Tag Archives: National Review

Where are the Grown Ups?

What’s happening to civil society in America!

Where are the sane grown-ups? Isn’t anyone willing to take a break from the usual partisan food fight to spend just a little time trying to solve our actual problems? Or are we just destined to be bystanders in a Civil War of Stupidity indefinitely?

Thoughts on obeying (or not) a quarantine order

Early on I posted a short piece on my Facebook page about civil disobedience in response to the various quarantine orders. At the time I wrote that while

There is some–and I stress SOME–evidence that lockdowns are ineffective. At the same time, unlike theology, science speaks in terms of probabilities. It may very well be that lockdowns are ineffective. As for the corona virus, it may not be as contagious or deadly as we think it is. But again, none of this is absolutely certain but only “more or less” likely and then only within defined parameters.

Then as now, I would argue that while we have a right and even obligation to resist and even disobey an unjust law, the law must be CLEARLY unjust. In the case of the quarantine orders this is simply not the case.

As an Orthodox Christian and an American citizen I understand that the State has broad police powers. But this authority is not meant to turn earth into heaven but keeping it from degrading into hell. In the case of the pandemic, these police powers extend to protecting the innocent and those who cannot defend themselves. This is the MORAL justification for quarantine laws.

While we cannot say so absolutely, especially in the first days and weeks of the pandemic it is likely that the quarantine served to protect innocent lives. As Orthodox Christian this means that I had (and have) an obligation to obey these laws even if–as I did–I think they were likely an over-reaction and (as most everyone acknowledges and bemoans) based on incomplete data.

Thinking the law is likely unnecessary is not a sufficient, objective moral basis for civil disobedience. On this there can be no argument. The law must be in and of itself unquestionably unjust.

At the same time if conscience compels disobedience to an poorly thought out law AS IF IT were unjust, then those individuals who break it must accept the ALL the consequences legal as well as medical for their actions. Civil disobedience is an act by which I intend not simply to disobey a law but show the law to be unjust (not foolish but unjust) by willingly–even cheerfully–accepting the consequences of my actions.

This means, if I break the law (which I personally have no intention of doing), I must say, “I have been punished by the State because I freely chose to break an unjust law.” Likewise, in this case, I must say, “I have gotten ill (should this happen) through no one’s fault other than my own because I broke a law I thought unjust.”

But what I cannot say, to another person–to my spouse, my child, my friend “You are sick through no fault of your own but because I freely took it upon myself to break a law I thought unjust and so risked not only my health but yours.”
Civil disobedience is immoral if my actions that endanger a third party.

I was reminded of all this by a recent post by National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson:

…we are greedy, and we are childish. We want to enjoy the pleasures and benefits of civil disobedience without paying the accompanying price for them. King George would have been doing his duty to hang George Washington et al. We hanged John Brown. Henry David Thoreau spent time in jail for his antiwar activism, as did the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in the cause of civil rights. Thoreau did his time happily. “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly,” he wrote, “the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

He goes on to conclude that accepting the punishment for my disobedience

…is part of the deal, too. If we were to take leave of our senses and take seriously the proposition that Dallas County’s coronavirus order is tyranny in the sense the Founding Fathers had in mind, then surely seven days’ imprisonment would be only a modest price to pay for opposing that tyranny. By way of comparison: Sister Megan Rice, 84 years old at the time of her sentencing, served two years in a federal penitentiary for her lawbreaking anti-nuclear protests, and she might easily have spent the rest of her life there had not her conviction been overturned.

Orthodox Christians are not anarchists. We accept the State as willed by God as necessary in a fallen world. We owe obedience to the State even when doing so means our rights are compromised. In fact, we only have an obligation to disobey the State when it seeks to compel us to disobey God.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Orthodox Witness and the Four Cities of the West

Writing at National Review, Michael Gibson, a co-founder of 1517 Fund, writes about the need for a fuller exploration of Western civilization. His observation offers some interesting insights for Orthodox Christians interested in political theology and the Church’s witness in the Public Square.

We must balance, Gibson argues, the Roman Empire’s tendency for “universalism” with the virtues embodied in the other great cities (and so cultures) of Western civilization: Athens, London, and ultimately, Jerusalem.

“For conservatives and libertarians to save the West,” he writes, they “must return to its roots. There is more to the West than Rome. We must return to London, Athens, and Jerusalem.”

As a practical matter “This will involve channeling our traditions of exploration, the quick Greek intelligence pushing competition among diverse Greek city-states, the dynamism unlocked by the common law of London paired with the idea of progress, and the heroic revelations and commitments of Jerusalem.”

