Dear Intelligent American,
“May the children of the stock of Abraham,” wrote President Washington in 1790 to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, “who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
But there are some.
The profound promise came with no expiration date. Some 233 years later, are we absolved of the obligation to keep it? If not on George’s behalf, then on our own?
Or maybe Jehovah—witnessing hate running amok on the streets of big cities and the quads of big colleges—His fury mounting, His patience nearing exhaustion, will keep it?
Perish (literally) the thought. Before the weekly purpose of this missive presents itself, a pre-recommendation: During these times of deep concern, do make regular reading of Commentary Magazine and Tablet Magazine a habit.
Ride to the Sound of Excerpts
1. At Plough Quarterly, Charles Cotherman makes the case for rural churches, defiant things in an era that worships efficiency. From the article:
For most rural churches, faithfulness and presence in a place over time is a central aspect of their identities. They have grieved with those who grieved and rejoiced with those who have rejoiced in their communities faithfully for decades. They have looked for ways to live out the goodness of the gospel with a natural sense of the contextualized realities of place.
In spite of this history, the cultural pervasiveness of technique does not spare small-town churches. Pastors, churches, and entire movements can still get caught up looking for quick fixes that tempt them to neglect the places and people God has called them to. Sometimes our ambition drives us on. In other cases, it may be our insecurity. Do we really think this place or this church matters? Do we really believe that we matter to God? Can I trust God to provide for me and my family here? Wouldn’t it simply be better more efficient and more eternally significant to move on to the next place or to consolidate churches so we can reach more people?
Most rural pastors know that these are not hypothetical questions. When I told my admittedly risk-adverse father ten years ago that my wife and I were planning to move back to rural western Pennsylvania from an upwardly mobile university town to plant a church in Oil City, he promptly told me not to do it. I can still remember him saying, “There’s no money there. How will you support your family?” Was Oil City too small and too economically challenged? We had to ask and answer these questions. In the end, God reminded us of the value of small places and his ability to provide. We planted Oil City Vineyard Church in 2016, and God has provided every step of the way.
2. At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty sighs deeply about the fate of upstate New York. From the reflection:
Upstate’s place-names suggest a very different, unique conception of American civilization—at once closer to, prouder of, and more ennobled by its roots in America’s first peoples. Upstate New York still acknowledges our confederate heritage, that is the confederation of Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida, Tuscarora, and Mohawk. And it combines this with a profligate reappropriation of classical Greece and Rome. And so Troy, Utica, Syracuse, Camillus, Cicero, Lysander, and Pompey are part of the Empire State, ringed by those Native names Chautauqua, Genesee, and Niagara.
Here, Utica, which reminds us of the Phoenicians, sits in a county named for the Oneida who broke with the rest of the Iroquois to join the rebels, making friends with George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette. Corinth, which reminds us of Paul preaching to the Romans, sits in the county of Saratoga, the Mohawk term for “the hillside country of the quiet river.” Taken together, upstate suggests an American civilization revivified by its rough dependence on untamed land yet freer to pursue the great political truths of Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius.
And that is why upstate New York is so sad. The opioid crisis afflicted all places. But when New York City experienced a 45 percent increase in annual drug deaths, parts of upstate New York saw an 84 percent increase in the same. In Erie County, drug-related deaths jumped 256 percent between 2010 and 2015. The state has fed upstate New York false promises and false hope in rumored casino projects, but it can barely do the basic management of Lake Ontario to keep it from overflowing into Rochester. Instead of American Bavaria, we have the rust-belt Northeast—and the political class in Albany has no incentive to fix it so long as finance in New York City keeps state coffers full to the brim. In recent years Americans have been fleeing to places just as cold and beautiful as New York—but out West, in the halo of Mormon civilization, the greater Deseret of Idaho, Utah, and Montana. I suppose upstaters today are imitating Joseph Smith and heading out for wider pastures, lower taxes.
We Interrupt These Suggestions . . .
