Experience versus parsing


AI: Biological minds experience; Synthesis engines parse.

I was not losing any sleep over Artificial General Intelligence, which is good since “Artificial General Intelligence” is (I very recently learned) an hyperbole, inflating what ChatGPT and its ilk really are.

Baldur Bjarnason’s Artificial General Intelligence and the bird brains of Silicon Valley didn’t entirely reassure me that the synthetic text-parser we’ve been having fun with for a few months don’t present some real problems, but the problems are orders of magnitude less, and almost certainly qualitatively different from, the breathless speculations that keep turning up.

But Bjarnason’s article was so laugh-inducing and persuasive debunking that I could easily over-quote. I’ll narrow my focus to the passages I think likeliest to break the spell of any reader(s) who are overestimating AI today’s sophisticated stabs at the Turing Test:

The idea that there is intelligence somehow inherent in writing is an illusion. The intelligence is all yours, all the time: thoughts you make yourself in order to make sense of another person’s words.

Because text and language are the primary ways we experience other people’s reasoning, it’ll be next to impossible to dislodge the notion that these are genuine intelligences. No amount of examples, scientific research, or analysis will convince those who want to maintain a pseudo-religious belief in alien peer intelligences. After all, if you want to believe in aliens, an artificial one made out of supercomputers and wishful thinking feels much more plausible than little grey men from outer space. But that’s what it is: a belief in aliens.**

It doesn’t help that so many working in AI seem to want this to be true. They seem to be true believers who are convinced that the spark of Artificial General Intelligence has been struck.

They are inspired by the science fictional notion that if you make something complex enough, it will spontaneously become intelligent.

General reasoning seems to be an inherent, not emergent, property of pretty much any biological lifeform with a notable nervous system.

Baldur Bjarnason, Artificial General Intelligence and the bird brains of Silicon Valley.

Note that this is not actually human exceptionalism (not that I’d oppose that), but biological exceptionalism, commenting favorably on the actual intelligence of, say, bumble bees, with fewer than half a billion brain cells, in contrast to what machines do.

GenZ vices

People who grow up in this culture of distrust are bound to adopt self-protective codes of behavior. I’ve been teaching college students on and off for 25 years. Over the last few years, students have become much less willing to argue with one another in class. They don’t want to be viciously judged. It’s not even that they are consciously afraid of being canceled. It’s simply that the norm of non-argumentativeness in public has settled over many (but not all) parts of campus culture.

David Brooks, What Our Toxic Culture Does to the Young

History rhymes

Stephen Spender was a friend and contemporary of W. H. Auden’s, but he had nowhere near Auden’s surfeit of talent. Like Auden, he grew up in the 1930s, spent time in Berlin, saw some of what was coming, and wrote about it. His journals have interesting things in them, not least an insight he made in September 1939. “All the nice people I knew in Germany,” he says, “were either tired or weak.” Why was that the case? he asks his journal again two days later. He concludes that Yeats was right when he wrote: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

Douglas Murray.

Note the implication: there are people with the time to peruse the journals of second-rate poets.


A salutary lesson from the coronation

The most mysterious and sacred centre of Charles’ coronation is the Anointing. In this ceremony, which dates back to the Old Testament, Charles will remove his robes of state. Dressed in a simple white shirt, he will be anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury with oil of chrism, made on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives and blessed in a special ceremony by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The millions watching the Coronation won’t see any of this. Our screens will see only the anointing screen: an elaborate tapestry embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework, depicting every nation in the Commonwealth as leaves on a tree. Behind this, the Archbishop will pour the oil into an ornate silver-gilt spoon, the only surviving relic of the pre-Civil War coronation regalia, and anoint Charles on the hands, chest and head: a moment traditionally seen as between the sovereign and God, and thus closed to public view.

And in screening this moment from the view of public and cameras alike, Charles makes ceremonial acknowledgement of a truth with both personal and political significance, and profound countercultural power: that some things are not, and never will be, open to all.

Mary Harrington.

That truth is one of the reasons to oppose porn (for all the good opposition will do): it opens to all things that should be kept private.

A more dubious item

Before Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla made the trek from Buckingham Palace in the gilded Diamond Jubilee State Coach to Westminster—the nation’s coronation church since 1066—protests in and around Trafalgar Square were already taking place.

Police arrested Graham Smith, leader of the anti-monarchist group ‘Republic’, along with 52 others, invoking the fact that “their duty to prevent disruption outweighed the right to protest.”

Tristan Vanheuckelom.

We would readily recognize in, say, Red China or Russia, the suppression of dissent to created a comparably tidy spectacle. So are Red China and Russia not as bad as we’re taught, or is Britain worse?


When all you have is a hammer …

I have my own tribal biases, although lately not the ones I had for most of my life. I used to presume that the leftist take on any given subject wasn’t just wrong but informed by malice, however concealed. In the Trump era, my presumption has shifted: If the populist right is animated over some controversy, chances are the other side of the issue is the morally correct one.

[A] core conviction of Trumpism is the belief that every problem can be made less troublesome by the application of more violence. Illegal immigrants flooding the border? Shoot them in the legs. Fentanyl epidemic in the heartland? Bomb the cartels. BLM protests spiraling into riots? Invoke the Insurrection Act. D.A. breathing down your neck? Threaten “death and destruction” if you’re charged. Demonstrators disrupting your rallies? Offer to pay the legal fees of anyone who assaults them. Risk of a floor fight at your party’s political convention? Warn of riots if it happens. Lost a presidential election? Instigate a mob to overturn it by force.

Alarmed by an unstable homeless person on the subway? Choke him until he stops moving.

When all you have is an authoritarian hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Nick Cattagio, The Death of Jordan Neely.

Part of me — a very large part — regrets that Donald Trump not only hasn’t disappeared, but bodes to be elected in 2024, as America like a dog returns to its 2016 vomit. That’s why I continue to pass along observant stuff like the preceding.

Proud Boys eat Humble Pie

A federal jury on Thursday convicted five leaders of the Proud Boys militia—Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Dominic Pezzola—on multiple felony charges related to their activities on January 6, 2021. Four of the leaders—all except Pezzola—were found guilty of a seditious conspiracy to interfere with the transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, and the five were also convicted on charges of obstructing an official proceeding, conspiring to prevent members of Congress and federal law enforcement officers from discharging their duties, civil disorder, and destruction of government property. Prosecutors are likely to seek lengthy sentences for all five.

The Morning Dispatch, 5/5/23.

The Department of Justice apparently decided to prosecute everyone who entered the Capital in the January 6 insurrection. Consequently, a fairly close acquaintance of mine (who strolled in looking like a sightseer, not an insurrectionist, in the photos in his indictment) has been convicted on fairly minor charges.

So it warms my heart to see that the real insurrectionists are getting convicted of some much more serious charges.

A bellwether?

The North Carolina Senate voted 29-20 on Thursday, entirely along party lines, to advance legislation prohibiting most abortions after 12 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for rape and incest (up to 20 weeks of gestation), “life-limiting anomalies,” (up to 24 weeks), and life of the mother (no limit). The bill also appropriates money for child and foster care programs, contraception, and paid parental leave for teachers and government employees. North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has said he will veto the measure, but Republicans—who have supermajorities in both chambers after a state representative recently changed parties—believe they have the votes to override him.

The Morning Dispatch, 5/5/23.

Before Roe v. Wade was overturned by Dobbs, I thought that the politics of abortion, back in the states, would eventually play out with abortion laws roughly like this: bans after the first trimester with exceptions.

It’s interesting that a very red legislature may have needed to add such exceptions in order to override a blue Governor’s veto. Were I still a Republican, I would very much enjoy holding up Roy Cooper’s veto threat as proof that Democrats are the real abortion absolutists (though I’d have the extremely restrictive laws of some solid-red states to explain away).

Nellie’s nuggets

I thought banning gas stoves was a conspiracy theory? Now, hold on. I was told just in January of this year that the gas stove ban was a fake right-wing culture war thing. 

NYT: “No One Is Coming for Your Gas Stove Anytime Soon” 

Time: “How Gas Stoves Became the Latest Right-Wing Cause in the Culture Wars”

Salon: “Rumors of a gas stove ban ignite a right-wing culture war”

MSNBC: “No, the woke mob is not coming for your gas stove.”

AP News: “FACT FOCUS: Biden administration isn’t banning gas stoves”

The Washington Post: “GOP thrusts gas stoves, Biden’s green agenda into the culture wars”

Which is why it’s so weird because just this week, New York state lawmakers banned gas stoves from all new construction. So it definitely does seem like Dems are coming for gas stoves, in that they just banned them in one of America’s most populous states. 

There’s usually a slightly longer lag between when the mainstream press tells us something is a crazy lie and when the press says okay, fine, it’s not a lie, it’s actually true, and also it’s a good thing—so this is surprising. I’ll be over here huffing carbon oxides and vapors.

