Sunday Sundries

Incongruous

The North American Patristics Society has jumped onto the woke bandwagon. A recent notice calling for nominations for committee membership ran down the lead-lined grooves of the usual invocations offered up to today’s political deities:

The Nominating Committee supports the Society’s efforts to be a more inclusive, diverse and equitable organization. To that end, we encourage nominators to consider the diversity of the membership’s races, ethnicities, genders, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions, disabilities, economic status and other diverse backgrounds. We also seek diverse research expertise (regions, languages, methodologies, and disciplines that strengthen this Society’s work) in various governance bodies. And we seek nominations that will foster governance that better reflects the diversity of institutional settings, academic ranks, independent non-tenure-track scholars, and other historically underrepresented groups that comprise NAPS.

No doubt these measures will lead to a blossoming of scholarly excellence. Though one wonders about the organization’s name. Patristics? Doesn’t that sound frighteningly similar to patriarchy? Surely it’s got to go.

R.R. Reno. Yes, surely it must and will.

False transcendence

C. S. Lewis writing about the proper virtue of patriotism:

For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defense. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up.

As Lewis goes on to say, it is humbug to pretend that the interests of one’s nation, however just, are simply those of Justice herself: “And nonsense draws evil after it. If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things very much of this world.” When it comes to world affairs, it’s a very American habit to claim this kind of false transcendence.

R.R. Reno again

What it means to be Christian

Some decades ago, I made the acquaintance of a new lawyer in town. He had at least one very distinguished family predecessor in the law, and we would occasionally get together for God-talk.

I was still Protestant. He was Roman Catholic, but he had attended one of the few Evangelical law schools in the land. He joked that his fellow-students were incredulous: "What’s a Catholic doing in a Christian law school?" was their amusingly provincial question.

When I a few years later told him that I was becoming Orthodox, though, he exclaimed "It will be so good to have another Christian lawyer in town!"

His exclusion of his fellow-Catholic attorneys from "Christian" was surely similar to his Evangelical law school classmates did to him as a Catholic.

Having had more than 25 years to chew on it, though, I can’t take his seeming double-standard as sheer hypocrisy. The meaning of "Christian" is contextual and even then is pretty equivocal.

Witness:

I attended a visitation this week for an old friend. It was held in the kind of Protestant Church that has sent its denominational affiliation down the memory hole. It’s no longer "Baptist" in its name, but like virtually every independent and pseudo-independent Church, it’s baptist just the same. (Just ask them to baptize your infant if you don’t believe me.) The surfaces in the warehouse auditorium were mostly flat black. The pulpit was plexiglas. There were keyboards and drum sets and such. All standard issue megachurch wannabe.

But there was one big shock. There were scads of photos of the decedent from a young age, monuments to his athletic successes, pictures of family, family present to condole, many friends to do the condoling, but … no decedent. Not even in a closed-casket. And this was not one of those delayed-because-of-Covid "Celebrations of Life." He had died just days before.

They already had cremated him (which by itself makes me cringe, but I thought cremation (cringe!) was usually done after the viewing).

The word that leapt to mind was "gnostic": believing, explicitly or implicitly, that the body is evil (at best a vessel for the "real you") and that death frees the soul from it.

That really was a kind of gut-punch. That is extremely unlike traditional Christianity.

So "Christian" sort of needs to be elastic and contextual just for us all to get along in a society that is, however decadently, part of The Thing That Used to Be Western Christendom. And I do not doubt for a moment that decedent and his wife claim(ed) that title sincerely and fervently. But I’m having some trouble seeing how theirs is substantially the same faith as mine (the one I embraced 25 years ago). Symbols matter. Reductionism is sub-Christian (if we’re being rigorous rather than sociable). Cremation, too.

This whole society is much closer to my late friend’s view than to mine. I’m the oddball, relatively speaking.

I take comfort for my deceased friend that we’re not saved by holding perfect doctrine, though holding wrong doctrine ramifies dangerously. That’s why the Church held ecumenical councils to condemn some of the wrongest wrong doctrines and to lay some boundary-stones.

Hot & Bothered

[T]o anyone who honestly faces the human condition, it seems clear that mankind will worship something. So in the absence of the Transcendent it should be no surprise that, at least in this country, we have made our politics into a something of a secular religion, both among the camps of the Right and of the Left. And it is not a particularly contemplative faith, but rather one that gets us all hot and bothered. This broad brush approach addresses extremities, and I know there is a middle ground where this is not as applicable; but the leavening effects of these trends work back towards the middle.

Terry Cowan, who blogged too rarely for my taste but is making up for it on Substack.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven …. (Matthew 5:11-12a)

Orthodoxy has finally arrived in America: NPR has done a hatchet-job on it.

Yes, Matthew Heimbach is a real person who was, very briefly, a newbie Orthodox Christian before his Priest discovered his racist attitudes and excommunicated him, calling on him to repent. The rest of the NPR piece is insinuation and uncorroborated "findings" from progressives within Orthodoxy or adjacent to it.

