Authorayjay

Fuschia and Steerpike

a tribute

I should think, computing moderately, that 15 angels, several hundreds of ordinary women, many philosophers, a heap of truly wise & kind mothers, 3 or 4 minor prophets, & a lot of doctors and schoolmistresses, might all be boiled down, & yet their combined essence fall short of what Emily Tennyson really is.

— Edward Lear

inward isolation

Are we to live in an age in which every mechanical facility for communication between man and man is multiplied ten-thousandfold, only that the inward isolation, the separation of those who meet continually, may be increased in a far greater measure?

— F. D. Maurice, 1848

walking apart, walking together

When Christian communities decide that they must, for whatever reason, walk apart, then the question that they should all be prepared to answer is this: What are you doing to make it possible to walk together again? For to treat the decision to walk apart as the end of the story is simply to mock the prayer of Jesus that we all be one, even as he and the Father are one. It is the grossest disobedience.

So I have been very pleased to read some reflections on the recent conference at Nashotah House, Living Sacrifices: Repentance, Reconciliation, and Renewal. For instance, this post by Mac Stewart quotes Rowan Williams describing the thought of Michael Ramsey:

It is more attractive to go in quest of the real Church than to seek for the pattern of Cross and Resurrection in the heart of where we happen to find ourselves. But Ramsey implicitly warns us that the quest can be a way back to the self-defining and self-protective religious institution that always distorts or stifles the gospel. Somewhere in this is a very substantial paradox — that the harder we search for a Church that is pure and satisfactory by our definition, the less likely we are to find it.

In another post, Clint Wilson writes,

During the last year, in particular, I have become increasingly engaged and grounded in ecumenical theology, having studied various ecumenical texts and developed several ecumenical relationships. I am a child among giants in this arena, but I trust my newfound passion for this area of work will endure throughout the course of my ministry. Given my experience on the inside of both the ACNA and TEC, it seems to me there are several items in the ecumenical toolbox that might be employed for the hard work of reconciliation between Anglicans, especially within the Anglican Communion. For instance, at a symposium held at the Pontifical Gregorian University last October, Dr. Paula Gooder of King’s College, London, called for an “ecumenism of wounded hands,” a recognition that “we cannot heal ourselves.” Her call is predicated on the notion that our healing is incomplete (and therefore is not gospel healing), until it includes the healing that comes through reconciliation with those from whom we are divided. The cross does not need to be protected, it needs to be invoked, carried, embedded, and embodied across our divisions.

Bishop George Sumner suggests,

Amid protracted international debate, mission in communion can and should continue at the grassroots. Parishes, dioceses, and provinces maintaining initiatives of mission in communion across lines of difference are their own kind of sign of reconciliation. Obedience to the risen Christ’s command to go is as much lived out from the bottom up as the top down. This on-going and local mission in communion is a valid dimension of our common life and vocation.

Zachary Guiliano asks some penetrating questions:

God does not call us merely to submit to the counsel of our friends. That would be too light a thing, and hardly cruciform. He calls us to submit to the oppressive, perhaps even arbitrary and mysterious, judgment of our enemies, even if they are our Christian sisters and brothers, baptized all. God does not call us merely to live within the constraints of communion. He summons us to come and die for those who would deny communion, in this way to give our Yes to every No — dying to self, dying to and for the world, dying for the sake of our enemies, taking up our cross and following him. Only then, perhaps, will he raise again the weeping ruins of our division.

And so I close with a final set of questions: How far will we go in pursuing communion? Will we go even to the cross?

Guiliano’s talk was a response to an address by Ephraim Radner, and I will conclude by quoting it:

The road together, at this stage of Christian history, begins in several places. But it leads and must lead to others, so that a convergence of ways can indeed finally include one flock and one Shepherd (John 10:16). Full and visible unity, as the 1961 New Delhi Report of the World Council of Churches emphasized over and over again as the necessarily and inevitable goal of Christian ecclesial life. Benedict XVI used this phrase — “to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers” — to describe his pontificate. But the vocation is Anglicanism’s as well, and so it must begin with us too. Both the vocation and the promise laid out by the Covenant remain real and compelling in this general way: we have been given a charism to maintain and extend the communion of God’s transformative life in the midst of a world of instability, fragmentation, and now, in its wake, of swirling meaninglessness. The charism is given for the sake of others.

All these words challenge me — some of them even judge me and find me wanting, and I acknowledge the power of that judgment — but they also encourage me. I commend them to any, and not just Anglicans, who prayerfully seek the oneness of the Church of Jesus Christ.

two quotations on the shape of lives

The problem of meaning is created by limits, by being just this, by being merely this. The young feel this less strongly. Although they would agree, if they thought about it, that they will realize only some of the (feasible) possibilities before them, none of these various possibilities is yet excluded in their minds. The young live in each of the futures open to them. The poignancy of growing older does not lie in one’s particular path being less satisfying or good than it promised earlier to be — the path may turn out to be all one thought. It lies in traveling only one (or two, or three) of those paths. Economists speak of the opportunity cost of something as the value of the best alternative foregone for it. For adults, strangely, the opportunity cost of our lives appears to us to be the value of all the foregone alternatives summed together, not merely the best other one. When all the possibilities were yet still before us, it felt as if we would do them all.

— Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations

We live out our lives, both individually and in our relationships with each other, in the light of certain conceptions of a possible shared future, a future in which certain possibilities beckon us forward and others repel us, some seem already foreclosed and others perhaps inevitable. There is no present which is not informed by some image of some future and an image of the future which always presents itself in the form of a telos — or of a variety of ends or goals — towards which we are either moving or failing to move in the present. Unpredictability and teleology therefore coexist as part of our lives; like characters in a fictional narrative we do not know what will happen next, but nonetheless our lives have a certain form which projects itself towards our future. Thus the narratives which we live out have both an unpredictable and a partially teleological character. If the narrative of our individual and social lives is to continue intelligibly — and either type of narrative may lapse into unintelligibility — it is always both the case that there are constraints on how the story may continue and that within those constraints there are indefinitely many ways that it can continue.

— Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd. ed.

a useful bit of perspective for the fururists

I’m not convinced that a civilization that is struggling to cure male-pattern baldness is ready to take on the Grim Reaper.

Maciej Ceglowski

Malcolm is ten years old today

Las Conchas Trail

A mile or so down the road from one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen — the Valles Caldera, the massive caldera of an ancient volcano, 11,000 feet up in northern New Mexico — we came across this paradisal place, the Las Conchas Trail on the East Fork of the Jemez wilderness. Easy to miss, but once found and seen, impossible to forget.

Palo Duro Canyon

So you’re driving through the panhandle of Texas with the land flat as a bedsheet as far as the eye can see, and then all of sudden the ground drops a thousand feet. Congratulations, you have discovered Palo Duro Canyon.

Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase

“Now,” he said, swiveling his head to look at his pupils, “here is how the cycle works.” He marked off three arcs. “We have a Pelagian phase. Then we have an intermediate phase.” His chart thickened one arc, then another. “This leads into an Augustinian phase.” More thickening, and the chalk was back where it had started. “Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase, Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase, and so on, forever and ever. A sort of perpetual waltz. We must now consider what motive power makes the wheel turn.… In the first place, let us remind ourselves what Pelagianism stands for. A government functioning in its Pelagian phase commits itself to the belief that man is perfectible, that perfection can be achieved by his own efforts, and that the journey towards perfection is a long straight road. Man wants to be perfect. He wants to be good. The citizens of a community want to co-operate with their rulers, and so there is no real need to have devices of coercion, sanctions, which will force them to co-operate. Laws are necessary, of course, for no single individual, however good and co-operative, can have precise knowledge of the total needs of the community. Laws point the way to an emergent pattern of social perfection – they are guides. But, because of the fundamental thesis that the citizen’s desire is to behave like a good social animal, not like a selfish beast of the waste wood, it is assumed that the laws will be obeyed. Thus, the Pelagian state does not think it necessary to erect an elaborate punitive apparatus. Disobey the law and you will be told not to do it again or fined a couple of crowns. Your failure to obey does not spring from Original Sin, it’s not an essential part of the human fabric. It’s a mere flaw, something that will be shed somewhere along the road to final human perfection.… Well, then, in the Pelagian phase or Pelphase, the great liberal dream seems capable of fulfillment. The sinful aquisitive urge is lacking, brute desires are kept under rational control…. No happier form of existence can be envisaged. Remember, however,” said Tristram, in a thrilling near-whisper, “Remember that the aspiration is always some way ahead of the reality. What destroys the dream? What destroys it, eh?” He suddenly big-drummed the desk, shouting in crescendo, “Disappointment. Disappointment. DISAPPOINTMENT.” He beamed. “The governors,” he said, in a reasonable tone, “become disappointed when they find that men are not as good as they thought they were. Lapped in their dream of perfection, they are horrified when the seal is broken and they see people as they really are. It becomes necessary to try and force the citizens into goodness. The laws are reasserted, a system of enforcement of those laws is crudely and hastily knocked together. Disappointment opens up a vista of chaos. There is irrationality, there is panic. When the reason goes, the brute steps in. Brutality!” cried Tristram. The class was at last interested. “Beatings-up, secret police. Torture in brightly lighted sellers. Condemnation without trial. Finger-nails pulled out with pincers. The rack. The cold water treatment. The gouging-out of eyes. The firing squad in the cold dawn. And all this because of disappointment. The Interphase.” He smiled very kindly at his class. This class was agog for more mention of brutality. Their eyes glinted, they goggled with open mouths.

“What, sir,” ask Bellingham, “is the cold-water treatment?”

 

•••

 

“But,” went on Tristram, “the Interphase cannot, of course, last for ever.”” He contorted his face to a mask of shock. ‘Shock,’ he said. “The governors become shocked at their own excesses. They find that they have been thinking in heretical terms — the sinfulness of man rather than his inherent goodness. They relax their sanctions and the result is complete chaos. But, by this time, disappointment cannot sink any deeper. Disappointment can no longer shock the state into repressive action, and a kind of philosophical pessimism supervenes. In other words, we drift into the Augustinian phase, the Gusphase. The orthodox view presents man as a sinful creature from whom no good at all may be expected. A different dream, gentlemen, a dream which, again, outstrips the reality. It eventually appears that human social behaviour is rather better than any Augustinian pessimist has a right to expect, and so a sort of optimism begins to emerge. And so Pelagianism is reinstated. We are back in the Pelphase again. The wheel has come full circle. Any questions?”

“What do they gouge eyes out with, sir?” asked Billy Chan.


Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed

Augustine and Pelagius

No doubt the spiritual and moral standards for the Christian life had relaxed quite a bit since the days of persecution, when even the hint of Christian faith could cost a person his or her life; no doubt some restored tension, some call for a renewal of holiness, was surely needed. But Pelagianism, like many zealous movements of moral and spiritual reform, writes a recipe for profound anxiety. Its original word of encouragement (You can do it!) immediately yields to the self-doubting question: “But am I doing it?” It makes a rigorous asceticism the only true Christian life — as [Peter] Brown points out, “Pelagius wanted every Christian to be a monk” — and condemns even the most determined ascetic to constant self-scrutiny, a kind of self-scrutiny that can never yield a clear acquittal. You might have missed something; and in any case you could sin in the next five minutes and watch your whole house of cards crash down.

By contrast, Augustine’s emphasis on the universal depravity of human nature — seen by so many then and now as an insult to human dignity — is curiously liberating. I once heard a preacher encourage his listeners to begin a prayer with the following words: “Lord, I am the failure that you always knew I would be.” It is the true Augustinian note. Pelagianism is a creed for heroes; but Augustine’s emphasis on original sin, and the consequent absolute dependence of every one of us on the grace of God, gives hope to the waverer, the backslider, the slacker, the putz, the schlemiel. We’re all in the same boat as Mister Holier-than-Thou over there, saved only by the grace that comes to us in Holy Baptism. Peter Brown once more: “Paradoxically, therefore, it is Augustine, with his harsh emphasis on baptism as the only way to salvation, who appears as the advocate of moral tolerance: for within the exclusive fold of the Catholic church he could find room for a whole spectrum of human failings.”

— from my Original Sin: A Cultural History; quote prompted by this essay by Elizabeth Bruenig.

the public interrogation of Tim Farron 

Farron’s religious beliefs may be publicly interrogated, even if he has an immaculate history of quarantining them lest they contaminate his liberalism. Farron’s beliefs are subject to casual public ridicule. If Tim Farron wanted his religion to be unreservedly praised in the British media, we all know what he had to do: Convert to Islam and blow up a few teenage girls. 2017 is the year we learned every Farron interview inspires people to kick Christianity and every terrorist attack starts a wave of public proclamations about the beauty of true Islam.

Michael Brendan Dougherty. Michael is being quite the provocateur here, but I don’t see how a reasonable person could deny the truth of what he says.

Trump and Constitutional Law

This is a great idea for a podcast: What the Trump presidency, with its manifold eccentricities, can teach us about Constitutional law. After all, on almost a daily basis the words and actions of the President raise some question about the powers and limits of the office.

The first episode takes off from Trump’s comment about Judge James Robart,  who blocked his first attempt at an executive order banning travel to the U.S. from six mostly-Muslim countries: Trump tweeted that Robart is a “so-called judge.” According to Elizabeth Joh, the con-law professor who co-hosts the show with Roman Mars, that tweet raises the question of judicial legitimacy, which leads her to describe the famous Supreme Court case Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, in which the Court ruled that President Truman did not have the authority to commandeer the nation’s steel mills to serve the needs of the military during the Korean conflict. For Joh, the really important point here is that Truman, though angered by the ruling, did not question it — he acknowledged and deferred to the legitimacy of SCOTUS.

But that’s where the podcast ends, which I think is just the wrong place. The vital question that arises is: What if Truman hadn’t so deferred? What if he had said “I do too have this authority, and I’m sending in my people to take over and run the steel mills”? People talk loosely about Trump’s actions producing a “Constitutional crisis,” but that would be a Constitutional crisis. For law enforcement officials, and maybe even the Army, would have to decide whether to back the Court or the President.

Given the current President’s history of demanding that he get his way in all things, and his oft-expressed frustration (even in these first few months of his presidency) at having his will thwarted, something like that could eventually happen: that is, the Executive branch simply refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of one of the other branches and doing what it wants to do regardless of protests. So what, within the boundaries of Constitutional law, would happen then? I’d like to see the podcast play out some of those scenarios.

The Gospel of Taylorism in Truro

Via Archbishop Cranmer I learn that the Anglican Diocese of Truro in Cornwall is looking for a new employee. The good Archbishop is exercised by this phrase in the advert: “You do not need to be a practising Christian.” Well, that might well be something to be exercised about — but look at the overall job description:

The Strategic Programme Manager will be responsible for leading and managing the Transforming Mission programme from initial set up through to successful delivery. This role requires an individual with exceptional project management skills including the ability to successfully manage stakeholders; implement change and balance multiple projects simultaneously.

The scope of the role incorporates both the strategic leadership of the Transforming Mission programme — first in Falmouth, and then in other parts of Cornwall; and the project management of key programme elements including the establishment of the Student Hub (café) and redevelopment of the Resource Church.

Reading that description, I see quite clearly why you need not be a Christian to do the job: it has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity, and in fact may be incompatible with that other religion. What the Diocese of Truro wants to do is practice modern administrative management in the way that monks pray the Hours: purely, for its own sake, and with a studied indifference to any everyday notions of cause and effect, means and ends, purposes. It’s admirable, in a way: it is rare to see the Gospel of Taylorism followed with such apostolic zeal. In the Diocese of Truro there are no human beings, still less creatures made in the image of God who need to be reconciled to that God; there are only “stakeholders” who must be managed, change that must be implemented, projects that must be balanced, programs that must be strategized — and then, on the last day, we hope for “successful delivery.” (Though those who ask of what and to what shall be cast into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

So, in short, not a job for a practicing Christian at all. After all, no one can serve both God and Strategic Programme Management.

