Potpourri 11/17/20

Wisdom of the Ages

We can endure neither our vices nor their cure.

Livy


This acceptance of the classical tradition, even in so partially and fragmentarily recovered a form, was a course completely at variance with one type of Christian teaching, influential to varying degrees throughout the middle ages, which dismissed all pagan teaching as the devil’s work and sought to find in the Bible an all-sufficient guide. Luther indeed was the heir of this medieval tradition.

Alasdair MacIntyre, After virtue

I do not reject all pagan teaching as demonic, and neither do the Eastern Church Fathers.


The assumption behind systematic theology is that the universe is actually a “uni-verse” – that is, it has a unity throughout …

This consistency and stability across creation is what is meant by “system” in “systematic theology” …

I recall someone presenting a paper on the doctrine of God in the writings of the radical feminist Catholic, Rosemary Radford Ruether. When the student finished reading the paper, there was a dead, stunned silence in the room. Finally, a sheepish voice piped up, “Isn’t that the Force in Star Wars?” We broke out in laughter because it was precisely what she had articulated. It might make for interesting reading, but it certainly could not be called “Christian.”

Orthodox theology is not studied or written in the manner of Protestant systematics. Orthodox thought is largely what has been traditioned and is drawn from the Fathers and our liturgical life ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Orthodoxy, Systematic Theology, and Music – Glory to God for All Things

Crooked Hearts

Here’s a quote for you:

“This crisis is more important than any crisis we’ve had in my time. Our people are waiting for the bishops to say, O.K., we’ve got it under control, we’re on the same page, we hear you and we’ve listened to you and now you can be sure that this will never happen again.”

Know who said that? Cardinal Ted McCarrick, on June 12, 2002.

I’m writing this to you, young man, but I’m also writing it to myself. You cannot imagine how much I need to believe this, to know that it is true. That sentimental saying you see on coffee mugs at gift shops? ‘Be Kind, For Everyone You See Is Fighting A Great Battle’?

Yeah, it’s true.

The Hidden Heroes – Daily Dreher

The one person you don’t see is fighting a great battle, too. Auden captured it:

You shall love your crooked neighbor
with your crooked heart


The number of people coming forward with sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was approaching 90,000 by the Monday deadline for filing such claims against the organization.

The Nov. 16 deadline was established by a Delaware bankruptcy court, where the BSA had filed as it sought to cope with lawsuit damages and to restructure.

The BSA spent millions of dollars advertising the deadline across the nation, and the claims have poured rivaling sexual abuse claims against the Catholic church. Abused in Scouting, a group of over 8,000 men who say they were abused in the Boy Scouts, said experts had expected over 50,000 claims.

“I knew there were a lot of cases,” Paul Mones, an attorney involved in BSA sexual abuse cases for nearly 20 years, told The New York Times. “I never contemplated it would be a number close to this.”

How much money claimants will eventually receive from the Boy Scouts will depend on the size of a compensation fund the bankruptcy court will establish and the length and severity of the abuse suffered by the individuals making claims against the organization.

The BSA national organization, insurers, and local councils will all contribute to a compensation fund for victims.

The BSA said it was “devastated by the number of lives impacted by past abuse in Scouting and moved by the bravery of those who came forward.”

“The BSA bankruptcy is an unmasking of … its decades’ long problem of sexual abuse that they deliberately concealed,” Mones said on Twitter when the BSA filed for bankruptcy in February.

Knowhere News

I will not wallow in this news, but how can we learn from it? Is it as simple as “Do not entrust the formation of your children to others”?

Carpe diem

An Arabian proverb of our time goes something like this: “My father rode a camel, I drive a Rolls-Royce, my son flies a jet airplane, and his son will ride a camel.”

James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency

Perhaps those Arabian boys will ride the Hendricks High-Wheel. (H/T Like Peloton but Analog, and With Alcohol – WSJ)

Politics

If you’re still doing a political purge after our four-year binge, you may stop here.

[I]t is fair to say that, despite what his critics on the left have said to the contrary, Obama did succeed in his stated ambition of fundamentally transforming the United States, albeit through inaction. Every bit as much as the conservative public intellectuals of the last two decades, Obama’s failure was not the result of Eliotic fatalism but (to quote his own letter) of ignorance. Even today he resembles them in his instrumentalization of religion, as a tool that will “restore a sense of meaning” to public life rather than as the activity of a body of believers undertaken for its own sake, as a divine mandate.

Matthew Walter, Barack Obama, failed conservative


… the occasional rapper who supported Trump. I have to remind myself that if you listen to rap music, it’s all about the bling, the women, the money. A lot of rap videos are using the same measures of what it means to be successful as Donald Trump is. Everything is gold-plated.

