Traitors who think they’re martys

The Constitution forbids religious tests for public office. It doesn’t forbid religious tests for religions. There’s a difference — subtle and elusive, no doubt, but real, if you squint and look hard. An atheist has a perfectly good civil right to run for office. He has no right at all to claim membership in the Catholic Church . . . Why do so many advocates of the right to choose refuse to choose? Why do they insist on having it both ways? Why are they so covetous of the Catholic label they do so much to make meaningless? . . . What Cardinal O’Connor has done is simply to protect the integrity of the church against false labeling. Any organization, to subsist, must be able to define itself and to expel traitors. What’s amazing is that so many of the traitors think they are martyrs.

Joseph Sobran, June 1990, apparently after Cardinal O’Connor denied communion to Mario Cuomo

November 20, 2019

Of progressive reformers

The more they multiply rules to protect abnormal people, the more they forget the rules normal life depends on. We may know what they think today; but there is no telling what they will think tomorrow. They make plenty of rules, but not according to any rule; and as a result, all their rules are unruly. We live amid a kind of riot of rules ….

Single Issues, Life and Death in Tendency Land

November 20, 2019

Rights Talk

We are now used to hearing that the Supreme Court or Congress has `expanded’ such and such a right, usually to the applause of liberals. It sounds as if our rights could be multiplied by an act of the will, in which case one wonders why we don’t just get on with it. But in fact one man’s right is another man’s obligation. A right can only be enlarged by lessening another right elsewhere.

Single Issues, Razing the Past. Sometimes, that other right” is simply that of democratic self-governance.

November 20, 2019

Divisive spirit

When a majority of the Supreme Court contradicts the Western moral tradition and the laws of 50 states into the bargain, anything other than instant uninimity of assent indicates that a divisive spirit is abroad.

Single Issues, Crucial Issue Politics

November 20, 2019

There’s a leering wink in here somewhere

Even in Evangelical America, we’ve bought half of the modern formula—the culture (officially, at least) rejects sex before marriage, but it endorses marriage only after a subjective line of educational or career attainment.

David French

November 20, 2019

Punch, counterpunch

Say whatever nasty thing you like about Donald Trump, and it’s probably true. A lot of it may also be true about the Republican Party. But for all their sins and failings, they don’t hate churches and church people, and they don’t try to destroy businesses that donate to church causes, and and they don’t despise and silence women who say that penis-bearers aren’t actually women. That counts for a lot. Hell, the crazy Left is even making a secular Democrat in Massachusetts consider voting for Trump, just because he’s sick of these vicious progressive Puritans.

Rod Dreher, sounding one of his recurring themes.

His point has punch, but I want to counterpunch:

They hate. They punch down, at Latinos and Muslims especially. Donald Trump doesn’t hate Evangelicals only because they suck up to him. He doesn’t particularly hate other Christians because he doesn’t know the difference. He is utterly toxic and cannot open his mouth without lying. His narcissism distorts his perceptions and his reasoning. He tries to find ways to punish opponents. He is being impeached quite justly, for acts that betray the nation’s interests in favor of his own.

In the long run, I think Trump is worse for the country than some of the Democrat alternatives, though I freely admit I could be wrong.

I could go on. I don’t like keeping grudge lists, but I’m keeping one on Trump precisely so I can resist the Cynics’ Siren Songs next year.

We are in a terrible bind having to choose among this lot of creeps, but I won’t let myself forget the creepiness of the guy who happens not to hate me and mine.

November 20, 2019

The problem with hysteria

Of William Barr’s Notre Dame speech a few weeks back:

Steve Chapman said that the line comes close to denying the rights of nonbelievers to express their disbelief.” That’s true only if Chapman’s criticism of Barr comes close to denying religious people their right to free speech, which is to say it’s false. Liberal legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick went beyond Chap man, taking Barr to have engaged in coded anti-Semitism.

Catherine Rampell wrote in the Washington Post that the speech was terrifying” and that Barr had come out for a state establishment of religion.”

Ramesh Ponuru in the November 11 National Review.

I can’t quite decide whether the main problem with such hysterical reactions is (a) their falsity and bad faith or (2) their failure to notice the real problems with Barr’s largely anodyne speech.

Both at Notre Dame and before the Federalist Society, Barr has clumsily twisted history in service of creating an implausible narrative for Donald Trump. He’s smart enough to make me wonder whether he’s just going through the (commanded) motions, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so the discerning will, well, discern that he’s not entirely on board.

November 19, 2019


In 1991, I sat in a room at Duke University with Geoffrey Wainwright, Stanely Hauerwas, and Susan O’Keefe. The purpose was the defense of my thesis, The Icon as Theology.” I was an Episcopal priest, who was turning his doctoral work in Systematic Theology into an M.A. and heading back to parish life (a long story, that). The defense was friendly, thorough, with few surprises. The one major surprise, of course, came from Hauerwas. His question caught me off-guard in that it left behind academic questions and became intensely personal (that’s typical Hauerwas — there are no hiding places). His question was straight-forward:

Do you believe the veneration of icons to be necessary for salvation?

The loaded part of the question was quite intentional on his part. Anglican priests take an oath at their ordination that I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to contain all things necessary to salvation.” It had been drilled into me at a certain point in my life and my answr should have been a knee-jerk repetion of my vow. Instead, I was mute. What he had done was to bring me to see something my soul had pushed into the background. What was interesting and academic was suddenly revealed to be a matter of existential authenticity. What did I believe?

After a time of quiet, I stammered out my answer:

I know that my oath of ordination says that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary to salvation. However, I believe that the veneration of icons is necessary to its fullness.

It was the first time the thought had occurred to me. In truth, it would be some years before I fully understood what I had just said. My response was more a matter of instinct than understanding. I knew it was true. I was not entirely sure how. The upshot of that day came the next morning. I woke up with a clarity of soul. I knelt by my bed and prayed, Oh God, make me Orthodox.” I meant two things by that: first, I wanted to become Orthodox; second, God was going to have to make me. That second point was simply my awareness of my own cowardice and the duplicity of my soul. It was not an act of bravery or noble conversion. It was an acquiescence in the face of what I now saw to be true. At least half of me wished it weren’t so. The rest of me was willing to be dragged into the Kingdom of God. It took seven years for that prayer to be fulfilled. There were heel marks on the entire length of the path.

Father Stephen Freeman

Stanley Hauerwas is a treasure.

November 18, 2019

Veneration (of icons and of all creation)

[Y]ou will not see anything face-to-face unless and until you venerate it. Veneration is a word that describes the proper attitude to the whole of creation. Listen to these sweet words from St. John of Damascus (7th century):

I honor all matter, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was the three-times happy and blessed wood of the Cross not matter? Was the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary not matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Tomb, the source of our resurrection — was it not matter? Is the holy book of the Gospels not matter? Is the blessed table which gives us the Bread of Life not matter? Are the gold and silver, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made not matter? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either stop venerating all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the venerating of images, honoring God and his friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing that God has made is. Only that which does not come from God is despicable — our own invention, the spontaneous decision to disregard the law of human nature, i.e., sin.

Father Stephen Freeman

November 18, 2019

Strange compulsion

Why Trump Attacked Marie Yovanovitch

He can’t help but go after women, even when doing so hurts his cause.

Molly Jong-Fast

Isn’t there a name for that kind of compulsion?

November 18, 2019

Trump Derangement Syndrom on parade

Steven Calabresi, co-founder of the Federalist Society, succumbs to Trump Derangement Syndrom and publishes a defense of Trump that is:

laughable and nothing short of ridiculous, the sort of mistake a 1L might make on a ConLaw 1 exam but not something one expects from an eminent law professor holding a position at a top law school ….

(David Post)

I hope the Federalist Society will explicitly disclaim the argument, association with which beslimes it.

November 17, 2019

This bears repeating

I’ve said in this space before how frustrating it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, being a columnist based in New York City, and being invited to be on cable news panels. I was smart enough to understand that these things are meant to offer the simulation of debate, but I still could not bring myself to play my role properly. I can remember once being on an MSNBC panel in which the producer was saying into my ear that I needed to be more aggressive, and to repeat my points. He was right; I was bad for cable TV. I was trying to listen to my opponents, and take what they said seriously before responding. That’s not what the network wanted. They just wanted a clash.

Rod Dreher

Go Thou and turn off your TV accordingly.

November 17, 2019

First Person Pity Party

I don’t intend to set Google alerts on Chasten Buttigieg” and then carve the fellow up repeatedly until Mayor Pete’s not a contender any more. But it sounds to me like he has decided that he needs to, um, embellish just how gosh-darn hard it was growing up gay in a barely Christianish family in Traverse City, MI. His brothers deny several of his claims.

But pity plays, and Chasten’s trying to organize a pity party:

Once, when he was getting picked on in the hallway, he remembers [his brother] Dustin stepping in and throwing his tormentor against a locker. He told him not to mess with his brother again, then immediately walked away, according to Chasten.

I don’t think he wanted his brother to be hurt, and he probably was embarrassed that somebody probably thought that I was gay,” Chasten said.