The long slow work of combatting ignorance

As our cultural elites lose even the most elementary biblical literacy, this is going to happen more and more often: reading the Bible-saturated literature of the past and missing, not secondary and trivial illusions, but the entire point of stories and novels and plays and poems, and for that matter paintings and sculptures and musical compositions. The artistic past of the West will become incomprehensible, but — and this is the scary thing — no one will know that they’re misreading. Gross errors will be passed down from teacher to student, from scholar to reader, and it is difficult to imagine circumstances arising in which they can be corrected.

I wrote this a couple of years ago, and I continue to think regularly, almost daily, about this problem. One of the chief tasks of Christians in our time, I think, is simply to correct errors: to engage patiently and gently in the tedious work of explaining to people that what they think they know about Christianity is simply wrong.

thought, speech, writing

A continual negotiation was going on between thought, speech and writing, thought having as a rule the worst of it. Speech was humble and creeping, but wanted too many fine shades and could never come to a satisfactory end. Writing was lordly and regardless. Thought went on in the twilight, and wished the other two might come to terms for ever. But maybe they did not and never will, and perhaps, they never do.

— Edward Thomas, “How I Began” (1913)

from the Galloway Hoard

Another item of note is a gold pin shaped like a bird. [Says Dr. Martin Goldberg,] “It is an incredibly striking object. Gold items like that are unusual, often single finds…This is one of the real curiosities, as far as I can tell it’s unique. Nothing gives away where it came from.”

Sports commentary follies, 1/3749

As you can tell from my title, I am planning to provide an exhaustive inventory of dumb things that sports pundits and commentators say. I will begin with an enormously widespread, and perfectly idiotic, tic. When a player fails to do something that the commentator thinks the player should have done, the commentator says, “He’s got to make that play.” Obviously not! And then the player does something the commentator thinks the player should not have dome, the commentator says, “He just can’t do that.” (Can’t miss that shot, can’t get picked off in that situation, can’t lose the man he’s supposed to be guarding.) But obviously he can! Save words, commentators, and just imitate our President: say “Bad!” Your “can’t” and “must” add nothing to that verdict. 

from the Staffordshire Hoard

Stunning

Hypocrisy? 

Darryl Hart says I have accused my fellow evangelicals of “hypocrisy” in voting for Trump. Well, no. I noted a major shift, from the 1990s to now, in the standards that most evangelical leaders use to evaluate the role of character in Presidential candidates: then it mattered a lot, and now it doesn’t matter at all. I think I document that pretty thoroughly.

Now, I do believe that people like William Bennett and James Dobson ought to explain what led them to change their minds so dramatically — a 180-degree reversal ought to be accounted for. But many of the people who voted for Trump in the past election didn’t vote in the 1990s, and if they did vote then may well have voted for Bill Clinton. So the question of changing standards doesn’t apply to them. My essay is concerned with one simple question: If character no longer counts, what does? And having explored that, I tried to make a defense of the value of bringing specifically Christian ideas into the general political conversation (a move that Rusty Reno thinks imprudent).

To Darryl’s claim that I “completely ignore” Hillary Clinton’s moral failings: I did indeed, because my essay is about how Christians who supported Trump evaluated his character. Those are not people who were ever going to vote for Hillary, any more than I would have.

Ravilious 

The upcoming Eric Ravilious exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery will apparently include his wonderful calendars.

Ware on Steinberg

Saul Steinberg, “The South” (1955). Chris Ware on Steinberg here.

building walls

What we have here, in other words, is a piece of pornography written in order to stimulate the political libidos of paranoiacs who find their Twitter feeds insufficiently lascivious. Mr. Schenkkan, on the other hand, has described “Building the Wall” as “not a crazy or extreme fantasy,” which tells you everything you need to know about his point of view. It is, of course, possible to spin exciting drama out of raging paranoia, but that requires a certain amount of subtlety, not to mention intelligence, and

Terry Teachout. The play under review seems to be a textbook example of what I have called elsewhere using fantasy to build a world in which your political enemies can be just as evil as you want them to be.

Hud 

Japanese movie poster, from Voices of East Anglia

“the social obligation to be happy”

Modern society, as a whole, tends toward a sort of institutional optimism, espousing Hegelian notions of history as progress and encouraging us to believe happiness is at least potentially available for all, if only we would pull together in a reasonable manner. Hence the kind of truth pessimists tell us will always be a subversive truth. All the quotations I chose from Cioran, almost at random, could be understood as rebuttals of the pieties we were brought up on: that knowledge is a vital acquisition, that we must work to help and save each other, that it is positive to be industrious and healthy, that freedom is supremely important, and so on.

Such a radical deconstruction may be alarming, yet when carried out with panache, zest, and sparkle, it nevertheless creates a moment’s exhilaration, and with it, crucially, a feeling of liberty. Reading Leopardi or Cioran or Beckett, one is being freed from the social obligation to be happy.

Tim Parks

goonery

It’s dismaying to see some conservatives defending or making excuses for Gianforte’s assault — I guess they haven’t been paying attention to the debate on campus, where conservatives have been trying to make the case that hearing speech you don’t like doesn’t justify violence.

Rich Lowry. Conservatives who make excuses for, or simply celebrate, what Gianforte did are merely playing the most common game in American politics today: The Rules Are Different For Us. I often wonder whether American respect for the rule of law, equally applied to all, is at a low-water mark. And not just the rule of law as such: for instance, people cheer the expansion of executive power when their party holds the Presidency, denounce it as the ultimate political evil when the other party is in the White House. At the rate things are going, the idea that there might be political and moral principles that transcend partisan affiliation will simply be dead in another decade.

the wrong side

So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other.

