Mencken Could Fix Google

Conor Friedersdorf rightly faults the press for lacking perspective on the memo that resulted in a Google veep’s firing:

To shorthand his position as “anti-diversity” before the fact is still misleading.

Journalists grasp this nuance on lots of other issues.

Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of more jobs for working-class Americans. In service of that end, he has proposed canceling free-trade agreements, building a wall to keep out immigrants, and eliminating lots of environmental regulations. Critics who avow that they favor more jobs for the working class, but oppose achieving more jobs through those specific means, are not described as “anti-job,” especially when they suggest specific alternatives for job-creation. Even if their alternatives would result in fewer jobs than the Trump administration’s plans, that still wouldn’t make a writeup of their proposal “an anti-job memo.”

To object to a means of achieving x is not to be anti-x.

The failure to apply that same logic to the author of the memo is straightforwardly frustrating for those who agree with many of the views that the memo expressed. And it should also frustrate those who disagree with the author but care about social justice.

Every prominent instance of journalism that proceeds with less than normal rigor when the subject touches on social justice feeds a growing national impulse to dismiss everything published about these subjects—even important, rigorous, accurate articles. Large swathes of the public now believe the mainstream media is more concerned with stigmatizing wrong-think and being politically correct than being accurate. The political fallout from this shift has been ruinous to lots of social-justice causes—causes that would thrive in an environment in which the public accepted the facts.

The thing is, if you accept that injustice is basic to human existence in a fallen state, the pursuit of social justice is not a barrier to accurate perceptions of the world. Instead of being surprised or that Rick’s cabaret sponsors gambling in the back room,

we simply put the thought of it out of our minds, just as a wise man puts away the thought that alcohol is probably bad for his liver, or that his wife is a shade too fat. Instead of mulling over it and suffering from it, we seek contentment by pursuing the delights that are so strangely mixed with the horrors – by seeking out the soft spots and endeavoring to avoid the hard spots. Such is the intelligent habit of practical and sinful men. . . .

After all, the world is not our handiwork, and we are not responsible for what goes on in it, save within very narrow limits. Going outside them with our protests and advice tends to become contumacy to the celestial hierarchy. Do the poor suffer in the midst of plenty? Then let us thank God politely that we are not that poor. Are rogues in offices? Well, go call a policeman, thus setting rogue upon rogue. Are taxes onerous, wasteful, unjust? Then let us dodge as large a part of them as we can. Are whole regiments and army corps of our fellow creatures doomed to hell? Then let them complain to the archangels, and, if the archangels are too busy to hear them, to the nearest archbishop.

Unluckily for the man of tender mind, he is quite incapable of any such easy dismissal of the great plagues and conundrums of existence. . . . whenever he observes anything in the world that might conceivably be improved, he is commanded by God to make every effort to improve it. In brief, he is a public-spirited man, and the ideal citizen of democratic states. But Nature, it must be obvious, is opposed to democracy – and whoso goes counter to nature must expect to pay the penalty. (The Forward-Looker, ch 11 of Prejudices, Third Series, 1922)


What's Good for the Goose. . .

If you’re tempted to think Protestantism is bankrupt (inspired by Dwight Longenecker):

1. Remember History – Every Catholic Protestant should read some church history. An excellent, readable summary is Eamon Duffy’s Saints and Sinners which is a history of the papacy. The history of the church reads like the Old Testament. In other words, it is full of saints and sinners, triumphs and tragedies, horror and holiness, weakness and wickedness, strength and sanctity. It’s all there, and that’s why it is authentic and human and divine and real. The church has always been afflicted with persecution from without and corruption from within. That’s because it’s made up of human beings like you and me who are a work in progress. Take a deep breath. It’s not much different now than it always has been. That’s why we had a Reformation.

2. Remember that Catholic means “Universal” – The Catholic Church Protestantism is not a sect. It is not a nationalistic church or an ethnic church. It is not dependent on a particular diocese that has ties to a particular empire. It is not a single minded, mono vision institution. It’s universal. It transcends time. It transcends particular cultures. It transcends particular cultural obsessions. It takes the big view and the wide perspective. This means it includes people who are not like you. They may disagree with you completely. They may be wrong….very wrong, and guess what? You might just be wrong about some stuff too. Get over it.