. . . to inform you (nonprofit leader) that the Heritage Foundation has just opened the application page for its 2024 “Innovation Prize,” one of the more consequential programs on this side of the ideological divide. Learn more (and apply) right here.
We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming . . .
3. At Catholic World Report, Larry Chap analyzes the Vatican’s much-discussed “Synod on Synodality,” which gives rationality a wide berth. From the article:
This synodal wideness is strange indeed. There is constant chatter and bloviations about a Church “on the move” and a “listening Church” and a Church that is “open to the development of doctrine” and a Church “discerning the Holy Spirit and the God of surprises”, and so on, . We are told to cast a wide net and be open to change in ways that may make us uncomfortable. But there is no equivalent emphasis on the stability of doctrine over time or of the need to hold fast to those doctrines as the only true antidote to our culture’s pornified apotheosis of the most weird and dark erotic fetishes. There is no apparent awareness of the profoundly unChristian nature of our culture’s nihilistic and runaway reductive naturalism, as the Synod rushes in to baptize these “signs of the times” as the very voice of the Spirit.
It is also a strange kind of “wideness” when around 360 people claim to be speaking for all of the “people of God”. Once again, this has every appearance of a channelized wideness, with the faith of 1.4 billion Catholics now funneled through the narrow choke-point of a few hand-selected synodalists. How strange that the Vatican decided that these spokespersons for the people of God should remain silent in public about what it is they are discussing at the Synod in the name of the People of God.
And so we have the bizarro world spectacle of the People of God being left in the dark about what it is their representatives are saying about what it is that the People of God want. Apparently, the People of God are to be selectively listened to, but not trusted, and therefore the synodal deliberations must be free of interference from the pesky People of God so that the People of God can get things done. You can’t make this stuff up.
4. At Law & Liberty, Joseph Loconte finds the rebooted New College of Florida to be a Western-civ Normandy. From the essay:
At New College, this education will involve a robust commitment to a liberal arts curriculum rooted in the humanities: the disciplines of literature, politics, philosophy, history, and the arts, as they have developed in the Western tradition. Americans are in the throes of a national argument over what kind of education is essential for our modern democracy. There is less debate, however, over the appalling deficit of decency and civility in our political and civic lives. The precipitous decline of the liberal arts in education is surely part of the reason.
Locke’s contemporaries, too, complained bitterly about the degraded levels of both civic virtue and personal piety. The task of the educator in relation to his student, Locke wrote, is “not so much to teach him all that is knowable, as to raise in him a love and esteem of knowledge and to put him in the right way of knowing, and improving himself, when he has a mind to it.” To cultivate a love for knowledge, not only for its own sake, but for the improvement of our souls: This has been the defining contribution of the classical liberal tradition in the West, a deep source of its cultural health and vigor.
It can become so again—if we have a mind to do it.
5. At Politico Mag, Evan Mandery profiles free-speech champion Greg Lukianoff and his battle against America’s cancel culture. From the piece:
An essential premise of civil libertarianism has always been that one could defend the rights of a speaker without agreeing with their message, even in the most extreme cases. Today, it’s no longer clear whether one can defend a racist’s right to speech without being considered a racist. This uncertainty is especially pronounced on college campuses. “Universities,” Binder says, “are confusing in the messages they send about speech.”
The ambiguity has also caused significant, perhaps irreparable, damage to the perception of civil libertarians. The label, once proudly worn by the likes of Clarence Darrow and William Kunstler, is no longer displayed without reservation. While writing my last book, about inequities in higher education, a college admissions officer who is also a civil libertarian asked me not to mention this identification, fearing its negative connotation. After my book’s publication, Lukianoff posted a kind message about it on the website formerly known as Twitter. When I expressed my gratitude, Lukianoff wrote, “To be honest, Evan, I am so used to the culture wars being so damn nasty, I was genuinely afraid you might say ‘well I don’t want HIS support for my book!’”
Despite everything, Lukianoff remains buoyant enough about the future of free speech that under his direction, FIRE, which recently changed the E from Education to Expression, will spend $75 million over the next three years on free speech advocacy in the general public, including $10 million on pro-free speech billboards in 15 American cities.
