An Impatience with Exegesis

Wes Hill:

What this letter shows is that this thoroughly Christianized young Baptist person had no idea what the biblical case against same-sex marriage is. It’s not that they had heard it rehearsed ad nauseam and needed to move on to encounter real gay people’s personal stories. Rather, it’s that they had been given no biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality to begin with. They had been given no sense of the coherent, interlocking architecture of why Scripture says what it says and thus were only equipped with a kind of emotivist argument against same-sex marriage—which, of course, collapsed the moment they met a gay person who wasn’t “icky.”

Reading this letter helped clarify some things for me. It reminded me that simply walking through the biblical storyline—

  • pointing out that male and female are created similar (Genesis 2:23) and yet different (2:7 20) and that boththese emphases are made in Genesis;
  • pointing out that Jesus’ teaching about marriage presupposes that it is for procreation and thus depends on sexual difference (male and female) and complementarity (Luke 20:34-36);
  • pointing out that Jesus, when teaching about marriage, doesn’t just emphasize Genesis 2 and the similarity of the spouses (Mark 10:7 quoting Genesis 2:24) but draws in Genesis 1 in order also to emphasize the difference and complementarity of the spouses (Mark 10:6 quoting Genesis 1:27);
  • pointing out that Paul’s rejection of same-sex sexual behavior isn’t based on the fact that that behavior accompanies idolatry but is instead based on the belief that all of humanity is already idolatrous and that same-sex sexual behavior is the inevitable fruit (Romans 1:18, 24ff.);
  • pointing out that the New Testament makes it possible for people to choose celibacy (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:8, 26, 32-35, 38) but still envisions one of the purposes of Christian marriage as procreation (Ephesians 6:1-4 following 5:21-33)

—can seem genuinely new to people, even to well-catechized believers.

Ideological Tribalism and Evangelical Ethics

Anthony Bradley nails it:

I recently had an exchange with a Duke Divinity School student regarding many of things I’ve written at the Acton Institute over the past 12 years. The student said this about me:

When it comes to speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable in our society, there is perhaps no public theological voice more eager than that of Anthony Bradley’s. His body of work is a textbook in blaming the victim and reducing problems to pathology.

Not only had the student actually not read most of the things that I have written but the comment exposes something that Jonathan Haidt explains well that I’ve talked about before: ideological “tribalism.”

Evangelicals generally develop perspectives on justice down tribal ideological and political lines because they normatively do not source the Christian social thought tradition when constructing perspectives on justice. It turns out, that I was simply being critiqued by a card-carrying, bona fide political progressive who is be also Christian. In this light, I was not surprised by the content of the critique. I do not hold the same presuppositions about creation, the implications of the fall, natural law, human dignity, the role of the state, the authority of Scripture and so on, as progressives do so naturally progressives are going to see calls to personal moral virtue and challenges to the patriarchy, soft bigotry, and historic tendency for coercive government to make things worse off for those on margins through the welfare state as “speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable.”

The exchange provides a clear example of how evangelicals, ignorant of the Christian social thought tradition, go about the business of addressing social issues. It goes something like this:

Do read the whole thing, please.

The Meat Prophet of Peru

This is awesome:

The most interesting things being done with meat in South America at this very moment aren’t happening in the beef temples of Buenos Aires. They’re not happening in the open pit asados of Mendoza or Salta or the parrillas of Uruguay or the churrascarías of Brazil. They’re happening in Peru, the country with the lowest meat-eating index in all of Latin America.

Specifically, they’re happening around a large table in a back room at Osso, a butcher shop on the outskirts of Lima, inland across the traffic clogged artery of Avenida Javier Prado and beyond the dusty brown hills in the residential district of La Molina. This is where butcher Renzo Garibaldi is doing things with meat that no one here or anywhere has ever seen or thought to do.

Russia’s Abortion Culture

From The Interpreter:

Despite a dramatic decline in the number of abortions in the Russian Federation since 1991 and claims that it has overcome “the culture of abortion” as the primary means of birth control, nearly one third – some 29.3 percent – of Russian pregnancies still are being aborted.

In the new issue of Demograficheskoye Obozreniye,” Moscow researchers Viktoriya Sakevich and Boris Denisov ask “whether there is a basis for optimism” about abortion trends in Russia and suggest that the situation has improved dramatically since Soviet times but that much remains to be done.