So, let’s start with the facts. The historic record is clear. The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans. Not “the wrong side of history,” that fatuous and overused phrase: the wrong side of humanity.

“the spoils of death’s conquered empire”

Since, therefore, we see in [Jesus Christ] qualities so human that they stand in no way apart from the common weakness of mortals, and qualities so divine that they befit nothing except that highest and ineffable nature which is deity, the human intellect is seized with perplexity and so silenced with amazement that it cannot tell where to go, what to think, or where to turn. If it discerns God, what it sees is a mortal. If it thinks him a human being, what it perceives is one returning from the dead bearing the spoils of death’s conquered empire.

. . . Obviously, to set all this forth for people and explain it in speech far exceeds the power at once of our deservings, our talents, and our words. I judge, however, that it surpassed the capacity of even the holy apostles; indeed, when all is said, the explanation of this mystery may reach even beyond the whole created order of the heavenly powers.

— Origen of Alexandria, De Principiis, Book II, Chapter 6, “On the Incarnation of Christ”

Gary Snyder on poetry

Poetry as a tool, a net or trap to catch and present; a sharp edge; a medicine; or the little awl that unties knots.

— “Poetry, Community, & Climax” (Field 20, Spring 1979)

the smell of strawmen burning

I enjoy talking with Rusty Reno — as I did just yesterday, here in Waco! — but he is, I have learned over the years, a frustrating person to argue with in print, because he doesn’t respond to what you write, but rather what he thinks you must have meant, or, worse, what he thinks someone of your type must inevitably mean.

Case in point: writing here in response to this article of mine, he writes:

Jacobs exemplifies the all-or-nothing approach to politics characteristic of Evangelicals. Seeking a theological voice in the public square, Evangelicals are tempted to discern direct divine warrants for their political judgments. This can lead someone to speak of God anointing Donald Trump to save our nation, and thus implying that no Christian in good conscience could have voted for anyone other than Trump. Alan Jacobs and other Evangelicals (Peter Wehner is a notable instance) are mirror images, describing Trump in ways approaching divine condemnation, implying that no Christian in good conscience could have voted for Trump.

In fact, more than half of my essay is devoted to a critique of the very “all-or-nothing approach” that Rusty says I exemplify. (Maybe he only read the parts of it that concerned him.) And here’s what I write in the conclusion to that essay:

What is required of serious religious believers in a pluralistic society is the ability to code-switch: never to forget or neglect their own native religious tongue, but also never to forget that they live in a society of people for whom that language is gibberish. To speak only in the language of pragmatism is to bring nothing distinctive to the table; to speak only a private language of revelation and self-proclaimed authority is to leave the table altogether. For their own good, but also for the common good, religious believers need to be always bilingually present.

Does that sound like an “all-or-nothing approach” to politics? You could only say so if you weren’t paying attention — perhaps because you think you know what “Evangelicals” are like. (Rusty typically says “Evangelicals” the way Victorian civil servants said “Hottentots.” The first thing Rusty ever said to me, many years ago, was that a talk I gave — on a subject that did not touch on evangelicalism at any point — reminded him why he’s not an Evangelical. One of the chief themes of his essay seems to be that, while he supported Trump — vigorously — he didn’t do it for the reasons that Evangelicals did.)

On another matter: Rusty writes, “Christians have theological reasons for not theologizing their political judgments.” Whether that’s true or not depends on what Rusty means by the odd word “theologizing.” If he means that Christians have theological reasons for not making their public arguments in explicitly theological language, then he’s simply restating my claim that “religious believers in a pluralistic society” should remember “that they live in a society of people for whom that language is gibberish.”

But I think he means by not-theologizing something like “not seeking a theocracy,” because from that point he goes on to denounce Christians who “expect the laws of our country to accord with the Sermon on the Mount” — though that is not a position I have ever held. Maybe he’s not even talking about me there, but if not, I don’t know who he is talking about. Does he think that’s the typical view of Hottentots? — I mean, Evangelicals? Hell if I know. All this is just orthogonal to the issues I raise, and the issues that matter. The whole essay, I’m tempted to say, consists of a smokescreen made from burning strawmen.

The sine qua non of this rhetorical strategy comes when Rusty sententiously declares that a post in which I said that I would vote for “the reanimated corpse of Adlai Stevenson” in preference to Donald Trump is deficient in “analytic sobriety.” Can Rusty really be that completely humorless? I would ask him to take a post like that a little more seriously and a little less literally, but I think someone may have used that line before.

So I’ve written a few hundred words here and I still haven’t gotten to any of the really significant issues we could be debating, such as the difference between prudence and pragmatism, or Rusty’s rather astonishing claim that “Trump’s campaign came as close to the platform of European post–World War II Christian democracy as any American candidate for president has come in two generations.” This is what happens when someone ignores what has actually been argued in favor of a fantastical caricature, presumably because the caricature is so much easier to refute. I’ve got a list of seven other ideas Rusty attributes to me that I did not state and do not hold, but it’s too depressing even to contemplate going over those. Whenever Rusty takes the trouble to represent my views accurately, and respond to what I actually argued, I’m ready for a conversation. Until then: as William Blake said, “Enough! Or, Too much.”

populism and conservatism

Bret Stephens is so, so right about this: “Populism is not conservatism, which by definition entails resistance to public whims. Conservatives who seek to use populism for their own ends inevitably make a Faustian bargain.”