3. Remember that we’re family – Those people you disagree with? They’re family. You are convinced that the Bible and the magisterium confessions support your views. Guess what, they think the Bible and the magisterium confessions support their views. You think they’re wrong? They think you’re wrong. However, they’re still your brothers and sisters. Brothers and sister fight sometimes. That’s okay, in fact it’s healthy. The Church Protestantism is not some sort of religious Ozzie and Harriet where everything is hunky dory all the time. So you disagree and fight? Big deal. Just make sure you kiss and make up before you turn off the lights. Pray for unity — spiritual not institutional.

4. Don’t Forget the Church’s Teachings – Mother Church is there to teach us. Her teaching corrects us and directs us. The church’s teachings are the bedrock on which our views are founded are summaries of Scripture, the bedrock on which are views are founded. None of us should be Be careful about spouting our own opinions. We should simply put forward the Catholic Christian faith. However–we should also remember that the same teaching that we espouse is viewed from a different perspective by different Catholics Christians. Depending on their personality type, their education and their background they will emphasize different aspects of the church’s their communion’s teachings. They may stress family life, sexual morality and the anti abortion cause. You may stress peace and justice issues, radical discipleship and the preferential option for the poor. That’s okay. Learn to value the other perspective. That’s unfortunate. Learn to understand the spirituality of the church.

5. Allow People to Mess Up – Did a bishop or priest pastor or assembly make a call that displeases you? Take a deep breath. You don’t have to play Savonarola. Maybe he made a mistake and maybe you don’t know how complicated his decision making process was. It’s easy to be an armchair bishop, but if you’re not a priest or bishop you have not a clue how difficult the job is. You don’t have any idea the complexities of relationships, the real life dilemmas, the pastoral decisions and impossible situations that have to be dealt with. Instead of yelling about this priest’s apostasy or that bishop’s “inflexibility” this priest being “too rigid” or that bishop being too lax, why not cut them a break? These guys have a tough job. Why not back off and pray for them a bit more? But always be on the look out for liberalism. History shows that churches often say one thing and mean another.

6. Trust God – God’s in charge. Don’t you have faith? Why all the unhappiness about the church? Could it be that the unhappiness is in you and you’re projecting it outward and blaming others? Why not pray more and realize that God is still in charge. Don’t you see how he works in the world through our human weakness? Surely that’s the whole message of salvation history. God is working his purpose out not through everything being perfect all the time, but through our tragedies and travesties, through our failures and foibles, through our sin and sorrow. This is the beauty of the faith: that he turns the cross of Christ–the worst thing that could happen into the best thing that could happen. He’s doing the same thing with this messy institution we call the church Protestantism. In his mysterious divine providence he’s using the church to accomplish his way in the world. Things will be well. All things will be well. Trust God.

7. Remember John 3:16-17 – At heart the basic message is the only message: “God so love the world that he gave his only Son so that all who believe in him shall have everlasting life. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” Everything else springs from that message, and if we get too caught up in all the other stuff–even if the cause is good and righteous and our views are true and beautiful and good the variety of churches and denominations, but we forget this main message, then everything else we say and do will be skewed, our faith will be off track and our message will be meaningless.

8. Pray More – I mean really pray. Pray that God will bless the means of grace and that pastors will be faithful to God’s word. Not only going through the actions and doing all the right devotions. I mean a heart rending, soul searching, mind bending, life changing, no holds barred, give it all you’ve got kind of prayer. Pray to know Jesus Christ and the power of his sufferings. Pray that you might be totally and utterly his. Pray that you might be made a saint before it is too late. Realize that your souls salvation and your walk with God and your love for Christ and your love for others is the one main thing. Remember that neither the gates of hell nor the acids of modernity will overcome God’s redemptive plan. Focus on that and you’ll find that all those other things you are so worried about fall into line. It’s not that they are not important, its just that they are not the most important.

9. Remember to Take a Deep Breath and Be Thankful – Do you really have to get so worked up about the problems you can do nothing about? Love God. Love your family. Love your friends. Repent of your sins. Worship God. Be happy for once. Yes the world’s in a terrible state. It always has been. Yes, we’re on the brink of disaster. The Titanic has always been about to sink. Yes, the church Protestantism is clattering along like an old jalopy. It has been so from the beginning. Yes, there are failures, disasters, traitors and cowards in the church. Are you sure you’re not one of them? If so, smile and be wrong. There is more grace is accepting that you are wrong than in insisting that you are right. Be thankful and do something beautiful, kind and good. Instead of complaining that the world is a terrible place try in your small way to make it a better place.

