Thursday, March 23, 2023

Woe to the Bloody City


The political world has always had scamps and miscreants who told lies that people believed, and they got away with their deception.

Why Fox News Needs to Free Tucker, Douglas Wilson

It’s different this time, best captured in the following:

We know they are lying.

They know they are lying.

They know that we know they are lying.

We know that they know we know they are lying.

And still they continue to lie.

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn (or not)

No one is getting away with the deception – at least not getting away with keeping the deception hidden.  They don’t even care about hiding it. 

Of course, those who lie know that they are lying; the elite who go along with the lies know that these are lies; the government officials that go along with the lies know that these are lies; even many of the riff-raff go along with the lies, knowing that these are lies.  The worst is that Christians go along with the lies, knowing that these are lies.

Wilson lists a few of the more recent lies: vaccines, climate change, viruses, and election integrity.  One could identify a dozen in the last ten years, and a hundred in the last century.  If one measures corruption based on the number of lies (and murders) committed by a state actor, the United States government – given the size, scope and international reach of this hydra – is clearly the most corrupt state on earth.

This is because as a people we are getting exactly the kind of leadership we deserve. We tolerated the little lies for a long time, and now they are big lies, and we don’t know what to do.

What lies did we tolerate?  Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, Assad gassing his own citizens, three buildings with two planes and a few box cutters, they hate us for our freedom, the one democracy in the Middle East, peaceful Ukraine was the ideal democracy.  That’s just a sampling from the last couple of decades.  Go a little further back: USS Liberty, Gulf of Tonkin, the atomic bombs were necessary to end the war, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor without provocation, Remember the Maine.  For a longer list, try this.

So we have gotten to the place where the wickedness is open and manifest, but there appears to be some sort of operational truce—and the whole thing seems more than a little ominous to me.

The truce?  Per Wilson, the liberals know they are lying, and are fine with it.  The conservatives may not be fine with the lying, but don’t want to destroy faith in the state by exposing it.  I don’t see the lines drawn so clearly, but I fully understand his point.  And it is ominous, as no one in a position to do anything about any of it is speaking up.  (Has it come to looking to Elon Musk to save us from ourselves?)

Name one institution in our public life that has not been destabilized by all the lying.

Wilson offers no examples.  Neither do I.  Can you?  Government at every level, law enforcement of all stripes, universities, charitable institutions, think tanks.  Even many Christian churches. 

To better understand our current condition, Wilson cites Richard Sibbes:

“When sin grows ripe, and abounds in a land or nation, at such a time as this a man may know there is some fearful judgment approaching. But when is sin ripe? When it is impudent, when men grow bold in sin, making it their whole course and trade of life. When men’s wicked courses are their common lifestyle, and they don’t even know how to do otherwise . . . The more sin, the more danger.”

Monday, March 20, 2023

Chalcedon: The Aftermath

The emperor became infuriated and turned out to be a bitter persecutor of the non-Chalcedonian body. …In the face of such cruel treatment many made their surrender and joined the Chalcedonian body.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

Efforts were made to unify the two sides in the conflict in the latter half of the sixth century.  We are no more than one hundred years after the council.  Unity talks were held, documents of reconciliation drafted, non-Chalcedonian bishops were offered a diocese if they would switch sides.  All came to naught.

One emperor, Tiberius, refused to persecute the non-Chalcedonians.  “Are those whom you ask me to persecute heathens?”  “No,” came the reply from the patriarch, the one who was doing the asking.  They were Christians, just not Christians in our camp.

I reflect on the criticism offered by many in the Eastern Church of the Western Church – the persecution of heretics and the like.  It turns out all lived in a world of stones and glass houses in all times and all places in the history of Christendom.

An interesting example: during the sixth century, the Arab Christian Kingdom of the Ghassanids, adherent to the non-Chalcedonian view, grew into prominence.  Emperor Maurice had their leaders exiled, then destroyed the kingdom.  This opened the door for Persian expansion into Syria.  Did such behavior also later open the door for Islam?

