the conspiracy is real

So the assumption here is that Hillary Clinton has a giant secret army of operatives assigned to thousands of polling places around the country to alter our votes? Plausible! But no more plausible than the assumption that that very same giant secret army is working with known Communists to control our minds through the fluoride in our drinking water. Prove to me that she’s not doing it, if you can.

But for anyone who’s serious about the threats to our social order, and our precious bodily fluids, this is the real worry:


So, you don’t think that space alien baby, now grown up and entered into its full powers, is even now preparing the scheme that will ship Trump voters to the asteroid belt to wear out their lives as slave labor in the mineral mines. Can you prove to me that it’s not gonna happen?

Didn’t think so.

and then when it’s convenient they’ll change back

No group has shifted their position more dramatically than white evangelical Protestants. More than seven in ten (72%) white evangelical Protestants say an elected official can behave ethically even if they have committed transgressions in their personal life—a 42-point jump from 2011, when only 30 % of white evangelical Protestants said the same.


David French is correct

When Metaxas votes for Trump, and when I write in my choice, we’ll both be voting for losing candidates. The difference is that my choice will be fit for the presidency and possess the character and temperament to lead the greatest nation in the world. His choice will not. I’ll be calling on Christians to support a candidate who possesses real integrity. He will not. He’s throwing away his vote on a corrupt, opportunistic demagogue. I am not.

— No, God Doesn’t Want You to Vote for Donald Trump 

Voyage of the H. M. S. Beagle





Yesterday I stopped by South Congress Books in Austin and picked up this gorgeous 1957 Heritage Press edition of Darwin’s Voyage. Photos don’t capture what a masterful work of book-making it is.

a vote for X is a vote for X

I keep hearing from Trump supporters that if I vote for a third-party or write-in candidate — for convenience’ sake let’s say Evan McMullin, though I may not  choose him — in this election I’m “really” or “effectively” voting for Hillary Clinton. When I ask how that works exactly, I am told that it’s because Hillary is leading and therefore my McMullin vote isn’t allowing Trump to catch up. But in Texas, where I live, Trump is leading, so by the logic held out to me a vote for McMullin is a vote for Trump. So the Trumpistas ought to be pleased if I vote McMullin. They can scarcely argue that it’s the national vote count that matters, since the United States does not elect its Presidents by national popular vote.

So, then, the argument must be that if you vote for McMullin in a state where Hillary is ahead, you’re voting for Hillary, but if you do it in a state where Trump is leading you’re voting for Trump, whereas if you do it in a swing state I guess you won’t know until after the election who you voted for.

It ought to be palpably obvious at this point that the “effectively voting for X” argument is what Father Neuhaus, of late and cherished memory, used to call “nonsense on stilts.” A vote for Hillary is a vote for Hillary. A vote for Trump is a vote for Trump. And a vote for Evan McMullin is a vote for Evan McMullin. It’s simple as that. So, as my Senator Ted Cruz used to say back when we thought he had a conscience, you should vote your conscience.

things have changed

Matthew’s “judge not” passage is a warning to Christians not to judge self-righteously, uncharitably, hypocritically, hypercritically, in a spirit of harsh condemnation. It is a valuable reminder of how easy it is to fall into traps set by a heart grown cold and hard. It is a reminder, too, that all of us need to be appropriately self-critical. But this passage is not — it cannot be — a call to withhold all judgment or never to express a critical opinion of another.

Note that at the end of the passage in Matthew, Christ instructs us not to “give dogs what is sacred” and not to “throw your pearls to pigs.” But of course this means that one has to make discriminating judgments about others. The implied conclusion by Clinton apologists that Christ-like forgiveness should render a person incapable of moral criticism collapses under the sheer weight of biblical evidence. Throughout the New Testament, Christians are called upon to judge false teaching; bad doctrine; idolatry; immorality; and more.