10. Be a You Are A Saint – The only great tragedy is not to be a saint. Read the lives of the saints and learn from them. Do not just read about them, but try to emulate them. Take a great risk of faith. Go on the adventure. Work with the poor, give sacrificially and live sacrificially. Life is short and time is wasting. Don’t waste too much of it being miserable and blaming others. Get with God and Go with God and be one of his joyful warriors. Be a saint and everything else will suddenly make sense. Even though [your] conscience accuse [you], that [you] have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and [are] still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of [yours], but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to [you], the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if [you] never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if [you] had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for [you]; inasmuch as [you] embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

Makes me wonder if Father Longenecker would have left the Protestant fold if he had been so charitable with Protestant failings or understood the saving work of Christ.

Religious Liberty Does Not Necessarily Include Feeling Affirmed and Empowered

Religious liberty is much in the news thanks to President Obama’s national health care program and its requirements for funding abortion and contraceptive service. (For what it’s worth, the bigger story here has less to do with religious liberty or freedom of conscience and health insurance than it does with who died and gave Health and Human Services powers no king could have imagined.) Outside THE beltway, religious liberty is also a topic for heated debate at Vanderbilt University. There officials have put a number of religious student groups in a provisional status thanks to their policies on student leaders. Christian groups, I suppose though cannot gather from one of the concerned websites, bar homosexuals from assuming positions of leadership. They may also exclude active unmarried heterosexuals. But whatever their policies, Vanderbilt apparently wants all organizations open to all students. If the student organizations do not comply, they may forego their lines of funding and places on campus.

Over at National Review, David French takes umbrage at what he sees as Vanderbilt’s attempt to intimidate Christian groups:

The reality, of course, is that Vanderbilt is trying to force the orthodox Christian viewpoint off campus. The “nondiscrimination” rhetoric is mere subterfuge. How can we know this? Because even as it works mightily to make sure that atheists can run Christian organizations, it is working just as mightily to protect the place and prerogatives of Vanderbilt’s powerful fraternities and sororities — organizations that explicitly discriminate, have never been open to “all comers,” and cause more real heartache each semester for rejected students than any religious organization has ever inflicted in its entire history on campus. Vanderbilt’s embattled religious organizations welcome all students with open arms; Vanderbilt’s fraternities and sororities routinely reject their fellow students based on little more than appearance, family heritage, or personality quirks.

Hard as it may be to understand why Vanderbilt would fail to see the value of the diversity of groups — instead of making them potentially all the same with similar sets of members — confessional Protestants may also sympathize with parts of the university’s actions. As bad as blaming the victim is, can Christians at Vanderbilt really not imagine that all the social conservatism going on in the nation’s politics will barely leave a ripple in the lives of believers outside the political fray? After all, if all of life is religious as evangelicals claim, then is a student Christian group on campus simply about devotion and worship or does it not also have political implications? I suppose that Wheaton College refuses to recognize pro-choice student associations. Is Vanderbilt any more biased, intolerant, or tyrannical if they identify conservative Christian student groups with Rick Santorum and the Republican base?

Mind you, the officials at Vanderbilt could be more charitable and patient as liberals are supposed to be. They could seek a compromise with the student groups — only prayer and Bible reading, not speakers for political topics. But given their ideas about equal rights and tolerance, Vanderbilt’s policy should not be a surprise, especially in a climate of a politicized faith.

Another reason for being cautious about the situation is that so far — PTL — Christians in the United States have all the freedom they need to worship God. They likely enjoy more freedom than Americans did at the time of the Constitution’s ratification (since some states still had established churches). And compared to the rest of the world, Americans are as rich in religious freedom as they are in cash, vacations, and reality shows. (In fact, it looks a tad indecent for Christians to complain about their rights in the U.S. when Christians throughout the Middle East are truly persecuted for the faith.) The lesson for Vanderbilt’s students may be that the city of Nashville has many fine churches. If students want to worship God, they have lots of options and should use them. A confessionalist might add that worshiping God while part of a congregation overseen by officers and in fellowship with a wider communion is far better than using a parachurch group as an ecclesiastical substitute.

In other words, as much as I don’t care for what Vanderbilt appears to be doing to the principles of diversity, I’m loathe to beat up on the university to defend parachurch organizations when plenty of congregations in Nashville would be glad to see the university’s students gather with them for worship.

(Thanks to our correspondent inside THE beltway.)