Wednesday, 12/22/21

The most efficacious argument

[W]hen the church itself is unhealthy or poorly led, a plan to start its revitalization with secular political actors and cultural Christianity — with Donald Trump and Eric Zemmour, presumably — seems destined for disappointment.

Social justice activists did not triumph … by first getting an opportunistically woke politician elected president and having her impose their doctrines by fiat. Their cultural advance has had political assistance, but it began with that most ancient power — the power of belief.

Which is also how Christian renewal has usually proceeded in the past. The politically powerful play a part, the half-believing come along, but it was the Dominicans and Franciscans who made the High Middle Ages, the Jesuits who drove the Counter-Reformation, the apostles and martyrs who spread the faith before Roman emperors adopted it.

It’s been that way from the very start. Kings eventually bowed before the crucifix, but in the worlds of the wisest Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, “the most efficacious argument” for Christ’s divinity is that “without the support of the secular power he has changed the whole world.”

And so this Christmas, in our parish and every church around the world, we begin again. Whatever world-changing power we might seek, whatever influence we might hope to wield, starts with the ancient prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Ross Douthat, ‌Can Politics Save Christianity?


Sophistication

For all we know, the tribal shaman who seeks visions of the Dream-time or of the realm of the Six Grandfathers is, in certain crucial respects, immeasurably more sophisticated than the credulous modern Westerner who imagines that technology is wisdom, or that a compendium of physical facts is the equivalent of a key to reality in its every dimension.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God


Lost soul

I heard a few months ago of Steve Skojec, a former hardcore Catholic blogger (1Peter5), having a huge crisis of faith. I began following his new Substack, expecting to find something of interest. I was right.

My own relationship with Catholicism is not so vexed as his.

It’s fair to characterize the Evangelicalism of my youth as anti-Catholic, but not obsessively so; were it not for my memories (1) of two of my adverse reactions to JFK and (2) that I didn’t consider Catholics truly Christian, I’m not sure I’d even recognize that I was anti-Catholic.

I tried to learn about Catholicism as a young adult from tendentious hyper-Calvinist secondary sources (unaware that Vatican II meant Catholicism was going to become much more like Protestantism) and (surprise!) what I "learned" wasn’t good.

When I first became Orthodox, I realized that most of the objections I’d had to Catholicism were wrong, and I flirted with the idea that devout Catholics and Orthodox were all, in Richard John Neuhaus’s reification, "ecclesial Christians": people for whom faith in Christ and faith in His Church was one act of faith, not two. I recognized that much of my former attitude could be described as Romophobia, the Protestant reflex that shuns anything, however wholesome, that feels "too Catholic."

But the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I realize that the millennium-wide gulf between Orthodoxy and Catholicism really is deep and wide, in ways that cannot readily be described and that go well beyond which doctrinal propositions each affirms or denies. Notably, I see in Steve Skojec’s substack how he is still haunted by distinctly Catholic beliefs that he now deeply, and justifiably, doubts.

Rod Dreher once was in a similar place, but then encountered Orthodoxy. I pray for Steve Skojec daily, but as I’m not a paid subscriber, I can offer him no words of encouragement or invitation to Orthodoxy. Fortunately, others seem to be doing it.


Christmas, sort of

On a lighter — indeed almost weightless — note, my wife and I have watched a few "Christmas movies" on Netflix this week. And I’ve listened to the background music at my favorite restaurant, a mix of deracinated romantic "Christmas songs" in the "All I Want for Christmas is You" genre.

I’m reminded of why we need the word "vapid" in our English language.

I’ve gotten out Auden’s For the Time Being again.

Maybe I’ll watch Charlie Brown, too:

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not like other Christmas movies. For over half a century, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been playing a game of chicken and we tune in every year to watch it win again. When will CBS finally cave and remove Linus’s recitation of Luke 2? When will the story of Christ’s birth finally be replaced with some spineless pablum about equality, teamwork, and oblique references to fashionable politics? “Surely this will be the year they cut it,” we say, folding our arms as the spotlight falls on Linus. And yet this twenty-five-minute movie somehow manages to pull off the same simple stunt every year—and every year, it is a little more impressive than the last time.

Joshua Gibbs, The Enduring Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas | Circe Institute.

I kind of wonder if the Estate of Charles Schultz won’t forbid bowdlerizing with "spineless pablum." He was said to be an observant Protestant Christian. CBS may have to choose between the Gospel according to St. Luke and contemporary vapidity.


Trans ideal, trans reality

Trans activists argue that a long-marginalised group is now finding its voice in popular culture. Their critics retort that vulnerable teenagers are losing themselves in an online world which adulates anyone who comes out as trans. Both could be right.

“What is needed is quality research into adolescent-onset dysphoria among girls, and the overlap with autism and mental-health diagnoses,” says Will Malone, an endocrinologist and director at the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, an international group of doctors and researchers.