The non-Chalcedonians in the East, being persecuted and oppressed by their emperor, preferred domination by the Persians – in this case, they enjoyed, relatively speaking, religious freedom.  When their emperor ordered that those who would not accept Chalcedon should have their noses and ears cut out and their properties confiscated…well, the Persians didn’t look so bad in comparison.

Samuel then goes into a long examination of the dispute – arguments from each side.  What, theologically, separated the two sides when it came to understanding the nature of Christ.  It most certainly was not that Christ was both divine and human – both sides agreed on this.  It was, precisely, how?

It is not a section that I will work through here.  The more I learn about the dispute, the more I am baffled.  Nothing in Scripture precisely explains this.  so, we are left with tradition.  But both sides claim adherence to tradition – exposing the folly of those Orthodox Christians who claim “we have followed the tradition of the Church from the time of the Apostles.”  To which I say…which tradition?

My view on this entire matter is summed up well by Samuel, and after reading and working through this section of his work in which he examines the arguments on both sides (and having marked up these sections extensively), I could not summarize it better than he does:

In the Christological controversy, unlike any other theological dispute in the ancient church, there was a great deal of obscurity on account of the technical terms that were employed.

He looks at the Greek and Syriac equivalents of the key terms used in this discussion, how each was used and understood in the context of its use, how different writers understood the same term differently, how the same writer would use different terms to mean the same thing.  He further examines in detail each position relative to the earlier views in Antioch and Alexandria. 

Again, this is all secondary to my purpose – other than to emphasize that this controversy is not one that should have divided the Church – and should not be used today to continue in this division.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Strategy of the Mediocre

NB: a couple of weeks ago I received my first notice from google about one of my posts being barred.  I didn’t protest or anything.  The post already had its run, and was even picked up at LRC.  So, it was out there.  Strangely, a few days later, it magically re-appeared.  As of this writing, it is still up.

Why do I bring this up now?  Well, this might be number two in the series.

To Save America, Restore Our Frontier: Restoring accountability in America is the fight of our times, by Joe Lonsdale

The section I will focus on is entitled Unaccountable, Declining Institutions Prefer Wokey (link).  Lonsdale’s argument is that the woke mind virus (WMV) is “the perfect philosophy for unaccountable power.”

The WMV is the perfect nihilist philosophy for kludge and decline. It’s a circus being put on by the least accountable people and institutions on Earth.

Universities, growing on the back of guaranteed student loans, have departments in the dozens, even hundreds, working to stoke this virus.  Almost none of these people are qualified to do anything that society would pay for absent the temporarily “free” money doled out by the state.  Governments have countless tens-of-thousands of employees doing the same – and I expect the market demand for those individuals qualified to perform such WMV services also approaches zero.

But it isn’t that they aren’t qualified to even find their way out of a paper bag.  They are not even held accountable for the success or failure of the virtually useless task to which they are assigned.  Every failure is merely an opportunity for a bigger budget, a promotion, a new program.

Lonsdale notes the French radicals of the 1960s as providing philosophical cover for the WMV, but it is the unaccountable institutions that are the main driving force behind the movement in our societies.

So, “fighting wokeness” is the wrong strategy. We ought not spend time and energy fighting battles at the surface level while losing an institutional war underneath. The first step is to identify where it prospers most. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

·         Federal and state bureaucracies

·         Big Tech monopolies

·         Giant banks

·         Crony companies, like in healthcare and defense

·         Hospital monopolies

·         NGOs (often funded by government)

·         Universities

·         Museums

·         Longstanding charitable foundations

·         Public schools and other union-dominated government areas

In other words, institutions and entities that require little, if any, market-derived support; institutions that have the government and its printing press and regulatory framework on their side.  They truly are unaccountable to the market and unaccountable for success toward even their stated objectives, therefore have little need to respond to market pressure. 

I would add to the list: automotive companies and airlines.  Very few, if any, companies in these industries would survive without government support – and this has been demonstrated repeatedly over the years via bailouts and subsidies. 

