The R.R. Reno “Meltdown”

Reno

First Things editor R.R. Reno

We have written before about R.R. Reno and the First Things magazine response to the coronavirus. On March 20, 2020, we noted Reno’s call to open churches (with a Wendell Berry-inspired response from Eric Miller). Three days later, we called attention to Reno’s claim that “there are many things more precious than life.” On April 8, 2020, we linked to a piece describing Reno and his staff as “the bitter and angry remnant” at First Things magazine. On April 29, 2020, Reno said that the government’s measures to protect Americans from the coronavirus “have been pointless.”

In the last twenty-four hours, Reno seems to have doubled-down on all of these claims via Twitter:

Conservative writer Rod Dreher called it a meltdown. “It doesn’t make me angry,” he wrote today at The American Conservative, “it makes me sad to see this happening.”

*First Things* Editor: The “measures we have taken in the last few weeks have been…pointless”

First Things 2019R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, has used his magazine, which he claims is “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” to call for the opening of churches and the economy.  He seems to have it all figured out. As he writes in his most recent piece “Coronavirus Reality Check,” COVID-19 is not a threat to society. He seems to suggest that public health officials and the media are lying to us. Here is a taste:

On March 16, Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London predicted a coronavirus death toll of more than two million in the United States alone. He arrived at this number by assuming that infection would be nearly universal and the fatality rate would be high—a terrifying prospect. The next day, Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis sifted through the data and predicted less widespread infection and a fatality rate of between 0.05 and 1.0 percent—not that different from the common flu. The coronavirus is not the common flu. It has different characteristics, afflicting the old more than the young, men more than women. Nevertheless, all data trends since mid-March show that Ferguson was fantastically wrong and Ioannidis was largely right about its mortal threat.

But Ferguson’s narrative has triumphed, helped by our incontinent and irresponsible media. A young doctor in Wuhan died—COVID-19 must be dangerous and deadly for everybody. Hospitals in Italy are overwhelmed—we are witnessing a pandemic of epic proportions. China succeeded with draconian methods of mass quarantine—these must be our only hope of protection against the coming disaster.

By the end of March, most of the United States had been locked down. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs. More than $6 trillion has been spent to save society from complete collapse. Relentless warnings have whipped the populace into frenzies of fear. All of this to contain a disease that, as far as we can tell at this point, is not significantly more fatal than the flu. Moreover, given how rapidly the coronavirus spreads, it seems likely that the radical and untested method of lockdown does little to control it.

In other words, the science increasingly shows that the measures we have taken in the last few weeks have been both harmful—with freedoms lost, money spent, livelihoods destroyed—and pointless.

Read the entire piece here.

I don’t know Reno’s career trajectory well enough to say that he is an authority on ethics and public health, but many of the scientists are saying that COVID-19 will come back with greater force in the Fall. I hope and pray this does not happen. But if it does, Reno is going to have some explaining to do.

The “bitter and angry remnant” at *First Things* Magazine

First Things 2019

I stopped subscribing to First Things magazine several years ago. I still check the website every now and then, but I am never surprised by what I find there. The magazine is no longer the intellectual feast that it was in the Father Neuhaus era.

Perhaps this is why Jason Vickers‘s recent piece at Providence, a conservative Christian magazine devoted to foreign affairs, resonated with me. Here is a taste:

I first encountered FT when I went to work for William J. “Billy” Abraham in the late 1990s. As the assistant to the Outler Chair in theology at Southern Methodist University, one of my daily jobs was to retrieve Billy’s mail. Once a month, I found myself reading the latest issue of FT on my way back from the mailroom. Often, I would read it cover to cover before handing it over. Here was a journal that modeled the intellectual virtues that Billy so frequently talked about: fairness in argument, careful consideration of evidence, avoiding logical fallacies, patience in exercising judgment, open-mindedness, humility, and empathy.