Ideally, … an adolescent with gender dysphoria would have been regularly seeing a therapist, who encouraged them to explore other possible causes for their feelings and had a comprehensive psychological assessment before being put on blockers or hormones. “It is very rare that even one of these things happens,” she says.

The Economist, After the Keira Bell Verdict – An English Ruling on Transgender Teens Could Have Global Repercussions (URL lost)


Covid reality

The abstraction of “social responsibility” does not tell me anything about what it is that you want me to do … If you’re locking down but surviving doing so with meal delivery apps, online shopping, and delivery groceries, you’re not reducing risk, you’re just imposing it on other people … It’s very hard to exist in modern society and to reduce your own risk of infection without increasing that of someone else … Reference to the grand shibboleth of social responsibility or communal welfare or similar, it’s all a way to hide in the abstract, and we hide there because there’s so little to do in the particular. Covid is here. The vast majority of us will survive it, as has been the case since the beginning. Many hundreds of thousands, tragically, will die ….

Freddie deBoer, Social Responsibility… To Do What?

And this, not from Freddie:

COVID is just a part of our lives now, and if we don’t learn to live with it, we’re never going to be able to do anything.

Sportswriter Will Leitch via the Morning Dispatch


Baptists gonna be baptists

Burk states that he does not believe that the response from Du Mez represents:

… any kind of middle or undecided position. She is already willing to have communion with and to recognize LGBTQ persons as her brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, she is already saying that it is right to welcome to the Lord’s table those who embrace and affirm a homosexual identity. She may be under the impression that this is a “middle” or “undecided” position, but it certainly is not. Once you’ve affirmed unrepentant homosexuals as your brothers and sisters in Christ, you have already endorsed an affirming position no matter what your ethical calculation might otherwise be.

It appears that she is treating homosexuality as if it were an issue that otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree about — something on the order of differences over baptism or the rapture. That view is a grave error.

Note Burk’s use of the word “identity,” instead of “behavior.”

Terry Mattingly, ‌Think pieces: Why are evangelicals evolving on doctrines linked to LGBTQ issues?

I’m not going to do any deep dive to figure out exactly how Du Mez and Burk disagree, and what Du Mez may have said or written elsewhere that incites such lack of charity in Burk’s response, above — i.e., leaping from "willing to recognize LGBTQ persons as her brothers and sisters in Christ" to "welcome … those who embrace and affirm a homosexual identity" to "affirm[ing] unrepentant homosexuals." Those kinds of leaps seem more like mendacious Right Cancel Culture than good faith argumentation.

Is Denny Burk confused about the distinction between identity and behavior? (I doubt it.) Does Burk think that identifying as homosexual, even if celibate, is sinful? (I suspect he does.) If so, does he think that homosexual orientation (without "identifying as gay" or celebrating it) can be changed? I’ve had some thoughts on that.


Lovely poetic acquisition

Shared on micro.blog:

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
    who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company, always, with those who say
    "Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
    and bow their heads.

(Attributed to Mary Oliver)


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 and pleasant). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Potpourri, 12/23/18

1

Faith is not the supposition that something might be true, but the assurance that someone is there.

Bishop Kallistos Ware

2

“Unless you like stats / just skip the begats,” wrote Jeanne and William Steig in their “Old Testament Made Easy.” But before he gets to the angels and the wise men Matthew gives us 39 of them, from the famous names (“Abraham begat Isaac … David begat Solomon”) to the rather more esoteric, like Jechoniah, the father of Shealtiel.

If you only know the Bible vaguely, this litany of names probably sounds a bit pompous, an attempt to elevate the infant Jesus by linking him to great patriarchs and noble kings. But the truth is roughly the opposite: The more you know about Genesis or Chronicles or Kings, the more remarkable it is that Matthew announced the birth of the son of God by linking him to a pack of egregious sinners.

The case for remaining Catholic in this moment, then, is basically that all this has happened before and will happen again — in what G.K. Chesterton once called the “five deaths of the faith,” the moments across two thousand years when every human probability pointed to the church of Rome passing into history, becoming one with Nineveh and Tyre.

For American Catholics at least, this era feels understandably like another death — in which the saints seem hidden, the would-be prophets don’t agree with one another, the reformers keep losing. And it is all-too-understandable that people would choose to leave a dying church.

But it is the season’s promise, and in the long run its testable hypothesis, that those who stay and pray and fight will see it improbably reborn.

Ross Douthat. Our homily this morning, in my Orthodox parish, similarly was on the disreputable ancestors of Christ, the source of His humanity.

But to appropriate those prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, deceivers and such to support “all this has happened before and will happen again” seems unlikely to assuage the doubts of those for whom Rome’s claim to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church have become simply implausible.

