Welcome to my weekly digest for May 12, 2023.
For new subscribers, this contains a roundup of my recent writings and podcasts, as well as links to the best articles from around the web this week. You can control what emails you get from me by visiting your account page.
The Real Christian Nationalism
I’ve written a lot about the decline of leadership in America and its sources. One of them in my view is the decline of mainline Protestant tradition. While the mainline denominations were only one element of a broader leadership culture, their view of Christian action in the world helped form that culture.
Someone on Twitter posted a video of Texas state representative James Talarico, who is also a presbyterian seminarian, advocating for gun control. Twitter has blocked tweet embeds on Substack, but you should click over to watch this one. Try to avoid focusing on the specific views, particularly if you disagree with it, and listen to his take on Christian action.
I believe in the power of prayer. I believe prayer can change lives. I believe prayer can change the world. But there is something profoundly cynical about asking God to solve a problem that we’re not willing to solve ourselves. God moves, God works through us. God has no other hands but our hands.
Some of his rhetoric is alien to an evangelical. I won’t say that I’m endorsing all of it. But note how he emphasizes taking action in the world to actually deal with problems as integral to Christian life.
I’m not going to say evangelicals never get involved in lawmaking or things of this nature. The SBC’s policy arm recently endorsed some gun control laws in Tennessee, for example. But in general the emphasis is quite different. It’s more about being “salt and light,” small scale charitable acts, or changing the world through conversions than actually assuming leadership and doing something to implement structural changes to actually bring out justice and greater human flourishing.
There’s something of a missing gene in evangelicalism in society that large that’s undermined our ability to actually do things that change the world for the better. I believe one of the components of the fix to that is better understanding the things that were lost with the decline of the mainline tradition, and figuring out how to reincorporate that.
Jake Meador tweets some similar observations from an older mainline friend on the difference between the mainline church of that friend’s youth and today’s evangelicalism. This person said, “My parents and their friends felt responsible for America.”
By the way, if a conservative evangelical state representative said something like, “God moves, God works through us" as his justification for some law, is there any doubt there’d be a freakout over “Christian nationalism”?
As I’ve always said, if you want to understand what real Christian nationalism looks like in America, you need to look to the mainline denominations, particularly in the pre-1960 period when there was an informal soft institutionalization of a sort of generic Protestantism in America.
Low Conflict Divorces Are Bad for Kids
There’s an interesting article about divorce in the Los Angeles Times. A group of researchers found that 60% of divorces were actually in low conflict marriages.
After examining 300 marriages that ended in divorce, the researchers found that there were two types headed for divorce: high-and low-conflict. The prevailing wisdom is that most marriages that end in divorce are fraught with conflict, but the sociologists found the reverse: 60% of low-conflict marriages ended in divorce, compared with 40% of high-conflict ones. “I didn’t trust these findings, because they were counterintuitive,” Amato said.
This foots to my observations that most divorces are not for reasons most people would recognize as intuitively valid, such as infidelity or abuse, but rather vague feelings of unhappiness.
The researchers found that children of the parents in these low conflict divorces fare worse than the ones from the ones in high conflict divorces:
Children whose divorced parents had low-conflict marriages (that is, they rarely fought and reported being pretty happy during the marriage, then continued to socialize and said they still loved each other after divorce), fared worse in adult romantic relationships. “When kids grow up in families with parents who had these ‘good enough’ marriages that end in divorce, they do badly,” Amato said. “They are more likely to see their own marriages end in divorce and have problems in general forming intimate relationships.”
Children in low-conflict households grew up thinking everything was OK, Amato said, and then the marriage suddenly ended. To them, the divorce was inexplicable. “These children,” Amato said, “have trouble making a commitment, question how much one can trust love and commitment, and in marriage, they have a lower threshold for problems which trigger thoughts of divorce.”
Wallerstein found similar effects upon children whose parents’ divorces were not precipitated by conflict. “What I found from the children was that as adults they suffer from the fear of the second shoe dropping,” Wallerstein said. “I associate this with the fact that their parents’ divorce came out of the blue. They were horrified when their parents met them at the door after school and said, ‘We have decided to divorce.’ Some came home to find a parent gone.”
Click over to read the whole article.
Best of the Web
Abby Farson Pratt: Good men deserved to be named - I’m told the author is a liberal Episcopalian. I also appreciated this other piece by her:
Nearly 13 years married, I feel like it’s my responsibility, as a crone, to tutor the youth and encourage them to stop waiting around and get married already. Please, just do it. What are you waiting for? To move in together? To get your “career established,” whatever the hell that means? To see if you’re really a “good fit”? To get “more financially stable”? That’s all bluster. We had about $300 to our names when we got married. We mostly ate rice and beans for years, subsisting on my tiny salary, while Guion wrote poems all day, and we were incandescently happy. I’m so thankful we didn’t wait 10 years, till we were in our early 30s, set in our ways and comfortable with our wealth. Marriage would have been a lot harder then.
Freddie DeBoer: The Demographic Dating Market Doom Loop
And you can imagine how this dynamic plays out in specific dating pools: as more hard-charging women flood a given dating market, while the number of eligible men drags behind because of increasing advantages for women in school and the workplace, fewer and fewer women are likely to find themselves with a partner they consider marriageable. To make matters worse, since this dynamic hands men an advantage in the romantic marketplace, they may put off partnering for the long term even further, playing the field for years more because it favors them, and in doing so making matters even worse for ambitious women.
Dustin Guastella: The Anti-Social Socialism Club - What happens to a Left that dislikes society? A very interesting piece.
This prevailing antisocial attitude is dangerous. It risks reproducing, or even accelerating, all sorts of social dysfunction. From loneliness to sexlessness, from drug abuse to murder, many on the Left find themselves excusing or ignoring the steady rise of collective antisocial behavior. Some progressives have unwittingly advocated the institutionalization of loneliness through the extreme extension of pandemic policies, and others increasingly view antisocial behavior in public life as in some way virtuous. Still more choose to ignore the worst effects of social alienation—mass drug abuse and murder. This kind of abandonment of the Social Question will only help to harden public demoralization, making the prospects for political renewal especially dim.
The NYT chimes in on a theme I’ve referenced many times before, the fact that a growing number of people feel they have to install a backup electricity generator.
New Content and Media Mentions
I was a guest on the Forge and Anvil podcast this week, talking about the state of America’s cities.
New this week:
Cities Aren’t Dying But They Do Face Real Challenges - My look at the state of America’s cities.
The SBC Catches “Mainline Disease” (paid only) - Membership in the SBC and baptisms are now falling sharply.
My podcast this week is on how conservatives need to learn to govern. Paid subscribers can read the transcript.
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It is nothing new for Christians of a Progressive political bent to consider the actions of the State to be God's marching on earth. All of their political goals are simply applications of "Loving thy neighbor," such as by forcing your neighbor to wear a mask and taking away your neighbor's guns and taxing your neighbor's wealth.
Lack of evangelical action in getting Roe v Wade overturned?