Bud Light mess continues: Anheuser-Busch is offering their distributors free Bud Light to help them out as sales of the very bad beer continue to fall. This is the ongoing backlash for the company making a special beer can with transwoman influencer Dylan Mulvaney’s face on it. But if they want to repair relations, they should try giving out a better beer. If someone gave me boxes of free Bud Light, I would report it as a hate crime.

Nellie Bowles, TGIF: Writers of the World, Unite!.

In that first item, on gas stoves, Nellie’s conclusion echoes Rod Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility.

The secret desire of the mainstream press

I … feel a certain vibe, in the eager coverage of DeSantis’s sag, suggesting that at some half-conscious level the mainstream press really wants the Trump return. They want to enjoy the Trump Show’s ratings, they want the G.O.P. defined by Trumpism while they define themselves as democracy’s defenders.

Ross Douthat, Are Anti-Trump Republicans Doomed to Repeat 2016?

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Repose of St. Alexis Toth

Today we mark the repose of Alexis Toth, my parish’s Patron Saint.

He’s not a “nice” saint. He wasn’t very ecumenical.

When Archbishop John Ireland, an Americanizer of the Latin Church, forbade him, contrary to Canon Law, to observe the Eastern Rite, he returned to Orthodoxy (he had been a Uniate) and eventually brought tens of thousands of Uniates out of the Latin Church back into Orthodoxy. He thought it mattered more than potayto/potahto.

Many of those people were, like him, from Carpatho Rus, which makes him a dandy Patron in my diocese.


Since many smart high-churchmen don’t talk much about it, I’m perhaps off-base in thinking the lex orandi, lex credendi (“a motto in Christian tradition, which means that prayer and belief are integral to each other and that liturgy is not distinct from theology”) is a key to getting people off the idiotic idea that worship is just a neutral “container” for the “content” of the Gospel.

That is an idiotic idea professed by some very smart people, but this is one instance when I’m confident that they’re wrong, I’m right.

And there are some smart Protestants flirting with ideas rather like mine:

If I worship in order to show God how much I love him, I might start to feel hypocritical if I just keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. My expression will start to feel less “authentic.” And so we need to find new ways to worship, new ways to show our devotion, fresh new forms to express our praise. Novelty is how we try to maintain the fresh sincerity of worship that is fundamentally understood as expression. With the best of intentions, this “expressive” paradigm is then allied to a questionable distinction between the form of worship and the content of the gospel. The concrete shape and practices of Christian worship, passed down through the centuries, are considered merely optional forms—or even whited sepulchers of dead ritual—that can and should be discarded in order to communicate the gospel “message” in ways that are contemporary, attractive, and relevant. So we remake the church in order to “speak to” contemporary culture.

Rather than the daunting, spooky ambience of the Gothic cathedral, we invite people to worship in the ethos of the coffee shop, the concert, or the mall. Confident in the form/content distinction, we believe we can distill the gospel content and embed it in these new forms, since the various practices are effectively neutral: just temporal containers for an eternal message.

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

A preliminary question

In his important book After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre famously says, “I cannot answer the question, ‘What ought I to do?’ unless I first answer the question, ‘Of which story am I a part?’”

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

When sola scriptura was impossible

The early Church had no Scripture of its own, and the Jews had no defined canon of Scripture; therefore, sola scriptura as the foundation for what Christians believed was absolutely impossible.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

Book note

The idea that religion has a dangerous tendency to promote violence is part of the conventional wisdom of Western societies, and it underlies many of our institutions and policies, from limits on the public role of religion to efforts to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East. William T. Cavanaugh challenges this conventional wisdom by examining how the twin categories of religion and the secular are constructed. A growing body of scholarly work explores how the category ‘religion’ has been constructed in the modern West and in colonial contexts according to specific configurations of political power. Cavanaugh draws on this scholarship to examine how timeless and transcultural categories of ‘religion and ‘the secular’ are used in arguments that religion causes violence. He argues three points: 1) There is no transhistorical and transcultural essence of religion. What counts as religious or secular in any given context is a function of political configurations of power; 2) Such a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion as non-rational and prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of Western society; 3) This myth can be and is used to legitimate neo-colonial violence against non-Western others, particularly the Muslim world.

Booknote on William T. Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence. I am not the author of that note, by the way.

I have quoted from this book very often, but just this week realized that Cavanaugh penned another book with a title that has long intrigued me: Migrations of the Holy.

I’m reading Migrations of the Holy now, concurrently with the Aenid (a coincidence, not a study plan). And I can vouch for the readability of the highly-praised Fagles translation of the Aenid.

Sad but true

Many cradle Orthodox Christians unfortunately do not realize that they have remained infants in the faith in spite of spending a lifetime as Orthodox Christians. They have no greater understanding or experience of God nor any deeper faith than they had as children, because for them Orthodoxy has been reduced to a series of practices or obligations rather than embraced as a complete life in Christ animated by the Holy Spirit.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

I know from personal experience, however, that the decisionalist model of salvation prevalent in Evangelicalism produces its own kind of forever-infancy:

We might term Finney’s understanding of regeneration as “decisionalism.” And I would argue that much of what we see today in evangelicalism is a rehash of Charles Finneyism. Since all that separates God and man is a “decision” for Christ, all sorts of emotive and, in some cases, even manipulative means may be employed in order to push the sinner over the edge to choose Jesus. It is not the removal of a stone heart one needs but only the prompting of influential argumentation. Thus, it is a misunderstanding and underemphasis of this doctrine of regeneration that has contributed to the unraveling of evangelicalism in the 21st century.

The problem with decisionalism, which continues to be preached a lot today, is not only is it unbiblical and ultimately sets the grace of God aside as something not ultimately efficacious, but it also results in all sorts of tomfoolery in order to get a person to make a decision for Christ.

Amen to that!

New Apostolic Reformation, the muse behind the Jericho March

You can’t simply call most of these folks evangelicals. It’s absolutely crucial that most of these people are charismatic evangelicals. There’s roughly 76 million evangelicals of this kind in the United States, if you take 23% of 33 (sic) million people. There’s an equal amount of Pentecostal/charismatics because the latter include charismatic Catholics, which the former does not.

Julia Duin, Jericho March in DC: Coming-Out Party for a Movement Journalists Haven’t Really Covered

A cyber-friend wrote the other day:

I’m much more worried about FOX News coming for my relatives than LGBTQ people coming for my kids.

@JoshuaPSteele on micro.blog

I appreciated the vividness of that, but after four days of fermentation, I’m pretty sure I’m more afraid of the New Apostolic Reformation cult than I am of FOX news. NAR was the muse of the mad Jericho March preceding the January 6 insurrection, and its adherents have willed themselves into blind credulity toward their “apostles” and “prophets.”

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Star Wars Day 2023

The woke aren’t entirely wrong

The ‘woke’ lot are not wrong about standpoint epistemology, they’re just too reductive about it, and they use the wrong metrics. They’re not wrong that it’s impossible to detach yourself entirely from your own background and perspective. And this is a paradigm shift that’s been accelerated by the decentralisation of authority in digital culture: personal authority now counts for more, as does being reflexive about your personal biases. If you want to have an impact now, it’s widely considered good practice and due diligence to acknowledge your own standpoint. I broadly agree with that. I think it’s a basic principle of intellectual hygiene to say: “I can only see things from my perspective and that means that I may have some blind spots.” In that respect, I’m a paid-up postmodernist. 

This is the post-liberal shift in a nutshell. It says that we’re all implicated in what we’re dealing with, all of the time, and it’s just not possible to have a neutral public space. It follows from this that you cannot simply privatise moral goods. That follows logically from the acknowledgment that we’re all implicated in the mess of our condition. You can’t just say, “Well, I’m going to worry about myself, for my life is my business.” No, your life is everybody’s business. The question, then, is: which aspects of my life are whose business? And how and why, and who gets to say so? So, the ‘woke’ crowd are not entirely wrong to say that much of the public debate should orbit around questions of power. To say that everything is a question of power is far too reductive. That quickly takes things in a very nihilistic direction.

The big problem with the ‘woke’ movement, in fact, is that it’s not really postmodern. It’s largely a last attempt at modernism. It says, “If we can’t have a neutral shared public square, we’re just going to destroy all remaining shared meaning because that’s the only way we can all be free.” ‘Wokeness’ is, if you like, modernism’s final temper tantrum. But this temper tantrum, unfortunately, is now being institutionalised by HR departments. 

If Mary Harrington is right (not so much in my quote, but from other parts of the long interview from which I took it), I’ve largely escaped my Boomer generation’s biases and become Gen-X adjacent: I’m pretty sure liberalism is doomed. That’s a Gen-X type conviction. But I’m still committed to what likely is a lost/doomed cause.

Reformers and vandals

Chesterton wrote that “the more modern type of reformer,” encountering a fence across a road, “goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’” Our customs regarding sex and the family have been battered down without anyone’s caring about why they were there in the first place.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

Race in historic perspective

If Cleopatra were asked whether she was white or ‘B’lack, she probably would have met the query with a blank stare. Projecting your confused ideas about race onto historical figures is political — but only in the most embarrassingly vain and trifling sense of the word ….