There was a time when I’d have told you that you cannot by any means trust anything from the Southern Poverty Law Center, but its 2014 piece centered on Heimbach and his "Traditionalist Youth Network" is ironically better-balanced than the NPR piece. The money quote:

Despite their prominence in white nationalist circles, Heimbach and his compatriots remain marginal figures in the Orthodox community. Metropolitan Savas Zembillas, chairman of the Committee for Church and Society of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, says that they just don’t understand Orthodoxy. According to Savas, it’s not unusual to encounter “converts to Orthodoxy who came in carrying baggage from other jurisdictions, just barely Orthodox, still wet from their chrismations [the ceremony through which one becomes a member of the Orthodox Church]. But they came to Orthodoxy because they imagined it reinforced their deepest held convictions, which were on the spectrum that would lead to Nazism, although not yet there.”

Short of politicizing Orthodoxy by a kind of profiling — giving heightened scrutiny to the political and racial beliefs of all young white males seeking admission — I’m not sure what we (Orthodoxy) are supposed to do. And I’m glad I wasn’t excluded because of my particular "baggage" once I made clear my intention to trust the trustworthy Church.

What’s wrong with this picture?

American Christians have gained a tremendous amount of legal liberty in the last few decades, but they’ve lost quite a bit of power. They are not happy about the trade. (H/T David French, interviewed by Andrew Sullivan


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.

Newsfasting

We Orthodox Christians have just started Lent yesterday, and I’m already irritable from not being able to stuff my face promiscuously! Or from something.

There are always dozens of reasons for irritation.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Ukraine

I find that some news just kind of splashes up onto my pants legs even when I’m limiting news consumption. Believe me that I’m limiting news:

  • Reading the Economist World in Brief and The Morning Dispatch for top news, but rarely click through the Economist.
  • Entirely skipping the Wall Street Journal.
  • Limiting New York Times to obituaries, religion (almost never anything good or even new there), a glance at the Opinions page, and maybe sports and travel.
  • Investigative reporting is higher-quality than regular news, but I still can’t do anything about most of what I see in The Intercept, ProPublica, and bellingcat, so I skip them most of the time.
  • When someone I respect recommends analysis by someone else that I respect, I’ll usually click through if the topic is of interest.

This is still a work in process. I may, at the risk of irritability, cut back further.

Ukraine sues Russia

Last week the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals, launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine. On Monday the International Court of Justice, which judges governments, hears allegations of genocide. But these are not accusations against Russia. Rather, Ukraine wants the court to rule that Russia’s own allegations of genocide against Ukraine in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are false and contrary to international law.

Russia accepts the authority of the ICJ (unlike that of the ICC). But Ukraine does not expect its neighbour to bow to the court’s verdict. Russia did not even turn up to the court on Monday (their defence was due on Tuesday). Instead, Ukraine hopes that a verdict in its favour would strip Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, of any vestige of legal pretext for an invasion, which, he claims, was launched to stop the supposed genocide.

Economist World in Brief.

How interesting to ask a court to rule that your invader’s excuse for invasion is a lie — and the invader has no answer to your “put up or shut up” challenge.

How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia

Ross Douthat, How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia is a brilliant distillation of nuclear wisdom, it seems to me.

In short, our conventional forces are so vastly superior to those of Russia that if we directly engaged Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, we’d quickly put Putin’s back to the wall and he might, quite literally, go nuclear.

I guess not all problems are answerable with technology, huh? I’ll take a wise man over a technocrat (almost) any day.

Longfellow was right

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.”

George Will via the Morning Dispatch

Private Sanctions and Cancel Culture

The Bulwark chronicles how private companies and other non-government actors are punishing Russia for the Ukraine invasion.

I am not entirely amused because this sort of private war is also being waged against Wrongthink in America. For instance, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin and her husband have been banned from AirBNB for associating with Nick Fuentes, of whom AirBNB (and almost everyone else, including me) does not approve.

It may come to the point that making “exercise of free association or free speech rights” protected classes will be a better choice than letting cancel culture commit a kind of economic terrorism.

Fourth Generation War

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we face Fourth Generation war, not against state militaries similar to our own but non-state forces that fight very differently. While the next conservatism favors a strong defense, it should also question the hundreds of billions of dollars we pour annually into legacy forces and weapons suitable only for fighting other states. A strong defense requires military reform, not just heaps of money.

Andrew J. Bacevich, J. David Hoeveler, James Kurth, Dermot Quinn, Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind, et al., The Essence of Conservatism

Russia may be about to experience this in Ukraine if they seek to occupy.

(I’ll bet William Lind wrote this item. He’s always talking about Fourth Generation warfare.)

Gallows humor?

Olha Koba, a psychologist in Kyiv, said that “anger and hate in this situation is a normal reaction and important to validate.” But it is important to channel it into something useful, she said, such as making incendiary bombs out of empty bottles.

Maria Varenikova, ‌Hate for Putin’s Russia Consumes Ukraine, H/T Claire Berlinski via The Morning Dispatch

Patriotism in its purest, loveliest form

After more than 24 years away, Washington Post correspondent Isabelle Khurshudyan finally returned to Odessa, the city where she and her parents were born. “Now that I’m finally here, I wish I wasn’t,” she writes in her dispatch from the coastal city, where she’s been able to reconnect with her 81-year-old great aunt, Baba Zina, who refused to evacuate. “When I asked why that was, she scolded me, telling me to not get distracted from driving. Then she explained that she was born in this city. It’s her home. She visited the United States four times. Four of her siblings moved there, but she returned to Odessa each time. There’s something about this city—with its roots back in imperial Russia, its classic architecture, its appreciation for artists and its Black Sea beaches—that make people romantic about it. Peak Odessa: The opera and ballet theater is the most fortified building in town, surrounded by a wall of sandbags. ‘I visited the Vienna opera house just to see how it compared to ours. Ours is better,’ Zina said as we drove by the theater. ‘I went to the one in Paris, too. It was nice, of course. But ours is nicer.’”

via The Morning Dispatch

Three items from Protestants

Choosing a story

I haven’t quoted Jake Meador in a while because I stopped following him because I was too busy wallowing in “news.” because reasons.