— Bill Bennett, The Death of Outrage (1999)

I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road
If the bible is right, the world will explode
I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
You can’t win with a losing hand…
People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

New York provincialism, alive and well

When people say, as they sometimes do, that New Yorkers are the most provincial people on the planet, here’s the kind of thing they’re referring to:

If everybody — everybody in the world, I guess — were going to read one book, it should be an exhaustive account of urban planning disputes in New York City. Because what could possibly be more important?

Similarly, here’s Jane Kramer in the New Yorker (natch):

If you’re looking for true Southern comfort in “Ten Restaurants,” you might want to forget about Antoine’s and go straight to the chapter on Sylvia’s, the enduring soul-food restaurant on Lenox Avenue, near the Apollo Theatre, which a waitress named Sylvia Pressley Woods and her husband, Herbert, bought for twenty thousand dollars in 1962, transforming a local luncheonette into a celebration of the African-American kitchen that had seen her through a hardscrabble South Carolina childhood. Woods’s grandfather was hanged for a murder he did not commit; her father died of complications from German gas attacks suffered during the First World War. But her mother, raising her on a farm with no electricity, no water, and only a mule for transportation, kept the culinary legacy of black America—what we now call Southern food—alive, warm, and sustaining on the kitchen table.

Sure — because nobody in the South was keeping Southern food alive, were they? We Southerners would be completely lost if it weren’t for New Yorkers bravely sustaining the culinary traditions we’ve (apparently) forgotten.

Seriously: what is with these people?

True Confessions (Wheaton College edition)

This long article/essay/meditation by Ruth Graham on the disturbing events at Wheaton College last year — click on the “wheaton” tag at the bottom of this post for some of my thoughts about that situation, and other issues related to Christian higher education — is by far the best thing that anyone has written on the subject: the most deeply researched, fair-minded, and thoughtful. I commend it to you whole-heartedly.

I’m going to take a personal turn now. Ruth was a student of mine, so I’m especially gratified by passages like this:

During my four years at Wheaton, I drifted away from evangelicalism. But I never contemplated transferring to another school. I was reading Foucault and Judith Butler (Shakespeare and Milton too); my professors were brilliant and kind and I found plenty of kindred spirits. When the religion scholar Alan Wolfe visited Wheaton for a cover article about evangelical intellectualism in The Atlantic in 2000, halfway through my time there, he found a campus whose earnestness was both endearing and impressive: “In its own way, campus life at Wheaton College resembles that of the 1960s, when students and a few professors, convinced that they had embarked on a mission of eternal importance, debated ideas as if life really depended on the answers they came up with.” At a suburban dive bar on the edge of a marsh, we drank illicit Pabst on Saturday night and talked about politics, music and philosophy like undergraduates anywhere. Then we got up on Sunday morning and went to church.

(By the way, Wen Stephenson, who became my friend during his work as an editor on that Atlantic story, interviewed me about its topic. I can’t bring myself to re-read that interview, but there it is.)

During my 29 years teaching at Wheaton, I saw many students “drift away from evangelicalism.” I didn’t always regret that — it depended on what they drifted to. Evangelical Protestantism is by no means the only way to be a faithful Christian, and for some people it proves impossible, or at least very difficult, to be a faithful Christian in that tradition. But sometimes I did regret the drifting, if it led away from Christian faith altogether.

Still, we all, among the faculty, accepted that risk — it was and is built into the DNA of Wheaton (as it is in my current academic location, the Honors College at Baylor). As I’ve commented elsewhere, “The likelihood of producing such graduates is a chance Wheaton is willing to take. Why? Because it believes in liberal education, as opposed to indoctrination.” So I understood and accepted that the exposure to new and powerful ideas, some of them quite alien or hostile to Christianity, has a tendency to change people, sometimes quite dramatically.