Thursday, March 9, 2023

(Paper) Thin Libertarians


…you cannot protect the value of respecting each other’s liberties with the value of respecting each other’s liberties. That value has to come from somewhere…

David French & the Vapors of Civic Virtue Escaping from a Mystery Box, Douglas Wilson (video)

It has been a while since I have written something directly and specifically about the non-aggression principle and libertarian political philosophy.  This blog started that way, and soon enough I figured out that it was not the foundation for a society that respected liberty.  In other words, paraphrasing Wilson, you cannot protect the value of liberty by using the value of liberty.

This could have been written by Hans Hoppe – he has written along these lines more than once.  Hoppe is, like Wilson, an outcast in respectable circles because he notes that a society that expects to achieve and maintain liberty will have to use values other than liberty to defend liberty.  In other words, paraphrasing Hoppe, sometimes you have to forcefully throw the bums out.

As I have noted: my libertarian society will not look libertarian to many on the outside.  You want sex orgies on your front lawn?  No, not in my libertarian society – I don’t care that your front lawn is your private property.  Such a libertarian society will not retain liberty for long.

Of course, the paper thin libertarian will retort: “you can just make the rules such that those who don’t voluntarily agree can’t join.”  Yes.  But this is my point: my “rules” won’t look libertarian to most libertarians.

This is where I came to grow weary of those who screamed “thin libertarian” as the path to liberty.  Now, admittedly, I once believed such things.  Libertarianism for children, as a good friend and well-respected (in our circles) libertarian once described such as these to me.  Yes, I once was this (look early in my archives…).  But I try not to be too hard on myself; some of the “children” are much older than I am and have been in the movement much longer – and have yet to mature.

It was through Hoppe that I came to understand that something deeper was required as foundation if one was after liberty.  I don’t recall if he put it exactly this way, but I do recall that he said something like you may occasionally have to throw the bums out if you want to preserve the liberty of which you are after.

In other words, Hoppe’s libertarian society will not seem libertarian to the bums (libertines) on the outside.  And I say…count me in.

Murray Rothbard, very early in his career (1960), understood this quite well:

What I have been trying to say is that Mises's utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic—an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual—grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man's nature.

A society holding to liberty requires something more than liberty if society is to retain liberty.

Returning to Wilson:

The virtues that are embedded in our customs, mores, and laws, and which are barely hanging on anymore, are not “without father or mother” Our public virtues are not “without genealogy.” They actually had a “beginning of days.” They grew up in the black soil of a robust Christian consensus, as Francis Schaeffer cogently argued…

Our liberty, what little remains of it, came out of a specific culture, a specific tradition, grounded in certain customs and mores and laws.  It is grounded in what came out of the Christian West, and one can point to the mixing of Christian charity with Germanic honor as the source.

Of course, this came with many ills – both regarding Christianity and regarding honor.  Progress does not flow in a straight line, with no bumps, no setbacks, no difficulties.  Every culture, every tradition, suffers these.  But only one bore the fruit of liberty in any meaningful sense.  If the bad comes in every flavor, I prefer the one that also offers good.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Stopping the Flood

There is a theme running through many intellectuals and wanna-be intellectuals – those who at least see that without Christian values and culture the West is headed to some version of hell.  It’s something like: good religion is important for other people and society, but I don’t need to really believe it.  Anyway, I am too smart for that.

People like this really don’t get the reality that to get (or keep) the society they think they want they will have to quit standing on the sidelines, merely cheering on those who have placed themselves in the game.  It is as if they are saying, “It’s important that people dumber than me believe Christianity to be true, such that I can get the society I want.”

Jordan Peterson offers a version of this: “I act as if it’s true.” This rings equally hollow…and shallow.  Nothing was built or changed by playing games of pretend.  Very few people die for make-believe.  Well, maybe other than Peterson.  He may be the exception that proves the rule, given that his “acting as if it’s true” nearly cost him his life.   (And here, I am assuming he is acting – as opposed to hiding his conversion.  A reasonably safe assumption.)

