Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Culture War is over

We lost, says venerable Christian journal First Things.

The Orthosphere comments:
From its founding, First Things has been the premier journal of high Christian engagement with the public sphere in the West. The basic proposition of the journal has been that American liberal democracy could be domesticated to Christ by a concerted ecumenical effort of philosophical evangelism. Much good has come of this project. But with the recent spate of stunning reversals on sexual policy, and with Christianity ever more clearly in the crosshairs of our secular overlords, the writers of First Things seem to be recoiling from the secular culture of the West, and its liberal cult of Moloch. More and more, they seem to realize that rapprochement with liberalism is a bargain with the devil.

It’s not just that the editors saw fit to publish an article by our own Jim Kalb back in December. In the February issue, First Things took a decided turn toward orthogony to secular political discourse, as if they all with one mind awoke to a realization that dawned on most traditionalists several years ago: America is too far gone to be saved. As Lawrence Auster then began to say, “It’s their country now.” Likewise also for the West in general.

First Things seems now to have reached the same conclusion.
And so the long retreat begins, as Christendom withdraws from the public square in the face of increased ridicule and overt hostility from secular society.

In retrospect, we really should have seen this coming. What support is there for liberal democracy, much less the universal franchise, in classical Eastern or Western Christian theology? What sort of Christian society can let matters like abortion, sodomy and other ontological issues be resolved by democratic vote? Another thing we didn’t realize at the time: we weren’t actually supporting democracy, we were supporting our status as the demographic majority. Now that that status has been destroyed by public welfare and mass immigration (with the active participation of numerous Christian sects), it is simply too late. Orthodox and orthodox Christians will be a shrinking minority for the foreseeable future.

Of course, I've been sounding the alarm on this since February 2013, and more urgently since April 2014. Fr. Stephen Freeman has now noticed, as has Rod Dreher. In sum, there are no longer any safe spaces in the American polity to raise your children in the Faith. Most Christians will embrace with enthusiasm the State's egalitarian, tabula rasa worldview.

A correspondent writes:
You have often noted in your blog the hostility that your talk of "community" has evoked in conversations with other Christians, and though I have believed you, I had not experienced it for myself so I had no idea what that looked like.

I did not realize that Rod Dreher has been speaking of the Benedict Option for some time, so I was happy to find many of his articles on The American Conservative. I have been reading many of his articles over the last hour as well as the comments that follow, and I am amazed at the hostility that pours forth from the comments section towards this idea and towards him for putting this idea forth. I finally see that to which you were referring earlier. It baffles me. I can comprehend that some people would not agree with him. I do not, however, comprehend why they would become so hostile to something that will not affect them a great deal. Do you have any ideas as to why this is so?
A robust Christianity--indeed, a robust religion of any stripe--is the ultimate affront to the secular State. There can be no right-to-be-let-alone in secular society. Deviant lifestyles must be validated, above all. Any movement which denies this is to be regarded as treasonous. As Rod himself notes, at the invitation of First Things,
Put bluntly, given the dynamics of our rapidly changing culture, I believe it will be increasingly difficult to be a good Christian and a good American. It is far more important to me to preserve the faith than to preserve liberal democracy and the American order. Ideally, there should not be a contradiction, but again, the realities of post-Christian America challenge our outdated ideals...

There are no safe places to raise Christian kids in America other than the countercultural places we make for ourselves, together. If we do not form our consciences and the consciences of our children to be distinctly Christian and distinctly countercultural, even if that means some degree of intentional separation from the mainstream, we are not going to survive.

Christianity in America still lives in places and among people who have not yet sold out to moralistic therapeutic deism. Those Christians who have a vocation to politics should exercise it, and they need our support. But Christians who believe that politics will save us should discard those illusions now. The primary focus of orthodox Christians in America should be cultural—or rather, countercultural—building the institutions and habits that will carry the faith and the faithful forward through the next Dark Age.