The content being published under the banner of FT today exhibits almost none of these qualities. Gone are the ecumenical tone and irenic spirit. Gone, too, is the commitment to intellectual virtue. In place of the things for which Father Neuhaus and FTwere once standard bearers, one now finds essays clearly calculated to polarize and offend (if they are not so calculated, then their authors are unrivaled in their lack of self-awareness). FT now exhibits open hostility toward other Christians and the wider population. It is no longer winsome and inviting. It is no longer evangelical. Rather, the mindset of many of its authors, most notably its senior editor, R.R. Reno, strikes me as that of an angry and bitter remnant. They write as though they are the last Christians in America.

Consider the views that Reno and others have expressed in the pages of FTover the last couple of weeks. In a series of essays that are intellectually vicious in their criticism of the response to the global pandemic (especially the response of Christians), the authors divide the world into two groups of people. On the one hand are those who worship God, care deeply about virtue, and know that death doesn’t have the final say. Such people are the true Christians, and they are a picture of calm during the present so-called “crisis.” Because of the steadfastness of their convictions, they don’t lose their wits. They are faithful. They don’t overreact. (It is surely no accident that Reno’s daily “Coronavirus Diary” amounts to a self-portrait in knowing calmness—he walks his dog, stops by an empty cathedral to pray, goes to his office, and returns home.)

On the other hand, the rest of us are hunkered down in our homes, terrified of death and dying because we are materialists who no longer believe in God or in life after death. We would do anything to prolong mere “physical life,” because that is all we have left. We are materialists, atheists, idolaters, or worst of all, dishonest Christians (“Christian leaders,” says Reno, “secretly accept the materialist assumptions of our age”). We are even told that we don’t “petition God” anymore, choosing instead to place all our hope in science and technology. Nor do we care whether the scientists to whom we turn for hope are themselves virtuous people. We’re too lathered up in a panic to be worried about such high and lofty things. The same goes for our blind and irrational trust in the government. Unlike true Christians, we are so afraid of death and dying that we can’t even bring ourselves to speak death’s name. We prefer to speak of “saving lives” rather than “delaying death.”

The intellectual viciousness of these and other essays is truly stunning.

Read the entire piece here.

Editor of *First Things* Magazine: “There are many things more precious than life”

Corona Healthcare

An editor of a magazine or journal sets it ideological course. R.R. Reno, a conservative Catholic, is the editor of First Things. Since it was founded by Richard John Neuhaus in 1990, First Things has been a beacon of the pro-life movement.  So forgive me for being surprised at Reno’s latest article: “Say “No” To Death’s Dominion.”

Here is a taste:

At the press conference on Friday announcing the New York shutdown, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York—I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” 

This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life. And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to the false god of “saving lives.”

I had to read this passage several times (in fact I read the entire piece several times) to make sure I gave Reno’s argument a fair hearing. In the end, I honestly can’t come up with any scenario in which justice, beauty or honor is more important than physical life. In fact, I think this is a false binary. How do you separate justice from the dignity of life–all life? There is beauty in the nature world, but human beings–even those who are sick and elderly and quarantined–create beauty.  It would seem that the practice of respecting the dignity of another person is the highest form of honor.  Do we honor our father and mother by exposing them to an illness that can kill them?

I am not a moral philosopher or a theologian, but everything about this passage strikes me as wrong. I don’t always agree with Reno, but I have always taken him seriously as an Christian thinker. What am I missing? Reno implies that we should visit our sick parents and possibly expose them to coronavirus because showing them love is somehow more important than their lives. He wants us to live-out our Christian vocation in a reckless fashion.

I do, however, resonate with some of Reno’s piece. How long do we leave the elderly in a state of isolation? My 78-year-old parents have been on lock down now for about two weeks. How long do we keep churches closed? These are good questions and it seems like science might be able to help. I am glad to hear scientists and healthcare experts are working on this. I think we need to know more about this disease and its effects before we start pontificating.

And this:

Put simply: Only an irresponsible sentimentalist imagines we can live in a world without triage. We must never do evil that good might come. On this point St. Paul is clear. But we often must decide which good we can and should do, a decision that nearly always requires not doing another good, not binding a different wound, not saving a different life.