Some people look at our current state and pine: it kind of worked even just a few decades ago – this “acting as if it’s true” stuff, this hoping that enough dumb people believed – such that society held together.  In other words, we didn’t need to overtly hold to Christian truth and, see, we were doing just fine!  On the one hand, yes.  On the other hand, the cards were dealt well before Obama became president and well before the pill.

We cannot really say "it worked" until just the last couple of decades.  The twentieth century was a catastrophe for the West, all the way around.  Communism was born in the West, as was Naziism, as was critical theory, as whatever it is that you want to say about the monstrosity of the American state, etc. 

Jacques Barzun describes World War One as the suicide of the West.  Now, no one wakes up one day going from well-adjusted to suicide.  The collective “West” didn’t do this either.  The motive power behind the depression and aimlessness was in place well before the suicide occurred.

So, then.  What was it that drove the West to this suicide?  Solzhenitsyn suggested that the reason the West fell into WWI was that men have forgotten God.  It is the best explanation for that otherwise unexplainable war that I have heard. 

When did men forget God?  This can be found in the Enlightenment.  The roots of the suicide of the West can be found here, when men forgot God.  Sure, in different parts of the West God lived on in the fumes of memory longer than in others.  But even early on, He was pushed out of polite society, to be kept in the attic bedroom like some crazy uncle.

Some will say it was earlier than the Enlightenment.  It was the Renaissance, or the Reformation, or the Great Schism.  Or, later: It was Marx, or Gramsci, or Marcuse.  But, in the former, there was still God.  And in the latter, there was not God.  It was in the Enlightenment that men forgot God.

What does this mean for us individually?  I believe that this picture that I painted (or some other such version of our historical reality) should make clear that we, individually, are impotent to fight against this massive flood.  The current is much too strong.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Thinning of Natural Law

I have been enjoying a series of videos by Dr. J. Budziszewski on the natural law.  He teaches on this subject at the University of Texas, Austin.  How he gets away with this I have no idea.  The following comments are based on his presentation at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Natural Law and the American Founding: Were the Founders Confused?  However, any of his talks on the subject shed valuable insight.

First, something which many seem to be confused about: Natural law is not the same as the laws of nature:

“That’s like Mowgli.”  The law of the jungle, or the survival of the fittest, or maybe something like gravity. 

I was listening to a podcast where it was said that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount had nothing to do with natural law, and doesn’t sound like natural law at all.  I almost fell over.  As the speaker went on, it was clear that he was mixing up the laws of nature (as commonly understood) with natural law.

It is a terrible confusion.  That sermon might be the best exposition of the purpose of man, man’s telos – an understanding of which is foundational to developing natural law ethics.

Returning to Budziszewski (look, it’s either repeating his last name or referring to him as Dr. J – which really would be rather confusing), there is a further confusion by the more sophisticated:

At most, and if they have taken some political philosophy, they might think it has something to do with the social contract.

Which is what we are often told.  We live under a social contract.  The American founders were dealing with a thinned idea of the natural law – thinned by thinkers in the Enlightenment.  Sure, they said they believed in the idea of natural law, but they discarded or denied some of the most important ideas behind it.  Budziszewski will expand on this later in this talk. 

Understanding this thinning is important for at least a couple of reasons: fully understanding and realizing natural law requires Christ and God; second, there was a confusion in the founders between natural law and natural rights.

They would talk about natural law, but they said much more about natural rights.  This focus on “rights-talk” disconnected from natural law ultimately resulted in a world where one’s subjective will determining one’s rights.  Why is that?  Budziszewski doesn’t expand on this, but it seems clear that absent something outside and above man describing and determining man’s purpose, man is free to create his own.  When thus freed, well, you get today’s societal mess (see Carl Trueman).

Returning to Budziszewski:

What is the natural law?  The foundational principles of right and wrong that are built into how we are made that are both right for everyone and, at some level, known to everyone.

How is it know to everyone, at least at some level?  I have previously offered the possibility that it was when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when man was made aware of the natural law. 

Genesis 3: 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

They took the fruit before they were ready, so God sent them out.    

Returning to Budziszewski:

What’s in the natural law?  Its content is well summarized by the Decalogue. 

God later gave the Ten Commandments, because man had forgotten the natural law.  This describes man’s proper relationship to God and man’s proper relationship to his fellow man.  It describes man’s expected ethical behavior.  And it is an ethic, not law as we understand that term today.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Time for Some Truth

Col. Jessup: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to….

Col. Jessup: You want answers?




Jeff Childers has written a post at his Coffee & Covid blog regarding the saga of James O’Keefe and the Project Veritas board: VINCIT OMNIA VERITAS – “truth conquers all things.”  The points on which I will focus, which Childers examines in great detail:

From what I can tell, James is NOT just operating on instinct. I think he deliberately tested the theory of whether Project Veritas has been infiltrated, by asking the Project Veritas Board to resign. When every single traitorous one of them refused, James had his answer. It doesn’t MATTER whether it was Pfizer, the CIA, the FBI, Russia, Fauci, or even Putin himself. The company has been compromised.

From the time this story broke, in the back of my mind I kept thinking: How did such a board get in place?  Important questions to be asked:

·         What is the history of each board member (beyond and before their role at Project Veritas)? 

o   As Steve Bannon suggested, the board has a fiduciary duty to show us they don’t have any connection with Pfizer or anybody from Pfizer.  Or, I will add, any other conflicted connection.

·         When was each member brought on to the board? 

o   Per Charlie Kirk, some new board members were recently added.

·         What are the procedures for approving new board members?  

·         Who, or what committee, nominates and approves board members? 

o   Who is on the committee?

·         What are the terms of service for board members?

·         Are the board’s actions consistent with the governing documents?

·         Who was responsible and involved in setting up the governing documents? 

In other words, how did such a board get put in place and get such control that they could remove the founder and motive force behind the organization?

Further, there are allegations of misappropriation of funds.  What is the situation regarding the audit committee of the board and the annual audit of the financial statements – to include the necessary federal filings?

Finally, how much of the financial support comes from what percentage of the donor base?  If the concentration is high (therefore, leverage), who are the major donors and what is their background and history?

These kinds of questions should be asked and answered.  Many of these questions can be answered by gaining access to the organizing documents, minutes of board meetings, etc.  As Project Veritas is a donor-supported organization, I believe the donors have standing to ask.  Much of this might also already be publicly available.


All aspects of corporate governance and authority must be addressed and investigated in this situation.  As you all know, investigating current news stories is not my strong suit.  I usually blunder on such things.  But I know the questions to ask, and I know there are many people out there really good at figuring out how to answer such questions.

There are many angles to this story.  I have focused on one.  But I think the answers to these questions will shed light on the many other aspects.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Politics, Empire, War

The creed of Nicea, the encyclical insisted, should ‘prevail over the orthodox people’ in all churches as the only symbol of the faith.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

It is now 475, twenty-four years after the council.  Basiliscus was emperor.  He would issue an encyclical on 9 April 475 which promoted the first three ecumenical councils of the church: Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus, and condemned the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo.  A council was called, affirming the encyclical.

Basiliscus didn’t last long on the throne – less than 20 months.  Nor did the encyclical, rescinded immediately by the new emperor. 

The issue here was not that Chalcedon conserved orthodoxy or excluded heresy, but that it had granted certain rights and privileges to Constantinople.

Non-Chalcedonian leaders were again sent into exile.  Threats of the death penalty were suggested.  But the controversies were really only beginning; the opposition to Chalcedon was growing and gaining strength.  Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were drawing closer. 

New statements were drawn up in order to try to bridge the divide; there was much back and forth.  Each described the other as heretical.  The emperor would send his bodyguard to Alexandria in the hope of finding a solution; the bodyguard was met by 30,000 men, led by ten bishops.