Rod has his detractors in this corner of the Internet but he really does get this one. And so does classic secular leftist James Howard Kunstler.

Christendom has been a Colossus astride the West. And now, for the first time in 1,702 years, we are to become a post-Christian society, with little thought given as to what comes next.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Democratic Man

Can he be saved? (From Fr. Stephen Freeman).
Everywhere he goes, he meets his equals. All of the world is open to him, bidding him enter in, take what he wants and go his way. Early on he learns to negotiate his way through competing crowds of others, jostling for position, asking for attention, making his way forward. His direction is a matter for decision – first this way and then that. He migrates at will, following an inner guide that says, “Go there. Take that. Move on.” He becomes what he wants to be and learns what he wants to know. He chooses his mate and negotiates his marriage, contracting for his happiness. If he chooses, he will have children. If not, he has none. He will turn back disease, and even replace parts and improve his lot in life.

This is the Democratic Man.

Can such a man find God, or even be saved?

That may sound like a strange question, but it lies at the heart of the modern religious crisis. For God is not a choice. He is not just one more product waiting to be consumed or ignored. He is decidedly not democratic. This is a difficult problem, for the habits of the democratic man are utterly unsuited to the spiritual life. In the true spiritual life, you cannot have what you want, or simply go where you would. You cannot choose what you will become or even say just anything. You are free but with a freedom that is a stranger to democracy.

The modern Christian is generally a democratic man. It is a habit of the heart formed by the culture we live in. It forms and shapes us for unbelief and the god of unbelievers. The democratic man cannot believe in God.

He cannot believe in God because the democracy of his heart has no place for true faith. He has the mind of a consumer and wants to choose his faith like he chooses everything else. But we cannot choose to believe or what to believe. Faith is not a choice.

Modern America of course cannot countenance such talk. Choice in everything--not the least including such biological realities as gender, sexuality and pregnancy--is the modern American creed. In case you hadn't already figured this out, no other creeds are allowed.

Walkerton, Indiana is the very definition of Podunkville. A TV reporter travelled there from the cosmopolitan environs of South Bend on the important mission of revealing hate at a local father-daughter business, Memories Pizza.

A local Indiana ABC station spoke to a pizzeria Tuesday night who will not serve to same-sex marriages after the Indiana law was passed.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” Memories Pizza owner Crystal O’Connor told ABC 57. “We are a Christian establishment.”

O’Connor said the business is not discriminating against anybody, but she and her family has her beliefs and other people are entitled to their own.

“We definitely agree with the bill,” she added, saying she doesn’t think the bill targets gays or discriminates but instead protects businesses like hers who have a religious belief.

ABC also spoke to her father: “That’s a lifestyle that you choose, I choose to be heterosexual, they choose to be homosexual—why should I be beat over the head because they choose that lifestyle?”

The business said if a gay couple stepped into their business, they wouldn’t deny them service—they just wouldn’t cater their wedding.

"Now if you'll excuse me," said O'Connor, "I've got to make sure our Negro slaves are properly stacking the Jews in the ovens."

Okay, I made that last part up. The comments I've read are incredible: they would crucify these people if they could. Gays and liberals hate, despise straights and conservatives far more than straights and conservatives grouse about merely allowing people to pursue their separate paths. In one of the last outlets allowed them, social conservatives have voted with their dollars to support the O'Connors. Probably, they will be able to re-open their business, because I don't foresee a lot of liberals trekking to Walkerton, Indiana to make good on threats to burn the place down.

Americans have become obsessed with the idea that they are absolutely and always entitled to be free from discrimination. This is from a random comment over at Dreher's:
America was founded on the idea that equality is a human right because living free from discrimination matters in a uniquely life-giving and powerful way. We need to take that birthright seriously, or we become a people alien to our own founding principles. Universal Equality is precisely what allows a pluralistic society to live together in peace.)
This is an astounding, ahistorical belief. Does equality exist anywhere in the natural world (much less in antebellum America)? A nuclear-armed central government enforces the delusion that all men men and women human beings are equal. We are not, we are demonstrably not, and billions of dollars and much tears are shed pretending that we are.