There is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost. Satan rules a kingdom in which the ultimate power of death is announced morning, noon, and night. But Satan cannot rule directly. God alone has the power of life and death, and thus Satan can only rule indirectly. He must rely on our fear of death.

I am struck by the binary thinking here. Reno says that if churches are closed and people cannot visit their neighbors and engage in face-to-face contact, at least for the time being, then Satan must be at work. When Reno talks about “triage” it sounds a lot like what armies call “collateral damage.” In other words, we need to bomb the hell out of a country because a just war theorist thinks it is the morally correct thing to do, even if it means innocent people will lose their lives. If they die, they die. That’s the price of doing God’s will.

Reno is correct when he says that we live in a society in which we always make indirect decisions about who lives and who dies. But we should never sit back and passively accept the existence of such a society.  Isn’t part of our calling as Christians to try to work toward changing such a world? The Christian faith is paradoxical in this regard. We believe the world is broken. We also believe we must engage in acts of justice as a means of working toward wholeness (shalom). Both are true. But I am afraid in this case Reno leans too heavily on the side of tragedy. As Eric Miller recently wrote, “which of your fellow parishioners, Mr. Reno, are you willing to expose to the virus? Could you tell us their names? Will you be sure to let their families know?” There is something disgusting about using the term “triage” to talk about death in our current moment.

And this:

That older generation that endured the Spanish flu, now long gone, was not ill-informed. People in that era were attended by medical professionals who fully understood the spread of disease and methods of quarantine. Unlike us, however, that generation did not want to live under Satan’s rule, not even for a season. They insisted that man was made for life, not death. They bowed their head before the storm of disease and endured its punishing blows, but they otherwise stood firm and continued to work, worship, and play, insisting that fear of death would not govern their societies or their lives.

Or maybe this generation was just foolish. Reno is engaging in the worst form of nostalgia here. He has turned our ancestors into heroic Christians who stared influenza in the face, endured its “punishing blows,” and did not give death its due. The result of this heroism was 675,000 dead Americans.  Read the historians! I have been posting about the 1918 influenza for a couple of weeks now. There is a reason why, until recently, no one talked about this tragic moment in American history.

We have been self-quarantined now for two weeks. Perhaps the message for the church is patience, not a rush to judgment that leads us to make questionable claims about the dignity of human life.

Alan Jacobs on *Books and Culture* and *First Things*

Jacobs First Things

Jacobs is taking a break from his popular blog “Snakes and Ladders,” but he decided to do one more post reflecting on the last decade.  Here is a taste:

I miss Books & Culture, and the First Things that was: for many years those were my two periodical-publishing homes. I now write for several venues that I never imagined I would be able to write for, but I would have been very happy to spend the whole of my career writing long reviews for Books & Culture and essays for First Things. Now B&C is defunct and FT is not interested in the kind of thing I write — which is fair enough, I suppose, because I’m not interested in the kind of thing they now publish.

Books and Culture

 

 

Some More Thoughts on the Populist Critique of “Elite Evangelicals”

Trump iN Dallas

For most evangelical Christians, the message of the Gospel transcends the identity categories we place on human beings.  All men and women are sinners in need of redemption.  Citizenship in the Kingdom of God, made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection, is available to all human beings regardless of their race, class, or gender.

I also think that most evangelicals believe that good Christians strive to live Holy Spirit-filled lives that conform to the moral teachings of the Bible. In other words, evangelical Christians follow the 10 Commandments, Jesus’s teachings in  the Gospels (including the Sermon on the Mount), and the ethical demands of the New Testament epistles.

Since Mark Galli wrote his Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump, the evangelical defenders of the POTUS have been playing the populist card. Let’s remember that the populist card is an identity politics card.

The opponents of Christianity Today have tried to paint Galli and other evangelical anti-Trumpers as “elites” who look down their noses at uneducated or working class evangelicals.  In their minds, Galli and his ilk are guilty of the same kind of supposed moral preening as university professors, Barack Obama, and the progressive legislators known as “The Squad.”  They view these educated evangelicals–some of whom they might worship with on Sunday mornings–through the lens of class-based politics rather than as fellow believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This populist argument has come from a variety of sectors, including First Things magazine (here and here), the court evangelicals (here), and Calvinist Front Porcher and American religious historian Darryl Hart (here).