With each new emperor, the tide would change to one side or the other.  The details are almost overwhelming – and I have the book!  Suffice it to say, by the year 490 positions in the two camps had become hardened. 

We come to the Blues and Greens, described by Samuel as circus parties.  These were factions in Constantinople centered around chariot races and the like, but with broader communal ties.  The Blues were pro-Chalcedonian; the Greens in sympathy with the non-Chalcedonians.  The city, let alone the empire, was still divided – and it is now the year 518.

With the support of the Blues, Justin I was raised to the throne.  He adopted cruel measures against the non-Chalcedonians.  However, he spared Egypt from these measures, as it was the granary of the capital!  Elsewhere, fifty-four bishops had to go into exile. 

Justin died in 527, and Justinian would replace him as emperor.  Justinian, wanting to unite the empire, hoped that subtle language could be used to get both sides to agree to Chalcedon.  This didn’t work.  Further, he desired the support of the pope, as the Ostrogoths were waging war in his empire in southern Italy and he desired the pope’s support.  We are now approaching 80 years after the council, and there is still no agreement.

Strangely not covered by Samuel is what we know as the Nika riots.  This occurred in 532, and again involved the aforementioned Blues and Greens.  Actions taken by Justinian against both were seen as betrayal by the Blues and oppression by the Greens.

Chariot races were called, an attempt by Justinian to bring the community together.  Instead, there was anger all around.  Justinian could watch the races from his palace, and he could hear the insults aimed at him from all corners.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Despair… and a Way Forward

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."

-          Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas


The world where freedom of religion, let alone freedom of speech, is now regarded by some (many?) as a problem for a free society rather than a basic foundation of the same is indeed a strange new world.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

Freedoms once considered self-evident – religion and speech – now must be destroyed, apparently, to save them.  Yes, you say, regarding speech – we heard just this said on capitol hill by the former Twitter execs.  They had to destroy free speech to save it.

But no one is destroying religion to save it, you say – they don’t want to save it, only destroy it.  This, however, is incorrect, as there will always be religion.  Just not the one you have grown to cherish.  They must destroy your religion in order to save theirs.  And their religion is the religion that Trueman has described in his book.

In this new religion, your traditional rights must end where my expressive individualism begins.  Practically defining expressive individualism in the most succinct manner, Justice Anthony Kennedy would write, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992):

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Individuals have the right to define for themselves their identity…and more.  In this single sentence, the road to the end of traditional freedoms was made clear.  If each has the right – the right at the heart of liberty – to create their own…everything (even the concept of the universe?), then any encroachment on their self-generated definitions is to be considered a violation of their rights.  They have property rights in whatever they feel about themselves to be true; this is expressive individualism.

Tolerance was never going to be enough; to tolerate someone is to disapprove of them but allow their continued existence.  Recognition, in the old-fashioned sense, was never going to be enough; it now must mean to affirmation.  Equality was never going to be enough; superiority and dominance is the objective. 

Turning these concepts on their head was always the objective.  This can be seen in Herbert Marcuse, and his essay Repressive Tolerance:

This essay examines the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial society. The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.

How to achieve this end?

…it must begin with stopping the words and images which feed this consciousness. To be sure, this is censorship, even pre-censorship, but openly directed against the more or less hidden censorship that permeates the free media.

It always had to result in a loss of freedom of speech, and, therefore, inherently, a loss of freedom of religion. 

Returning to Trueman.  If we are, as Justice Kennedy wrote, free to create our own reality about ourselves and even the universe, then anything that stands in the way – whether thought, word, or deed – is a violation of rights.  Pronouns and wedding cakes are legitimate cause for confrontation, as those who do not use my preferred pronouns or bake a cake for my alphabet soup wedding are violating my property rights in my imagined self. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

Affirming the Alphabet Soup

Now I know my “ABCs”

Next time won’t you sing with me?