The core problem facing the western church today is that virtually everyone, including many of us, believes that the most basic, elemental right a person has is the right to self-designate. This means that, as we are cast adrift in the world, trying to make sense of who we are, where we are, and what we ought to do, we mostly do not turn outward and allow the need of neighbor and nature to answer our questions. We do not look to culture for guidance or to family or to faith. In the words of Hauerwas, *“we have no story except the story we chose when we had no story.” And so to answer the question of who we are, we look inward toward our own ambition and aspiration, desire and need. We act according to that, with scant attention paid to the costs such action will have for the world or for our neighbors.

Jake Meador, touting his new book, What Are Christians For?: Life Together at the End of the World (emphasis added).

You could do much worse than Jake Meador on the internet.

Put on the whole snappy comebacks of God

[W]e’re not really after understanding, I [] think, but rather the maintenance of a certain way of life which is sustained not necessarily through ordering affections and desires toward good ends, but rather simply through a kind of automated acquiescence to authority figures.

One gets the idea from a fair bit of Christian worldview literature (especially when some conference or course is being advertised) that a worldview is almost like a set of categories you can download, and then march out into the world equipped with the right answers and knowing in advance how to refute the wrong answers. But this is not how people learn—not how they learn real meaningful knowledge and wisdom at any rate. This kind of pre-packaged knowledge turns out to be awfully flimsy and brittle when confronted with the complexities of the real world.

Jake Meador again (quoting Brad Littlejohn), but a different blog post.

I’ve been around smart Evangelicals who thought “Worldview camps” and such were really good and really cutting edge. I had figured out pretty early on that they were pretty much as Brad Littlejohn says. Plus you can’t overcome the effects of six daily hours of public school and three daily hours of television with a one- or two-week camp.

Grokking ‘Sin’

It wasn’t until college that I ever really thought about the Christian doctrine of sin. I had grown up in a Baptist church hearing about how Jesus *“died for our sins,” but it seemed that sin was the breaking of certain rules — drinking too much, sleeping around, lying, murder and stealing …

In college, through a string of failed relationships and theological questioning, I came to understand sin as something more fundamental than rule breaking, more subtle and *“under the hood” of my consciousness. It was the ways I would casually manipulate people to get my way. It was a hidden but obnoxious need for approval …

This is the slow dawning that I had about myself in college, and with it came liberation. Far from being a crushing blow of self-hatred, the realization of my actual, non-theoretical sinfulness came with something like a recognition of grace. I saw that I was worse than I’d thought I was, and that truth knocked me off the eternal treadmill of trying to be better and do better and get it all right. It allowed me to slowly (and continually) learn to receive love, atonement, forgiveness and mercy.

Tish Harrison Warren

Seeing sin as mere rule-breaking is, in my personal experience, the worst thing about Christian fundamentalist taboos (smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards and secret societies) of the 50s and 60s, which my Evangelical boarding school aped. It certainly gave me a skewed view, which was harmful to me and others spiritually — even though 14-to-18 year-olds have no business smoking, drinking or joining oath-bound secret societies anyway.

Other stuff

SCOTUS Opposition failure

When Kevin Williamson, a bright guy, can do no better than this in opposing a Democrat SCOTUS nominee, you know you’ve got a pretty good nominee.

Summarizing:

  • She’s part of the meritocracy, the ruling class. (He’s convincing on that.)
  • Dick Durbin and his ilk insinuating that she’s got some hardscrabble backstory is bunk. (He’s got a point.)
  • She does not believe in the rule of law. (He doesn’t deliver one single iota of evidence for that. Not one. And that’s the only one he says should disqualify her.)

After watching one-after-another Republican-appointed justice disappoint, I’m done with making predictions about actual future performance of a nominee.

Truth in Journalism

The nonconformists over at The Postliberal Order set us straight on journalistic terminology:

  • Democracy and liberalism
  • The difference between American philanthropists and Russian Oligarchs
  • Fact-checks
  • The difference between military interventions and invasions
  • Propaganda in general

You’ll appreciate the next item even more if you read this one. It’s short.

This is not propaganda

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act

The Senate passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act by unanimous consent on Monday. Once signed into law by President Biden, the legislation will amend the U.S. Criminal Code to designate lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The Morning Dispatch.

My immediate reaction was that lynching isn’t much of an issue today, and I think I was right, but there’s this so you can gauge the problem for yourself.

And if you think it’s enough that Ahmaud Arbery was “essentially” lynched, be advised that (a) you can’t prosecute for “essentially the same thing” and (b) his murderers got life without parole, which is longer than 30 years.

Buildings for nomads. This is how the late Sir Roger Scruton described “various financial district glass-pane shoeboxes—structures.” (H/T Anthony DiMauro). Some might consider that a commendation; I don’t.

Wordplay

United in diversity:

“The EU’s quite vapid motto.” (Ed West)

Ostpolitik

From the Economist:

Ostpolitik (noun): a decades-old strategy of dealing with Russia based in part on the hope that gas pipelines could promote mutual dependence and therefore peace. Read the full article.

