? Okay, keep your hands up.
  • How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is and you know you only have a quarter of the pieces? Okay, keep your hands up.
  • How many of you like solving jigsaw puzzles when you don’t know what the picture is, and you know you only have a quarter of the pieces, and the President of the United States wants to know what the picture is in 5 minutes to inform a major decision?

So when someone refers to “Obama holdovers” at NSC rather than to “career intelligence professionals,” my crap detector awakens. That, basically, is the schtick of Rich Higgins in The White House Fired Me for My Loyalty. Higgins also wrote the forgettable POTUS & Political Warfare.

In the former, he complains:

Staffers were assigned to develop plans for ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Instead they came up with reasons it couldn’t be done. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, delivered them to the president and explained why he couldn’t keep his campaign promises.

There were a few Trump loyalists on the staff, but we were outnumbered and mostly ignored. It was clear that the Trump presidency wouldn’t succeed unless the resistance was defeated. That meant Obama holdovers had to be replaced by people who would carry out the new president’s agenda. We few loyalists drew up a list. When Gen. McMaster found out, he called an all-hands assembly and declared: “There are no ‘holdovers.’ We are all on the same team.”

(Emphasis added) In the latter he argues — oh, I don’t know how to describe it except “Hey! Look at me, Mr. Trump! I’m your man!”

Come to think of it, that’s the subtext of the former, too.

I am uneasy at the plausible threat of the “deep state” to self-governance, but I’m very uneasy at the thought of “loyalists” Larry, Moe and Curly Joe, with little or no national security experience, supplanting “holdovers” to carry out the new president’s agenda” for a possibly dishonorable or ruinous withdrawal from Afghanistan. I think I’d rather risk the experienced “deep state” keeping us involved for reasons they can articulate other than in word salads.

That decision, though, is not a no-brainer. I was grateful to the Wall Street Journal for publishing this odd opinion piece that inadvertently made the alternative to “deep state” look as scary as it did by the self-outing of a sycophantic Trump loyalist who comes across as not terribly bright.

* * * * *

In the fearful day of judgment, O Lord, forgive my prissy efforts at purity.

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Political Matters | Tagged ,

Michael Gerson’s malice

Michael Gerson badly misrepresents Andrew Walker’s explanation for why many Evangelicals support Trump:

Walker is making the following claim: If you think abortion is a matter of life or death, then you must support whoever opposes it most vigorously, even if he or she is an immoral lout.

That is a maliciously bad misreading. Walker’s claim — and I read him attentively but critically — is far more like

that Trump opponents need to understand that because most of his fellow-Evangelicals think abortion is a matter of life or death, many of them have ended up uneasily supporting Trump, who opposes it while Democrats increasingly and defiantly support it and ban opponents from their ranks.

Walker said nothing about Trump votes actually being a moral imperative, but his premise is that it can feel like one. His column wasn’t even an argument for voting for Trump. It was a description of why some do. Thatt’s even plain from his title: Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump, not Why Serious Abortion Opponents Must Vote for Trump.

Remarkably, though, the rest of Gerson’s column explains lucidly, in five points (only the first of which is totally vitiated by what Walker actually explained), why supporting Trump is not a moral imperative for those who oppose abortion.

I even join Gerson in this:

I think Walker significantly (and strategically) overestimates the amount of moral angst amongst evangelical Trump supporters.

But then, I may agree with that just because of how both the press and Trump have treated Evangelicals as ipso facto Trumpista.

Anyone who thinks there’s a moral imperative to vote for Trump on anti-abortion grounds should read Gerson.

* * * * *

How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

(Samuel Johnson)

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Posted in American Folk Religion, Evangelicalism, Political Matters, Virtue signaling

In your heart, you know he’s wrong

Andrew Walker has written an excellent and sympathetic account of why many conservative Christians vote for Trump.

My critique has little to do with what he says about the objects he focuses on, more to do with his too-narrow field of vision:

  1. All the negative analysis of Trump is framed in terms of how wicked and intemperate his is. That’s secondary for me, as my top concern is how his extreme narcissism distorts his perception, cognition and volition. I don’t want a delusional man managing crises. I want someone who, when faced with a choice between doing right for the country and grabbing a benefit for himself, will know that there can be a difference, and is capable of putting the country first. In your heart, you know that’s not Trump.
  2. None of the analysis of the complexity of the choice mentions the possibility that our choice is not binary. Perhaps (as I think) both parties are so corrupt that it’s time to give up “let go and let God” on the short game — and by “short,” I mean the next few decades in all likelihood, and play a “longer game” politically by looking elsewhere.