The letters LGBTQ+ loom large in the cultural and political imagination of our day.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

Sixty years ago, homosexuality was still illegal in many Western countries.  Ten years ago, Barack Obama would not unequivocally support gay marriage.  Yet today, it is illegal to talk to someone about the possibility that they may not actually be a man trapped in a woman’s body, or counsel a minor away from adding or subtracting body parts.

Trueman’s story until now is the story of how we came to this point.  So, what of today?

The first thing to note about the LGBTQ+ is that its different constituent members are actually divided over the very thing upon which an outsider might assume they are agreed: the nature and status of sex.

Even in the early years, lesbian women and gay men weren’t well aligned – one of the two enjoying male privilege, after all; the lesbian woman still having to act the woman part in a workplace context, for example.  The AIDS event helped to change this.  Now gay men, like lesbian women, were also discriminated against, in a manner of speaking.  There came a shared sense of victimhood.

However, they each retained the notion that there was no difference between sex and gender.  And they each were opposed to the idea of a heteronormative society.  The first would eventually crumble; the second opened the door for the rest of the alphabet soup.

Sex is biologically determined; gender, however, is a role taken on by an actor.  Simone de Beauvoir would write, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.”  Judith Butler offered that gender is a performance, a set of behaviors demanded by society from those with certain biological characteristics.

Adding the T is rather incoherent as the L, G, and B all assume the sex binary to be grounded in biology.  They just happen to have attractions that don’t conform to the traditional.  The Q, of course, extends this further – offering a home for those whose subjective desires are ever-changing and fluid.

Trueman offers the testimony of a lesbian whose partner decided to transition.  A bit confusing, no?  not to worry.  After a time of confusion, the lesbian decided she could love the new as she did the old.

But the confusion could never go away, could it?  After all, she still feels herself a lesbian.  But at the same time, she affirms her partner’s maleness.  Does she now deny her place in the alphabet soup?  Andrew Sullivan, a gay man, is not so charitable, or confused, when he wrote in 2019:

“It is not transphobic for a gay man not to be attracted to a trans man.  It is close to definitional.”

There is the story of the campground for gay men; biological females are not welcome, whatever their alphabetical persuasion.  Boy, the campground owner got an earful for this view. 

Then there is the well-known conflict between with trans women and what we used to call just … women.  Trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs.  Feminists who have the nerve to complain that trans women are just men trying to exert their male privilege by taking advantage of the gains made in the fight for women’s rights. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Dust Doesn’t Settle

The council of Chalcedon was adjourned after its final session on 1 November 451.  The emperor and empress were indeed gratified that at last in their day the Church was properly unified…

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

…and the leaders of the council were also pleased that its decisions were unanimously accepted by the participants.

Almost, but not quite.  There were complaints that force was used to secure signatures.  Further, several Egyptian bishops never signed the Tome and the Chalcedonian definition of the Faith. 

The emperor ratified the decisions of the council, investing these with legal status in the empire.  Anyone who disputed the decisions of the council would be punished in accordance with his position and rank: a government official would lose his status; a private citizen would be expelled from the city; a member of clergy would lose his rank and suffer other penalties.  Critics were deemed heretic.

The emperor wrote that the council did nothing more than ratify the creed of Nicea as expounded in the councils of 381 and 431.  He would continue:

The council ‘made absolutely no innovation about the apostolic faith, but in all respects … followed the teaching of Athanasius and Theophilus and Cyril.’

It was deemed that Eutyches and Dioscorus were teaching the ideas of Apollinarius, and any followers of these shall not have the right to execute a will or inherit in accord with the provisions of a will; whatever is left to them will be forfeit.  They shall not ordain bishops or priests.  Their churches will be confiscated and they shall have no assemblies or meetings.  If they meet in a house with the consent of the owner, the house will be confiscated.

They shall not write anything against the council; if they do, they shall be exiled perpetually, and their books shall be destroyed.

In case it is thought that it was just a few Egyptian bishops who were on the outs, even pope Leo refused to accept the council for a time.  His disagreement was specifically concerning the see of Constantinople (recalling the desire of the emperor to make Constantinople equal to Rome and the most powerful see in the east). 