Kmele Foster via Andrew Sullivan.


In the Pensées, Pascal observed that “there are two equally dangerous extremes: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.” With regard to language, we might say that there are two analogous extremes: to exclude the possibility that language can adequately express something truthful about the world, to admit only the truths language can convey. I would assent to the claim that there are truths beyond language. There are inexpressible realities and ineffable experiences. But language is itself a miracle and a gift of extraordinary range, power, and beauty. It is one thing to reach the limits of language by testing its resources and searching its depths, and another thing altogether to mistake our own apathy and incuriosity for the inherent limits of speech.

L. M. Sacasas, Too Many Words, and Not Enough

This week, I watched videos of people literally burning Harry Potter books, like latter-day Nazis, in the cause of transgender liberation. It’s safe to say, I think, that many of these people have lost their minds — just by staying online. And they not only think they’re perfectly sane; they think they’re heroes.

Andrew Sullivan, We’re All Algorithms Now. (This is not a quote from a recent Sullivan post.)

Whither meritocracy?

[I]t seems pretty clear that many schools are really ditching the SAT in response to the following sequence of events: Asian American SAT scores rose to the point where elite colleges were accused of discriminating against Asian American applicants to maintain the racial balance they desired, this led to lawsuits, and those lawsuits seem poised to yield a Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action. So universities are pre-emptively abandoning a metric that might be used against them in future litigation, not for the sake of widening opportunity but just in the hopes of sustaining the admissions status quo.

Ross Douthat, Can the Meritocracy Survive Without the SAT?

Reactionary feminism

I’ve dubbed this fightback “reactionary feminism.” I use “reactionary” in recognition that “progress” in its contemporary form wages war on human nature. It views “freedom” as best served by reframing embodied men and women as atomized, de-sexed, fungible, and interchangeable “humans” composed of disembodied “identity” plus body parts that can be reordered at will, like meat LEGOs. And I use “feminism” in recognition of the fact that proposing to atomize, de-sex, and remodel “humans” has profound negative impacts on women.

Mary Harrington, The Three Principles of Reactionary Feminism

AI perspective

[A] new technology has emerged, and those who stand to make billions off of it are telling you: you will never be lonely again; the meaning you’ve always pined for will be provided for you by superintelligent beings; you will not die, but have eternal life. Or, alternatively, you are soon to witness the end of the world, which will free you from everything you don’t like about your life and yourself. Either way – people are telling you that something very, very important is happening, and right now is important, and you live now, so you’re important, and you want to believe, have to believe, are desperate to believe. And so you do believe, even though it isn’t true.

Freddie deBoer, monkeywrenching all the AI hype.

El Rushbo

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

Why one Florida Man isn’t on a roll

“This is f—ing madness!” [Tim] Miller exclaimed at one point in his piece.

Is it? It seems pretty rational to me.

It’s madness civically. No one who cares sincerely for this country would support returning a coup plotter to power. Every Trump endorsement is tantamount to the endorser declaring that they’re indifferent at best and hostile at worst to the project of American democracy.

But rationally? To behave rationally is to maximize one’s personal self-interest.

It seems to me Daines, Zeldin, and the rest have not only behaved rationally by endorsing Trump but that there’s no rational case—for now—for an influential Republican to endorse Ron DeSantis.

Nick Cattogio, Elected Republicans Have No Reason to Endorse DeSantis

Cautionary tale

Samsung Electronics told staff not to use generative AI tools because of security concerns. In a staff memo, the company said that confidential code was accidentally leaked after engineers uploaded it to ChatGPT in April. It is the latest setback to the rollout of such technology in the workplace: financial firms such as Goldman Sachs have restricted employees’ use of similar platforms.

The Economist

Rueful tech

[I]t is hard to avoid the sense that  today’s “tech” is more often a tax on the real economy, inflicting costs that don’t show up in any ledger because they are paid by you and me in the coin of nuisance.

Matthew Crawford.

Case in point. On May Day, I tried to order a bottomless dark roast coffee at a coffee house where I was setting up office for a few hours. It involved scanning a QR code, loading the app, trying to figure out how to “go dutch” despite the app knowing someone else was at the table (because they’d scanned the code, too). (I eventually ordered, a bit sullenly at the counter, where I had to return for every refill.)

Advice in the Deathworks

As I said in the first item, “I’m pretty sure liberalism is doomed.” I’m inclined to think that out civilization is doomed, too, though by that I do not mean that humanity will go extinct.

One of my wise cyberfriends is perhaps even more pessimistic than I am, but pessimism isn’t incompatible with hope:

Meanwhile, I will keep my head down and live the best life I can for me and mine and my community, as the natural forces of our particular system of governance play themselves out.

[A]s we straddle the globe, Tom McTague again offers some sobering statistics: 3,000 people sleep homeless in the U.K., while 113,000 sleep homeless in California alone: we have 7 murders per 100,000 nationwide, while Western Europe has 1, the rise in mass shootings are simply too grim to note the number; we lost 58,000 to fentanyl overdoses in 2020, while the entire EU lost 97; and our life expectancy is collapsing across all socioeconomic groups.

And so, our problems are deep and wide, the American Dream has taken a nightmarish turn, and “the situation is hopeless, but not serious.” But, it is Spring and my oakleaf hydrangeas are blooming. I have passed the 42-year mark on our marriage, and it looks like it is going to hold. My dog remains ever faithful. And—I have found a solution to keeping the squirrels out of our bird feeder. (I did not , however, take the advice of the woman who made our acquaintance in Walmart. She suggested that we grease the pole with Vaseline, as she does every morning.) So, in all sincerity, I can say that life is good. What an exciting time to be alive!

Terry Cowan, whose Substack I most heartily recommend, though (indeed, probably because) politics is not his regular beat. He doesn’t post often, but what he posts is really sane.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Sunday, April 30

Expressive or Formative?

When you have only seen forms of piety that value spontaneous expression and clichéd sincerity, to be given the cadences and rhythms of the Book of Common Prayer can be like receiving the gift of tongues.

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love, via Jon Ward, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation.

This quote was what finally persuaded me to buy a highly-touted book by a Protestant academic. There is at least one other Protestant religious academic, Hans Boersma (author of Heavenly Participation), for whom I have high respect.

Having raced (considering my usual book-reading pace) through the book, I pronounce Smith not quite as good as Boersma, at least for my interests, but he has his moments, and there are quite a few of them:

[W]orship is formative, not merely expressive, … When you unhook worship from mere expression, it also completely retools your understanding of repetition. If you think of worship as a bottom-up, expressive endeavor, repetition will seem insincere and inauthentic. But when you see worship as an invitation to a top-down encounter in which God is refashioning your deepest habits, then repetition looks very different: it’s how God rehabituates us. In a formational paradigm, repetition isn’t insincere, because you’re not showing, you’re submitting. This is crucial because there is no formation without repetition. … If the sovereign Lord has created us as creatures of habit, why should we think repetition is inimical to our spiritual growth?

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

The distinction between worship as expression and worship as formation pervades most of the first two-thirds or so of the book, which strikes me as very congenial to Orthodox Christianity (as Smith is at least partially aware).

Right-Brain Christianity

Orthodoxy theology defines only what is necessary and always leaves unspoken that which cannot be explained. This approach was part of the Christian faith from the beginning. But the Western phronema often suppresses, dismisses, minimizes, or ignores this stance. The Western mind is compelled to define and explain everything, since without a rational explanation a concept or fact cannot be considered true, or, conversely, all truth can be proven rationally.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

Just-So Stories, conversion edition

Years ago, when I converted to Orthodox Christianity, I heard a common explanation that passed a number of folks. They said that “Stephen could not deal with modern uncertainty and has run away to hide inside Orthodoxy.” On the one hand, nothing was more “certain” among them than the platitudes of modernity. My rejection needed an explanation. The reality was that I was abandoning the false certitudes of mainline American Protestantism for the frightening journey of the soul into the mystery of Christ that lies at the heart of the Orthodox faith. Orthodoxy is not a bastion of answered questions. Rather, it is a way of life, whose teachings are the abiding testimony of those who have walked that path and borne witness to what they found. Indeed, apophatic theology, the preferred manner of Orthodox thought, draws us towards the nakedness of our ignorance and dares to stand in that state before the wonder of God.

I am not suggesting that we elevate ignorance to the exalted position it holds in the panoply of anti-Christian rhetoric (for our adversaries hide from their own ignorance). Indeed, I do not suggest beginning with our ignorance at all. Rather, I suggest that we begin with what we know and move towards its depths.

Fr. Stephen Freeman

When I converted to Orthodox Christianity, I initially expected great doctrinal certainty, in the left-brain sense of certainty that had earlier drawn me to Calvinism. What I found instead was the Nicene Creed without the filioque and seven ecumenical councils that posted warning signs to keep me from falling over Christological cliffs. That left a remarkably capacious plateau in which to move without losing the right to be called “Orthodox.”

I think that field is part of the concept of “catholicity,” which concept I fear I’ll never grasp due to 50 years of sectarian baggage.