Spelling bees

Congratulations to [Name], an [School] student, who is heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., May 29 to June 3. [Name] won a 10-county regional bee Saturday at [Site] in [City]. His winning word: Archetype.

Spelling Bees aren’t what they used to be.

Simile of the day

One of the guests was a retired Hungarian art historian. She had the most delicate Old World accent. It was like listening to audible porcelain.

Rod Dreher

Mal mots

In a piece for National Review, John McCormack notes how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has diminished America’s already fledgling neo-isolationist movement even further.

The Morning Dispatch (italics added).

Someone at the Dispatch misapprehends “fledgling.”

(And once again, I’m glad I don’t write for a living and to deadline.)

Servants of their servants

For all drunkards and gluttons I weep and sigh, for they have become servants of their servants.

St. Nicholai of Zicha, Prayers by the Lake XXIX, via Fr. Stephen Freeman (italics added)

How we think

Intellect confuses intuition.
Piet Mondrian

The Economist World in Brief


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.

Competent beta males and other fancies

Identitarianism’s bad faith is right out in the open. If you watch closely, you’ll see that white liberals broadcasting their virtuous, courageous commitment to “listening to black voices” will suddenly waver when the black voice in question expresses opinions closer to John McWhorter’s than Ta-Nehisi Coates’. Almost without exception, people who make blanket statements of the form “I listen to X” or “Listen to X” are — and there is no more polite way to say this — full of shit.

Jesse Singal, Lobbying for Millionaires, for Social Justice

This is a fitting companion to Freddie de Boer’s Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect, quoted extensively last time.


The atmosphere is stifling, sluggish, leaden. Outside, you don’t hear a single bird, and a deathly, oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld. At times like these, Father, Mother and Margot don’t matter to me in the least. I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage. “Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter!” a voice within me cries.

Annelies, a 2004 choral work by James Whitbourn, based on the Diary of Ann Frank.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing this, though I must admit that the work didn’t come alive for me in rehearsal — not until production week, when we finally heard the brilliant “Ann Frank” soloist the Artistic Director had hired. Then: wow!


This is not about Donald Trump:

Donald Trump doesn’t get away with lies because his followers flunked Epistemology 101. He gets away with his lies because he tells stories of dispossession that feel true to many of them. Some students at elite schools aren’t censorious and intolerant because they lack analytic skills. They feel entrapped by moral order that feels unsafe and unjust.

The collapse of trust, the rise of animosity — these are emotional, not intellectual problems. The real problem is in our system of producing shared stories. If a country can’t tell narratives in which everybody finds an honorable place, then righteous rage will drive people toward tribal narratives that tear it apart.

Over the past decades, we cut education in half. We focused on reason and critical thinking skills — the core of the second reservoir of knowledge. The ability to tell complex stories about ourselves has atrophied. This is the ability to tell stories in which opposing characters can each possess pieces of the truth, stories in which all characters are embedded in time, at one point in their process of growth, stories rooted in the complexity of real life and not the dogma of ideological abstraction.

Now as we watch state legislatures try to enforce what history gets taught and not taught, as we watch partisans introduce ideological curriculums, we see how debauched and brutalized our historical storytelling skills have become.

It is unfashionable to say so, but America has the greatest story to tell about itself, if we have the maturity to tell it honestly. The Fourth of July weekend seems like a decent time to start.

David Brooks, ‌How to Destroy Truth (H/T my brother-in-law, since I don’t currently subscribe to the New York Times.)

This is more congruence, by the way, as I discussed last time; indeed, it’s congruent with ‌The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, though I’m only now getting into that part of the book.


Buddhism, I’ve found, is how to live in Hell without becoming a devil. The competent man who guards his thoughts and emotions and stays calm and studies differential equations and provides for those around him financially even while living among very unhappy and unhealthy people—that is how the Aristocracy of the Competent is formed. When the Competent beta males rise to the top, that is when we will have a Renaissance.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency


Yet five years later, as our nation picks up the pieces from one of the most divisive, cruel, and incompetent administrations in the modern history of the United States—one in which the pursuit of Christian power led to prominent Christian voices endorsing nation-cracking litigation and revolutionary efforts to overturn a lawful election—the Christian “deal” looks bad indeed. When push came to shove, all too often the pursuit of justice yielded to the pursuit of power.

The cultural shockwaves are still being felt. They’re rearranging not just America’s political alignments but our language itself. Is “Evangelical” more of a political marker than a religious identifier? Does it even carry true religious meaning any longer? What is a “conservative”? Where I live, the term “staunch conservative” is a synonym for “Trump supporter,” in spite of the fact that Trumpism is far more akin to populism than conservatism, as traditionally defined.

Then there’s this other word: “patriot.”

I want all those words back. “Evangelical” is a word with a rich theological and historical tradition. It has meant something good. The word “conservative” has long been connected to the defense of the classical liberal virtues of the American founding. And I can think of no better time to reclaim the word “patriot” than on our nation’s Independence Day.

No, it’s not just that I “want” those words back. We need them back. …

David French, How Do Christian Patriots Love Their Country Well?


When the Pony Express needed riders, it advertised

a preference for orphans-

that way, no one was likely

to ask questions when the carriers failed to arrive,

or the frightened ponies stumbled in with their dead

from the flanks of the prairies….

There were plenty of orphans and the point of course

was to get the mail through, so the theory was sound….

think of those rough, lean boys-

how light and hard they would rise

fleeing the great loneliness.

Mary Oliver, The Riders (H/T The Daily Poem for July 2)


The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence.


You can’t unsee what you have seen, unlearn what you have learned. The only way to live entirely at ease with one’s hometown is never to have left, never to have seen how life is elsewhere, right? Or maybe not. Ruthie’s nature was not my nature. For me the only reason I was able to return to St. Francisville in the middle of my life was because I left it so long ago and satisfied my curiosity about the world beyond. Had I chosen Ruthie’s path when I was young, my way through life would likely have been bitter, filled with regret about the roads not taken.

Rod Dreher, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming


I have pared down a very contentious, even hurtful, couple of paragraphs to just one recommendation: I cannot recommend Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity too highly for anyone who wants to understand how so much of North American Christianity became so chaotic and heretical.


This one ought to be good comedy fodder:

Rural county in Nevada moving to rename road after Trump

YERINGTON, Nev. – A rural Nevada county where voters sided solidly with Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election is moving to rename a road after him. Lyon County commissioners voted 4-1 on Thursday for renaming the half-mile Old Dayton Valley Road in Dayton, an unincorporated community 23 miles south of Reno. Commissioner Ken Gray, a Republican, told KRNV-TV that he chose the road because only a few government facilities and no residents have addresses on it, making the change easier.


Jonah Goldberg unpacks some Trump bombast and finds inadvertent self-revelation:

Trump is a human incarnation of anti-factual narratives. Case in point: His trip to the border this week.

At a meeting to discuss border security, Trump went on a tear about how he “aced” a test designed to tell whether he was cognitively impaired. This is an oldie but a goodie, so I was glad to see him reach deep into his catalog. At the event, Trump called out to Rep. Ronny Jackson, the president’s former physician who had administered the test. Trump said:

“Did I ace it? I aced it. And I’d like to see Biden ace it. He won’t ace it.”

“He will get the first two. There are 35 questions and the first two or three are pretty easy. They are the animals. This is a lion, a giraffe. When he gets to around 20, he’s gonna have a little hard time. I think he’s gonna have a hard time with the first few, actually.”

Well.

The test doesn’t have 35 questions, merely 10 or 11 tasks (here’s a sample test). And it’s not supposed to take more than 10 minutes.

Boasting that the test was “really hard” doesn’t quite make the point Trump thinks he’s making. If you find a sobriety test “really hard,” that’s not quite the same thing as saying, “I’m sober.” If you struggle to pass a basic cardiovascular test, that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’m in great shape.” And if you say a test designed to determine if you have dementia got “really hard” toward the end, maybe that should be a cause for concern? I mean, if you have to dig deep to successfully repeat the sentence, “The cat always hid under the couch when dogs were in the room,” that’s not something to brag about.

The final—and presumably hardest question—asks if the patient knows the date, place, and city where the test is being administered.

(Emphasis added)


I had heard someone say that Vienna combined the splendour of a capital with the familiarity of a village. In the Inner City, where crooked lanes opened on gold and marble outbursts of Baroque, it was true; and, in the Kärntnerstrasse or the Graben, after I had bumped into three brand-new acquaintances within a quarter of an hour, it seemed truer still, and parts of the town suggested an even narrower focus.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (and Jan Morris), A Time of Gifts

From what Rod Dreher wrote just last Friday (I Am Pieter Brueghel’s Waffle Man – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher, Vienna is still magical.


Reflections introduced by Jeff Bezos’ rationale for going to space:

I think, is that the standard choices presented to us – reason versus superstition; progress versus barbarism; past versus future; Earth versus space; growth versus stasis – were always chimeras. The choice is not between ‘going forward’ or ‘going back’, but between working with the complexity of human and natural realities, in all their organic messiness, or attempting to supersede them with abstractions which can never hope to contain them.

Perhaps this is why artists, saints, poets, mystics and storytellers often have a better handle on what reality actually looks like than those who sing the praises of Science or Reason. The English painter Cecil Collins, for example, explained his view on the matter in a beautiful mid-twentieth century passage which is worth quoting in full:

Rationalists are very fond of saying that without reason the universe would be a mad place; but of course it is a mad place even with reason. Any artist, or poet, or really alive person, knows it is mad. It is a horrible and terrifying place full of a bitter cruelty and obscenity. It is a place full of wonderful, profound beauty, and the tenderness of vast mysterious sacrifices. What it is not is a nice little rational puzzle that works out in the end.

No, the universe of experience is a different matter. It is a deep abyss, full of voices, some whispering, some shouting, the voices of frustration, the voices of unfulfilled longings, the voices of mysterious lusts, of mystical desires that can find no place in the world, the voices of deep, buried wrongs that cry out from an abyss of world desolation, the voices of misfits, neurotics, failures, the weak, an abyss full of the ecstasy of the poet, the glow of the praise of life, full of an incomprehensible love and an incomprehensible destructiveness.

All these voices are centred in man’s consciousness and in order to escape from them he builds in his mind a prison of rationality, and then tries by the aid of the official world, to shut them out.

Paul Kingsnorth, A Thousand Mozarts (The Abbey of Misrule)


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

Sunday Potpourri

The Jericho March … co-founders are essentially unknown in the organized Christian world. Robert Weaver, an evangelical Oklahoma insurance salesman, was nominated by Trump to lead the Indian Health Service but withdrew after The Wall Street Journal reported that he misrepresented his qualifications. Arina Grossu, who is Catholic, recently worked as a contract communications adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. (Weaver and Grossu declined to comment.) Still, they will have far more influence in shaping the reputation of Christianity for the outside world than many denominational giants: They helped stage a stunning effort to circumvent the 2020 election, all in the name of their faith.

Emma Green, Storming the Capitol for God and Trump.

“Essentially unknown in the organized Christian world” is what I thought about Paula White and most of the “evangelical” leaders who gathered with Trump for photo ops in the Oval Office, laying hands on him as if anointing a King or Prophet.

I’ve been away from Evangelicalism for a while, though, and I don’t how big a tent “Evangelical” is these days — or what new celebrities have replaced the celebrities of my youth. (Yes, “celebrity” is my deliberate choice.)


Evangelical Christianity, which once played a central role in legitimizing democracy in the early days of the American experiment through its fusion with classical republican values, may now play a central role in the unraveling of America through its unholy union with modern conspiracy theory.

And, like [Milton William] Cooper [who inspired Timothy McVeigh], Trump, in the words of [David] Kilcullen, has played less the role of the Pied Piper, calling his followers hither and thither at whim with his flute, than the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, summing dark forces from the abyss that he has no clue how to control. Now we wait to see if someone will play McVeigh to Trump’s Cooper.

… [H]istorian John Fea has noted that “The U.S. Senators who objected to the Electoral College results,” including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, “were almost all evangelicals.” Though a number of notable evangelicals such as David French, Ed Stetzer and Russell Moore have challenged the unfounded claims of electoral fraud in a timely and persistent manner, others such as Franklin Graham have condemned the violence of the Capitol siege without challenging the false allegations about the election, which Kilcullen identifies as the key motive for the crowds who precipitated the violence in the first place.

Todd Thompson, A Homegrown Christian Insurgency – Mere Orthodoxy


[I]t’s difficult to define exactly what Christian nationalism is. To the extent one can create an academic definition, it’s hard to improve on the one Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd cites in a recent Gospel Coalition essay. He quotes Matthew McCullough’s description of Christian nationalism as “an understanding of American identity and significance held by Christians wherein the nation is a central actor in the world-historical purposes of the Christian God.”

[But e]xplicit “patriot churches” are still thin on the ground.

Thus, I agree with Kidd. “Actual Christian nationalism,” he says, “is more a visceral reaction than a rationally chosen stance.” He provides an interesting example:

“I recently saw a yard sign that read “Make Faith Great Again: Trump 2020.” I wondered, How can re-electing Donald Trump make “faith” great again? What faith? When did it stop being great? No coherent answers would be forthcoming to such questions, but that’s the point. The sign speaks to a person’s ethnic, religious, and cultural identity in ways easier to notice than to explain.”

Now let’s ask a challenging question—why do we see this nationalism more in white conservative Protestant Christianity than in any other strain of American Christianity, including the Black Protestant church or the Catholic church?

I’d argue it’s because that for more than two centuries, the United States of America was quite likely the best place in the world to live if you were a white theologically conservative Protestant. No, it wasn’t a perfect place. But it was the best place. Our freedom, our prosperity and (ultimately) our power were unmatched anywhere else.

As a practical matter, our culture slippers fit so darn well that it grew all too easy to see ourselves as “in” and “of” the United States of America.

Black Christians could not feel such comfort … And while theologically conservative Catholics and Protestants now often lock arms in the modern American culture war, that would have been unthinkable in the days when anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments stalked the land.

What is Christian nationalism? It’s a deep emotional attachment to a particular and exclusive culture, a skewed version of history, and a false sense of “marked superiority” that must and will fade away.

What is Christian patriotism? To echo C.S. Lewis and George Washington, it’s a love of home and place and neighbor that does its best to fulfill the vision of peace and justice articulated by the prophet Micah so many long years ago—“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”

David French, Discerning the Difference Between Christian Nationalism and Christian Patriotism


I’m a graduate in Medieval Studies, and when I try to explain some myths about it, people look at me as if I was insane. The Enlightenment propaganda is so strong, that telling the truth about Medieval era sounds like a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory. And this is a serious problem. Many school textbooks, media, etc. promote most of these myths, which are inherently biased and dangerous, because they distort the truth.

The Enlightenment historiography is still the most successful propaganda ever made; it refused to die, because the [anti-Christian] sentiment which these thinkers had promoted seems to be popular ever since. Demonizing the Other is the best way to begin a fight, because it gives you the feeling of the moral superiority. In our case, this has been done by distorting and misinterpreting historical facts, and inventing myths and false villains and heroes. This genius propaganda has affected and influenced most of us, therefore it’s not surprising how our imagination has been constructed. For example, when we think or talk about [the] historical horrors, the vast majority will think of the those ‘dark’ Middle Ages. Ironically, we rarely realize that the most morbid and inhumane crimes were committed during the Enlightenment and Modern era. Concentration camps, gulag, genocides, eugenics, racism, reign of terror, totalitarianism, etc. The aforementioned catastrophes are a result of the ideology which promoted the cult of progress, reason and science, which ended becoming the cult of irrationality, regress and crimes. But of course, rarely will we hear that being denounced, because we still live in that era, where one of the most criminal and bloody act of history [the French Revolution] is presented as ‘glorious’ and ‘good’.