Ultimately, the threat posed by the non-Chalcedonian bishops drove Leo to accept the doctrinal decrees of the council.  It isn’t completely clear from Samuel’s text, but it appears this acceptance excluded any reference to the issue of Constantinople.

With Rome and Constantinople now united, the lines were clearly drawn.  It wasn’t only bishops in Egypt that were opposed.  However, the weight in this disagreement was clearly in favor of the emperor and the pope.  Samuel describes the opposition in four stages, beginning in 451 and running through the seventh century and the time of Muslim conquests of Byzantine lands. 

The first stage, running from 451 to 475 was a period where the non-Chalcedonians, with no imperial backing, were suppressed and reduced to the status of negligible sects in some inaccessible corners of the empire.  The second stage, running through 518, gave the non-Chalcedonian movement time to strengthen itself.

The third stage ran from 518 to 536.  While emperor Justin I brought back an era of persecution against the opponents of the council, his nephew and successor Justinian saw need to try and work out the disagreements by negotiation.  His efforts failed, and further efforts also did not succeed.  And this marks the fourth stage, running until the Arab Muslims began their conquests.

The initial opposition, or the first stage.  Of this time, A. A. Vasilev would write:

Friday, February 3, 2023

Plastic People, Liquid World

Plastic people

Oh baby, now

You're such a drag

-          Plastic People, Frank Zappa. 1967


Think about how you can turn your activity into something liquid. Liquids flow, they fill all available spaces, they adapt to the shapes of the environment.

-          We're Going To Be Living In A Liquid World, Enrique Dans


For our culture is one marked by plastic people who believe they can make and remake themselves at will; and by a liquid world in which, to borrow a phrase from Karl Marx, all that is solid seems continually to melt into air.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

Trueman’s story thus far: the major contours of the modern self include: the emphasis of the authority of our inner feelings; the centrality of sexual desire in this; the personal is political; various cultural and technological factors have served to promote all of the above.

Some general concepts that will better provide a framework for understanding:

The first is the nature of personhood; the second is the politics of recognition; and the third is the power of imagined communities.

These will help us better understand the distinctive nature of the culture in which we now find ourselves – ranging from a culture of identity politics and the rights of the diverse alphabet gender soup to the growing impatience toward the niceties of the freedoms of religion and speech.

What is a person: the chemicals constituting my body and the genetic code that provides my nature make clear what I am.  But they are not who I am.  To be a person is to be something more, someone in a particular place and time.  It is to consider my life and the people, places, actions and events that have shaped my sense of identity. 

We all like to assume that our identity is a monologue.  After all, we feel intuitively free.  Our lives are full of decisions we have made.

Not so fast.  Yes, we are intentional creatures.  But we also act in dialogue with our surroundings.  To be born in France in the eighteenth century as opposed to England today, or China a thousand years ago.  In each case, vastly different “persons,” shaped by the story in which they live. 

Our intentional decisions are made in societies that provide the means by which our actions have meaning.  How often do our intentional decisions result in our conforming to the society around us?  Even the most radical among us all show up at Woodstock doing the same things, wearing the same clothes (or not), listening to the same music.  We wish to be free; we also wish to belong.

The teenager who wants to express her freedom does so by wearing the uniform of the group to which she wishes to belong.

Which brings us to the politics of recognition: by recognition, Trueman means the recognition given to us in the act of belonging to a community by having our identity as part of the community recognized.

Societies as a whole have frameworks for recognition.  We might call this their ethical structure: the set of cultural standards and expectations to which individuals need to conform in order to be considered full members of a particular society or community.

Refusal to conform to such norms leads to a refusal of full membership in the society.  Jonathan Pageau has commented on this notion when examining a talk given by Tim Cook of Apple.  Cook is describing the system of today – the one being examined by Trueman.  But where Trueman sees vice and harm, Cook sees virtue and glory.