Oh, heck! Let’s Just Go Shopping

Given the destructive fruitlessness of religio-political conflicts in the Reformation era, Catholics and Protestants alike built on trends that antedated the Reformation and decided to go shopping instead of continuing to fight about religion, thus permitting their self-colonization by capitalism in the industrious revolution. In combination with the exercise of power by hegemonic, liberal states, a symbiosis of capitalism and consumerism is today more than anything else the cultural glue that holds together the heterogeneity of Western hyperpluralism.

Bradford Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society

Stage props

You see, the Anglicans in the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) represent the growing (in some cases booming) churches of Africa, Asia and the Third World. They do not, however, represent the zip codes in which the major newsrooms of the Western world are located. They also do not represent the world’s richest Anglicans. Thus, to be blunt, what these “lesser” Anglicans say is NEWS is not news until the New York Times says that it’s news. Right?

Terry Mattingly.

Anglicans in Africa, Asia and the Third World need to know their place. They’re supposed to be stage props, diverse tokens to make First-World Anglicans feel virtuous. They’re not supposed to contend for the faith when the First-Worlders are fleeing it.

Who qualifies as “Christian”?

[J. Gresham] Machen, for his part, published numerous articles insisting that modernists were not Christians because, no matter how much of the Christian doctrine they affirmed, they affirmed it as a matter of inner experience and not as a fact.

Frances FitzGeraldThe Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America.

I had quite forgotten that little tidbit, which intrigues me more than it probably should if I’m to honor the admonition “judge not.”

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Mark & Kathi’s Golden Anniversary

I had to lead with a shout-out to my brother and sister-in-law, Mark and Kathi, observing their Golden Anniversary today. They’re kinda private people, so that’s all I’ll say.

A gentle but firm “no”

Lionel Shriver notes a lot of parallels between two prestige (and therefore socially contagious) disorders, anorexia and gender dysphoria.

“Gender-affirming care” doesn’t treat the illness but indulges the patient’s delusions to the hilt. Rather than coach a child to reconcile with reality, clinicians twist reality to reconcile it with the disorder. Anyone who dares describe the bizarre and biologically baseless conviction that one was “born in the wrong body” as a mental health issue is tarred as a transphobe. Were teenage anorexics treated anything like trans kids, they wouldn’t be encouraged to finish their dinner, but rather abjured, “You’re right: you’re fat! Your true self is even thinner! You will never rise to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty until you completely disappear!”

… we’re implicitly dangling the promise that on the other side of transitioning to the opposite sex — or feigning transition, since inborn sex is written in our every cell — all a young person’s problems will be solved.

What these conditions have most in common is being dreadful answers to the questions that inevitably torture young people: who am I, what makes me unique, what makes me loveable, what do I want to achieve, why does just being alive seem so hard, am I the only one who feels so dejected, what does it mean to become a man or a woman, and is there any way I can get out of growing up? The responsible adult’s reply to that last one must be a gentle but firm “no”.

Lionel Shriver, Is trans the new anorexia?

I can hardly imagine a more timely or courageous essay. I say “courageous” because Shriver doesn’t have the deep pockets of J.K. Rowling, who got in online trouble for a less sustained bit of iconoclasm.

Skip the debates?

A poll released this week by NBC found 60 percent of Americans believe Donald Trump shouldn’t run for president again while 70 percent, including a majority of Democrats, believe Joe Biden shouldn’t either.

Numbers like that portend competitive primaries but Biden and Trump look increasingly like prohibitive favorites. Biden owes his advantage to incumbency and to history, as Democrats remember how Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush fared after facing serious primary challenges. Trump owes his advantage to the mule-headed cultishness of the Republican base and the cowardice of right-wing influencers who fear the consequences of crossing it.
What’s truly amazing, though, is that at a moment when most of the public is yearning for alternatives, the 2024 primaries might be not just uncompetitive but lacking a single meaningful debate between the candidates. 

Last week the Washington Post reported that “the national Democratic Party … has no plans to sponsor primary debates,” outraging progressives as well as right-wing trolls who forgot that the Republican Party behaved the same way in 2020. When incumbent presidents face token opposition in a primary, the national party has no reason to give the upstarts a media showcase by hosting a debate.

Nick Catoggio.

We used to pick our Presidential nominees in “smoke-filled rooms.” We now let lunatic partisans pick them in primary elections. There’s no going back to smoke-filled rooms, but maybe the parties skipping primary debates is a helpful corrective to part of what ails us politically.

What Twitter is made for

Ordinary courtesy and respect for one’s intellectual opposites are actually liabilities on Twitter. They run against the grain of what one might call “effective” use of the platform. The platform isn’t made for debate. Contra Elon, it isn’t made to be a digital public square either. Twitter is made for identity curation via meta-positioning ….

Jake Meador

The obverse side of “woke capital”

“Woke capitalism” may seem like corporations gravitating to the left, but it’s also corporations watering down the left.

David Brooks


For any idea with an establishment imprimatur, absolute suspicion; for any outsider or skeptic, sympathy and trust.

Ross Douthat’s characterization of Tucker Carlson’s “hermeneutic.”

I never watched Tucker Carlson, though it’s near-impossible to avoid clips of him on the internet. So I have no first-hand impression of him, and I am suspicious of anything with an establishment imprimatur — not absolute suspicion (which would be stupid), but sharp and increasing.

But is Ross Douthat an establishment figure? I’d say not, but your mileage might vary.

Live not by lies wherever you live

Before my Harvard speech, I naïvely believed that I had found myself in a society where one can say what one thinks, without having to flatter that society. It turns out that democracy expects to be flattered. When I called out “Live not by lies!” in the Soviet Union, that was fair enough, but when I called out “Live not by lies!” in the United States, I was told to go take a hike.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


Adjectival overkill is the method of bad polemicists who don’t have much to report.

The Smearing of Clarence Thomas

the distinctive “occupational psychosis” of Silicon Valley is sociopathy

Alan Jacobs

There is an immense and important difference between seeking justice and seeking power.

David French

Angry populism is a force that can only be stoked, never assuaged.

Bret Stephens

… culture-war chum-tossers …

Nick Cattogio, characterizing Tucker Carlson (and others).

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Wednesday, 4/26/23

Cognitive dissonance in Texas

[T]he gun rights movement is changing. In many quarters of America, respect for firearms has turned into a form of reverence. As I wrote in 2022, there is now widespread gun idolatry. “Guns” have joined “God” and “Trump” in the hierarchy of right-wing values.

David French

Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive District Attorney.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Tweeting in effect that he knows better than the jury who heard the evidence, and that he knows that this white man was merely “standing his ground,” not looking for trouble and finding it.

It took an Atlantic Ocean of distance to let the Economist spot this juicy bit of weirdness:

The convergence of broad “stand your ground” laws and more permissive gun laws is a toxic combination, says Kami Chavis, a professor at William and Mary Law School. Messrs Perry and Foster were both armed when they encountered each other, thanks to Texas’s lax gun laws. But there is an inconsistency in the logic of Mr Perry’s supporters, who say that he justifiably felt threatened and needed to act in self-defence because his victim was carrying an assault rifle.

If openly carrying a gun constitutes such a threat that someone can shoot you dead for it, why in the hell is it legal to openly carry?

I’m sick of the culture of vigilanteism created by these damned “stand your ground” laws, and open carry only makes it worse. Open carry and stand your ground are perversely lethal laws in the performative name of “safety.”

Civil Service mischief mayhem

While there is a good case to be made for great flexibility in the hiring and firing of federal officials, the wholesale replacement of thousands of public servants with political cronies would take the nation back to the spoils system of the 19th century. Republicans think that they will be undermining the deep state, but they will simply be politicizing functions that should be carried out in an impartial way, and will destroy the ethic of neutral public service that animates much of the government. When they lose power, as they necessarily will, the other party will simply get rid of their partisans and replace them with Democratic loyalists in a way that undermines any continuity in government. Who will want a career in public service under these conditions?  Only political hacks, opportunists, and those who see openings for personal enrichment in the bureaucracy.

Damon Linker, on the virtual abolition of merit-based civil service positions in the Federal Government that Trump began shortly before the 2020 Election.

Was Tucker a money-maker?

I can’t help but notice that commentators on Tucker Carlson’s firing from Fox News can’t agree on whether his show was (1) hugely profitable or whether instead (2) boycotts of his advertisers had “intimidated woke capitalists, who declined to advertise on his show” (Rod Dreher) and thus made it marginal or even a money-loser.

I have no idea which, if either, is true.

I do know that my long Dreher fandom has greatly cooled. I suspect it’s because he and I have both changed during the Trump era: he increasingly supportive of illiberal democracy; I, after flirtation with illiberal democracy, returning uneasily to center-right classical liberalism. “Better the devil you know,” y’know.

Constraints on Single-Payer healthcare

“Health” is an extraordinarily difficult concept to pin down, and if unchecked, it will expand to encompass anything and everything as Leviathan’s vanguard and advance scout.