There is a way for pluralistic societies to work, by the way. It's called 'Hierarchy,' and if it violates sensibilities, well, that's what separate countries are for.

Getting back to Fr. Stephen:
I was recently in an Orthodox Church that was very “old world.” Its habits were formed and shaped in centuries devoid of democracy. The splendor and solemnity of hierarchy were everywhere. Quietness reigned. Certain precincts were off limits. Behavior took on the ritual of a royal court and the hiddenness of certain things was palpable. And strangely, the presence of God was obvious.

“Didn’t you feel it when you first walked in?” A woman whispered to me as we stood in the nave. Yes, I did. And not for the first time. Entering this wonderful cathedral called for leaving democracy at the door. In a few minutes a priest came to me and told me to follow him. I went “into the altar,” passing through the iconostasis that separates the nave from the Holy Place. It is a privilege given to priests – to enter the altar and to serve. But it is never a privilege that can be assumed or demanded. I have no rights. Once in the altar, the priest directed me to his Archbishop, who blessed me and told me that I would be taking part in the service and that I would serve “in English.” He did not ask, he directed. I obeyed.

The democratic heart cannot obey and cannot know the “obedience of faith.”

Christians in the contemporary world struggle with these contradictions. It is clear to most that God cannot be their own invention, and yet they have great difficulty overcoming the inventiveness of their hearts. Where tradition and custom are overthrown, only democracy can reign, and the hardness of the heart begins.
The secular worldview and the Traditional worldview are incompatible, and these are ontological questions that cannot be decided by a vote. As with Protestant-Catholic Ireland and Shia-Sunni-Christian Lebanon, about the best you can do is allow people their safe harbors, from which they can act and interact as they choose. Incredibly, this is the one "choice" that can never be allowed. In the US, the secular ideal is enforced by a nuclear-armed central government which itself is in dangerous fiscal and imperial overreach. If you do business in this society, you must accommodate all attitudes and behaviors, because that's the governing creed. Not even some tiny father-daughter shop in flyover country can be allowed any deviation.

The competing worldviews are in that awkward stage between ballots and bullets, so we should separate now before the shooting starts.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Andreas Lubitz/GermanWings Air Crash

Lion of the Blogosphere has a number of posts up about Andreas Lubitz, the psychiatric patient who flew a passenger plane into the side of a mountain last week.

Vision problems, suicidal ideation, heavy psych meds, and 'burnout' in his early 20's. Why did the airline keep this tragic young man limping along as a pilot? Aren't there enough qualified pilots out there without vision problems and major psychiatric issues? When I was growing up, nobody besides ex-military ever got a foot in the door with the airlines.

I expect it's because Lubitz came cheap.

Lord have mercy on the victims.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Fan mail

I am writing you for no particular reason other than to say that I have enjoyed reading your blog. I have chiefly enjoyed reading the blog post entitled "Bleak Christianity." In truth, I have read it at least five or six times over the past few weeks because you mention things that strongly resonate with my thinking, and I have yet to find these thoughts formulated elsewhere.
“The age of evangelism is over. The Church is fading because she frankly offers nothing to people that any other positive, purportedly compassionate movement--such as political liberalism--does not.”
This statement has haunted me for weeks, precisely because it is so true. I searched your archives and found this theme being developed over and over again, especially the need to form community and the outright hostility this has elicited from fellow believers. Though not attempting to be prophetic in any way, I cannot help but feel that as the nation and society become more overtly anti-Christian, we as Christians will need to come together into communities that, as you say, “knock off some of the sharp corners of life for their adherents.” We simply cannot exist as atomized individuals who relegate faith to a purely vertical relationship between God and man. Sure that vertical relationship is important, but it does not mean that God cares nothing about the health of the society, especially the one in which we raise our children!
“The Mormons, Amish, Hasidim and other groups do this sort of thing and they are the ones reproducing themselves in the pews. People seem horrified when I mention this though.”
This is something that cannot be refuted, thus eliciting strong emotions from those who run against a hard, uncomfortable truth. I heard it said, perhaps by you, that people do not join the Mormon church because their theology is so clear. They join the church because it meets their needs, gives them a context, and supports, rather than undermines, the family. Oh that we would take this to heart!