3

The Defiance of Mariah’s Lambs: Maria Carey means Christmas to most of us, and much more to some of us.

Rich Juzwiak at the New York Times.

“Maria Carey means Christmas to most of us”? Seriously?

4

Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of France, crowned himself emperor, defeated four European coalitions against him, invaded Russia, lost, was defeated and exiled, returned, and was defeated and exiled a second time, all in less time than the United States has spent trying to turn Afghanistan into a stable country.

Tucker Carlson in the January-February American Conservative

5

I would give myself too much credit were I to imply that my early opposition to our national policy of endless war (which just might possibly be coming to an end) was born of my own insight, but it’s remarkable how uniformly bereft of such opposition are the major newspapers of the nation.

For sanity on war policy (let’s stop calling it the Department of Defense while we’re at it), one must look to the cranky opinion journals and blogs of the disreputable Left and the Right.

That they are disreputable shows the negligible value of reputation.

6

All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.

Dr. John Arbuthnot, quoted by Aram Bakshian Jr. in the January-February American Conservative

* * * * *

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

Christmas 2015

(H/T Rod Dreher)

* * * * *

I blogged recently about a — let’s call him a “self-proclaimed (and self-made) Christian” who editorialized on why he wouldn’t celebrate Christmas.

Well, ‘Tis the Season, I guess. Responding generally to such things, a Greek Orthodox Priest makes the case that December 25, and especially late-December generally, have pretty good claim to being the actual, historical time of Christ’s birth:

[St. John Chrysostom] then continues his argument from a biblical perspective, explaining the Jewish tradition of the censing of the Temple in Jerusalem by the high priest, who would enter the Holy of Holies only once a year (Hebrews 9:7; Lev 16:29-34) during the Feast of Tabernacles in September. He points to the Gospel of Luke 1:8-15, when Zacharias was selected to enter the Holy of Holies to offer incense (perhaps there was no high priest that year and the group of Levites, who were on duty at the time selected by lot, according to tradition, the priest who would make the offering in the place of the high priest).

Zacharias entered the Holy of Holies to offer incense and there he had a vision of an angel of the Lord who announced to him the birth of his son, whom he was to call John. Soon after that, Elizabeth, his wife, became pregnant.

Continuing with the biblical narrative, Chrysostom points out that six months later, the angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary and announces to her that she will bear the Son of God and also reveals to her that her cousin Elizabeth is already in her sixth month of pregnancy (Luke 1:30-37).

Chrysostom concludes that, Elizabeth became pregnant in the latter part of September (after the Feast of Tabernacles) and the Virgin Mary became pregnant six months later in the latter part of March. If we count nine months from that time we end up at the latter part of December, which is the time when Jesus was born. Hence, the celebration of Christmas on December 25 is justified.

But I’ll also repeat my original answer: The argument is utterly immaterial to whether I celebrate Christmas and celebrate it on December 25: That’s what the Church does. I’m in The Church. We should have finished about 4 hours before this posts. I hope the Grinch at least enjoys whatever football airs today.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

 

Annual Auden Adventure

I fulfilled my self-imposed Advent discipline, reading W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being, Sunday evening. Would that all disciplines were so delightful!

I have excerpted it more extensively in 2014 (Here’s my part 1 and part 2 comments), and perhaps earlier than that. This year, brevity.

* * * * * * * * *

I have but now escaped a raging landscape:
There woods were in a tremor from the shouts
Of hunchbacks hunting a hermaphrodite; …

(Feeling, speaking in W.H. Auden, For the Time Being. I suppose it was twisted of me to think of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and catty of me to share the thought.)

* * * * * * * * *

O God, put away justice and truth for we cannot understand them and do not want them. Eternity would bore us dreadfully. Leave Thy heavens and come down to our earth of waterclocks and hedges. Become our uncle. Look after Baby, amuse Grandfather, escort Madam to the Opera, help Willy with his home-work, introduce Muriel to a handsome naval officer. Be interesting and weak like us, and we will love you as we love ourselves.

(Herod, contemplating the Massacre of the Innocents, in W.H. Auden, For the Time Being)

* * * * * * * * *

For the Time Being is a pivotal book in the career of one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. W. H. Auden had recently moved to America, fallen in love with a young man to whom he considered himself married, rethought his entire poetic and intellectual equipment, and reclaimed the Christian faith of his childhood. Then, in short order, his relationship fell apart and his mother, to whom he was very close, died. In the midst of this period of personal crisis and intellectual remaking, he decided to write a poem about Christmas and to have it set to music by his friend Benjamin Britten. Applying for a Guggenheim grant, Auden explained that he understood the difficulty of writing something vivid and distinctive about that most clichéd of subjects, but welcomed the challenge. In the end, the poem proved too long and complex to be set by Britten, but in it we have a remarkably ambitious and poetically rich attempt to see Christmas in double focus: as a moment in the history of the Roman Empire and of Judaism, and as an ever-new and always contemporary event for the believer. For the Time Being is Auden’s only explicitly religious long poem, a technical tour de force, and a revelatory window into the poet’s personal and intellectual development. This edition provides the most accurate text of the poem, a detailed introduction by Alan Jacobs that explains its themes and sets the poem in its proper contexts, and thorough annotations of its references and allusions.