The number of abortions in Russia fell from four million in the last year of Soviet power to 1,064,000 in 2012, the last year for which complete figures are available, the two demographers say. Thus, it appears that “’abortion culture’ as a means of regulating fertility is becoming a thing of the past.”

Declines in this overall number reflect not only more widespread use of contraceptives and other family planning measures, Sakevich and Denisov say, but also the declining number of women in the prime childbearing ages. The researchers note that the number of abortions in Russia is still very high compared to rates elsewhere, with 29.3 percent of pregnancies ending with an abortion.

Spoken Latin–A Modern Remedy?

This piece, by Francis Stead Sellars, at WaPo is worth a read:

There are some basic things to figure out before you agree to join a group of people who all speak a foreign language. Like how to say hello and how to tell them what your name is. A little online research reveals any number of e-phrasebooks to help you navigate those niceties in languages from Arabic to Zapotec.

So, iPhone in hand, you open a door and introduce yourself. “Salve,” you whisper to the first person you see. Emboldened, you speak up: “Nomen mihi est Francisca.” But then, before you can conjugate a deponent verb, a man sitting at a table begins discussing the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. In Latin.

Fluent (that’s from fluere, “to flow”) Latin.

Mellifluous Latin, even. Latin that flows like honey, mel.

“Stupefacta sum,” you mumble.

The State of the Internet is Awful


I began my media career about seven years ago as an unabashed internet enthusiast. As I’ve said before, I never worked in print journalism and had little nostalgia for the world that was entering free fall as I did my first internship at an online publication. By then, the internet had already provided me an outlet for various creative pursuits for years, and I saw nothing but the opportunity to escape some of traditional journalism’s worst constraints, which were related both to the print medium and to the sorts of gatekeepers and ideologies that controlled it. I never read print newspapers or magazines devotedly, so I never experienced unsettling changes in habits the way many people have as they transitioned primarily to digital reading in the past decade. Blogs and startup web publications were always much more to my taste than “old media”; their immediacy, their freedom, and their ability to evolve and adapt quickly always seemed promising and exciting.

Things look a lot different now. The internet won, and despite killing off thousands of jobs in the print industry, it created many more than expected in an ever-multiplying array of new web ventures. But now that it won, it’s increasingly unclear that was a good thing. A lot of people who work in internet media secretly—or in many cases, not-so-secretly—hate it, and some even suspect they are actively making the world a dumber place, as they very well may be. (I was one of them, which is a big part of why I decided to quit.) Good writing and journalism have not gone extinct, but have been reduced to sharing an undifferentiated plane with lots of cynical, unnecessary, mind-numbing, time-wasting “content,” much of which hardly qualifies as writing at all. The New York Timesand ViralNova look exactly the same in your Facebook feed. As a result, journalism that once had a certain amount of aesthetic self-respect, even online, now has little choice but to mimic the shameless pandering of advertising-driven “content.” Where once the internet media landscape was populated with publications that all had unique visual styles, traffic models, and editorial voices, each one has mission-creeped its way into a version of the same thing: everybody has to cover everything, regardless of whether not they can add any value to the story, and has to scream at you to stand out in the avalanche of “content” gushing out of your feeds.

On a related note, Frank Chimero:

Whenever I log in to Twitter, I think, “Where did all my friends go?” Now, my feed is mostly the strangers talking. That’s fine: my friends and I find other ways to keep in touch. Although, I do miss having that bizarre, constant contact a feed gives you. Maybe too intense. Maybe unhealthy. Not sure. Having a Twitter account with a decent number of followers is a high-maintainence relationship. I can’t blame my friends for clamming up. I remember last year catching myself: I was composing a tweet in my head while eating breakfast. I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t finish. Since then, I’ve clammed up, too.

Have you heard of evaporative social cooling? It says the people who provide the most value to a social group or organization eventually burn out and leave, undermining the stability and progress of the group. Most of my internet friends have been on Twitter since 2008, so they probably fall into this group. How much more is there left to say?

We concede that there is some value to Twitter, but the social musing we did early on no longer fits. My feed (full of people I admire) is mostly just a loud, stupid, sad place. Basically: a mirror to the world we made that I don’t want to look into. The common way to refute my complaint is to say that I’m following the wrong people. I think I’m following the right people, I’m just seeing the worst side of them while they’re stuck in an inhospitable environment. It’s exasperating to be stuck in a stream.