“a benevolent green nationalism”

This, by Paul Kingsnorth from his new book, speaks for my politics about as completely as anything I’ve read in a long time:

Some of the new populists may hope they can sound the death knell of the green movement, but perhaps they can instead teach it a necessary lesson. What Haidt calls nationalism is really a new name for a much older impulse: the need to belong. Specifically, the need to belong to a place in which you can feel at home. The fact that this impulse can be exploited by demagogues doesn’t mean that the impulse itself is wrong. Stalin built gulags on the back of a notional quest for equality, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to make things fair.

The anti-globalist attack on the greens is a wake-up call. It points to the fact that green ideas have too often become a virtue signal for the carbon-heavy bourgeoisie, drinking their Fairtrade organic coffee as they wait for their transatlantic flight. Green globalism has become part of the growth machine; a comfortable notion for those who don’t really want much to change.

What would happen if environmentalism remade itself – or was remade by the times? What might a benevolent green nationalism sound like? You want to protect and nurture your homeland – well, then, you’ll want to nurture its forests and its streams too. You want to protect its badgers and its mountain lions. What could be more patriotic? This is not the kind of nationalism of which Trump would approve, but that’s the point. Why should those who want to protect a besieged natural world allow billionaire property developers to represent them as the elitists? Why not fight back – on what they think is their territory?

now that’s a true writer

After my wife goes to her office, a day of uninterrupted work yawns ahead. Musicians wake up knowing what they want to do each day: they want to play music, can’t wait to play music. Many writers dread the idea of writing but force themselves to do it. I’m not like that. Built up over 30-plus years of working at home, the habit of self-discipline means that at the first sign of sleepiness I commit absolutely to a nap. Some days I don’t really feel like sleeping but I lie down and force myself. The drift into a nap, steeping my senses in forgetfulness, is lovely; emerging from it is awful as I realise I’m behind schedule: late for my elevenses.

Geoff Dyer

comprehension

The conviction that everything that happens on earth must be comprehensible to man can lead to interpreting history by commonplaces. Comprehension does not mean denying the outrageous, deducing the unprecedented from precedents, or explaining phenomena by such analogies and generalities that the impact of reality and the shock of experience are no longer felt. It means, rather, examining and bearing consciously the burden which our century has placed on us — neither denying its existence nor submitting meekly to its weight. Comprehension, in short, means the unpremeditated, attentive facing up to, and resisting of, reality — whatever it may be.

— Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

the best emoluments clause

We consider it an impious deed to take away anything from the teachers of our youths, since they should rather be encouraged in their magnificent work by an increase of emoluments.

Cassiodorus

“If the president continues to act in this way, we shall rapidly descend into a terrifying state of social dissolution. The rule of law will disintegrate,” says Robert Post, of Yale Law School. My question is: What does he mean by this? Society dissolved, the rule of law disintegrated — that sounds like Walking Dead stuff to me. Is what what he expects? Armed bands of criminals and vigilantes ruling the streets? And if not, then what does he expect? I genuinely have no idea what he means.

“If you’ve read Walkaway (or my other books), you know that I’m not squeamish about taboos, even (especially) my own,” says Cory Doctorow. Here’s a tip: if you’re not squeamish about them, that’s how you know they’re not your taboos.

15 hours

Russell Berman tweets: “15 hours later, not one of the top 4 House Republican leaders have issued a statement on the president’s firing of the FBI director.” This expresses a commonly-held view — just as I write these words I see a post by Pete Wehner asking “Where is the Republican Leadership?” — but I wonder: When did we get on this schedule? That is, when did an overnight wait before commenting on a political decision become an unconscionable delay? I’m old enough to remember when people used to counsel their agitated friends to “sleep on it,” and maybe even seek the opinions of others, before making public statements or highly consequential decisions. Now anything but instantaneous response is morally suspect — at best. 

For the record: I harbor not the tiniest suspicion that the President is acting in good faith and with the best interests of the nation in mind. I am as sure as I can be that he made this decision the way he makes all of his decisions: on the basis of what he perceives to be his own self-interest. And I seriously doubt that anyone in Washington differs from me in this regard, whatever they might end up saying to the public. But I’m not making a point here about how we judge the President’s motives; I’m making a point about what seems to have become the standard expectation, at least among journalists and other people who are on Twitter all the time, for how quickly judgment should be expressed. And I’m not confident that it’s good for the body politic for politicians to be under pressure to make instantaneous statements. I’d rather that they take some time, seek counsel, sleep on it, and think it over

Lucretius annotated 

De Rerum Natura and some lovely marginal comments

on dialogue and normalization

You hear a lot these days from people who refuse to engage in dialogue with others who hold certain views because to converse with them would be to “normalize” or “legitimate” their position. I hear this view articulated most often (a) by people who can’t stand Trump and his supporters, and (b) by conservative Christians who oppose same-sex relationships. What I find odd about both groups is their belief that their inclination or disinclination to converse has some bearing on whether a politician or position or idea lies within the sphere of the “normal.” When a man has been elected President of the United States, then he and his supporters are ipso facto as normal as it gets, and won’t cease to be if the rest of us refuse to speak to them. Ditto with the general acceptance in our society, and increasingly in the church, of same-sex unions.