So I ask: Has Trump’s class-based identity politics co-opted Christian ethics?

Trump has openly lied or misrepresented the truth. He has engaged in speech that is misogynistic, nativist, and racist. He has advanced policies that have separated children from their parents.  He regularly demonizes and degrades his political enemies.  It seems like these things, on the basis of biblical morality, are always wrong, regardless of whether an educated person or an uneducated person brings them to our attention.  Last time I checked, the minor prophets and John the Baptist did not have Ph.Ds.

Mark Galli of Christianity Today has offered a stinging moral criticism of Trump.  We can debate whether Trump’s actions in Ukraine are impeachable, but Galli is on solid ground when he says the president is “grossly immoral.”

Is it right to say that a Christian is “out of touch” when he calls out such immoral behavior?  (Or maybe one might take evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem’s approach and try to make a case that Trump’s indiscretions are few and inconsequential).

Would a non-college educated factory worker in the Midwest who claims the name of Jesus Christ think that racism, misogyny, nativism, the degradation of one’s enemies, and lying are moral problems?  Wouldn’t any Christian, formed by the teachings of a local church and the spiritual disciplines (as opposed to the daily barrage of Fox News), see the need to condemn such behavior?  What does social class have to do with it?  Shouldn’t one’s identity in the Gospel and its moral implications for living transcend class identity?

For those who are lamenting disunion in the church, I have another question:  Shouldn’t the church be an otherworldly, counter-cultural institution that finds some unity in the condemnation of immoral behavior in the corridors of national power?  Or should we take our marching orders from the divisive, class-based identity politics of Donald Trump?

Is *First Things* a Populist Magazine?

FirstThingsCoverI check the First Things website every day and often link to pieces I find interesting.  But I stopped reading First Things regularly after Richard John Neahaus passed away. (I used to subscribe and read each issue cover-to-cover).

On Friday,  I responded to Carl Trueman’s piece at First Things suggesting that Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today, was an “elite” and “out of touch.” Read it here.

Last night I read a piece at The New York Post by First Things senior editor Matthew Schmitz.  It is titled: “Elite Evangelicals once again belittle their pro-Trump co-religionists.”  Here is a taste:

Evangelicalism has always been a populist movement, and its piety has always been closely tied to suspicion of religious and political elites. Movements as various as circuit-riding Methodism, Bible-thumping Baptists and black churches all encouraged the very American idea that the common man knows best.

This populist energy helps explain evangelicalism’s broad appeal, but it causes problems for the evangelical leadership class. It makes the phrase “evangelical elite” almost a contradiction in terms, like “Bilderberg proletarian” or “blue-collar Aspen attendee.” Those evangelical leaders who are recognized as leaders by the evangelical base possess a populist streak. They tend to have gained prominence through electoral politics, mass media or entrepreneurial forms of evangelism — all activities that require a sense of the crowd and a common touch.

By contrast, evangelical leaders who have come up through established institutions tend to acquire the training and tastes of the wider American elite. They often disdain the religious and political populism of the base. Whatever their theological convictions may be, these elites have ceased to be evangelical in a sociological sense. And evangelicalism is more exactly defined sociologically than theologically.

Christianity Today is a case in point. Ask an editor there what she thinks about Israel, Trump, feminism or Fox News, and you will get a very different answer than you would from most American evangelicals. The magazine’s young contributors more ardently desire to freelance for The New Yorker than to appear on Tucker Carlson, despite the fact that their parents would be more impressed by the latter.

These people hold less sway among evangelicals than the editors of liberal publications do among their constituencies.

They also have functionally ceased to be evangelical. There is no dishonor in that. As a former evangelical-turned-Catholic, I am well aware of the drawbacks of the evangelical movement. But writers who trade on an evangelical identity that they no longer really share ought to do the decent thing and admit it.