First, Athens. By ancient accounts, Aristotle compiled some 170 constitutions of city-states to write his Politics. Competition was not reserved for the Olympics; it pervaded all activities. It drove advances in drama, philosophy, science, and mathematics. “The West” is too homogeneous a whole. If nations truly differ, their peoples can explore without fear of being outlawed by universal law. If universities truly differ, research programs will chart new courses into the unknown.

London: The rule of law is one of the strongest factors in the origin and causes of the wealth of nations. But it’s not sufficient as an explanation. According to the economist Deirdre McCloskey, the industrial revolution started in England and nowhere else for a reason — its pervasive spirit of tinkering and invention, of improving one’s lot through trade, of prudence matched by risk — all this led to the enrichment of the world.

Lastly, Jerusalem. The Judeo-Christian theory of truth contrasts with the Greek. While scientific theories describe universal truths that hold for all time, the truths of Jerusalem are specific to a people, to a time, to a place. The theme is most powerfully expressed by the story of Abraham, in which God’s command to Abraham defies public reason. If we are to resist the madness of crowds, we need to mark our faith in independent judgment as sacred.

He concludes with a call for a diversity of “political order.” Rather than governments “in the mold of a single empire, he calls for “a myriad of independent states — monarchies, republics, democracies, something altogether new — competing to bring out the best in each other and their members.”

Such diversity of communities is central to Orthodox spirituality. While they share an underlying dogmatic, liturgical and ascetical unity, local (i.e., national) Orthodox Churches have their own ethos or flavor.  A visitor to any Orthodox parish in America is unlikely to confuse a Greek parish for a Russian or either for a Serbian, Antiochian or Ukrainian.

In fact, this diversity among Orthodox parishes can be so striking as to cause a visitor to wonder if these communities are all part of the same Church. This reflects not only our concrete differences but also the uncritical reduction of unity to uniformity.

The political philosophy, to return to Gibson, rooted in Athens, London, Jerusalem and Rome is a natural fit–or at least a not uneasy ally–with Orthodox Christian anthropology and sociology.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

Cultural Openness to the Gospel

…just as Michael Brown served as an avatar for many minority communities who were tired of being ignored, Trump is an avatar for many rural and exurban whites who feel the same way. Thus, rejection of, or even criticism of, Trump for any specific issue (e.g., Trump’s false implication that Philadelphia Eagles players kneeled during the National Anthem and disrespected the flag) can be ignored by his supporters, because they perceive an attack on the president to be, in some way, an attack on their legitimate demands for cultural and political attention. Proving that a given claim about Trump is true, or that a given claim of Trump’s is false, will not change most of his supporters’ minds.

Source: National Review

Robert Driscoll’s observation tracks as well with my experience in Madison since the 2016 presidential election. Living as they do in self-consciously politically and socially progressive city, many Madison residents were (and indeed still are) deeply unsettled by the election of Donald Trump.

While the content of their concern is different, the affective tone is markedly similar to what I heard from conservative friends during the eight years of the Obama administration. Whether on the Left or Right, both groups have had in recent years an experience of feeling ignored and marginalized.

Most of those I know here in Madison and through my involvement with the Acton Institute are better educated, wealthier and so socially more secure than those who inspired Driscoll’s essay. For those I know (again, on both the Left and the RIght), marginalization is a new–and decidedly unwelcome–feeling.

Uncomfortable and unsettling though the experience is psychologically, spiritually feeling marginalized or ignored is potentially a very good thing. It is precisely in those moments of felt homelessness in the universe that we are most prone to turn to God.

Yes, this initial turn to God is more from desperation than faith. Nevertheless, represents an openness to grace. As such, it also represents an evangelical opportunity.

Pundits have chronicled the loss of religious faith in America. Some have greeted this with enthusiasm, while others see it as a reason for concern. Me? I see the data as a starting point.

What really matters is the growing sense of marginalization afflicting not only the urban and rural poor but also those in the middle and upper classes. The Church has always existed as that alternate society that allowed men and women to find the kind of community and sense of belonging that both the family and civil society promise but can never provide because the belong to this world.

The feelings of increased marginalization are real. What matters though is what these feelings me.

I would suggest that these feelings represent the growing desire for a wholesome spiritual life lived in the midst of the community of faith which is the Church.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sexual Orientation, Religious Faith and Personal Identity

David French at National Review Online draws our attention to what he calls the “mistaken belief” that while “sexual orientation is absolutely core to a person’s identity,” religious faith

…is something else entirely — so superficial that any given person is one Vox explainer or Bill Maher monologue away from enlightenment. Yet only a few millennia of human history demonstrates that religion is core to human identity that countless people have been willing to burn rather than recant their deepest beliefs.