But here’s my True Confession: what I’ve always found hard to accept is how many of my students — how many of my best students, including the ones I’ve invested the most time and energy in — become so embarrassed about having attended Wheaton that they never, later in life, publicly acknowledge the quality of the education they received there. In their determination to separate themselves from the religious world they grew up in — and also, it must be said, in attempts not to have their careers or social lives torpedoed by anti-evangelical prejudice — they are just not willing to say what Ruth says here: that however frustrating they found the chapel services, and however stiff-necked they believed the college’s administration to be, at least they received a first-class liberal-arts education from smart and caring teachers, most of whom also understood and sympathized with and did not judge students for any drifting from evangelical orthodoxy.

Let me emphasize again that I very much understand the impulse: many of these students can pay a social or vocational price for acknowledging that they attended Wheaton. What a blessing it is that there’s another Wheaton College, in Massachusetts: Maybe people will think I went there. And if people do find out that you graduated from “that fundamentalist school,” then perhaps the best strategy for moving forward is to say that you hated every minute of it, and repudiate it with all your being.

So I get all that. But it makes me sad, you know? Because I devoted my best energies to teaching those students — it was always a heart-and-soul thing for me, it really was. And because, while some graduates of Wheaton hated everything about it and can’t stand anyone involved with the place, many of them place a great value on the education they received there. I know: they tell me. But they only do so in private. And for my part, I keep their shameful secret.

answering letters (to Harper’s)

Thanks to those who responded to my Harper’s essay by writing letters to the editor — or to those whose letters were published, anyway (there are others that I haven’t seen).

I am especially grateful to hear this from Marilynne Robinson: “The essay on fear that [Jacobs] imagines I wrote for The New York Review of Books and its secular readership was actually a speech written for and read to a conservative church in Michigan.” That’s very encouraging and tempts me to withdraw or at least significantly modify my criticisms of her approach. It would be fascinating to know whether her arguments were understood differently by those two rather different audiences.

I am not sure why Robinson writes “I think the word ‘secularist’ itself is a crude presumption, disrespectful of the mysteries of the soul” — I don’t use the word “secularist” in the essay, though I do use the word “secular,” and I quote Robinson herself saying “I have other loyalties that are important to me, to secularism, for example.” Why “secularism” is something she can be loyal to while “secularist” is crude and disrespectful I cannot guess.

Lindsey Kerr’s point that “If the last shall be first and the first shall be last, we who seek to emulate Jesus Christ should aspire to a place in the street rather than a seat at the table” is one that I think about all the time. I wish I did a better job of living up to it. I think Cornel West, for all his showmanship, does that pretty well, which is why I think his career is so interesting and his lack of current influence (in comparison to his stature) so sad.

Pace Jack Jenkins, my decision not to name Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of my signal figures isn’t inexplicable: I explained it to him on Twitter and I developed the argument further here. I suspect that Jenkins is one of those people — I have heard from many of them — who can’t escape the thought that “intellectual” is always and necessarily a term of praise, Karl Mannheim be damned. Whaddyagonnado.

P.S. I’ve tagged all my posts about that essay “christianintellectuals.”

so why not Hillary?

So why am I not voting for Hillary Clinton?

  • I think she’s seriously afflicted by dishonesty and hubris, and has demonstrated no ability to learn from, or even seriously to acknowledge, her past mistakes;
  • Her longstanding hawkishness, especially in Middle Eastern affairs, is dangerous to the United States and to other countries — and no, I certainly don’t think I can count on her “no ground troops” pledge, not given her history in these matters;
  • Her deep indebtedness to Wall Street means that she’ll take no action to address serious economic injustice;
  • The Democratic Party platform on abortion, which was already more extreme than that of any European country, has grown still more extreme in ways that Clinton enthusiastically supports;
  • A Clinton administration would unquestionably continue — and very probably extend — the Obama administration’s assaults on religious freedom.

In short, I believe Hillary Clinton is a terrible candidate whose Presidency would — at this point I should probably say will — be very bad for this country, and if the Republicans had nominated a sane person I would very likely be voting for their Presidential candidate this year for the first time in a long time.