Barack Obama in Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic

A great interview with a serious man who once, believe it or not, occupied the highest elective office in the land.


Obama is actually nicer to his enemies than Trump is to his friends. (Jeffrey Goldberg’s observation in Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic)

Can anyone deny the truth of this?


No major American political figure in my lifetime has triggered the moral revulsion I feel toward Donald Trump; it explains why I was one of his earliest and toughest critics. (I continue to believe that moral revulsion was the proper response to Trump’s tenure.) So I understand how, in the twilight of his presidency, with the president engaging in a series of final civic desecrations, it’s easy to react with indignation one more time. And the fact that Trump supporters like Lindsey Graham and countless others are complicit in those desecrations shouldn’t vanish down the memory hole.

But Trump has dominated too much of our thinking for too long; his transgressions, provocations, and sheer abnormality have made him an omnipresent figure in our lives. Time and time again I’ve spoken with people who are not particularly political yet feel not only deeply unsettled by Trump but enveloped by him. He’s had too much power over too many of us. It’s time we move on from him.

> “My entire personality is hating Donald Trump,” Melissa Villaseñor’s character puts it in a Saturday Night Live political ad parody, “Trump Addicts for America.” “If he’s gone, what am I supposed to do? Focus on my kids again? No thanks.” (“You know he’s bad for you,” the ad concludes. “But it’s hard to imagine life without him.”)

Peter Wehner, Choose Repair, Not Revenge – The Atlantic.

Life without Trump will mean, for me, many more books read. Because, yes, he dominated too much of my time, this Orange Man. (What was his name?)


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

Too interesting times

I’m starting light. I’ll end very heavy.

1

What is this? Pronoun pickiness run amok?

2

Signs of wretched excess: Pumpkins Spice in August.

Some pleasures are just meant to be seasonal.

(H/T Smokey Ardisson on micro.blog)

3

I’m sincerely hoping, and strongly suspect as I’ve not read of this elsewhere, that this is a small eddy in an already-small fetid swamp of AlexJonesish conspiracy theorists:

McCain conspiracists say his brain cancer was a hoax

4

Brett Kavanaugh Is a Mensch: When Bethesda, Maryland went NIMBY on a Synagogue, Kavanaugh pitched into the defense of the Synagogue.

5

Within 45 minutes of Ronald Reagan’s announcement that Robert Bork was his pick to replace the retiring Justice Lewis Powell on the high court, Kennedy introduced him to America this way:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Now compare this, for sheer style, with the attempt by Elizabeth Warren, current occupant of the seat once held by Kennedy, to do the same for Mr. Trump’s nominee:

“Judge Kavanaugh is part of a movement to twist the Constitution in ways that are deeply hostile to the rights of everyone but those at the top. He’s been a part of that movement for the majority of his professional life, both before and after he became a judge. And now, he has a record of 12 years of judicial decisions that demonstrate his loyalty to that radical ideology.”

Here’s some bad news for Sen. Warren. I remember Ted Kennedy. I watched when Ted Kennedy turned Robert Bork’s name into a nasty verb. And I say this to the woman who now holds the late senator’s seat: Ms. Warren, you are no Ted Kennedy.

After so many years of crying Bork, Democrats have forgotten an essential in politics: count your votes. Brett Kavanaugh will take his seat on the Supreme Court in the end. And yours truly is betting it will be with the votes of at least two Democratic senators.

William McGurn

6

Well, at Least Sheriff Joe Isn’t Going to Congress

Most heartening headline of the day

Cast aside and left to wallow in the knowledge that his moment has passed, he has a fitting end to the public life of a true American villain.

I’ll forgive Mike Pence the praise he lavished on this villain if he repents publicly and convincingly. That was a moment when I understood why many of my fellow Hoosiers contemned a man I felt was too great a cipher to warrant contempt.

7

President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, announced Tuesday that the administration is “taking a look” at regulating Google’s conduct, given Trump’s complaints earlier in the day that the company’s search results suppress conservative views. Kudlow’s statement raises First Amendment concerns of the highest magnitude.

Floyd Abrams. Click that link to “taking a look.” That’s pure, venomous effort to chill a free press and its modern adjunct, the search engine.

What is potentially dangerous is the assertion in the president’s tweets that “This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” and Kudlow’s intimation that a regulatory response was actually being considered. Of course, Trump and Kudlow may not mean it. Or they may mean it and will not pursue it further. But one cannot tell, and so when such statements are made, it is worth responding immediately ….

And when Floyd Abrams responds this way on a First Amendment matter, it is a warranted shot across the bow of would-be tyrants. Don’t you think for a minute that Brett Kavanaugh will be so grateful to Trump that such nuances will be lost on him.