Read the rest here.

It’s late, and I still have grading to do, but I got some time last night to write a few tweets about this trend at First Things:

Again, I don’t read First Things regularly.  I have heard things about new editorial directions at the magazine and its new commitment to Christian nationalism.  If the magazine’s move toward populism is well-known among the conservative intellectual world, please forgive my ignorance.  I am just noticing this for the first time.

Maybe I am reading this the wrong way, but it seems like Schmitz is saying that once the people at Christianity Today (or some other evangelical institution) start thinking, they cease being evangelical.

Noll was a longtime contributing editor of Christianity Today. 

 

Some Comments on Peter Leithart’s *First Things* Review of *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dFirst Things assigned Peter Leithart, the president of an organization called Theopolis Institute, to review my Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The title of his review is  “Trump Among the Evangelicals.”

Here is the relevant part of the review:

All in all, Fea tells a familiar story, and his main contribution is to update some threads of the history of the Christian Right. Fea is right on some key points. He’s right to be alarmed by the near-messianic enthusiasm of some evangelicals for Trump. He’s right to chide the hypocrisy of excusing Trump for sins that were impeachable offenses when committed by Bill Clinton. He’s right about the seductions of power, and he can quote former Christian Right leaders like Cal Thomas in support. He’s right about the nostalgia, and his answer to the question, “Was America founded as a Christian nation?” is sensibly ambivalent: It’s “difficult to answer with a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” Fea’s advocacy of a politics of hope, humility, and history can hardly be gainsaid.

But Believe Me is a political intervention under the cover of history. As such, it suffers from two debilitating defects.

Fea is a professor at Messiah College—an evangelical institution. He is talking about his own tribe, but he shows little sympathy for his subjects. He observes, for instance, that evangelicals see the years between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Reagan presidency as “a perfect storm capable of wiping out the Christian ideals that built their great nation.” I imagine he’d say that it’s outside his bailiwick as a historian to judge whether evangelical fears are well-grounded, but his framework speaks for itself. Fea places these trends under the rubric of “evangelical fear,” which shades over into “evangelical paranoia.” But it’s worth asking, might evangelical qualms be justified?

Fea also displays a stunning lack of curiosity, which narrows his tale to a few evangelical stars. Millions of evangelicals who will never be court evangelicals voted for Trump. Who are they? What motivated them? Are they also driven by fear, lust for power, and nostalgia? Or are they perhaps motivated by more mundane worries—like how they’re going to make rent or pay for groceries or rebuild their crumbling neighborhoods? Fea never asks.

It wouldn’t have been hard to find some answers. Timothy Carney, author of Alienated America, compiles widely-reported evidence that Trump’s strongest evangelical support came from those who don’t attend church regularly. They hold evangelical beliefs without evangelical belonging. Americans, Carney argues, suffer from a deficit of social capital, which in America is typically mediated through local churches. In healthy communities, like the Dutch Reformed towns of Iowa and Michigan or the tightly networked Mormonism in Utah, Americans are often conservative but anti-Trump. Fea doesn’t consider the possibility that a vote for Trump was a cry of desperation from the unchurched, unemployed, alienated American heartland. As a result, Believe Me misses some of the most significant lessons of the ongoing saga of Trump among the evangelicals.

A few comments:

  • My book has been out for a year, but I am grateful to see that high-caliber magazines like First Things still find it worthy of a review.  I am a former subscriber to First Things and I have also written a few things for the website.
  • I am not very familiar with Leithart’s work, but I do know that he is a big name among the circle of conservative Christians who read First Things.  I am happy to see that he finds much to commend in the book.
  • Leithart says that my “main contribution” in Believe Me is “to update some threads of the history of the Christian Right.”  Not really.  Most of my story of the Christian Right draws from other scholars.  There is actually very little new here beyond my synthesis of  some outstanding scholarship by folks like Randall Balmer, Kevin Kruse, Daniel K. Williams, and Mark Noll.  And my long look into the history of fear is rooted in the best academic history available.
  • Leithart calls my book “a political intervention under the cover of history.”   He writes this as if it is a bad thing.   I actually prefer to call Believe Me a historically-inflected piece of political commentary.  Whatever the case, I never claimed that this was a traditional history book.
  • Leithart writes: “I imagine he’d say that it’s outside his bailiwick as a historian to judge whether evangelical fears are well-grounded, but his framework speaks for itself.”  Actually, I make the case in multiple places in the book that evangelical fears ARE NOT well-grounded.  My direct and unambiguous moral intervention into the narrative is why I do not consider Believe Me a work of traditional history.  I make a case for this approach in the book.
  • Leithart suggests that I display a “stunning lack of curiosity” because I don’t embrace the popular theory that the evangelical voters who pulled the level for Trump do not attend church.  He says that I should have consulted Timothy Carney’s book Alienated America on this front.  Actually, I don’t think my unwillingness to buy into this theory comes from a lack of curiosity.   I was quite curious about it, but in the end I rejected it (and I make this point in the book).  Since then, a Pew study has shown that Trump’s support actually comes from evangelical who DO attend church.  (And even if I did agree with Carney’s findings, his book did not appear until February 2019, eight months after Believe Me was published.  Leithart is apparently not aware of this fact).

I usually don’t comment on reviews of my books, but I am left wondering if Leithart even read it.  I do not expect this kind of sloppiness from First Things.

Conservatives Are at Each Other’s Throats. Alan Jacobs Weighs-In

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I have not been following this whole David French–Sohrab Ahmari dust-up happening right now conservative circles, but I am guessing it has something to do with Trump.

But I did get a kick out of this exchange between an editor at First Things and David French.

But wait, there’s more:

As I noted above, I am not really following this debate.  But when Alan Jacobs weighs-in on something I read it.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

A story commonly told these days on both the left and the right says that American Christians, and especially evangelicals, are solidly behind President Donald Trump. The real story is far more complex, and has led many Christians to some fairly serious soul-searching, and others to ask hard questions about whether we even know what an “evangelical” is. Among Christians, as among so many other Americans, one of the chief effects of the rise of Trump has been to widen some fault lines and expose others that we didn’t even know existed. It is at least possible that some good will come from this exposure.

You can see some of these fault lines opening up in a recent controversy that has greatly occupied many journalists, scholars, and ordinary people who care about the relations between Christianity and conservatism. The controversy began when Sohrab Ahmari, the op-ed editor of the New York Post, tweeted, “There’s no polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war”—referring to the lawyer, former soldier, and senior writer of National Review who has often made the case that Christians in the public arena need to practice civility. Ahmari then expanded that tweet into a full-scale attack on French, and since then, the conservative world has been fairly obsessed with adjudicating the dispute.

It’s important to note that Ahmari sees the differences between him and French as rooted, ultimately, in their different Christian traditions: Catholicism for Ahmari—who recently published a memoir of his conversion—and evangelical Protestantism. But whether this is indeed the heart of the matter, the dispute so far hasn’t fallen out that way. Some Catholics are with French, some Protestants with Ahmari. And in any case, I’m more interested in the ways this dispute illuminates questions that all Christians involved in public life need to reckon with than in choosing sides. How Christians choose to reckon with these questions will have consequences for all Americans, whether religious or not.

Read the rest here.

Trump and “Expressive Individualism”


Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Janesville

Some good analysis here by Ronald E. Osborn:

In a 2011 article in First Things, the Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart pondered why so many literary depictions of the devil present him as attractive, witty, stylish and debonair. If there is a devil, Hart ventured, he is a thug and a bore, “probably a monomaniac who talks about nothing but his personal grievances and aims, and in the bluntest, most unrefined language imaginable—the sort of person you try your best to get away from at a party.”

Hart recalled a legal case from 1993 in which a poor, elderly New Jersey woman, Vera Coking, fought to keep her home while a ruthless developer used all his power to have the land seized by eminent domain so he could buy it at a discount and turn it into a limousine parking lot for one of his Atlantic City casinos. Hart then offered the following verdict on that developer and on the nature of the diabolical: “Cold, grasping, bleak, graceless, and dull; unctuous, sleek, pitiless, and crass; a pallid vulgarian floating through life on clouds of acrid cologne and trailed by a vanguard of fawning divorce lawyers, the devil is probably eerily similar to Donald Trump—though perhaps just a little nicer.”

