He’s No Saint: It’s Time to Talk About the Real Nicholas of Myra

Note: We are issuing this statement anonymously because in the current political climate it is important to protect the safety of dissenters and those whose views may be challenging to the powerful Santa Claus Lobby.

Earlier this week we celebrated the feast day of Saint Nicholas of Myra. In the popular imagination, Saint Nick is a warm, cheerful, and giving man. Yet the real Nicholas could not have been more dissimilar and his canonization as a saint is deeply problematic. The so-called “saint” Nicholas was a violent, judgmental, and divisive man unworthy of the title Christian.

We, the writers at Mere Orthodoxy, are calling upon all Christian leaders to denounce Nicholas and for the Vatican to strip him of his status as a saint. Upon the briefest examination of Nicholas’ legacy, one finds a seemingly endless pit of aggression, hate speech, dogwhistling, and exploitative tendencies. For brevity’s sake, we will limit ourselves to six theses on why Nicholas is unfit to be held up as a saint in the church. Continue reading

A Note on Publishing at Mere O

Hey all, short update: I’m going to post three essays over the first three days of this week—the first will go live a few minutes after this post. After the last one goes live on Wednesday, I will be going silent on Mere O for the rest of the year.

We will still publish through December 31 and actually have some really fantastic work lined up, much of which will be edited and published by some generous friends of the site who have agreed to help edit and publish work while I am away. Continue reading

32 Theses (and several more words) on Podcasting

Alan Jacobs has not been shy about his dislike of podcasts—but recently posted an apology, along with a comment and a request. The comment:

I like podcasts that are professionally edited, scripted, festooned with appropriate music, crafted into some kind of coherent presentation. Podcasts like that seem respectful to the listener, wanting to engage my attention and reward it.

And the request:

Does anyone know of similarly well-crafted, artful podcasts made by conservatives or Christians? I have not yet found a single one. Podcasts by conservatives and Christians tend to be either bare-bones — two dudes talking, or one dude talking with maybe a brief musical intro and outro — or schmaltzily over-produced. (Just Christians in that second category.) Anyone know of any exceptions to this judgment? I suspect that there’s an unbridgeable gulf of style here, but I’d like to be proved wrong.

As a Christian in the world of podcasting—I have both a “two dudes talking” show (Winning Slowly) and also a “one dude talking with maybe a brief musical intro and outro” show (New Rustacean)—I found much to agree with, but also much to clarify and a few things to disagree with.

To be clear, this isn’t a plea for you to listen to either of those shows. Rather, it is an explanation of what podcasting entails and why the kinds of things Jacobs is looking for are rare. (That being said: we did time this piece to coincide with the start of Winning Slowly Season 5, which kicked off today with an introduction to our take on the ever-challenging problem of systemic pressures and individual agency, and I think it would be right up the alley of many Mere O readers.)

1. Theses on Podcasting

First, a set of theses on podcasting as a medium. Some of these are obvious; none are intended to be tendentious. Some of them warrant further explanation—for which, see below.

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Reviewing Nancy Isenberg’s “White Trash”

This guest review is by Dr. Miles Smith.

In 2014 The King’s College professor Anthony Bradley wrote an article on the plight of poor whites for World Magazine. That Bradley, an African American, first raised the issue seems strange, but Bradley did not downplay or ignore the racial differences between poor whites and African Americans. His argument instead transcended race, pointing out the shared socioeconomic hardships experienced by poor rural whites and blacks in modern American society. More importantly, Bradley noticed, suburban and urban Evangelicals typically joined the broader culture in shaming working class rural whites for their poverty and their culture. Bradley noted that “urban, justice-loving evangelicals easily shame white, suburban, conservative evangelicals for their racially homogenized lives, both communities seem to share a disdain for lower-class white people.”

Culturally pejorative terms for working class rural whites, “‘Rednecks,’ ‘crackers,’ “hoosiers,’ and ‘white trash’ are all derogatory terms used to describe a population of lower-class whites who have suffered centuries of injustice and social marginalization in America, especially from educated Christians.” That these terms remain acceptable in respectable society speaks to the wholesale marginalization of rural working class whites. Continue reading

Misreading Tolkien and Misreading Scripture: Responding to O’Keefe and Reno

I am reading John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno’s Sanctified Vision for the independent study on hermeneutics and theological method I am doing this summer. I have found the book fairly helpful overall, and think the authors are right to commend the church Fathers as models for Biblical interpretation in many ways. The authors do good (albeit somewhat tendentious) work arguing for whole-Bible/“intensive reading” strategies and the validity of typology as part of theological method. When they come to allegory, though, their argument almost immediately goes off the rails with a deeply misguided interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. I offer a critique in two (brief) parts:

 

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Soma and the Silencing of Evangelicalism After Trump

In his novel Silence Japanese writer Shusaku Endo tells the story of two Portuguese missionaries in 17th century Japan. After initial pioneering work by Francis Xavier in the 16th century, a small native Japanese church had begun to flourish in the mid-to-late 16th century, possibly growing as large as 100,000 people. Then the government took a hard anti-Christian turn, closed the island to foreigners, and began a harsh regime of persecution against the Japanese Christians.

At the center of this persecution were small icons called fumi-e, pictured above. During the torture, the government officials told the Christians that all they needed to do to end it is agree to trample on the fumi-e, which was understood to be a way of renouncing the faith. To make sure it took, it was common practice in much of Japan to require former Christians to step on a fumi-e once a year. (Silence spoilers below the jump.) Continue reading

Reviewing Jonathan Leeman’s “Political Church” Pt 1

Other Posts in the Series:

A few months ago I asked my friend Joseph Minich if he’d be kind enough to review Jonathan Leeman’s Political Church for us. He said he would. And then wrote 9000 words about it. We’re going to run his review in its entirety, but we’re doing it over two days. Today’s first part is simply going to be a summary of Leeman’s argument. On Wednesday, Minich will turn to making a critical assessment of Leeman’s work.

Before handing things off to Joe, I wanted to take one paragraph to explain why we’re running a review of such length. The answer is simple: I expect ecclesiology to be one of the defining debates of our generation in the western church.

We’re at something of a turning point in the west. The old mainline denominations are failing. In one sense we all ought to say “good riddance” as nearly all of them have long since become apostate. In another sense, however, their loss is still devastating. These institutions are the oldest Protestant institutions in North America and they are collapsing before our eyes. Rome appears headed a similar route for the most part, although I expect there will be a few regions that remain more orthodox, thanks largely to the influence of orthodox bishops. (This isn’t intended as a slur against Rome; rather it’s simply an assessment of the fact that Francis appears to be pushing the church in a more episcopalian direction not only theologically, but in terms of its polity.)

What we are left with is evangelicalism—and evangelicalism is comprised chiefly of relatively new institutions that do not know their tradition’s history, do not have discernible mechanisms for learning their history, and do not have solid answers for questions of ordinary parish ministry, church life, and church governance. If the American church has a future, it will be because God is faithful to us and aids us in finding solid answers to the vexing problems of church life and governance.

Therefore, taking the time to think about these questions and to address them faithfully is important. So yes, we’re running a 9000 word book review. But we’re doing it because, first, we need to faithfully depict Leeman’s actual argument and, second, we need to interact with it critically. Whatever one might think of Leeman’s book, one must recognize the value of Leeman’s contribution to the evangelical conversation about the church. His book will, I hope, encourage many more  people to reflect on these questions carefully and deeply. I also hope that this review by Joe will help further that work. (NOTE: If it would be helpful to you, I will be uploading a PDF of the review that will be available when we publish the full review on Wednesday. So if you would rather read a print out than read 9,000 words on a backlit screen, we’ll have that for you on Wednesday.) On that note, I’ll pass it on to Joe.

Introduction

Daniel Rodgers has called our era an “age of fracture.” This expression captures the identity crises which exist among all institutions seeking to navigate their way through what is often termed “liquid modernity.” The “evangelical” community is no exception to this identity crisis. The diversity of its many self-professed adherents as well as the speed at which independent influences randomly and variously come together (or apart)  leads many to think that orthodox American evangelicalism is fundamentally ungrounded. Continue reading

On the Quirky Author Bio

If you’ve spent any amount of time online then you have come across a weird genre of online writing that we’re going to call the Quirky Author Bio. You’ll find them at the end of blog posts all over the internet. It goes like this: “So-and-so is a writer from (city, state) whose hobbies include cooking, reading, and poking badgers with spoons. He has a pet porcupine named Mr. Prickles and loves making home-brewed kombucha. His favorite word is ‘onomatopoeia.'” (NOTE: If the subject of said biography is a Christian male, the odds of the bio also including awkward or creepy references to the man’s wife and her physical attractiveness are ~60% with that figure rising to ~85% if the man in question is reformed.)

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