A conservative “healthcare system” is one that protects life and prevents disability. Modern medicine is good at resuscitation, reducing the risk of severe yet preventable incidents such as heart attacks and strokes, catching cancers when they can still be treated, and managing chronic illnesses such as asthma and depression. Caring for illnesses both catastrophic and chronic is what a healthcare system is for, and only when there is a strong focus on applying the technical power of medicine to prevent or treat disease, rather than an all-encompassing quest for health, can we speak coherently of a healthcare system worth funding.

Matthew Loftus, The Conservative Christian Case for Single-Payer Healthcare

Bobo power and powerlessness

As the bobos achieved a sort of stranglehold on the economy, the culture, and even our understanding of what a good life is, no wonder society has begun to array itself against them, with the old three-part class structure breaking apart into a confusing welter of micro-groups competing for status and standing in any way they can. So, for instance, the bobos have abundant cultural, political, and economic power; the red one-percenters have economic power, but scant cultural power; the young, educated elites have tons of cultural power and growing political power, but still not much economic power; and the caring class and rural working class, unheard and unseen, have almost no power of any kind at all. Our politics, meanwhile, has become sharper-edged, more identity-based, and more reactionary, in part because politics is the one arena in which the bobos cannot dominate—there aren’t enough of us.

David Brooks, How the Bobos Broke America

The last straw

[M]ost right-wing institutions that depend on a large customer or donor base have embraced a strategy of monetizing the constant stoking of crisis and paranoia as the new True Faith. If the real-world facts prove inconvenient to the narrative, invent new facts to fit. 

And Tucker [Carlson] was the high priest of that faith.  

I quit Fox after more than a decade as a contributor when Carlson released a “documentary” for Fox Nation, a streaming service for Fox-addicts who can’t get sufficiently high off the basic cable junk anymore. His Patriot Purge, a farrago of deceptions, fearmongering and “just asking questions” conspiracy theories, was put together to leave the viewer with the distinct impression that the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol was some kind of false flag operation or Deep State operation. It was the last straw for me.

Jonah Goldberg at the Dispatch

Vikings and Ninjas

The right wing are censorship vikings and the left wing are censorship ninjas.

Sherman Alexie. (H/T Alan Jacobs)

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Dobbs and the politics of abortion

The overturning of Roe v. Wade has produced a three results I did not see coming:


The Trump campaign announced this week that it opposes any federal role in regulating abortion and that the issue should be decided by the states. The leaders of the most influential pro-life groups have condemned the announcement. The Susan B. Anthony List stated that “We will oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard” and called Trump’s position “unacceptable.” Lila Rose of Live Action stated that Trump had “disqualified” himself for the nomination. Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America concurred.

Jonathon Van Maren an First Things.

I’m not sure I agree that these three are “the most influential pro-life groups,” but they’re not obscure, either.

I would warm to the idea of a 15-week non-preemptive national ban if the proponents could tell me what provision(s) in the Constitution make abortion an issue for the national government rather than the states. I’ve said and believed for 40 years that reversing Roe would return the abortion issue to the states, because I actually support the 10th Amendment. I contemn emotivist arguments for circumventing it on selected issues.

I no longer read much about the abortion issue, having all the knowledge and principle I need to guide my retired life. But I suspect that these spokesmen (yes, I noticed that they’re women) would cite Sections 1 and 5 of the 14th Amendment as authority:

  1. … nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
  2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

If you noticed that invoking Section 1 would imply fetal personhood and thus support an outright national abortion ban, bonus points to you. I suspect the spokesman know that full well.

The theory that this part of section 1 applies to the unborn — as a matter of the intentions of those who wrote and ratified it — has been around for most of the forty years I’ve paid attention to abortion law, and I’ve never quite bought it.

Second, the reversal of Roe sent red states off to the races to enact surprisingly restrictive abortion laws. I always knew that some blue states would declare perpetual open season on the unborn (and they have), but I did not expect red states not even to recognize life-of-the-mother exceptions.

I don’t think this would have happened fifteen years ago, but our polarization is extreme and so are the consequences.

Third, the reversal of Roe has brought sharpness of focus to an important distinction between two kinds of Roe opponents:

  1. The Constitutionalists who considered Roe a judicial usurpation;
  2. The “we must save babies by all possible means” true believers (for lack of a better term).

For better or worse, I’ve mostly theorized my Roe opposition the first way, and that hasn’t changed since Dobbs reshuffled the deck. This probably is a reflection of my legal training and my even longer-standing interest in Constitutional law.

“Mostly” doesn’t mean I don’t support policies and institutions that make childbirth more desirable and feasible than abortion. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t support fairly tight state-enacted restrictions. I do, times two.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Sunday (and other) stuff

Sunday stuff

Where does patience come from?

O Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
But grant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant me to see my own transgressions
and not to judge my brother …

(Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian, recited over and over and over again, with prostrations, by Eastern Orthodox Christians during Lent.)

I’ve tended for many decades now to discuss things, outside of clearly religious contexts, in non-religious terms. It’s not from any effort to deceive, but instinctive. I guess I’ve absorbed by osmosis the Rawlesian dogma that public discourse requires public reason.

(Lest I now deceive, I acknowledge that many of the terms in the preceding paragraph are debatable, starting with the dubious category of “religion.”)

But I caught myself the other day attributing my increasing patience to my advancing (age and thus the accumulation of anecdotes where I was wrong, someone else right).

But I’m not so sure. Two geezers within the past week or two have impatiently shot innocent people who mistakenly approached their homes. Apparently “older” and “more patient” don’t necessarily go together.

Might my increasing patience have something to do with now 25 years of that prayer?

I’ve only got one life to live. I cannot scientifically separate those prayers, and a quiet divine response, from all else that has accompanied my life. But the concept of “crotchety old man” makes me suspect that mere aging, even self-reflective aging, does not alone explain patience and tolerance.

Socrates, Plato, Lao Tzu

Even the staunchest Christians in Greece refer to Socrates as “the Apostle to the pagans.” The best-loved Greek saint of the 20th century, St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, said that Socrates and “divine Plato” were at times “inspired by God.” If the Greek philosophers can be honored in this way, cannot also Lao Tzu, who came even closer than they to describing the Logos, the Tao, before he was made flesh and dwelt among us?

Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao

Hard words

The stringency of Christianity’s sexual teachings gets most of the press, but the commandment against avarice, if taken seriously, can be the faith’s most difficult by far. You can wall yourself off from pornography and avoid people who tempt you into adultery, but everybody has to work—and every day in the workplace is a potential occasion of sin. The prosperity gospel does away with this anxiety. Like most heresies, it resolves one of orthodoxy’s tensions by emphasizing one part of Christian doctrine—in this case, the idea that the things of this life are gifts from the Creator, rather than simply snares to be avoided, and that Christians are expected to participate in the world rather than withdraw from it.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

Why didn’t God simply declare us righteous?

The Egyptian church father next explains why God did not merely save mankind by way of a simple declaration of a clean bill of health. Our cure, Athanasius declares, requires more than merely a spoken word. Salvation, for Athanasius, is not just an external or nominal matter; it is a participatory – or real – event.

Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation


If you don’t know who Eric Metaxas is, you may just want to skip this one as I’m not sure you need to know.

The thing is, a heck of a lot of Americans, both on the Left and the Right, have done the same thing. Over forty years ago, Alasdair MacIntyre identified “emotivism” as the default moral reasoning position of the contemporary West. That is, we have become the kind of people who believe that truth is what we feel it is. By now, we have created a culture built on emotivism. In one extreme expression of it, we say that an individual can determine his or her sex based not on their body and their genetic profile, but entirely on their feelings. I hope Eric Metaxas and Caitlyn Jenner met in a green room somewhere, and were friendly, because they have a lot more in common than either might have thought.

If you make the pursuit of truth your telos, you might not ultimately find it — truth can be elusive — but you stand a good chance of keeping your integrity, even if you fall into deceit. But if you place fear of the crowd above the pursuit of truth, as Fox did, or live by an emotivist epistemology in which you never analyze your emotional response, as Eric Metaxas did, well, it’s likely to cost you plenty.

On the other hand, last September, Eric released a book titled, Letter To The American Church, in which he goes all Bonhoeffer in calling on US Christians to resist evil. Hey, that’s a message I can endorse! But coming from him? The Upper East Side dandy who exhorted American Christians to shed blood to defend Donald Trump’s election lies?

Rod Dreher, Eric Metaxas And The MAGA Inner Ring. I bought Metaxas’ latest book out of curiosity, and it is truly very bad. My eyes don’t light up at the utility of “emotivism” to explain it, but I have no better summary.

If there is any coherent philosophy behind Metaxas’ strange and vehement Christianish fixations, it must be akin to that of the New Apostolic Reformation folks:

  1. that the offices of Apostle and Prophet still exist; and
  2. that those offices come willy-nilly on whomever the Lord chooses, not by any orderly and ecclesial process.