6. At The Wall Street Journal, Lance Morrow reminds us that evil is very real, very persistent, and having another of its moments. From the piece:
Some years ago I wrote “Evil: An Investigation.” Preparing the book, I would sometimes ask people if they knew anyone they considered to be truly evil. Most would think for a moment, then shake their heads: “Not really. Hitler, of course. But I didn’t know him.” When I asked William F. Buckley Jr., he replied without hesitation, “Gore Vidal.” I laughed. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.
Many people believe evil doesn’t exist. That view is especially common among the rational and enlightened, who insist that events always have a scientific, clinical or political explanation. They are mistaken. Evil is real, with a spooky, inscrutable life of its own.
Evil resides, a law unto itself, in the penetralia of history and human nature. Anyone who doubts its existence should study, in no particular order: the Cambodians’ mass killings under Pol Pot (1975-79), the Japanese Rape of Nanking (1937-38), the Belgians’ atrocities in the Congo (1885-1908) and of course the Holocaust. You might begin your studies in that last topic by reading “Into That Darkness” by Gitta Sereny. It’s about how Franz Stangl, an ordinary Austrian policeman and family man, morphed into the monster who presided over the Nazi death camp at Treblinka.
7. At The New York Post, Karol Markowicz aims her wrath at the college administrators who facilitate campus antisemitism. From the op-ed:
Universities have spent years talking about “harmful language,” “microaggressions” and “safe spaces”—and punishing students for all kinds of speech.
Kids were kicked out of school or had their acceptances rescinded for words they used before they ever got to college.
Social-media posts that embarrass the school have been used as grounds for expulsion.
Yet somehow these places of festering censorship have now fallen silent about explicit threats to Jewish students, citing their concern for protecting free-speech rights.
Spare us the excuses. We see what’s happening here.
8. At Verily Magazine, Buchi Akpati, having put it off for 15 years, finally goes on a vacation . . . and has tips for other such procrastinators. From the piece:
Be open to trial and error to identify vacation must-haves. I learned to be open-minded to different styles of vacationing, and to wholeheartedly explore them. After the initial trial experience, I can draw conclusions as to what works for me and what doesn’t. Is sightseeing exhausting and not relaxing? I don’t need to dedicate my time to it. Do talkative people energize or drain me? The latter? I will steer clear. Does sleeping in leave me feeling useless for the rest of the day? I’ll wake up at a time that gives me a sense of purpose and zest.
On my non-vacation days, my morning self-care routine involves morning Mass, exercise, and a walk. Since those parts of my day make me feel whole, now I know to retain the non-negotiable morning ingredients while on vacation. I have learned to explore, learn my must-haves, and gracefully omit my won’t-haves.
Check the weather. Speaking of errors, I can't begin to tell you how frustrated I felt when, three days into my six-day vacation planned on a sunny island in Southern Maryland, it rained heavily every time I proceeded to the boardwalk. I have now learned that when I fail to plan, I literally plan to fail and increase the chances that I will not enjoy the vacation experience as much.
9. At City Journal, John Hirschauer, caught up in The Exorcist’s 50th anniversary, reflects on actor Jason Miller, who played the role of Father Karras, and who had once had a priestly vocation.
Jason Miller, whose pensive stare and dark features are immediately evocative of “the Exorcist priest,” won the role by accident, after director William Friedkin stumbled upon his work as a playwright. Friedkin had considered several high-profile stars, including Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman, to play Karras, but he settled on Stacy Keach, an Off Broadway actor who a year earlier played a breakout role as a Texas vice cop in The New Centurions.
Fate intervened after Friedkin read a New York Times profile of Miller, a Scranton-based actor-playwright who had been working as a milkman. That Championship Season, Miller’s play about a state-title-winning basketball team, was running at a New York theater when Friedkin was in town, shopping for sets. Friedkin saw the play, said that it had an air of “lapsed Catholicism” (the hard-bitten head coach was an admirer of Father Charles Coughlin), and demanded to pick the playwright’s brain about how best to capture the lukewarm spirituality of 1960s Georgetown.