But I digress. I shall continue to ponder over this notion of Christian community in this present age. I only wish you had the time to write even more. But in short, thank you for putting these thoughts out there. If you have ever wondered if your blog makes any difference whatsoever, let this letter be an encouragement that it does indeed.

Many blessings on you and your family.

Blessings to you, brother.

Rod Dreher suggests we need some creative thinking as well.
... I thought this is the Benedict Option for languages. These speakers of dying languages and their children are not running for the hills to hide out, but they are creating communal institutions within which precious but severely threatened knowledge can be passed on, even as the younger generations live and work in the world. The elders know their children will be assimilated to a certain degree within the broader world, but they are trying as hard as they can to give them the knowledge and the love to hold on to their traditions and inheritance.

This is a good way to think about what I call the Benedict Option for Christians and other religious traditionalists. Think of Christianity as a distinct language, a way of construing the world. Like language, the Christian faith was not delivered perfect from heaven and preserved pristine and unchanged for centuries. But it does have a vocabulary and a grammar, so to speak, that set it apart from other languages. In its 2,000 years, Christianity has developed a number of what you might consider “dialects,” but because we in the West have lived in a recognizably Christian culture, it has been possible for us to understand each other, and to more or less hold on to the core concepts at the heart of the language.

We now find ourselves, though, in a post-Christian world, one in which the pressure to assimilate is causing tens of millions of people to lose the language — often without knowing that they’re losing it.

One commenter at Rod's pipes up hopefully,
It should be noted (I don’t know if the New Yorker article does or not) that one of forces, and perhaps the most important, resisting the trend of linguistic assimilation is evangelical Christians striving to translate the Scriptures into every known language.

This of course is the low-hanging fruit, as Christian missionaries all trip over each other trying to be the first sect to plant a church among some benighted cultural followers in remote Third World villages. After all, it's easier to convince the shrinking number of hunter-gatherers who've never seen a white man that you're the True Faith rather than your sophisticated Hindu, Muslim or Jewish neighbors back home.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Monica Lewinsky comeback tour

This really is the headline from the Washington Post:

Monica Lewinsky gave a really, really important TED talk on bullying.

Contra Niche considers it here.

Monica Lewinsky has popped up in my feeds because she gave a talk about how public shaming should be stopped. I have no doubt there were an insult or many hurled at her in a public place, but shame comes from inside.

Shame wells up when you know you've done something wrong. The great big evil surrounding shame is when cultural Marxists try to instill a sense of shame about wanting normal things.

But Lewinsky has experienced authentic shame, and, apparently, her recourse is to pretend it doesn't come from herself, but that it is some form of oppression visited upon her from other people.

It is a pity nobody understands the concept of repentance these days.

I think the terminology needs some tweaking. Monica Lewinsky comes from a Semitic/Judaic shaming culture, not an Anglo-European/Christian guilt culture. (There's a decent comparison here.)

Shame is exogenous; guilt is endogenous. Shame means you answer to other people; guilt means you answer to principles. Both certainly have their place, but the weakness of the shaming culture is that shame can be expunged by a sufficiently clever argument (or not getting caught). Guilt, on the other hand, requires repentance. Guilt is how you get people to police themselves. August naturally looks at things from his own hereditary and cultural perspective.

I wrote about Miss Ms. Lewinsky in October 2012, counseling women to avoid feminism. (Have I mentioned how I repeat myself, because nothing ever changes?) Monica Lewinsky is having none of that, as she rages against her spinsterhood.