8

I close with sad but notable news.

I first became aware of Damon Linker when he was at First Things magazine around 16-18 years ago. “First Things” is pervasively Roman Catholic in its staffing, though not in what it publishes, so I sort of assumed that Linker was Catholic. I had no idea he was a new convert when he arrived.

Now he’s leaving. Although I’m skipping most news of American Clergy Abuse Scandal II, personal stories are likely exceptions. I’ve distilled what I find most compelling in Linker’s story:

The core of the church’s problem isn’t personal immorality, or institutional corruption, or hypocrisy. The core of the problem is ugliness.

People too often fail to appreciate the role of beauty in religion …

The singular importance of beauty or nobility to the most profound moral and religious experience was noted centuries before Christ in the dialogues of Plato, where the character of Socrates frequently asks his interlocutors searching questions about elevation. What do we admire? What acts stir us and move us to tears? Often it is those acts involving self-sacrifice, devotion to something loftier, something purportedly higher …

When I converted to the Catholic Church 18 years ago, I did so in large part because I was deeply moved by the act of self-sacrifice that the church places at its heart …

If I didn’t really believe in all of the theological precepts taught by the church, at least I wanted to — because I considered them beautiful, and because I wanted to be a part of the beauty, to elevate myself by assimilating myself to it.

That impulse seems very far away from me now. It began to fade in the church scandals that broke less than two years after I entered the church. The crisis deepened by working for a devout priest who responded to the scandals by circling the wagons against the secular press and its impertinent reporters looking to harm the church with their pesky attachment to uncovering the truth.

[T]o wade through the toxic sludge of the grand jury report; to follow the story of Theodore McCarrick’s loathsome character and career; to confront the allegations piled up in Viganò’s memo — it is to come face to face with monstrous, grotesque ugliness. It is to see the Catholic Church as a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.

No thanks. I’m done.

And I bet I’ll have a lot of company headed for the door.

The “devout priest” he worked for was the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, himself a convert, who I thought very highly of — and still do. But “circling the wagons” and whanging on people like Rod Dreher (“‘Shut up’, he explained”) was both wrong and ugly.

I don’t know if Linker is leaving Rome for another Christian tradition or if his entire faith is crushed, but his brokenness is a sad, sad commentary.

Millstone. Neck. Sea. Kyrie eleison!

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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St. Basil the Great on Clergy Sexual Abuse

Several readers have sent me this quote from St. Basil the Great (330-379), who was Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca:

Compare and contrast. St. Basil was a holy man and a true father. These other guys?

(Via Rod Dreher)

So far as I know, this approach never made it into Canon Law. Damned shame.

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

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

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

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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McCarrick

We conservative Catholics had made such a big deal about the loss of authority within the Church, and had developed within ourselves a chronic reluctance to confront facts that called the integrity of the system into question.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, for example, once upbraided me angrily on the phone for publishing a story about Bishop James Timlin’s handling of the Society of St. John situation.

“The bishop told you there was no story there!” he growled.

I pointed out to Father Neuhaus that I had quoted the bishop saying that in the story. Neuhaus was aghast that I had published the story at all, given the bishop’s words.

“Father Neuhaus, why should I believe Bishop Timlin?” I said.

“Because he is a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church!” Neuhaus shouted.

Really, he shouted ….

Rod Dreher, Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew. What “everybody knew” was the Cardinal’s homosexuality and exploitation of seminarians, not of children, but the massive lying and coverups is what eventually cost Dreher his Catholic, but not Christian, faith.

When I was working on these stories, I learned that most gay priests who are sexually active do not molest children or adolescents. The problem is that they — as well as straight priests who are sexually active — have secrets, and learn to keep their mouths shut as part of an informal system of self-preservation … A source — a devout young Catholic man — had been telling me that he left seminary because he couldn’t stand the constant pressure from priests there to have sex with them. One of the seminary leaders told him that if he’s not gay, fine, but to go get a girlfriend. To me, it was clear that the priest-professor was trying to lead the kid into his own web of corruption, one way or the other.

Dreher has lots more stomach-churning details. I’ve only quoted the parts that seem key to me on why this problem has been intractable: “everybody” has dirt to spill on “everybody” else if they break ranks.

Some of it, I admit, reads like an 80-foot blackboard, but so be it.

Orthodox lay Catholics are not overly inclined to have blind faith in our clergy leaders when it comes to LGBT issues. The Scandal was the first straw, but we haven’t yet reached the last. Actions speak louder than words, even when the words are a recitation of the Catechism’s teachings on the matter. And so far the actions all point to a continuing cover-up the scope of which may be more devastating than we can readily imagine.

Erin Manning, Why We Don’t Trust Them.

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