He asks us to consider whether or not it isn’t “also bigoted to believe that a person is incapable of expressing disagreement with a person while also treating them with dignity and respect?”

French understands that “some Christians are bigots” who

…actually do hate others and harbor malice in their hearts. But actual Christian orthodoxy — including orthodox Christian sexual morality — is anything but hateful. It expresses the beauty and intent of creation, it honors both the marriage vow and the single life, and it creates a framework for having and raising children in loving, stable homes. It recognizes that each and every person must put a restraint on their desires, orienting their lives towards the true “chief end” of man — glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

After summarizing the Golden Rule, he asks

All across America LGBT Americans live and work alongside Christians who disagree with their actions and beliefs and also treat them with dignity and respect. It’s not hard to do when you love people and seek to imitate Christ. Should these Christians be muzzled while contrary views be given free rein? Or can we actually be tolerant and realize that disagreement is not mistreatment, and love is not hate?

For at least a small, vocal minority of Americans, the answer to French’s question is clear. Yes, those who disagree with the LGBT agenda most remain silent. Ideally, they should do so voluntarily but if not they should be compelled by social pressure. If need be, they should be compelled by the force of law.

But is it really true that sexual orientation or gender identity is absolutely central to a person’s identity while a person’s religion is merely a superficial add-on?

Thinking about French’s argument, I am reminded of conversations with people about why someone might reasonably (and charitably) refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. What French has helped me understand is that many of those who found such a refusal bigoted likely thought that religious faith was superficial–something that could be put on and taken off as easily as an overcoat with the changing of the weather.

But is religious identity really like this? For some people, no doubt. For others though, religious identity is the core of who they are.

I’ve had several conversations (most notably with psychologists or other mental health professionals) who assumed my Christian faith and/or my priestly vocation were roles I played. Sincerely held roles to be sure but roles nevertheless.

Conversations with these individuals quickly turn abusive as they seek to strip away my Christian “veneer” or my clerical “role.” Or, as one clinician put it “Who is the real you behind your religion?”

What’s noteworthy for me is that these clinicians would never dare assume–much less say–about sexual orientation or gender identity what they assume about me: That Christian faith or vocational commitment obscured my identity.

Just as there are bigoted Christians, there are Christians who use the Gospel as a way to hide from others. Likewise, there are clergy who hide behind their office. For the majority, however, religious faith and vocation are at least as important as sexual orientation or gender identity are for other men and women. It would be good of both sides remembered this.

The other question raised by French’s analysis is important for our life of civil engagement. If disagreement is tantamount to hatred, then LGBTQ advocates are themselves guilty of hating Christians who hold to that tradition’s historical moral teaching.

Such mutual accusations of hatred don’t foster civil discourse or peace between different segments of the population. What it does do is encourage strife as we see our life together increasingly as a zero sum game in which one side can only win to the degree that the other side loses.

Thoughts?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

Why Property Rights Matter

Guns for sale are seen inside of Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, February 28, 2018. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

(National ReviewThe stores stopped selling firearms to people under 21 after the Parkland shooting.A 20-year-old is hitting Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart with lawsuits accusing them of discriminating against him based on age.

The stores stated they would no longer sell guns to customers under 21 after a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day at a Parkland, Fla. school.

Tyler Watson has filed two lawsuits after he was not allowed to buy a rifle from either store. Dick’s refused to sell the Oregon man a .22-caliber Ruger rifle on February 24, and Walmart would not sell him a firearm on March 3. Oregon law allows people 18 and older to buy guns.

I wondered how long it would be before someone sued WalMart or Dick’s Sporting Goods. Now I know.
Orthodox moral teaching supports a right to private property. As an extension of that right, some retailers have decided to respond to recent school shootings by restricting sales of firearms. Whether this plan will have any effect on gun violence remains to be seen.
But like an individual, a corporation has a moral right–and indeed obligation–to control their property as their conscience dictates.
For good and understandable reasons, US state and federal law don’t allow businesses to deny services to customers who are legally allowed to use their services. So under most circumstances, a restaurant must serve any customer who wants a meal and a hotel rent a room to any who ask.
The intention behind these laws is to prevent discrimination. A good and noble goal to be sure.
But over time, laws tend to take on a life of their own. Now not only are merchants being obligated to violate their conscience as part of the cost of participating in the market. Rather than allowing the racist business owner to go out of business, the law has the perverse effect of keeping the business open and so limiting the market for more morally upright businesses.
In the current lawsuit, businesses are at risk of losing the right to solve a problem that, arguably, they have at least a small role in creating by selling guns to all purchasers.
If, however, businesses had more freedom to serve or not serve customers as they saw fit, then there is at least a chance that gun violence could be curtailed by responsible business owners not selling to those who seem to be a threat to self or others. Yes, this might mean as well that the racist business owner wouldn’t sell to ethnic minorities or secular progressive business owners refuse service to Christians (and before you ask, yes, it happens. I know because I have been denied service because I’m a priest).
The question though is this: On a day-to-day level, who is the best guardian of the peace? Orthodox social thought would suggest it is the person or companies closest to the problem.
In Christ,
+Fr Gregory

