Why Heresy Matters

In an important post titled “The significance, or non-significance, of theological heresy: the Coptic example,” Ortho blogger Bruce Charlton raises a number of important issues. Chief among them, in my view, is his assertion that some theological disputes do more harm than good.

Dr. Charlton points out, for example, that although monophytism (the view that Christ has only one nature, rather than both human and divine natures) was declared a heresy by the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, the (monophysite) Copts have continued in existence since the Fourth Century. In contrast, Charlton asserts that unitarianism, which denies the orthodox Christian understanding of God as three Persons, rapidly led to the collapse of Christianity in New England. This is one possible way of assessing the validity of a religious sect or movement: by its durability.

But the continued existence of a religious tradition or organization over time is not sufficient to define something as “Christian,” unless we are content to say that any phenomenon calling itself Christian really is Christian. Continue reading

Omniscience & Synchronicity

We are all familiar with déjà vu, and with synchronicity, and similar “spooky” experiences, in which some deep, deeply significant connections between apparently quite unrelated things become suddenly apparent to us. The standard explanation of such things is that there is nothing to explain; as pattern recognition systems, we look for and find patterns even where they are not really present. Such experiences then are simply mistakes.

But it won’t do. I say this, not just because such experiences feel as if they are unusually profound insights into reality, in which our apprehension of the truth is better than normal, although that is indeed the case, but because the standard explanation makes no sense.

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I learned something interesting in the process of writing my last post; something I had not expected to encounter when I started writing. The key line: “… even feminism is an operation of patriarchy.”

Apart from radical intervention in the human genome, there is no getting around the plain fact that men are physically more powerful than women – that, i.e., men just are more powerful than women, simpliciter. Because they are capable of deploying more lethal violence per moral agent, men have more power – in the real world, and no matter what our public discourse or laws, or our civil cult, have to say about it. It follows that women have power at all only to the extent that men grant it to them. Women do indeed have power, but only because, in their heart of hearts, men want them to have it. When you boil it down that’s just another way of saying that men love women, want women to be part of their lives as women. They don’t want mannish women, don’t want faux men – who needs ersatz men when the supply of real men is so plentiful? Men want from women, and love in women, what they cannot provide to each other. And it is to women who can provide womanliness that men will grant power – not because they think that they ought to, but because such women move their very guts.

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Sex & Death; or, Patriarchy & Sacrifice

The faithfulness of fathers is the most important factor in the faithfulness of their adult children. This according to a 1994 Swiss study published in 2000,[1] and discussed at Touchstone in 2003, which I learned about thanks to a comment a few weeks ago at Thinking Housewife from a frequent commenter over there (and sometimes here at the Orthosphere), Jesse Powell.

From Robbie Low’s article in Touchstone, the essential amazing and counterintuitive fact:

If both father and mother attend [church] regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

Why are kids swayed most by their fathers’ religious convictions and practices? Why are men the priests of their families, as well as the kings?

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Lead us not into Moral Hazard

When the penalty for the marginal bit of immoral behavior is low, it increases the hazard of immorality – i.e., the likelihood that it will occur. In the wilderness, with only a knife and your wits to keep you, intense and relentless virtue is the only option. The constraints on your behavior are inescapably, painfully apparent. When you are wealthy, the hedonic penalty of imprudence is lessened. This is why prosperity – the situation that obtains when we control enough wealth that the marginal imprudence is apparently not at all threatening to our basic welfare – can be the seedbed of moral disaster.

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You’re doing it wrong: Cardinal Cheesehead edition

From Dr. Charlton:

‘People’ do not want ‘freedom.’

They really don’t.

Well, of course they selfishly want freedom for themselves to do what themselves want to do – and if other people don’t like what they want to do and would want to try to stop them doing it, then they will say they want freedom.

But hardly anybody really wants freedom as a principle: instead, they want people to do what they want people to do: that is what they want, not freedom.


People do not get roused up about the crushing of freedom, and it is a waste of time trying to get people roused up about, freedom issues.

When the state suppresses freedom in an arbitrary fashion, the only thing people want to know is whether it was in a good cause.


What is wrong when Leftists crush freedom, as is happening now, is not that they are crushing freedom but that they are driven by the inversion of good.

The essential problem is that Leftists are using the power of the media and the state to prevent good and impose evil.  They should be doing the opposite.


Resisting evil by trying to reduce the power of the state, in order to defend the abstract entity called freedom, is incoherent, crazy and futile.


So, forget about freedom; (almost) nobody wants freedom.

Speak out and fight for a system that encourages what you believe to be true, beautiful and virtuous – and discourages lies, ugliness and vice; not a system that merely ‘allows’ good or bad things to happen, impartially.

Someone alert Cardinal Dolan before he gets any more bright ideas.

Immutability or Omniscience?

Christians have for centuries argued over whether the God of the (Greek) Philosophers is coterminous with the God of the Bible, and this argument recently spilled into the comment threads of two posts here at the Orthosphere. There we were asked whether we could provide an account of how the classical Greek – and Orthodox Catholic – doctrine of Divine simplicity could be reconciled with the Biblical testimony that God loves us and hates sin, can change his mind in response to prayer or argument (e.g., the arguments of Abraham with YHWH over the fate of Sodom), and so forth. [We were also asked to provide an account of how simplicity could be reconciled with the Orthodox Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. A worthy project, but one that will take up a whole post of its own.]

The nub of the issue is that the classical doctrine of God’s simplicity, which follows from his eternality, entails his immutability; for if God could change, then there would be parts of his life that were different than others, which would make him complex – composed of different moments of experience. But if God cannot experience anything, then it is hard to see how we can really understand him as knowing anything about what his creatures have done, let alone caring about them or their doings. And if God has no knowledge of the free contingent acts of creatures, he can hardly be called omniscient. Both the Bible and classical philosophical theism say that God never changes; and both say he knows everything perfectly. Can these two notions be reconciled?

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“Active participation” and the debasement of Catholic liturgical music

At Mass this weekend, something went dreadfully wrong. After the consecration, the music minister announced: “Please join us for our communion hymn, number something-something-something in your music issue, ‘Companions on the Journey.'” The title alone alarmed me, and I felt a growing tightness in my colon. It sounded… gross. Sure enough, she began to play a jazzy and upbeat tune on the piano. Then the guitarist started happily strumming along, a cheesy grin on his face. A middle-aged woman with tight brown curls stepped up to the mic, slightly hunched over, leg bouncing and foot tapping; then, it happened:

The tambourine came out.

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Onward, Christian Soldiers

Just War Theory redux:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

– Matthew 22:37-40

How are we to love ourselves, and, ergo, our neighbours?

Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.  

– Matthew 18:8-9

Yes sir, the Lord is a man of war (Exodus 15:3). That’s why they call it the Church Militant. Clear?

But, don’t get cocky, kid. NB, if you don’t start with loving yourself properly first, it’s cheating.

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

– Matthew 7:5