Osborne continues:

Conservatives have long decried the relaxing of sexual ethics and the loss of codes of etiquette as markers of liberalism’s moral impoverishment and as political perils to Western civilization. Yet with the rise of Trumpism, they are themselves now deeply and irreversibly implicated in the expressivist turn. All of the old pieties, it turns out, are completely fungible for most conservatives as well. Basic principles of rationality, truth-telling, civility, decency and restraint have been laid waste by the reality television star’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party and ascent to the White House on a tsunami of emotive tweets and hyperbolic promises of “better deals.” Yet an astonishing number of Americans, abandoning their own earlier proclamations of the necessity of virtuous character for wise and just political leadership, now cheer the unraveling—and the cruelty.

Read the entire piece at America.

Writers and Scholars Who Support Trump

ft

R.R. Reno, the editor of this magazine, supports Trump

You can read the list here.

Some of the names I recognize include:  Hadley Arkes, Mark Bauerlein, Bill Bennett, John Fonte, Bruce Frohnen, Calista Gingrich, Newt Gingrich, Anne Hendershott, Roger Kimball, Lawrence Kudlow, Alfred Regnery, R.R. Reno, Larry Schweikart, and Thomas West.

Alan Jacobs of Baylor University is a conservative who does not support Trump. He does not seem to know what to make of this group.  Here is a taste of his post, “Trump and Incommensurability.”

Long ago Thomas Kuhn introduced into the history of science the concept of incommensurability: theories whose premises are so radically divergent that adherents of one theory simply cannot speak coherently and usefully with adherents of another. Alasdair MacIntyre would later, in After Virtue, apply this concept to debates in moral philosophy: “Every one of the arguments is logically valid or can be easily expanded so as to be made so; the conclusions do indeed follow from the premises. But the rival premises are such that we possess no rational way of weighing the claims of one as against another…. It is precisely because there is in our society no established way of deciding between these claims that moral argument appears to be necessarily interminable.”

If an intelligent and well-informed person is not only voting for Trump but also advocating for him as someone who can “restore the promise of America,” then it is clear that our premises about politics — about what politics does, what politics is for — are so radically different as to be incommensurable. (Ditto our notions  of what “the promise of America” is.) It was MacIntyre’s hope in After Virtue and the books that succeeded it to find a way around or through the impasse of incommensurability in moral philosophy. Until someone can do the same for the politics of this current election, there is no possibility of my even having a meaningful conversation with the people who signed that document. And as another philosopher has sagely counseled, What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

Read the entire post here.

R.R. Reno on Pope Francis: "Someone has to mind the store while the Jesuit is on the peripheries"

The Jesuit magazine America is running an interview with First Things editor R.R. Reno on Francis’s visit to the United States.  As some of you know, America tends to emphasize the social justice and progressive side of Catholicism and First Things is known for defending a more traditional version of Catholicism.

I would encourage you to read the entire interview, but here are a few of Reno’s best thoughts:

…I think he wanted to be very cautious about our political struggles in the United States, so he did not mention religious freedom in his address to Congress. But it’s clear he’s aware of the problems we face in the United States and wanted to make this gesture of solidarity and support to the Little Sisters. That was an important and worthy thing to do. 
As for passing on lunch with the congressmen and going to the homeless shelter, all I can say is good for him. You know, I don’t know if you can print it, but to hell with congressmen. I think one of his most powerful witnesses is his refusal to let the hierarchies of the world determine his ministry and the spiritual attention he gives to others….
I wish I could have written the speech he gave to the bishops. In that speech, I would have reminded the bishops about the importance of Catholicism being a distinctive voice in American society—not to let ourselves become, as Francis has said, a sort of NGO or social service organization with incense. There’s a distinctive Gospel message to give to the world and we shouldn’t let the spirit of the world intimidate us…
The part that resonates is also the part that worries me. He’s a disruptor. Many things need to be disrupted, but, then again, some things don’t need to be disrupted. I’m all in favor of breaking the things that need to be broken, but it’s dangerous when you start breaking things. So that goes back to the theme of extremism. The extremism is both exciting and inspiring, but also disorienting. You know, somebody has to “mind the store” while the Jesuit is on the peripheries….
One problem is the problem with Jesuits. Jesuits are clerical commandos, clerical Green Berets. And one of the temptations Jesuits have is that they want to turn everybody into a Jesuit when the fact is that the church needs ordinary soldiers—the church needs cooks, camp commandants, and priests who keep the parish running and aren’t on the peripheries. And I fear that all his language about being on the periphery demoralizes people who do the day-to-day work of keeping the church running….
So Francis is exemplifying the end goal of the Christian life and the danger is that Jesuits often neglect the ordinary means by which people often enter into the Christian life. Jesuits are virtuosos who can neglect the need for basic instruction. You know, Francis is the 265th successor of St. Peter and he’ll do with this job what needs to be done, but I guarantee you there’s not going to be a Jesuit pope for a long time after this one. 

Is Pope Francis a "Radical Leftist"?

Conservatives are not happy with Pope Francis. They are saying that he should not be making “political” statements.”  I am not a Catholic theologian or an expert on Catholic social teaching, but isn’t Francis just being a consistent Catholic?  Somebody help me out here.

Moreover, since when has Church teaching ever been separated from politics?  Over at the New Republic, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig explains:

After an initial wave of adulation, Pope Francis is now suffering a backlash. Granted, all popes suffer their critics for various decisions about liturgy and doctrine, but Pope Francis seems to have ignited a firestorm among Catholics due to his habit of addressing political matters. Rightwing disdain for Francis is deep enough to have some conservatives strategizing on how to continue to combat his influence without delivering possible gains to Democrats or so-called liberal Catholics.

Writing at The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty hoped for “a truly humble papacy, where politics is avoided, and where the personality of the occupant does not presage some reform”that is, a papacy the world has scarcely known. For years, papal encyclicals have included politics, from Rerum Novarum’s 1891 treatment of capital and labor to Quadregesimo Anno’s 1931 look at socialism and capitalism. More recently, Saint Pope John Paul II was said to have had a hand in the defeat of communism, thanks to, in the words of Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, “his unusual abilityderived from charisma and celebrity as well as faithto get people out on the streets.” It should come as no surprise that Pope John Paul II’s political legacy is heeded at conservative Catholic outfits like First Things as a positive one, and that his tendency to involve himself in political affairs via craft and charisma (such as the Bosnian War) was not regarded by the anti-Francis crowd with the same distaste.

In any analysis of a public figure, partisan interests will influence one’s opinion, and there isn’t anything particularly productive about pointing out that conservatives tend to forgive in conservative leaders what they don’t in liberals. A more helpful question is this: Why has Pope Francis addressed political issues, such as climate change, inequality, poverty, and overpopulation? Is it evidence of abject partisan interest, or a covert dedication to communism, Marxism, or some other insidious ideology?


Or is it just that we now presume that “politics” belongs outside the Church’s purviewdespite the Church’s historical record of considering and intervening in political affairs? To me, this appears to be the distortion at hand.

This is partly because the notion that “politics” can be neatly separated from daily life is a new one. For earlier political theorists, like Aristotle and Augustine, politics was just a natural extension of community life. But over time, a fantasy of “politics” wholly divorced from everyday life and experience has emerged in certain corners of liberal thought, producing with it the expectation that politics is a matter for professional politicians and their colleagues, while those in religious offices should simply avoid addressing politics altogether.

Yet, even if Pope Francis attempted to avoid politics, he would still run into trouble: This is because while “politics” has been increasingly cordoned off into a hermetically sealed chamber of thought in recent centuries, its purview has also been expanding so that it has absorbed new issues over time.

Read the rest here.