Most of Life is Not Under My Control

Political decisions are rarely straightforward or simple. This seems especially to be the case in what National Review‘s Victor Davis Hanson calls our “Manichean” political age. He makes a point about Trump voters that I think has a broader importance for our political life. He writes:

…there are understandably legitimate differences in conservative attitudes toward Trump, the first U.S president without prior political or military experience and service. But should such acrimony extend to the Trump voter?

In attributing moral or ethical laxity to Trump voters, Never Trumpers sidestep the argument that in a Manichean world, not voting for Trump was a de facto vote for the alternative — a likely 16-year Obama-Clinton continuum. Is condoning Trump’s antics by default the moral equivalent of its practical antithesis: ensuring a Supreme Court, economy, and foreign policy that would, in conservatives’ views, radically injure millions of Americans for a generation?

If it were really unethical or foolhardy to vote for Trump, is it by extension far more unethical toserve Trump? In other words, are H. R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, Betsy DeVos, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pompeo far more morally suspect for empowering such a president, in a fashion that outweighs their principled notions of serving the country?

Is it still sustainable to suggest that Trump is not a conservative but a dangerous liberal or demagogic wolf in conservative sheep’s clothing? The doctrinaire conservative Heritage Foundation now claims that two-thirds of its proverbial 334 conservative agenda items have been already met by Trump — and at a pace far faster than that achieved even by former president Reagan.

Casting a vote means accepting trade-offs. Often this means tolerating policies or character traits that we find misguided, offensive or even evil.

In the face of this, I can decide not to vote. But not voting doesn’t exempt me from moral responsibility for the outcome of an election. Deciding to not decide is, after all, to still make a decision as youth ministers everywhere remind their young charges.

What I need to always keep in mind is that life is made up of many moving pieces, some of which are on fire, and most of which are not under my control.

It is this last point–that most of life isn’t under my control–that makes Christian witness in the Public Square complicated, often frustrating, controversial and deficient, but always interesting and challenging.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Fantasy: It’s Just Easier Than Reality

Jonah Goldberg asks “Why have movie stars and other celebrities become an aristocracy of secular demigods?” He goes on to say that

It seems to me an objective fact that virtually any other group of professionals plucked at random from the Statistical Abstract of the United States — nuclear engineers, plumbers, grocers, etc. — are more likely to model decent moral behavior in their everyday lives. Indeed, it is a bizarre inconsistency in the cartoonishly liberal ideology of Hollywood that the only super-rich people in America reflexively assumed to be morally superior are people who pretend to be other people for a living.

Once again, Americans have fallen into the fallacy that material wealth and popularity are sure guides of a persons’ virtue and fitness as a moral guide.

We find ourselves in this position because, as Goldberg writes, because of  “the receding of religion from public life.” In its place “we’ve elevated ‘authenticity’ to a new form of moral authority.”

When authenticity is the standard, we “look to our feelings for guidance.” And it is as “feelings merchants,” actors have become our new moral leader.  Yes, “they may indeed be ‘out of touch’ with the rest of America from time to time” but “actors are adept at being in touch with their feelings. And for some unfathomably stupid reason, we now think that puts us beneath them.”

 

The thing is, feelings lie.

Or maybe better, I tend to be confused about what I’m feeling. I entertain the conceit that I know my feelings and that the feelings I know are the only feelings I’m having.

The fact though is that at any given moment, I’m having a whole range of feelings even though I only focus on a few of them at any given moment.

So why do we look to actors for moral guidance? Because they allow us the luxury of only acknowledging some of my feelings and ignoring the others. Or, as (I think) St Augustine writes, I enjoy watching sad plays because I like to think of myself as compassionate without having to do the hard work that compassion requires.

Likewise, take I moral guidance from actors because they allow me to think of myself as a good person without having to do the hard, often frustrating, work that moral goodness requires.

In other words, we take our guidance from actors because fantasy is easier than reality.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory