Monday, 12/19/22

How we differ from traditional cultures

Choose ye this day

You can believe exactly what people in 1450 believed, but you cannot believe it in the same way they believed it because you have a choice.

Paraphrase of Carl Trueman, interviewed by Andrew Sullivan

This is a modern conundrum. I can say “I had no choice but to become Orthodox when I saw and learned what I did,” but of course I did have a choice. Choosing has been unavoidable for centuries now — at least in upper strata in Western Christendom (perhaps it’s one of those proverbial “first-world problems”).

Choosing to change religion is not even a costly choice here as it is still elsewhere in the world. Yet there is a toll to be paid, coming from banks of integrity, for not choosing what overwhelmingly commends itself.

(Sullivan/Trueman was a great interview, by the way, between very smart Oxbridge men with significant differences of opinion but an ability to converse civilly. Go thou and do likewise.)

East and West

Further:

To say that Orthodoxy is “Eastern” and that Catholic and Protestant Christianity are “Western” is not a poetic description or a mere matter of geography. The terms have long been employed to indicate real differences in historical experiences and thought—not simply the final conclusions but the process by which we arrive at those conclusions.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox. I do not have, even by inheritance, the historical experience of the Eastern Church. My heritage is Western. So while I believe and practice Eastern Orthodoxy, I cannot believe and practice it in quite the way a devout “cradle Orthodox” would.

I like to think that converts like me bring something of value nonetheless, particularly where the faith may have tended toward a complacent cultural club or, as in my parish, where no single cultural group of Orthodox Christians coalesced to to support a church, and converts both added numbers and served as a catalyst for a new, more American (i.e., “pan-Orthodox”) parish. That my parish is in the relatively obscure Carpatho-Rusyn diocese may make it easier to avoid an ethnic identification — as in when people ask whether my Orthodoxy is Greek or Russian.

Traditional civilizations

In a traditional civilization it is almost inconceivable that a man should claim an idea as his own; and in any case, were he to do so, he would thereby deprive it of all credit and authority, reducing it to the level of a meaningless fantasy: if an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it; if it is false, there is no credit in having invented it.

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

Culture generally

Journalistic murmurations

I’ve heard, and find it plausible, that the New York Times tacitly decides what’s “news” worthy of mainstream attention.

I’m starting to think there is some similar organ on the Christian and Christianish Right, because (for instance) all of a sudden “everyone” (i.e., many on the Christian Right, from which orientation I gain much daily commentary — this, for instance) is writing about MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying, as implemented in Canada and increasingly “recommended” in heavy-handed ways.

It’s a worthwhile story, but I don’t think you’ll see it in the New York Times. It may have started with advance copies of The New Atlantis.

It occurs to me that this phenomenon is rather like a murmuration. (I hope that apt metaphor is original. I certainly am not conscious of having encountered it elsewhere.)

The Promise of Pluralism imperiled

In the seven years since Obergefell was decided, the American left has been on a mission to diminish the legal and practical foundations of the Constitution’s free-speech rights.

They argue that antidiscrimination laws should be recognized as more important and that the Supreme Court in Ms. Smith’s case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, should affirm this new reality. Colorado’s law lists the classes of discrimination as “race, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation (including transgender status), national origin/ancestry, creed, marital status.”

This Supreme Court is likely to decide in Ms. Smith’s favor, maintaining the prohibition established in 1943 by Justice Robert Jackson as the “fixed star in our constitutional constellation” that the government can’t compel, or coerce, an individual to adopt the majority’s opinion.

Still, this case is among the reasons you have been seeing a public assault on the high court’s conservative members. The left’s playbook, across politics, is to stigmatize its opposition as outside acceptable opinion.

Daniel Henninger, They Want to Shut You (and 303 Creative) Up.

I’ll be blunt: I think free speech rights trump antidiscrimination rights. The only issue is whether what the state is forbidding or commanding qualifies as “speech.” In the 303 Creative case, it so clearly was speech that Colorado admitted it.

Western Civ

The argument now that the spread of pop culture and consumer goods around the world represents the triumph of Western civilization trivializes Western culture. The essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

Your periodic reminder

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

Questioning whether violence really is religious risks the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but I’ve believed that violence doesn’t come from true Christianity for more than 50 years. I probably was guilty of scripture-twisting, but I cited James 4:1-4 as my prooftext.

My conviction, and the bloody wars provoked by non-Christian ideologies in the last century, gives me cause for grave concern as we arguably are abandoning a real, if flawed, Christian heritage now that our great atheist enemy is defunct.

Politics (sigh!)

Marshall Law

Here at The Dispatch, we are mostly anti-snark and anti-sneer, so I will try to consider this question earnestly: What does it say about our country that we are governed by illiterates?

One “Marshall Law” is a typo. Two is a trend. And the recently published trove of January 6-related texts is a testament to the illiteracy of the people who represent millions of Americans in Congress ….

Kevin D. Williamson

Ron DeSantis

I want two things out of the 2024 presidential cycle. One is the end of Donald Trump’s political career, whether in the primary or general election. I don’t care when or how it happens as long as it happens.

The other is a greater willingness among conservatives to criticize their leadership. We’ve spent seven years encased in a repulsive personality cult devoted to a repulsive personality. If the cult disbands in the next election, one obvious lesson in the aftermath is that it shouldn’t be replaced by a new one.

Nick Cattogio

Cattogio thinks the best way to end Trump’s political career is an incumbent Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (you may have heard of him).

I’m agnostic on what it will take to drive a stake through Trump’s blackened heart, but I’m tending negative on DeSantis.

He’s smart enough to know that some of the culture war laws he has backed are unconstitutional, but backed them anyway despite his oath to uphold the constitution. Maybe the Morning Dispatch’s satirical summary of the Bill of Rights is his for real:

On this day in 1791, the fledgling United States of America ratified its Bill of Rights, conferring on its citizens a host of fundamental freedoms that can only be infringed upon if doing so helps one’s political team win culture war fights.

That’s not my view of the Bill of Rights.

I can forgive Marjorie Taylor Green her illiterate outbursts before I forgive the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Ron DeSantis. All of them are better-educated and probably smarter than me, but they tend toward unprincipled pandering and willing to subvert the Constitution for political gain. For all I know, DeSantis seems better than the other two only because I’m less familiar with him.

The Coverup is the Crime

Remember that dad who got dragged out of a school board meeting in Loudon County, Virginia, after pressing school officials about in-school sexual assaults on girls by a cross-dressing boy? The idea of the problem being the dad fit a leftish narrative so well that Merrick Garland directed the FBI to investigate threats against teachers and school officials and people began viewing vocal parental involvement in Board meetings as terroristic.

Well, it turns out the dad may have been right and that school officials were criminally covering up the assaults.

Caveat: There are twists and turns in this story. The charges are mostly misdemeanors and potentially somewhat political. I doubt that the dust has settled enough for clarity. It’s now well-known that a cross-dressing male sexually assaulted two girls in two bathrooms, but those bathrooms apparently were not yet subject to a “come as the gender you feel today” policy.

Let the healing begin

Republicans actually turned out more voters than Democrats in November. They even won the national popular vote. But in races involving Trump’s candidates, many Republican voters split their tickets, punishing Trump favorites like Arizona’s Blake Masters and Kari Lake who questioned the 2020 results. It turns out that running against democracy is not a recipe for democratic success.

It’s sobering to realize that history can turn on the personal quirks of one person. But it’s also comforting, because as the 2022 midterm results suggest, some of the ugliest aspects of the Trump era aren’t inherent to our system or deeply embedded in our society. They are the downstream effects of one bad actor. Remove him and the pollution he caused will remain, but once disconnected from its source, it can slowly be cleansed, as we saw in this past election.

Yair Rosenberg, Deep Shtetl. The idea of a “national popular vote” in Congressional and Senate elections is quite bogus for most purposes, but it somehow feels instructive here.

Hard fact

You can’t fact-check a person out of hope and purpose. They’ll resent you even if you’re right.

David French

Just for fun

France can still pull it off if Mike Pence has the courage

@EricMGarcia


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Monday, 8/1/22

Against the (Mono)Culture

The aim of a healthy farm will be to produce as many kinds of plants and animals as it sensibly can.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Feelingsball

If legitimate critiques of, say, Josh Hawley’s specific claims about wage stagnation or the WTO are met with emotional responses—“Okay, fine, but The People don’t feel that way, and oh by the way you’re basically a lobbyist for China”—there’s little point in engaging again. (The New York Times’ Jane Coaston recently called this vague and ever-changing use of the emotional trump card “Feelingsball,” after the Calvin and Hobbes schtick, which is pretty much just perfect.)

Scott Lincicome, Populist Indulgence Thwarts Serious Governing

Haunted by Tradition

The best movies, songs, musicals, and popular fiction of the period through the 1950s were created by people who were, like the early Modernists, haunted by tradition. The lyrics of a Cole Porter, the sense of drama of an Orson Welles, the rhetorical sensibility of an Edward R. Murrow were all sustained by the lingering presence of the tradition of high culture. Reminded of that tradition by such institutions as universities and museums, the proponents of popular culture paid certain, if modest, homage to the past.

Ken Meyers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

The West and The Rest

The non-Wests see as Western what the West sees as universal. What Westerners herald as benign global integration, such as the proliferation of worldwide media, non-Westerners denounce as nefarious Western imperialism. To the extent that non-Westerners see the world as one, they see it as a threat. The arguments that some sort of universal civilization is emerging rest on one or more of three assumptions as to why this should be the case.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

(mumble-mumble) maybe I oversold this complaint

Okay, since I may have said something snarky about media and government tap-dancing around Monkeypox, a partial retreat is in order: Should Monkeypox Be Considered an STD? Experts Debate. (H/T The Morning Dispatch).

Staying inland

Now that I know about shark-infested beaches, I have one more reason to stay inland. I don’t want some poor reporter to have to write the second paragraph of my obituary, “Mr. Keillor was eaten by a shark off Jones Beach on Tuesday while wading in a raspberry-colored swimsuit and wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat fringed with straw fronds. A memorial service will be held at a time to be announced later.”

“Memorial service” suggests that there was not enough of me left to put into a burial plot. The shark took the meaty parts and other sharks got some and turtles finished the job. What was left could be put in a tunafish can. I was a productive author for fifty years but in the future, if my name comes up in conversation, someone will say, “Wasn’t he the guy who was eaten by sharks?” So I renew my vow to avoid beaches.

Garrison Keillor

Dreher and Orbán

Damon Linker, as preface to interrogating Rod Dreher’s defense of Viktor Orbán, traces Rod’s public progression over the 20 years of their friendly acquaintance. Excerpt:

Rod’s timing ended up being slightly off. Though he had been making versions of this argument on his blog for years, the book-length statement of his position—The Benedict Option—was published in March 2017, two months into the Trump administration, at a moment when the religious right was in no mood at all to entertain stepping back from the political fray. Demoralized just a few years earlier, its hopes had been raised by the new president’s promise, despite his lack of personal piety or virtue, to fight ruthlessly for social conservatives and to push back just as ruthlessly against the left.

While consistently withholding support from Trump himself, Rod spent the next few years adjusting his political stance to a new political reality. Instead of practicing what he preached and turning inward, he focused more resolutely than ever on outrages committed by the left. Rod became convinced, not only that the Social Justice Warriors were wrong, as I often thought they were as well, but that they were hell bent on building a comprehensive political-legal-cultural-technological system in which they would actively persecute Christians and anyone else who resisted The Official Woke Teaching on Gender and Sexuality.

That vignette strikes me as true, and useful, as is (in a more humorous way), his characterization of Rod going to

Budapest, where Viktor Orbán was enacting an austere and intellectually rigorous style of right-wing populism—one that Rod found far more appealing than the trashy, downmarket version Trump was haplessly pursuing at home.

My own position on Orbán is somewhat different than the standard liberal-progressive line, which portrays him as having directly targeted and largely succeeded in destroying Hungarian democracy. I’m more inclined to see him as what he claims to be: a scourge of liberalism in the name of majoritarian democracy.

Yes, he’s been pretty heavy-handed with the media, giving his party somewhat of an edge in elections. But his constitutional adjustments and other reforms haven’t imposed electoral changes out of line with other democracies, and his party today wins roughly the same portion of the vote and from the same largely rural constituency as it did when it first gained power in 2010. In the country’s most recent election, this past April, election monitors didn’t take note of any systematic fraud. Hungarians are simply voting in favor of making Hungary an illiberal democracy.

Linker cites some recent Orbán remarks to conclude that he’s beyond the pale and that Rod should back away, rather trying repeadly the “What he meant to say was [insert some bowdlerized version].”

America lags more sensible countries again

Britain’s only gender-reassignment unit is to close following a damning report into its operations. The Tavistock clinic was accused of being too quick to rush children onto puberty blockers and of failing to explore its patients’ mental-health problems. Kids with gender dysphoria are to be sent to new regional centres, which will be required to have stronger links with mental-health services.

(The Economist) Lisa Selin Davis has more at Bari Weiss’s Substack.

Go thou and do likewise, America.


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Sumptuous Sunday Banquet

  1. Around the Corner
  2. The Truth of Mary
  3. Math, Reason and Civilization
  4. A Gifted Existence
  5. The Poetry of God
  6. Human Tradition in a Modern World
  7. Excuse Me, You Are Not Rational
  8. Atheism and the Imagination
  9. About Fairy Tales
  10. Making It Up in America
  11. A Faerie Apocalypse
  12. The Elves Have Left the Building
  13. Theology and Faerie – The Modern Tragedy

I have fallen far behind on Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog by a full baker’s dozen. Laid low by laryngitis, I have caught up. Here’s an uncommonly long Sunday Banquet in addition to my earlier offering. (Note the many tags and few categories; Fr. Stephen thinks outside my box.)
Continue reading “Sumptuous Sunday Banquet”

John 6:60-63, 66 (MSGV)

John 6:60-63 Therefore, many of His disciples, when they heard this, said “This is a hard saying; who can uncerstand it? When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you?” What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? Anyway, I was just jerkin’ around with you with that “eat my body, drink my blood” stuff. It’s all figurative. Y’all know, don’t ya, that Christianity will be all about angels’n’feelin’ good about yourself? … From that time, many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (More Spiritual than God Version) Continue reading “John 6:60-63, 66 (MSGV)”