(Amazon’s summary of Alan Jacobs’ 2013 critical edition of the poem, which also is available in Edward Mendelson’s Collected Poems of Auden)

* * * * * * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

 

For the Time Being, 2014 part 2

A nearer Christmas. More (all the rest of what I’ll share) from this year’s reading of Auden’s For the Time Being.

THE THREE WISE MEN:

The weather has been awful,
The countryside is dreary,
Marsh, jungle, rock; and echoes mock,
Calling our hope unlawful;
But a silly song can help along
Yours ever and sincerely:
At least we know for certain that we are three old sinners,
That this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners,
And miss our wives, our books, our dogs,
But have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are.
To discover how to be human now
Is the reason we follow this star.

* * * * *

Instead of building temples, we build laboratories;
Instead of offering sacrifices, we perform experiments;
Instead of reciting prayers, we note pointer-readings;
Our lives are no longer erratic but efficient.
Great is Caesar: God must be with Him.

Great is Caesar: He has conquered Seven Kingdoms.
The Fourth was the Kingdom of Credit Exchange:
Last night it was Tit-for-Tat, tonight it is C.O.D.;
When we have a surplus, we need not meet someone with a deficit;
When we have a deficit, we need not meet someone with a surplus;
Instead of heavy treasures, there are paper symbols of value;
Instead of Pay at Once, there is Pay when you can;
Instead of My Neighbour, there is Our Customers;
Instead of Country Fair, there is World Market
Great is Caesar: God must be with Him.

* * * * *

THE MEDITATION OF SIMEON

SIMEON: As long as there were any roads to amnesia and anaesthesia still to be explored, any rare wine or curiosity of cuisine as yet untested, any erotic variation as yet unimagined or unrealised, any method of torture as yet undevised, any style of conspicuous waste as yet unindulged, any eccentricity of mania or disease as yet unrepresented, there was still a hope that man had not been poisoned but transformed, that Paradise was not an eternal state from which he had been forever expelled, but a childish state which he had permanently outgrown, that the Fall had occurred by necessity.

SIMEON: By the event of this birth the true significance of all other events is defined, for of every other occasion it can be said that it could have been different, but of this birth it is the case that it could in no way be other than it is. And by the existence of this Child, the proper value of all other existences is given, for of every other creature it can be said that it has extrinsic importance but of this Child it is the case that He is in no sense a symbol.

* * * * *

Herod

Legislation is helpless against the wild prayer of longing that rises, day in, day out, from all these households under my protection: “O God, put away justice and truth for we cannot understand them and do not want them. Eternity would bore us dreadfully. Leave Thy heavens and come down to our earth of waterclocks and hedges. Become our uncle. Look after Baby, amuse Grandfather, escort Madam to the Opera, help Willy with his home-work, introduce Muriel to a handsome naval officer. Be interesting and weak like us, and we will love you as we love ourselves.”

Naturally this cannot be allowed to happen. Civilisation must be saved even if this means sending for the military, as I suppose it does. How dreary. Why is it that in the end civilisation always has to call in these professional tidiers to whom it is all one whether it be Pythagoras or a homicidal lunatic that they are instructed to exterminate. O dear. Why couldn’t this wretched infant be born somewhere else? Why can’t people be sensible? I don’t want to be horrid. Why can’t they see that the notion of a finite God is absurd? Because it is, And suppose, just for the sake of argument, that it isn’t, that this story is true, that this child is in some inexplicable manner both God and Man, that he grows up, lives, and dies, without committing a single sin? Would that make life any better? On the contrary it would make it far, far worse. For it could only mean this; that once having shown them how, God would expect every man, whatever his fortune, to lead a sinless life in the flesh and on earth. Then indeed would the human race be plunged into madness and despair. And for me personally at this moment it would mean that God had given me the power to destroy Himself. I refuse to be taken in. He could not play such a horrible practical joke. Why should He dislike me so? I’ve worked like a slave. Ask anyone you like. I read all official dispatches without skipping. I’ve taken elocution lessons. I’ve hardly ever taken bribes. How dare He allow me to decide? I’ve tried to be good. I brush my teeth every night. I haven’t had sex for a month. I object. I’m a liberal. I want everyone to be happy. I wish I had never been born.

* * * * *

Chorus

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.