When the two met in a suite at the Sherry–Netherland, Friedkin told Miller that he was filming an adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel about an exorcism. Miller mentioned that he had studied for three years to be a priest, only to withdraw after experiencing a crisis of faith. In his memoir, Friedkin reports that Miller “seemed only mildly interested” in the film. Friedkin left Miller a copy of Blatty’s novel and returned to California. Weeks later, in the days leading up to production, Friedkin received an unexpected call. It was Jason Miller: “I read that book you told me about,” he said. “That exorcist. That guy is me.”
10. At RealClearInvestigations, Vince Bielski tells of teacher-union efforts to thwart charter-school reform. From the piece:
But in many cities, top performing charters serving low-income students face mounting opposition.
In Chicago, at least four charter networks, such as Noble Schools, have proven to be “gap busters,” according to the CREDO study. More than a decade ago, Noble Schools grew along with other Chicago charters at a rapid pace of about 10 new school openings a year, gaining the broad support of local Democrats, says Andrew Broy, the president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.
But then charters ran into a formidable opponent – the Chicago Teachers Union. Before the pandemic, as traditional schools began steadily losing students, the union called for a halt to new charters. The union later won a provision in its contract that adds pressure on the district to curb charter growth.
Still, Broy’s group has pushed to place top-performing charters in areas, such as southwest Chicago, which suffer from overcrowding and a lack of good schools for black and Latino students. But approvals by the board of education have slowed to a trickle, with about three openings during the last three years.
11. AT KTVK in Phoenix comes news of some Prescott ATVers who raised dust and big bucks to fight breast cancer. From the beginning of the article:
Thrillseekers of off-roading turned their fun into a successful fundraiser! It’s Something Good when folks go out donating tens of thousands of dollars for those battling breast cancer.
This past weekend, over 60 off-road vehicles got together at the Summit 4X4 headquarters in Prescott for the Trails 4 Tatas event. Several different runs took place, varying in their level of difficulty. After hitting the trails, folks enjoyed a little festival with a silent auction. In the end, over $55,000 was raised.
12. At The Spectator, Teresa Mull reports on abandoned Pennsylvania coal mines that might just prove critical to “green” energy. From the piece:
Yet in recent years, these “legacy coal mines,” as Pisupati calls them, have been garnering attention. Not because environmental agencies have seen the light about how important coal is, the strides the industry has made to purify the process, or because they’ve realized that re-mining is sometimes the only way to get to underground water discharges and address them, but because coal and its byproducts are a source of the critical elements necessary for a “greener” future.
“Because the old [pre-1977] coal mines were not under the new regulations, they were left abandoned, and there is a lot of water flowing through those old mines which gets oxidized, and there is a lot of acid coming out of that,” Pisupati says. “That acid actually brings out the rare earth elements and critical elements from the mines, so nature is doing some of this extraction for us. It could be viewed as a blessing in disguise, because right now we are importing these critical minerals from elsewhere.
“Acid mine drainage is flowing through those old mines and polluting our streams, so if we treat them to get these elements out, we’re actually doing a favor, and taxpayers don’t have to pay to clean these waters up if we generate money off of [the pollution]. There is work to be done, but it can be achieved so we can reduce our imports, we can make these materials right here, and we can clean up our environment.”
Lucky 13. More Energy: At The American Conservative, George Liebmann looks at electric vehicles and considers those roads that maybe should be taken but are not. From the article:
This is so even though it has been estimated that 40 percent of American global warming reduction goals can be achieved through domestic reforestation. Investment in domestic reforestation remains minimal, even though vast areas of forest have fallen victim to deep coal mining in Appalachia, overgrazing and strip mining in the Western states, and now-abandoned industrial sites and shopping centers along the Northeast Corridor. There is no lobby for the plowing up of disused roads and parking lots, let alone tree planting, which is frequently spontaneous and has great potential.