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President.

* * * * *

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.

Posted in Abortion distortion factor, Evangelicalism, Life political issues, Political Matters, Thrown down gauntlet, Transvaluation of Values

Questions for the porn-addled

I’m struggling with a porn addiction … and it makes me afraid to be around women. I have all of these scripts in my head of how men and women go from clothed to naked in less than two minutes, but I don’t know how to be with women in everyday life. What if I’m not a safe person for women to be around if I have all of this stuff going on in my head?

Quoted in Bronwyn Lea, Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World.

I’ve got a few questions for you. pal:

  • Isn’t the knowledged that you’re making yourself into a bit of a monster enough to get you to stop?
  • Do you realize that your porn use makes you complicit in sex-trafficking some of the women you’re masturbating to?
  • If you were to die right now, do you think you’d even want to live forever in heaven without porn, and where it’s not “all about you”?
  • Do you really think that once having said “the sinner’s prayer” would even open heaven’s gates to you in the first place?

* * * * *

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful and unstable man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Posted in deathworks | Tagged

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.

Posted in Bread & Circuses, Demographics, Duly noted_stay tuned, liberalism, Political Matters, populism, progressivism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

Caveat Emptor

Michael Pakaluk proposes a prefatory disclosure to David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, implying that the book is a sort of theological fraud:

Warning. St. Basil the Great, a doctor of the Church—who loved Origen but nonetheless did not embrace universalism—as early as the fourth century, warned the faithful against teachings like those which you will find in this book by David Bentley Hart.

Basil taught firmly that such views could only be entertained by those who had, as it were, lost sight of the plain and repeated teachings of the Lord. It would be the height of daring to believe such things, he said—and so, obviously, to teach and promote them would be much worse. To do so, Basil would say, amounts to collaboration with the Devil, who, in his characteristically deceitful ways, would like nothing more than for people to suppose that the everlasting punishment of hell does not exist.

Pakaluk is presumably Roman Catholic. Hart, like me, is Orthodox.

But Hart, as brilliant as he is, is an increasingly arrogant and abusive provocateur, and this book is outside the Orthodox consensus, which I take to be that we may hope for the salvation of all, but we should not expect it.

I do hope for the salvation of all. I do not expect it.

It is also worth noting that Hart is an Orthodox layman and a philosopher, with no known credentials as a theologian (though one not infrequently sees him so identified).

Let the book-buyer beware.

* * * * *

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.

Posted in deathworks, History, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Sundry flakes | Tagged

Cultural Liturgies

America does not have a liturgy of repentance. The days of fasting once enjoined upon us are a thing of the past. Even then, for all the prayers and fasting of Lincoln’s republic, no particular liturgy ever marked the end of slavery, much less sought to repent for its evils. To this day, many seek to justify its history.

When the Soviet Union fell, within a few short years, Russians began to create memorials and liturgies for the atrocities of the Soviet Union. In Moscow, at the killing fields of Butovo, a Church now stands as a memorial to its victims. Public liturgies are held there on a regular basis. It is one of many such memorials across the country.

Our public narrative is very thin. The Church historian, Martin Marty, once said that American Christianity was “2,000 miles wide and 2 inches deep.” When our Christian theology mimics the triumphant patriotism of our culture, nothing deeper ever begins. Depth comes with suffering. Suffering creates sorrow, and sorrow, of a godly sort, produces repentance.

We are bad at enough stuff and have a history sufficiently marked with sorrow to create fertile ground for repentance. It lacks the humility to greet it.

It is ever so much more than a game.

Fr, Stephen Freeman

I suspect that Fr. Stephen’s blog entry was spurred by Sunday’s SuperBowl LIV, with the only liturgical elements our nation knows: patriotism with a dash of remembrance. It might even have been influenced by Fr. Steven browsing the Eighth Day Books book table at the Eighth Day Symposium a bit over a week ago, on which table I’m pretty sure James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies trio was on display.

* * * * *

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.

Posted in American Folk Religion, Bread & Circuses, Civil Religion, deathworks, Naked Public Square, Secularism