But aside from the practical, prudential questions, there are larger and genuinely principial matters at stake, and in a post today, Wesley Hill has wonderfully articulated what I believe to be the value of dialogue within the fellowship of baptized Christians:

Why do I agree to do these sorts of dialogues? The first reason is that Justin is “family.” We’re both baptized in the same Triune Name. We both confess the same creed. We both believe the weirdest thing is the deepest truth of the universe: that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord. I think Justin’s Side A view is wrong and that it is wrong in a way that touches on first-order Christian claims about creation, Christology, and redemption; I also think that when family members hold views you think are that wrong, you keep on loving them and talking with them and seeking to bear witness to what you believe is true and life-giving. Second, for those who are worried, like I am at times, that this sort of dialogue may be a form of capitulation, a form of saying, “I’m convinced of the truth of my view but not so convinced,” let me just add that another reason I want to dialogue with people like Justin is that I want, in whatever minuscule way I can, to help see my own Anglican Communion, and the church more broadly, through its current crisis on sexual ethics. “Dialogue,” so easy to criticize as wishy-washy, need not entail compromise of one’s convictions; it may instead be a way of signaling hope that some future unity-in-truth may be realized in a way I can’t yet fathom. As the Anglican ethicist Oliver O’Donovan has written, “The only thing I concede in committing myself to such a process [of dialogue between ‘gay-affirming’ Christians and ‘traditionalist’ Christians] is that if I could discuss the matter through with an opponent sincerely committed to the church’s authorities, Scripture chief among them, the Holy Spirit would open up perspectives that are not immediately apparent, and that patient and scrupulous pursuit of these could lead at least to giving the problem a different shape—a shape I presume will be compatible with, though not precisely identical to, the views I now hold, but which may also be compatible with some of the views my opponent now holds, even if I cannot yet see how. I do not have to think I may be mistaken about the cardinal points of which I am convinced. The only thing I have to think—and this, surely, is not difficult on such a subject!—is that there are things still to be learned by one who is determined to be taught by Scripture how to read the age in which we live.”

Preach it, my friend. Preach it over and over again.

remix? culture? 

“Everyone can see it,” she told me. “It’s identical except for the signature. I was very shocked. Someone just took my hard work.” Devins, however, is perturbed by the suggestion that he stole anything. “I look at it, really, as an after-the-fact collaboration between an urban planner and an artist,” he told me.

— Remix Culture Nears Its Logical Conclusion. The whole plagiarism/remixing debate is really complicated, but when you take someone’s work without telling them, editing out their name and replacing it with yours, and then call it “an after-the-fact collaboration,” you should definitely be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.

all hat, no cattle

T. S. Eliot and his sister Marion, during Eliot’s 1958 visit to the U.S. with his new wife Valerie. At one point in the trip they visited Dallas, where Eliot was named an honorary sherriff and received both a badge and the Stetson he’s sporting here.

life in Texas

Just enjoying my usual tableside refresher here as Teri returns from H-E-B, where she bought another case of this life-giving substance. When she was grabbing the case an elderly man next to her said, “I had my first Topo Chico in Mexico. In 1972. Been drinking it ever since. Mama and me don’t drink sodas, but we have some Topo Chico every day.” Teri noticed that he was slim and trim and had beautiful skin. “Can I introduce you to Mama?” His wife, of course. She beamed at the mention of Topo Chico. “We met on that same trip,” he said.

I love living in Texas, I really do.

The BCP and me

I’m pretty happy with my biography of the Book of Common Prayer. It has some typos and other embarrassing errors that didn’t get caught in the editing process, and I wish I could fix those; but overall, I think I did a decent job of capturing a very complex history in a very small compass, and to make it an interesting story too. The book got largely positive reviews and has sold well, by my standards anyway, and by those of the series of which it’s a part. So all that’s good.

There’s one thing that troubles me, though: Anglicans don’t seem to care about the book at all. Embarrassing admission: when I wrote the book I thought one of the fringe benefits would be the opportunity to go around to churches, and maybe seminaries, to celebrate the inheritance of the BCP and discuss its possible future. But unless I am forgetting something, not one church, or seminary, or diocese — well, let’s be honest here, no one at all has asked my to talk about this book (though I often get asked to talk about other matters, and especially about, well, you know who).

For a while this flummoxed me, but I think I’ve figured it out. Here are my suspicions, laid out in highly general terms:

  • Liberal Anglicans aren’t especially interested in the existing BCP or its predecessors because all of those books embody sexist language for God, a heterosexual definition of marriage, exclusivist soteriology, and many other retrograde ideas from which they hope to escape.
  • Anglo-Catholics aren’t especially interested in the existing BCP or its predecessors because those books are all deeply implicated in Reformational theologies that the A-Cs would like to ignore or overcome.
  • Evangelical Anglicans aren’t especially interested in the existing BCP or its predecessors because they want to reach people they think might be alienated or confused by formal language and liturgy.

So basically, within the Anglican world there’s a very limited constituency for my book — and, I fear, for the Book of Common Prayer itself. At least, that’s my best guess. I hope that I am wrong — especially about the BCP. Because it is a great storehouse of wisdom and comfort, and I wouldn’t begin to know how to be a Christian without it; and I think there may be more than a few others like me in that respect.

Just for the record, this old socially conservative white guy thinks Michael Smith and Jemele Hill are the best thing that’s ever happened to SportsCenter. I never watched the early installment, and now I watch it every day. Jemele and Michael are smart and funny and have a remarkably wide tonal/emotional range, and are therefore infinitely preferable to the business-suited cheerleaders who usually populate ESPN’s news shows.

hurt the people first

Among the many takes I’ve read on yesterday’s ESPN layoffs, the most incisive, I think, is this one from Tom Ley:

And so today’s layoffs seem to follow a kind of logic: If ESPN is bleeding money from subscriber losses, they need to offset the damage by making cuts elsewhere in the company. That doesn’t, though, really follow, mathematically. Look at the people who have been laid off today. Sure, it’s possible that veterans like McManus and Stark and Ed Werder were carrying hefty salaries, but no amount of fired reporters and columnists is going to put even the tiniest dent in ESPN’s rights fees. Add up all the salaries of the people who lost their jobs today, and how much of a single Monday Night Football broadcast does it buy? Ten minutes? Fifteen?