The $50B Ghost Town

From The Interpreter:

Staunton, August 21 – Photographer Aleksandr Belensky has documented what many observers feared: despite spending more than 50 billion US dollars on the Sochi Olympics, Vladimir Putin has left Sochi not the vital place he promised but a ghost town where there are almost no tourists and where much of the infrastructure is already decaying.

On his Livejournal page, Belensky has posted more than 30 pictures to back up his description of Sochi six months after the games concluded, a place which he suggests was “simply condemned to become a ghost” now that Putin, Russia and the world have moved on to other things.

Belensky’s pictures tell his story, but he provides brief commentaries for each of them, and they too are instructive. He notes that it isn’t the case that there is no one about. One can sometimes see three or even as many as five people if one looks closely. “But the place is lifeless and isn’t working at even five percent of capacity.”

In Defense of “Work-Life Balance”

Matt Bruenig:

His point is that there isn’t a life bucket and a work bucket. Rather, there is just a life bucket, and part of it is work and part of it is leisure. You see, the “work” is part of your life as well.

But Gurri’s understanding of work here is deeply at odds with the traditions, norms, and conventions among Western societies, the Anglosphere in particular. Under the traditional master-servant common law, servants (think non-managerial employees) are essentially tools of masters (think bosses). The bosses assemble together machines, land, and servants and then orchestrate them to produce. When servants are on the clock (and even off the clock in some cases), it is not their life. They essentially belong to the master as an instrument of the master’s production.

Obviously statutes and some minor common law evolution has obviated this master-servant tradition a bit, but not that much. Think about why employers are responsible for the torts of their employees when the employees carry out the torts in the scope of their employment. This follows straightforwardly from the idea of the employee being merely an instrument of the employer while on the clock. Just as a boss would be liable for harm caused by their machines, they are liable for harms caused by their employees/servants.

The “Right” Kind of Evangelical

From CT:

I thought I was an acceptable kind of evangelical.

I’m not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement.
We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice. (Ed Note: “Authenticity,” is the biggest buzzword there is today.)

Being a Christian made me somewhat weird in my urban, progressive context, but despite some clear differences, I held a lot in common with unbelieving friends. We could disagree about truth, spirituality, and morality, and remain on the best of terms. The failures of the church often made me more uncomfortable than those in the broader culture.

Then, two years ago, the student organization I worked for at Vanderbilt University got kicked off campus for being the wrong kind of Christians.

In May 2011, Vanderbilt’s director of religious life told me that the group I’d helped lead for two years, Graduate Christian Fellowship—a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—was on probation. We had to drop the requirement that student leaders affirm our doctrinal and purpose statement, or we would lose our status as a registered student organization.

I met with him to understand the change. During the previous school year, a Christian fraternity had expelled several students for violating their behavior policy. One student said he was ousted because he is gay. Vanderbilt responded by forbidding any belief standards for those wanting to join or lead any campus group.

When you’re done with this, go read about the Overton Window.

Phillips on Unreality TV

Brian Phillips:

News is inherently viral. It is information that is meant to be spread. The epoch of Upworthy can make it hard to remember this, but the virality of the news predates the Internet — Paul Revere was both America’s first newscaster and its first retweet request.1 What the Internet has done is simply decentralize control of the virus. Walter Cronkite and the midcenturyNew York Times — gray, grave, and removed — have given way to hashtag journalism, Instagram, and most-emailed lists.2 It has shown us things the old news might have kept hidden: Michael Brown’s body isarchived on YouTube. But as has often been noted, the share button has also accelerated our withdrawal from the objective,3 public truths the old news constructed for us. It has emboldened us to view current events from the private castles of our own assumptions. The news increasingly exists to prop up our increasingly consensual realities.

I thought about this over the past week while watching the horror in Ferguson unfold on Twitter and on TV. I had been asked to write a piece about “Weekend Update,” the recurring news-parody sketch from Saturday Night Live, which meant, uncomfortably, that I was spending my days watching the fake-comedy version of the news and my nights watching tear gas flow through the very unfunny reality. Three o’clock meant Tina Fey smirking into the camera, ten meant assault rifles and arrested journalists. My afternoons were satires of the terror of my evenings. The disorientation this caused was of no interest to anyone but me, but it was a singular feeling. It got so that the sight of Kevin Nealon filled me with a vague queasiness about the fall of the Constitution.