The NAR folks, however and so far as I know, don’t write letters “to the American Church” haranguing their fellow-Christians that they’re stupid, evil, complicit, crypto-Nazis if they don’t believe the writer’s private revelations.

Other stuff

Game recognizes game

Trump seemed to feel a kinship with prosperity preachers—often evincing a game-recognizes-game appreciation for their hustle.

McKay Coppins, Trump Secretly Mocks His Christian Supporters

Enduring, competing myths

There are few ideas, tropes, narratives, myths—whatever you want to call them—more enduring than the notion that very rich people are villainously pulling strings behind the scenes to do villainous things. 

I want to be clear: It’s a bipartisan tendency. But the chief difference between right-wing and left-wing versions is that the left-wing versions are treated as serious theories by establishment journalists, academics, and experts while the right-wing versions are usually dismissed as paranoid or bigoted fantasies by those very same academics and experts. “The Koch brothers are behind this!” is acceptable political rhetoric, but, “Soros is behind this!” is antisemitic paranoia. (Yes, antisemites use Soros as a foil, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t meddling in American politics.)

Jonah Goldberg


Is equality in America’s DNA?

There’s a story about the USA being dedicated to human equality and dignity from (at least) the time of the Declaration of Independence.

The story is nearly universal, and it’s rhetorically useful in politics, and I dare say denying it would be a political kiss of death in almost every congressional district in the country.

But it is false.

The Declaration of Independence was not a statement about human rights in the abstract; it was not a declaration of concrete human rights, either. As the title tells us, it is not about rights at all; it is about independence. It was written at a specific moment and for a specific purpose, designed to do two things: to announce that the American colonists were throwing off allegiance to the British Crown and to justify that act.

Kermit Roosevelt III, The Nation that Never Was

Thus the 3/5 clause (slaves counting as 3/5 of a person) in the Constitution was not a solecism on the grammar of the Declaration. If you can face up to that, you can take solace that we now are formally dedicated to equality, as a result of the Civil War amendments and Reconstruction. (I would even say we are so madly dedicated to equality that we ignore truly relevant distinctions and increasingly ignore several rights that entitle people to opt out of the equality regime. But that’s a topic for another day.)

I’m not 100% on board with Roosevelt on everything, but having just finished, at age 74, my first actual reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that block quote dovetails not only with the vision of the little woman who wrote the book that started [a] big war, but with some threads of legal realism I’d previously picked up. When you see multiple “data points” pointing in the same direction, you can’t help but feel that you’re onto something.

It was always the race problem

God, it was always the [race problem], now, just as in 1883, 1783, 1683, and hasn’t it always been that since the first tough God-believing Christ-haunted cunning violent rapacious Visigoth-Western-Gentile first set foot here with the first black man: the one willing to risk everything, take all or lose all, the other willing just to wait and outlast because once he was violated all he had to do was wait because sooner or later the first would wake up and know that he had flunked, been proved a liar where he lived, and no man can live with that. And sooner or later the lordly Visigoth-Western-Gentile-Christian-Americans would have to falter, fall out, turn upon themselves like scorpions in a bottle.

Walker Percy

Respect for roots

We owe a cornfield respect, not because of itself, but because it is food for mankind. In the same way, we owe our respect to a collectivity, of whatever kind—country, family or any other—not for itself, but because it is food for a certain number of human souls.

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots

A brief digression

I had paid exactly zero attention to the Dylan Mulvaney kerfuffle. It had peripherally thrusted itself onto my attention a time or two — just enough that I probably could have told you that Dylan Mulvaney was a “trans woman” who did a Budweiser ad, and the some people had their knickers in a knot over it.

But then Andrew Sullivan weighed in, and my default position is that if he takes the time to write about something, it’s probably worth a little of my time to read it.

I won’t say that I was richly rewarded, but I learned some more about Dylan Mulvaney including Andrew’s theory:

There is, in fact, a perfect word to describe Dylan Mulvaney. She isn’t trans or queer or subversive so much as a minstrel. She’s performing a deeply misogynistic version of a Disney princess for an audience that is uncomfortable with actual transgender people whose appearance is not monetizable and whose lives are more than gay parodies of blonde ditzes. But minstrelsy has always been lucrative — and I don’t fault Dylan for seeing an opening here, and succeeding beyond what must have been his/her wildest dreams.

What I worry about is what happens to Dylan as this buzz eventually wears off. She’s only 26, and has a lifetime to live after her 12 months of TikTok fame. The future may not be as pretty as she currently is.

I shall now, I hope, be able to return to ignoring this constellation of unedifying provocations and counter-provocations.

Johnny Cashesque

H/T Andrew Sullivan

Medical Assistance in Dying

MAID is inexpensive, completely effective, and easily delivered. If we do not resist it, the system will, as if pulled by gravity, increasingly provide suicide and euthanasia instead of healing for the poor, elderly, and severely ill.

Bill Gardner

Ideology defined

[A]n ideology is a conceptual system that oversimplifies reality while claiming to explain it comprehensively, and that justifies its political rule by insisting that, if social and political reality could just be made to conform to its conceptual schema, all problems would be resolved … Part of the “real nature of all ideologies” is that, not only do they misrepresent reality, but they are necessarily in active conflict with it.

Mark Shiffman via Matt Crawford

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Bright Wednesday, 4/19/23

Living spaces

Village versus good Urbanism

Modern households with no shared good can end up feeling this way, with each of the members going off to pursue their own aims. Returning, they can only robotically ask, “How was your day?”

This phenomenon is one reason some describe New Urbanist communities as “creepy.” New Urbanist development Seaside, Florida was chosen as the set for “The Truman Show” because it does such a good job at creating the material presentation of a community, while giving some the sense that it is not quite real. Good urbanism, and Seaside is a nearly perfect example, can certainly bring people together, but one must admit that the pattern of causation is a bit backwards.

Phillip Bess, in his important book, Till We Have Built Jerusalem, throws cold water on the aspirations of his fellow urbanists, saying that “something more than urban form is going to be required for a genuine renewal of traditional urbanism. To what extent do the realities of contemporary life even allow for, let alone encourage, a new traditional architecture and urbanism?

We may be able to build Mayberry architecturally, but if it didn’t arise from a real community pursuing a real common good, it would only be a theme park—just a soulless Frankenstein’s monster of urban form. Individualists living in these well-designed neighborhoods may appreciate their beauty, but they will only be lonely individualists mimicking life in a healthy human settlement, like the strangers sharing a home.

David Larson, Man Without A Village: A Beast Or A God? (emphasis added).

Not so simple a story

Fifty years ago, few would have predicted that the American South would emerge as an economic dynamo — and that people would be flocking to places like South Carolina and Tennessee, but it’s happening.

So can we tell a simple story here: Republican policies work, Democratic policies don’t?

Well, not quite. When you look inside the red states at where the growth is occurring, you notice immediately that the dynamism is not mostly in the red parts of the red states. The growth is in the metro areas — which are often blue cities in red states.

If you look at these success stories you see they are actually the product of a red-blue mash-up. Republicans at the state level provide the general business climate, but Democrats at the local level influence the schools, provide many social services and create a civic atmosphere that welcomes diversity and attracts highly educated workers.

We know the policy mix that creates a dynamic society. We just don’t yet have a party that wants to promote it.

David Brooks

Mental spaces

As if disinformation wasn’t bad enough already

Don’t ask who’s funding all the disinfo lists: The nonprofits affiliated with the Global Disinformation Index are hiding just about everything they can. Typically, in exchange for the tax benefits of being a nonprofit, these groups are required to disclose information about leadership and funders. Not the ones around the GDI, which has been a central player in the new censorship efforts and now cites “harassment” as the reason they need to stay super private. From a great Washington Examiner investigation:

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 990 that excludes the names of officers and directors,” said Alan Dye, a partner at Webster, Chamberlain & Bean who has specialized in nonprofit law since 1975. “And I’ve looked at hundreds.”

Nellie Bowles

Exonerating witches

Some legislatures, apparently having nothing better to do, are playing with Bills to exonerate those convicted of witchcraft in the 17th century. But they’re meeting some resistance in Connecticut:

The fear in Connecticut, as Republican senator John Kissel put it, is that a precedent would be set; that we would “have to go and redress every perceived wrong in our history”. Similar concerns have been expressed elsewhere. A journalist writing in the Scottish newspaper The Herald worried that pardons vilify accusers and that “we should not judge people for living in the past”.

Yet, it remains reasonable to ask: how can we exonerate a crime that modern society no longer believes exists? This is a question not just of history, but of jurisprudential ethics. An empirically supported understanding of “the great witch-craze” should inform questions of whether we need to act, and if so what to do. Are we quashing what now seem like unsafe convictions of witchcraft or offering modern pardons for contemporaneously just ones?

If we are to exonerate convicted witches, we must ensure that the process is historically rigorous. It undermines the enterprise if, say, we set out to pardon five million people tried for witchcraft when, in fact, we have evidence for only around 100,000. We should know that our ancestors were surprisingly sceptical and wary about pointing the finger, and that across continental Europe about half of trials resulted in acquittal. In England and Connecticut, it was more like 75%, owing to the caution of judges and juries about passing guilty verdicts where the proof for this most secretive crime amounted to little more than hearsay.