We are far from blameless in this matter. Westerners are fully capable of deconstructing their culture all on their own. After all, at root we are where we are because of classical liberalism. The universalist principles which we voluntarily adopted to govern ourselves simultaneously will not allow us to see, until after the fact, all the ways our Anglo-European and Christian culture is being displaced.

Immigrants do not assimilate; they transform.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The most important media event since Bruce Jenner's coming out

Friend of the blog Bumbling American has a Twitter feed.

Don't drink coffee while reading.

By the way, any conservatives still bothering to vote for Republicans, Netanyahu's speech was all cover for the Republican leadership to cave on immigration amnesty.

Also, Christopher Roach observes that the spectacle of a foreign leader invited by a separate branch of government to tweak another branch of government (the one that's run by the US plenipotentiary) is unseemly and dangerous precedent.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Storing Paco

Via Marginal Revolution.

Tyler is referring to the current interest rate environment in Europe, where banks pay middle-aged women to borrow money to fund their sexual hook-up site, and tell students they don't need their crummy little checking accounts.
To breathe life into Europe’s economy and stoke inflation, policy makers recently resorted to a drastic measure tried by some other central banks. The European Central Bank, which dictates policy in the 19-member eurozone, announced a plan that involves printing money to buy hundreds of billions of euros of government bonds.

Just the anticipation of the program prompted bond prices to soar and the euro to drop in value. Other countries that do not use the euro were then forced to take defensive countermeasures to keep a lid on the value of their currencies, encourage lending and bolster growth.

Switzerland, for instance, jettisoned its currency’s peg to the euro, shocking markets, and cut interest rates further below zero. Denmark’s central bank has reduced rates four times in a month, to minus 0.75 percent. Sweden followed suit earlier this month.

The most profound changes are taking place in Europe’s bond market, which has been turned into something of a charity, at least for certain borrowers. The latest example came on Wednesday, when Germany issued a five-year bond worth nearly $4 billion, with a negative interest rate. Investors were essentially agreeing to be paid back slightly less money than they lent.

Bonds issued by Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Finland and even fiscally challenged Italy also have negative yields. Right now, roughly $1.75 trillion in bonds issued by countries in the eurozone are trading with negative yields, which is equivalent to more than a quarter of the total government bonds, according to an analysis by ABN Amro.

One reason investors are willing to tolerate such yields is the relative safety of the bonds, in a weak economy. Traders are also betting that the prices of the bonds will keep going up.

Up, up and UP! We've never heard that before, have we?

Tyler's metaphor, his pet dog Paco, refers to the fact that savers now have to pay the banks to store their money (Paco) instead of having their money run around and play (generate positive returns). Negative interest on deposits basically transforms cash into gold, implying huge, zombie-army levels of risk, like a survivalist who incurs storage and opportunity costs in order to hoard canned beans and ammo. But the risk doesn't seem to be out there, with healthy profits and positive consumer confidence. So this implies, to Tyler, that there is some barrier to new investment. (He loses me at this point--economic stagnation? wealthy entrepeneurs cashing in their chips?)

Tyler continues: "I liked Paco (more importantly Paco liked me), but I do not enjoy living in a Paco economy. I think of the calm before the storm and wonder how to reconcile the observed calm and the potential for the storm. I do not like the most obvious attempts at reconciliation."

In other words, something really obvious should be happening to explain negative interest rates (which, as a practical matter, are economically impossible) but darned if anybody can find it.

The impolitic (Austrian, crackpot) view is that the ECB is distorting the supply-demand curve for loanable funds by charging member banks for "excess" reserves and handing out free money for bonds that should be deeply discounted. Tyler loves being obscure (i.e., Straussian), and he's extremely smart, so he could very well be saying what I think he is saying: this is nuts and it will end badly.

Old friend of this blog Archer Of The Forest has a more succinct explanation.