The Enlightenment way of thinking may have ‘freed’ people from believing in religion or God, but at the very moment when this philosophy rose, ideologies were born. So, today, many don’t believe in religion because they consider it dogmatic, but unconsciously and even dogmatically believe and follow ideologies as Enlightenment.

Albert Bikaj, via The Neomedievalist. H/T Rod Dreher


Once upon a time there was a couple whose names were Oskar and Auguste. They had a little girl whom they named Johanna Maria Magdalena. Everyone called her “Magda” for short. She lived in a world that was soon awhirl with exciting possibilities, opportunities, and temptations. People looking at her said that she was to be envied as she rose to prominence, money, influence, and fame, riding an intoxicating wave that took her ever higher. Those able to see somewhat into the mystery and murk of the human heart knew that far from ascending ever higher, she was in fact sinking ever lower. Down and down she went spiritually into ever more dangerous, mad, and suffocating places, but only God could see the true tragedy of her descent. In the glittering world in which she lived and moved, she shone. Everyone knew her name. Everyone knew who Magda Goebbels was, the unofficial First Lady of the Third Reich, wife to Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the powerful Minister of Propaganda.

It quickly became apparent to her that it was all over. She would never again live in the world she had come to love. The world that was fast approaching would be a world without a triumphant National Socialism, a world in which swastika flags would not hang from every balcony, a world without Hitler, and for her, a world without hope. She could not bear the thought of her and her six young children emerging from the bunker to live in that world. She could not endure living a world without Hitler. Though urged to leave the bunker and allow her children to be smuggled safely out of Berlin, she refused. In a final letter to her adult son from a previous marriage, she wrote, “Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvellous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and National Socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow.”

Her will did not waver: on May 1, 1945 she had her six children drugged with morphine and then murdered with cyanide, and then took her own life. When the Russian soldiers finally breached the bunker, they found only her charred corpse in the Chancellery garden with that of her husband, and down below, the limp corpses of their six children, dressed in their nightclothes, with ribbons still tied in the girls’ hair.

Let us be clear about the lesson to be learned from this tragedy. The question to be asked is not “How should Magda be punished for her evil?” but rather, “What in the world can be done with Magda?” Magda Goebbels found the possibility of a life without Hitler and National Socialism too painful to bear. Living in that post-Hitler world was for her literally a fate worse than death. Life in that world would be agony, a ceaseless turmoil of tears and searing pain. That was why she murdered her children and took her own life.

Fast forward from this tumultuous age to the shining world of the age to come. What in that world can be done with Magda? In that world also there will be no Hitler, and the “glorious idea” that was ruined in 1945 along with “everything beautiful and marvellous” that she had known in her life will find no place there either. Instead, everywhere the Jew from Nazareth will reign supreme, and His face will illumine that world to its furthest corner. Magda would regard that world as an accursed place, for Hitler and the “glorious idea” of National Socialism will not simply be hated. For her it will be worse than that: as age succeeds sunlit age, Hitler and National Socialism will be utterly forgotten, left behind, like a disease which had long ago found its cure.

… [I]f Magda could not endure living in a post-Hitler world, if she would have found that world too painful to bear and a fate worse than death, how would she regard living in the sunlit world of the age to come? Such an existence would be for her worse than a fate worse than death. If a post-Hitler world would be too agonizing to endure, what would her pain be in this world?

This is where the pains of hell find their source. God did not create a subterranean torture chamber to punish the lost for their sins. The pain suffered by Magda Goebbels in that age will not come from the hands of Jesus, but from the heart of Magda.

Fr. Lawrence Farley.

Note, too — apart from the argument between orthodox Christians and universalists — the personal implications of this: I can pray The Sinner’s Prayer and then declare my eternal security, but if I then live like the devil, presuming on that supposed eternal security, I can end up shriveled, turned in on myself, wanting what I’ve taught myself to want no matter what, and … outside of heaven by my own choice.

There was too much of that in my life. That realization was a key in my decision to turn my back on Calvinism and enter Holy Orthodoxy.


Nothing here is sinister
because nothing is at stake.
Everything is null and void
of depth, of resonance,
not real but celluloid.

From Vijay Seshadri, “City of Grief”


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).

Today’s ramble, 2/14/19

1

Robert E. Lee was a Southerner. So was Martin Luther King Jr. Eugene Debs was an American. So was Whittaker Chambers. Angela Davis? American. So too Phyllis Schlafly. All of them were part of all of us, makers of our own perspective. There’s something sentimental in me that wants to claim them all. When I look at a Confederate statue, I don’t think, “I am so offended by this monument to a man who fought for slavery that I believe it should be erased from public memory.” I think, “You poor bastard, you thought you were fighting for what was right and honorable, but you were blind. You were my ancestor. You are part of me — your story is a chapter in our story — and I am blind like you were, I just don’t know it yet.”

Rod Dreher, reflecting on What Does it Mean to Love America? I know I quote Rod quite a lot, lately to disagree with the course he seemed to be setting, but this one paragraph moved me.

2

New York Times Contributing Opinion Writer Linda Greenhouse makes a plausible case for why Justice John Roberts voted to reinstate the injunction against the Louisiana abortion law while litigation proceeds in the lower courts:

The chief justice voted to grant the stay, in my estimation, because to have silently let the Louisiana law take effect without Supreme Court intervention would have been to reward the defiance that I’ve described here.