The extraordinary emphasis on electric cars and charging stations is even stranger in light of the artificial inhibitions placed in the way of other sources of “clean energy.” Offshore wind farms visible from coastal residences have been delayed, as have new power lines to facilitate importation of hydroelectric power from Quebec and Labrador. New gas pipelines and fracking have been obstructed, as has the construction of disposal sites for both high-level and low-level nuclear waste. Although the deepest penetration of the earth's surface is about five miles, there has been little interest in geothermal development except where there are visible geysers; President Franklin D. Roosevelt remains a century ahead of his time in speculating on the possible exploitation of the tides of Passamaquoddy Bay. Proposals to smooth energy demand through pump-storage plants and time of day pricing on bridges and roads have awakened little interest. The same is true of “new urbanism” policies for reduction of minimum lot sizes and legalization of accessory apartments to produce more compact patterns of land development and less use of personal transportation.
Bonus. More from The Spectator, as Josie Cox, from Manhattan’s depths, reveals the secret lives of doormen. From the piece:
Doormen in the Big Apple have a deep and storied past. By some accounts, they’ve patrolled apartment buildings for more than a century and a half. Nobody seems to have an exact count, but estimates put the number of union doormen across the five boroughs at over 25,000, spread across more than 3,000 apartment buildings.
They’re everywhere. And yet, it’s rare that anyone actually ever stops to consider who they are, and the real value—beyond opening doors and handing out Amazon hauls and takeout—they actually offer. Bulldozing the social etiquette that suggests it might be inappropriate to ask someone you don’t know a personal question, I quizzed one of the doormen in the large apartment building where I live why he chose this profession. His response? The money—unionized doormen make about $60,000 a year — and the job stability. Before becoming a doorman he was an aerial gymnast. “It was fun for a while,” he explained a little wistfully. “I sometimes miss the glitter.” When I asked several dozen of my friends and acquaintances across the city to share stories about their doormen, a few recurring themes emerged. If you’re a man dating women in New York, don’t worry too much about an overprotective male friend, or brother, or father: consider the doormen to be the real gatekeepers you need in your corner. Someone told me that her doorman had physically stopped several unwanted visits from a potential suitor. Others shared how their doormen had valiantly lied about them not being at home, or being sick, to make a caller go away. One woman told me she’s made an agreement with her doorman under which he judges any male visitors she brings home and then shares his impressions and assessments with her. “He has a high bar,” she said. “Most of them he’s deemed not worthy.” Cockroaches come in all shapes and sizes, I suppose.
For the Good of the Cause
Uno. You’ll have digested the turkey by then—the afternoon of Tuesday, November 28th, is the “then”—so you’ll have no excuse for not attending (via Zoom) the important Center for Civil Society “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” webinar on The Future of Christian Higher Education. Jon Hannah, boss of C4CS, will be joined by Pepperdine University’s Pete Peterson and Malone University’s David Beer for a frank and illuminating discussion. Make sure you register—do that right here.
Due. Wisdom for nonprofit worker-bees from AmPhil’s “Insights” blog: “The Official Guide to Nonprofit Remote Working: Tips from Work-from-Home Veterans.” Read it here.
Tre. Break out the tumbler, bust out the ice cubes, prep the libation, because a new “Scotch Talks” is in the offing—on Wednesday, December 6th, to be exact (from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern, to be exactier)—in which AmPhil founder Jeremy Beer and Walter Coughlin of Coughlin & Company will discuss cutting-edge ways that nonprofits can save money through the intersection of fundraising and finance. Find out more, and register, right here.
Department of Bad Jokes
Q: Why is it so easy to trick a leaf in November?
A: They fall for anything.
One of the readings at Mass this weekend past came from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, his greeting to those northern Greeks, newly converted. What struck was the very last phrase, about Jesus, the man they turned to after they abandoned idols, described as “our deliverer from the coming wrath.” The mood of these recent weeks makes that ancient prose seem disturbingly timely. May it not be so.
May the Wideness in God’s Mercy Be More Expansive than We Can Imagine,
Jack Fowler, who awaits your eschatological thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.