So, then, what was the point? The memo released this morning by ESPN president John Skipper is instructive. It was hollow and buzzword-laden in the precise way that is meant to speak to Disney investors who want to be assured that ESPN is still capable of “navigating changes in technology and fan behavior in order to continue to deliver quality, breakthrough content.” That’s what today appears to have been really about—assuring Disney stakeholders that ESPN is taking things very seriously and is prepared to keep itself lean and competitive. Don’t think too much about how we’re going to continue to pay rights fees with sustained subscriber loss! We’re making cuts! We have a handle on things!

I was still thinking about that post when, this morning, I read Annalee Newitz’s report on the people employed by Google and Leapforce to rate Google’s algorithms. I say “employed by Google and Leapforce,” but the situation is actually more complicated than that: all of the work the raters do is for Google, but they are officially employees only of Leapforce — which has just cut all of the raters working full-time back to 26 hours per week max, in order to avoid having to meet certain expensive conditions laid down by Federal law. Though it’s Google who benefits — and openly admits to benefitting — from these people’s work, Google won’t take them on as employees, even though paying them directly for their work, even at full-time salaries with full benefits, would be less than a drop taken from Google’s fiscal bucket.

Thus we see ESPN/Disney and Leapforce/Google operating on what has become one of the most fundamental rules of our current economic system: When things go badly, hurt the people first.

the great distillery tour!

My former student Gabriel RiCharde is now working for the pride of Waco, Balcones Distilling, and today he gave me a tour. It was really fascinating. I have read a bit over the years about the process of distilling spirits, and I knew that it is complicated — but when you actually get walked through each stage … wow. At every step of the process complex science is involved, but also decisions that require artful intuition.

Here’s a closeup of the door to the mash tun, which was bought from the Speyburn distillery in Scotland, and which has been used to make whisky for about 75 years:

And here’s one of the amazing new stills, just arrived a few weeks ago from Scotland:

And this steampunky thing is attached to the stills — I don’t know what it is, but it looks super cool:

Here’s the tasting and blending room, where I could have stayed for quite some time:

And here the aging process, in barrels made variously of American, French, and other European oak:

And finally, after all that hard work of listening and gaping, I had to take a couple of presents home for myself:

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Charles Murray Award for Inciting the Hatred of People Who Have Never Read a Word You’ve Written and Never Will

This year’s winner: Rod Dreher!

the absolutizing of fright

Farhad Manjoo:

In Silicon Valley, current events tend to fade into the background. The Sept. 11 attacks, the Iraq war, the financial crisis and every recent presidential election occurred, for the tech industry, on some parallel but distant timeline divorced from the everyday business of digitizing the world. Then Donald Trump won. In the 17 years I’ve spent covering Silicon Valley, I’ve never seen anything shake the place like his victory. In the span of a few months, the Valley has been transformed from a politically disengaged company town into a center of anti-Trump resistance and fear. A week after the election, one start-up founder sent me a private message on Twitter: “I think it’s worse than I thought,” he wrote. “Originally I thought 18 months. I’ve cut that in half.” Until what? “Apocalypse. End of the world.”

So by the end of 2017 the Earth will be a dead ball of rock spinning through space? Is that the idea? You reply, Obviously not. But if not that, then what?

I have the same questions about the notorious “Flight 93 Election” essay, which says “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die.” And also says, “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto.” And also says, “we are headed off a cliff.” Later our pseudonymous author says that conservatives will be “persecuted,” will be “crushed,” and under a Hillary presidency America will be “doomed.” But what precisely is he talking about? It’s absolutely impossible to tell. He doesn’t give even a hint.

Under a Clinton presidency, would socially-conservative evangelical Christians like me have been fired from our jobs, driven from our homes, and sent to re-education camps? Would we have been forced to sign some sort of Pledge of Allegiance to the Sexual Revolution, under threat of imprisonment? What?

And if, now that we have a Trumpery presidency, the world won’t literally end, what exactly is it that Manjoo’s texter fears? A nuclear war that renders most of the planet uninhabitable? A further acceleration of global warming? Or a Handmaid’s Tale-style Republic of Gilead? What? Those are very different scenarios, and it would be nice to know just what we’re supposed to be terrified of.

(This absolutizing of fright reminds me of the expanding scope of disasters in superhero comics and movies: People will die! — no wait, a whole city will be destroyed! — A city? Small stuff. The planet will be vaporized! — A mere planet? The universe will disappear in a puff of smoke! — Just this universe? No: all the universes there are or ever were or ever will be! All gone! Save us, O mighty ones!)

Such escalation of rhetoric means the deflation of care. All this pearl-clutching disguised as apocalyptic prophecy is not only intellectually vacuous, it’s counterproductive. You scream long enough and people stop hearing you, you become just another element of the background noise. If you are concerned and want others to share your concern, tell us precisely what you think will happen, why you think it will happen, and how you think it will happen. Otherwise you are merely darkening counsel by words without knowledge.

ANGELS ANGELS ANGELS ANGELS ANGELS

Back in the day (i.e. the 1970s) when I worked in a bookstore, it was fairly common for people to come in and ask, “Do you have Billy Graham’s book Angels Angels Angels Angels Angels?” This cover explains why.

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