Don’t think,” probably” and probably.” Sounds like a less than totally airtight case of family homophobia.

November 17, 2019

Father Stephen demotes morality

[M]orality is all that is left when the most fundamental grounds of a culture have been destroyed.

The Christian understanding of morality is not arbitrary in the least. There is nothing in the whole of the faith’s teaching whose ground is simply God said so.” Nothing within the Christian moral life is arbitrary. What God commands is our good and He directs us according to the goodness of our existence and the creation in which we live.

The so-called breakdown of morality in the modern world is not a moral problem. What has broken down is not morality, but any agreed notion about the nature of the world. Our perceptions of reality itself have shattered into disparate fragments. There is a strange aching for morality, a tormented desire for goodness in some form or guise. But as the ground of reality has shattered, so has the possibility of moral conversation.

Fr. Stephen Freeman

November 16, 2019

Moderate Republicans

The United States is undergoing a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced: Its historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority.

A conservatism defined by ideas can hold its own against progressivism, winning converts to its principles and evolving with each generation. A conservatism defined by identity reduces the complex calculus of politics to a simple arithmetic question—and at some point, the numbers no longer add up.

Trump has led his party to this dead end, and it may well cost him his chance for reelection, presuming he is not removed through impeachment. But the president’s defeat would likely only deepen the despair that fueled his rise, confirming his supporters’ fear that the demographic tide has turned against them. That fear is the single greatest threat facing American democracy, the force that is already battering down precedents, leveling norms, and demolishing guardrails. When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has—whatever the cost.

Adam Przeworski, a political scientist who has studied struggling democracies in Eastern Europe and Latin America, has argued that to survive, democratic institutions must give all the relevant political forces a chance to win from time to time in the competition of interests and values.” But, he adds, they also have to do something else, of equal importance: They must make even losing under democracy more attractive than a future under non-democratic outcomes.” That conservatives—despite currently holding the White House, the Senate, and many state governments—are losing faith in their ability to win elections in the future bodes ill for the smooth functioning of American democracy. That they believe these electoral losses would lead to their destruction is even more worrying.

Yoni Appelbaum has written a fine, long, theoretical article about how theoretical Moderate Republicans Can Save America.”

Proof that you can count on the Atlantic for America’s finest speculative fiction.

The GOP is now Trump’s party. There’s no moderation in it. If Moderate Republicans are going to save America, in may be in a new party.

November 14, 2019

Tendentious question

Once the Adam Schiff show shuts down, voters will have 10 months to decide if it has been worth the trouble.

Daniel Henninger

That is not how I will be analyzing the choice for November 2020. I will have zero desire to punish the Democrats for a decision to impeach Trump for misbehavior that, however you slice it, was far more grave and related to the governance of the country than a President getting fellated by a willing young intern.

November 14, 2019

What’s next for the RNC?

What else should the RNC do to grease the skids for President Trump’s re-election bid?

The Dispatch

November 13, 2019

Impeachment — and then the rough beast

Again and again, this Presidency presents the question of what constitutes a corrupt state of mind” in that mindless and foul mash of mendacity and paranoia” (Frank Bruni) who sits, God help us, in the Oval Office. His most outrageous acts are dismissed as just Trump being Trump,” a patent tautology akin to an insanity defense.

That’s why the 25th Amendment path to removal has always struck me as more appropriate than impeachment, but if we can accept that impeachment is political” and prophylactic, and not punishment per se, I can live with it.

But I don’t think for a moment that a country that could elect Donald Trump won’t have something to say about it in the (unlikely) event that Trump is removed. What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

November 13, 2019

Putting it bluntly

Why has [Nikki] Haley come out so strongly in favor of Trump? Why has [Mark] Sanford given up the fight for the nomination? Because both of them accept something that the remaining Never Trump Republicans simply refuse to admit to themselves: The party they once knew and loved, the party that I once admired (while also dissenting from it in numerous areas of policy), is dead and gone, replaced by a party whose voters strongly, overwhelmingly support the presidency of Donald Trump.

Jonah Goldberg, Michael Gerson, and George F. Will could talk the ghost of Ronald Reagan himself into challenging Trump in 2020, and Trump would trounce him.

Damon Linker

I checked out of the GOP in January of 2005 for reasons, not surprisingly, independent of Trumpism. I haven’t regretted my decision, but I regret the even worse fate that has befallen my former political home over the last four years.

November 13, 2019

Let us count the ways

When Andrew Sullivan writes, usually weekly, I just automatically clip it because I know I’ll want to highlight, annotate, and probably quote somewhere. Like Let us count the ways in which Trump has attacked and undermined the core legitimacy of our democracy.

November 9, 2019

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