The “defiance” she described was the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals engaging in what can plausibly be called conservative judicial activism, to-wit: defying a binding Supreme Court precedent on a materially indistinguishable Texas law.

Lower courts are supposed to follow precedent from higher courts even when they think the higher court was wrong and even when they think they’ve got fair winds and following seas for setting a different course.

Although the 5th Circuit was correct that different facts can justify a different outcome, the differences must be material. It’s not enough, for instance, that “Austin” is a much different city name than “Baton Rouge.”

Greenhouse, an ardent Friend of Feticide, gives very short shrift to the materiality of the factual difference the 5th Circuit described (and engages in a lot of ad hominem), and I’m giving them short shrift as well just because I don’t care to shoot my whole day on this observation: When the statutes are very similar and the trial court spent six days hearing the factual basis for injunction, plus many pages “finding” those facts, it’s a tough legal sell to second guess its findings to strike down its injunction.

(First published on my micro.blog)

3

No doubt when skeptics raised questions about the efficacy of bleeding patients to cure their cholera or of burning witches to halt crop failures, someone was standing there with their head cocked at a righteous angle, saying, “Oh no? Well, what’s your plan, then?” Unfortunately, there is no law of universal symmetry by which the recognition of a problem automatically creates a feasible solution.

But as it happens, I do have a plan …

[Z]eroing out U.S. emissions and moving the whole country into yurts wouldn’t prevent the climate from warming, because Americans are not the biggest problem anymore. The problem is the more than 6 billion people who aren’t living in the rich world.

No matter what rich-world economies do about their energy consumption, or what “moral leadership” they exert, people in the non-rich world are going to want … to do and own all the things that make modern rich-world lives so safe and pleasant.

… The solution isn’t figuring out how to subsidize or mandate green alternatives; it’s figuring out how to make them cheaper than the carbon-intensive versions.

There are a number of possible paths to that outcome ….

Megan McArdle

McArdle “confess[es] upfront that I’m far from sure my plan will work. I can only protest that it’s more likely to work than the myopic austerity of the enviro-socialists”:

[M]assive regulatory programs to marginally improve the energy efficiency of American buildings and appliances; subsidizing high-speed rail and public transit in a country almost entirely devoid of the population densities needed to make them feasible; larding green initiatives with ideological wish lists that will do nothing to prevent climate change but will do a lot to polarize the country on the most important policy priority of the 21st century.

Meanwhile, as others mock, an earnest young genius earnestly defends the Green New Deal:

It has taken years of agricultural policy to get us into this mess. Getting out of it is a question not of whether lawmaking also produces economic policy and jobs, but of what kind.

Jedediah S. Britton-Purdy, The Green New Deal Is What Realistic Environmental Policy Looks Like. “Genius” is not sarcasm: I believe Jedediah Purdy has been on my radar for a decade or so. “Genius” also is not servile endorsement of just any ole piffle he might come up with on a bad day.

Still more on GND:

The [Green New Deal] has no practical importance but much significance. First, it underscores the rise of the politics of gestures that are as flamboyant as they are empty: President Trump has his wall, the left has its GND. Second, it reprises the progressive desire to militarize everything but the military … Third, … progressives’ embrace of Trump’s political style, a stew of frivolity and mendacity.

George Will.

This column was a delight for its style, quite apart from its substance.

4

I don’t know if you knew this — but your fluid intelligence declines linearly from the age of 20 onward. It’s a pretty vicious curve, and it hits zero, by the way, when you die.

But your crystallized intelligence, which is a measure of how much wisdom you’ve accumulated, how much knowledge, rises. But it doesn’t rise as much as your fluid intelligence declines.

Jordan Peterson

5

One of the most haunting books I ever read was apparently, and I’d now say improvidently, discarded after a change of Christian conviction led me to detest the Crystal Ball style of reading Bible prophecy.

The book was titled The United States in Prophecy, and I picked it up (literally, then proprietarily) at the Moody Book Store on LaSalle Street in Chicago.From my memory of the cover and the publication date, I think this is it, and I just paid Amazon $5 to get it again on Kindle.

I thought it was going to be an idolatrous celebration of the United States, but it was very far from that.

The thesis was that the United States is Babylon the Great in (many?) Bible prophecies:

I no longer believe we can decipher from prophecy tomorrow’s newspaper headlines. That’s damned near (and I use that advisedly) an occult, soothsaying take on the Bible.

But just as Johah went and warned Nineveh, so the prophets warn not of the details of woes, but of their certainty absent a change of course.

And even if the United States is not Babylon the Great, we could eavesdrop and adjust our behavior accordingly. Prophecy, like history, rhymes, and echoes.

6

COWEN: What should we learn from Tolkien?

PETERSON: Go out and confront your dragons.

COWEN: What should we learn from Harry Potter?

PETERSON: Voluntary death and rebirth redeems.

Tyler Cowen and Jordan Peterson

* * * * *

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Wednesday, 9/16/15

  1. ACLU abandons Civil Liberties
  2. Transitions in moral codes
  3. Death is a lousy treatment
  4. Where is the conservative Christian Bernie Sanders?
  5. I need a Mr. Amos
  6. Only stupid objections
  7. Do Evangelicals love The Donald?
  8. Introducing Heterodox Academy

Continue reading “Wednesday, 9/16/15”