Malcolm Gaskill, The pantomime of pardoning witches

C.S. Lewis once observed that it’s no great moral advance that we no longer execute witches — because the reason for our ceasing is that we no longer believe that witchcraft is real.

That’s a bit like the people who can never claim to be tolerant because they say they like (or even love) those they tolerate; you actually need to dislike something in order to tolerate it.

In that vein, I freely admit that I dislike drag, and always have; I nevertheless tolerate it as a lesser evil than suppressing marginal uses of free expression.

But what do I know? …

Somebody from a developing country said to me, “what we get from China is an airport. What we get from the United States is a lecture.”

Larry Summers Warns of US Losing Influence as Other Powers Band Together

The U.S. lecture probably will be about “tolerance” of every flavor of sexual practice, preference, orientation, or line-blurring. By “tolerance” will be meant “enthusiastic approval and suppression of those who dissent.”

I suspect that a major motivator for America’s tolerance toward sexual deviance from norm is that it allows for a Pharisaical attitude in attention-misdirecting from our own sexual transgressions:

I’ve written in this blog numerous times about the “revenge of conscience. Conscience wreaks this revenge in a particularly spectacular way in the domain of sex. We aren’t really shameless; rather, because of our shame, we make excuses.  People on the left make excuses for their shameful practices by saying that now all perversions are okay (in fact, they aren’t perversions). People on the right implausibly say “No, only my shameful practice is okay. Yours isn’t.”  Is it any wonder that the liberal dog is winning this fight?

J Budziszewski


Nellie’s Briefs

  • Welcome to the radical middle, Ana Kasparian: Prominent leftist media personality and cohost of The Young Turks Ana Kasparian recently made enemies within her tribe by saying it was kind of annoying to be called a birthing person and that she’d like to be called a woman. The fallout continued this week as her request is literal violence and means. . . Ana Goes to Gulag! Ana Goes to Gulag!
  • [A] 65,000 square foot downtown [San Francisco] Whole Foods closed, citing staff safety concerns. (A man had died in their bathroom; also, every single shopping cart had been stolen.)
  • The term drug dealer is super stigmatizing. Please call them drug workers, says Canadian PhD student.

Nellie Bowles

Ineffective altruism

[Ken Griffiths’ $300 million dollar] gift basically funds Harvard qua Harvard, carrying coals to the Newcastle that is the school’s almost bottomless endowment, which even by ineffective-altruist standards seems indefensibly useless and pathetic. Even if Griffin’s interests were ruthlessly amoral and familial — all-but-guaranteed admission for all his descendants, say — the price was ridiculously inflated: The Harvard brand and network might be worth something to younger Griffins and Griffins yet unborn, but not at that absurd price. And if he’s seeking simple self-aggrandizement, he won’t gain it, since nobody except the chatbot in charge of generating official Harvard emails will ever refer to the “Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.” (At least make them build you some weird pharaonic monument along the Charles, Ken!)

The sheer unimaginativeness makes Griffin’s gift a useful case study in one important ingredient in our society’s decadence: the absence of ambition or inventiveness among of our insanely wealthy overclass when it comes to institution building. There was a time when American plutocrats actually founded new institutions instead of just pouring money into old ones that don’t need the cash. And for the tycoon who admires that old ambition but thinks playing Leland Stanford is too arduous these days, there are plenty of existing schools that could be revived and reconfigured, made competitive and maybe great, with the money that now flows thoughtlessly into the biggest endowments.

Ross Douthat

Projecting the AI future

Today, the World Economic Forum imagines that AI will lead us to a less primitive “utopia”, a 21st-century Promised Land in which people will “spend their time on leisure, creative, and spiritual pursuits”. A safer bet would be drugs and sex robots. Ninety years ago, John Maynard Keynes prophesied, with what looks like eerie accuracy, that machines would make labour obsolete within a century. The prospect filled him with “dread”, because very few people have been educated for leisure.

In 2018, an article in Scientific American predicted that advanced AI will “augment our abilities, enhancing our humanness in unprecedented ways”. This Pollyannaish prognosis ignores the fact that all human capacities tend to atrophy in disuse. In particular, AI is inexorably changing the way we think (or don’t). Students now use ChatGPT to do their homework for professors who perhaps rely on it to write their lectures. What makes this absurd scenario amusing is not just the thought of machines talking to machines, but that intellectually lazy people would employ a simulacrum of human intelligence for the sake of mutual deception.

Compared with the natural endowment of human intelligence, the artificial kind is an oxymoron, like “genuine imitation leather”. AI is a mechanical simulation of only one part of intelligence: the capacity of discursive thinking, or the analysis and synthesis of information. Discursive thinking deals with humanly constructed tokens, including numerical and linguistic symbols (or, in the case of AI, digitally encoded data). While human intelligence can compare these tokens with the things they represent, AI cannot because it lacks intuition: the immediate cognition of reality that roots us in the world and directs our energies beyond ourselves and the operations of our own minds. It is intuition, for example, that tells us whether our nearest and dearest are fundamentally worthy of trust.

Jacob Howland, AI is a false prophet

A couple of little jewels

  • It’s curious that both left and right seem to think that things are falling apart — but what each side views as remedy, the other views as decline. People often say they wish left and right would “come together to solve the country’s problems," but they define the problems in opposite ways. For example, one side thinks that racism is on the increase and reverse racism is necessary to fight it; the other side thinks that racism was on the decline but that reverse racism is bringing it back in force. Again, one side thinks that crime is an innocent response to deprivation, and that the problem lies in the police; the other side thinks crime is wrong and dangerous, and that although we should help disturbed people, the problem lies in punishing the police and encouraging the criminals.
  • The proponents of the so called “new natural law theory,” or “basic goods theory,” say that we shouldn’t speak of the natural purposes of things.  For example, we shouldn’t say that the natural purpose that anchors the sexual powers is procreation, because this “instrumentalizes” and “depersonalizes” us – it makes us tools for making babies.  This is absurd.  One might as well say that it depersonalizes us to say that the natural purpose of the intellectual powers is deliberating and knowing the truth.

J Budziszewski

Cornered, with nothing left to do but confess the truth

The conclusion of Freddie deBoer’s parody dialogue with a standard-issue Lefty about crime, and where the Lefty, cornered, finally fesses up:

Look, I’m gonna level with you here. Like the vast majority of leftists who have been minted since Occupy Wall Street, my principles, values, and policy preferences don’t stem from a coherent set of moral values, developed into an ideology, which then suggests preferred policies. At all. That requires a lot of reading and I’m busy organizing black tie fundraisers at work and bringing Kayleigh and Dakota to fencing practice. I just don’t have the time. So my politics have been bolted together in a horribly awkward process of absorbing which opinions are least likely to get me screamed at by an online activist or mocked by a podcaster. My politics are therefore really a kind of self-defensive pastiche, an odd Frankensteining of traditional leftist rhetoric and vocabulary from Ivy League humanities departments I don’t understand. I quote Marx, but I got the quote from Tumblr. I cite Gloria Anzaldua, but only because someone on TikTok did it first. I support defunding the police because in 2020, when the social and professional consequences for appearing not to accept social justice norms were enormous, that was the safest place for me to hide. I maintain a vague attachment to police and prison abolition because that still appears to be the safest place for me to hide. I vote Democrat but/and call myself a socialist because that is the safest place for me to hide. I’m not a bad person; I want freedom and equality. I want good things for everyone. But politics scare and confuse me. I just can’t stand to lose face, so I have to present all of my terribly confused ideals with maximum superficial confidence. If you probe any of my specific beliefs with minimal force, they will collapse, as those “beliefs” are simply instruments of social manipulation. I can’t take my kid to the Prospect Park carousel and tell the other parents that I don’t support police abolition. It would damage my brand and I can’t have that. And that contradiction you detected, where I support maximum forgiveness for crime but no forgiveness at all for being offensive? For me, that’s no contradiction at all. Those beliefs are not part of a functioning and internally-consistent political system but a potpourri of deracinated slogans that protect me from headaches I don’t need. I never wanted to be a leftist. I just wanted to take my justifiable but inchoate feelings of dissatisfaction with the way things are and wrap them up into part of the narrative that I tell other people about myself, the narrative that I’m a kind good worthwhile enlightened person. And hey, in college that even got me popularity/a scholarship/pussy! Now I’m an adult and I have things to protect, and well-meaning but fundamentally unserious activists have created an incentive structure that mandates that I pretend to a) understand what “social justice” means and b) have the slightest interest in working to get it. I just want to chip away at my student loan debt and not get my company’s Slack turned against me. I need my job/I need my reputation/I need to not have potential Bumble dates see anything controversial when they Google me. Can you throw me a bone? Neither I nor 99% of the self-identified socialists in this country believe that there is any chance whatsoever that we’ll ever take power, and honestly, you’re harshing our vibe. So can you please fuck off and let us hide behind the BLM signs that have been yellowing in our windows for three years?

It would be interesting to see a similar parody featuring a standard-issue Right figure.

Three foundational myths of MAGA

While Trumpism is a complex phenomenon, there are three ideas or principles that are consistently present: First, that before Trump the G.O.P. was a political doormat, helplessly walked over by Democrats time and again. Second, that we live in a state of cultural emergency where the right has lost everywhere and must turn to politics to reverse this cultural momentum. And third, that in this state of emergency, all conservatives must rally together. There can be no enemies to the right.

Add these three ideas together, and you have a near-perfect formula for extremism and authoritarianism.

David French


Having a bit of blood in the water, the media (Jamelle Bouie at the New York Times in particular) will be trying to devour Justice Clarence Thomas until they drive him from office (unlikely since Anita Hill could deny him the office), lose interest, or motivate Congress to enact a binding judicial code of conduct (which Chief Justice Roberts has cautioned might violate separation of powers). Stay tuned.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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

Sunday, 4/16/23

It’s Pascha (Easter) in Orthodoxy. Our Vigil was wonderful, but you had to be there to enjoy it, so I’ll not say any more.

Latins vs. Greeks

  • Two centuries later, fundamental differences in phronema [mindset] would again be an obstacle to union between the West and the East at the Council of Florence in 1439. Catholics presented rational arguments for their positions, and the Orthodox responded by citing apostolic Tradition. It was “the constant conviction of the Latins that they always won the disputation, and of the Greeks that no Latin argument ever touched the heart of the problem.”
  • Orthodoxy theology defines only what is necessary and always leaves unspoken that which cannot be explained. This approach was part of the Christian faith from the beginning. But the Western phronema often suppresses, dismisses, minimizes, or ignores this stance. The Western mind is compelled to define and explain everything, since without a rational explanation a concept or fact cannot be considered true, or, conversely, all truth can be proven rationally.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

Ireland vs. America

Ireland is a palimpsest, a manuscript scraped imperfectly clean and reused, the old text bleeding through the new. A landscape with a long memory. As an American, I grieve the mnemonic emptiness of the New World. I long for ruins.

Justin Lee, Rewilding American Christianity

What the wrath of God looks like

I was nurtured on stories as a child that contrasted Christ’s “non-judging” (“Jesus, meek and mild”) with Christ the coming Judge (at His dread Second Coming). I was told that His second coming would be very unlike His first. There was a sense that Jesus, meek and mild, was something of a pretender, revealing His true and eternal character only later as the avenging Judge.

This, of course, is both distortion and heresy. The judgment of God is revealed in Holy Week. The crucified Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God. There is no further revelation to be made known, no unveiling of a wrath to come. The crucified Christ is what the wrath of God looks like.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Bridegroom and Judgment

This rings very true, although in my case “nurtured” refers mostly to my Christian high school and 2.5 years of Christian colleges. I do not recall my parents nurturing such a view.

But in your pondering whether you, too, were so nurtured, don’t fail to ponder the second paragraph.

Conservative Christian Europeans

The European experiment with trying to keep the Church alive amid dechristianization by making it more like the world has been a decisive failure. Christianity has to be different, and not be ashamed of that difference. In my European travels, the believers with whom I have spent time would be counted as conservative in moral and theological terms, but that, of course, does not track neatly with political conservatism.

Rod Dreher, Reconciling With The Really Real

Wild Christianity

“Wild Christianity” seems to have achieved almost (shudder!) même status, and predictably if being used in conflicting senses. But here’s a notable observer:

I have read an obscenely large number of articles and books on the decline of Christendom and the West, and even rushed in to write one myself, where angels fear to tread. But I have read absolutely nothing as close to the bull’s eye and as far from the bull’s opposite end as “A Wild Christianity” by Paul Kingsnorth, who, being a true poet, is not merely a singer but also a seer. Thank you, Gandalf.

Peter Kreeft, Boston College

I don’t disagree with Kreeft, who I have admired for more than 50 years. Read the worthy Kingnorth article.


[O]nce I was at an academic conference in Balamand, Lebanon, and I got a message that the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatios IV at that time, wanted to meet me and another young theologian, who was from Greece, privately. What could this be about? We were ushered into a private drawing room, stood as His Beatitude entered, came forward to kiss his hand, and then sat down after he did. Well, he looks at us, and in perfect English exclaims, “The problem with you Greeks is that you are all dualists! Even a rock has a soul!!!” And that was it. He’d spoken his peace, he got up and left, and we were ushered back out.

‘Beauty First’ With Timothy Patitsas

Spiritual success

For those not fitting the NAR emotional profile (see below), there’s another option.

I have wondered how the “success” of the spiritual life would be measured? I could imagine that the number of persons baptized might be compared to the number of the baptized who fall short of salvation—but there is no way to discover such a thing. In lieu of that, we often set up our own way of measuring—some expectation of “success” that we use to judge the spiritual life. “I tried Christianity,” the now self-described agnostic relates, “and found that it did not live up to its claims.” [Laughter] I’ve seen things like that.

To my mind, the entire question is a little like complaining about your hammer because it doesn’t work well as a screw-driver. The problem is that the spiritual life doesn’t “work,” and it was never supposed to. It is not something that “works”; it is something that “lives.” And this is an extremely important distinction.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Slow Road to Heaven

It occurred to me within the last week or two that there’s at least one thing in America that’s immeasurably better than my childhood and adolescent status quo: there are Orthodox Christian Churches all over the place, and Orthodoxy has become a live option for Christians in other traditions they’re finding empty.

The Slow Road to Heaven

  • Despite every atheist protestation, religion abides – and if there is not one that is inherited, then a culture will invent new ones.
  • Power is an ever-present temptation in this world. It offers the notion that we can, by force (of arms or law), achieve our desired ends. That was true under emperors and tsars, and remains true within modern democracies. When Pilate questioned Jesus regarding the nature of His kingdom, Christ was very clear that His kingdom “is not of this world.” He adds that were His kingdom of this world – then His disciples would arm themselves and fight. That many Christians through the ages have imagined armed struggle to be an important element of the Christian life is a testament to our confidence in the weapons of this world and our lip-service to the Kingdom of God.
  • The crucified life is seen most clearly when it stands out against a background of worldliness.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Slow Road to Heaven

Safety check

“People aren’t asking whether Christianity is true, Abe. They aren’t even asking if it is good. My friends are wondering if Christianity is even safe.”

Jake Meador, quoting a friend of Abe Cho

I too readily accepted Cho’s quote as a valid indictment of (much) American Christianity. Meador does some helpful disambiguation of “safe.”

False mysticism

There’s a hymn that they used to sing at my childhood church that goes, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” I get the point it’s trying to make: that encountering true hope, beauty and holiness puts pettier things in perspective. Still, my experience of faith is nearly the opposite of what the hymn describes. The more I have tried to seek God — the more I reach for truth, beauty and mystery that I know exceeds my grasp — the more bright, vivid and vital the things of earth become.

Tish Harrison Warren

New Apostolic Reformation

I usually park this provocative quote in the ending material of my blogs:

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

I had that point driven home powerfully in the last week, for I somehow stumbled upon an intriguing series within a podcast I almost certainly would never have visited otherwise.

The series was on the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), about which I knew only three things fairly firmly:

  1. It emerged during my middle-age years.
  2. A formerly mainstream evangelical, C. Peter Wagner, who has been obsessed with “church growth” as long as I’ve known of him, was a prominent proponent.
  3. NAR believes it has Apostles leading the Church.

I now know much, much more, and it ain’t pretty.

The podcast was named “Straight White American Jesus.” With a title like that, it’s not the sort of place I frequent, just as I don’t dumpster-dive for my food. But despite the semiotics of that name, the podcast series, titled “Charismatic Revival Fury,” was delivered soberly and in scholarly fashion until the presenter got worked up for a while at the hypocrisy of NAR “Apostles” and “Prophets” backpedaling from the January 6 rioters, so many of whom they had inspired and whipped into frenzy. These were the rioters who apparently considered themselves Christian but who fit no pigeon-hole I knew — because their pigeon-hole was NAR.

I now realize that the NAR novelties have extended quite far, perhaps because C. Peter Wagner, even before his NAR days, would resort to just about anything in the name of “Church growth,” and NAR follows his example, thus keeping things at fever pitch with a stream of new “prophesies” and unchristian promises of political power (dominion).

Overall, the series was focused on the political ramifications of NAR. Usually, I think the press stupidly considers religion merely notional and fundamentally unreal until it eventuates in something political. And there was a bit of that sense here. I don’t think Straight White American Jesus would have been interested in exposing the heresies of NAR apart from its political ramifications. But when I went looking for analysis of NAR’s religious beliefs, the top hits were not from sources I think are reliable.

I’m not prepared to try to make sense of NAR here except that

  • it seems almost designed to be elusive, like nailing jello to the wall; and
  • it seems from the 30,000-foot level like an emotionalistic tradition led by a mixture of narcissistic “Apostles” and “Prophets.”

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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