Pete Buttigieg and the Quest for Progressive Christianity

The race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States continues to intensify as energy builds from the almost weekly announcements of a new candidate vying for the nomination. Most recently, Vice President Joe Biden officially announced his candidacy for Commander and Chief. It came as no surprise, but now he is officially in. The surprise in the race is a candidate who has captured the continued (and largely adoring) gaze of the media. His name appears relentlessly in the headlines from every major media outlet. He has become a national sensation—and he is a name that very few of us knew until just a few months ago.

He is Mayor of South Bend Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.

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Are Christians Privileged or Persecuted? by Ross Douthat

The murderous radicals who set off bombs and killed hundreds on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka chose their targets with ideological purpose. Three churches were bombed, and with them three hotels catering to Western tourists, because often in the jihadist imagination Western Christianity and Western liberal individualism are the conjoined enemies of their longed-for religious utopia, their religious-totalitarian version of Islam. Tourists and missionaries, Coca-Cola and the Catholic Church — it’s all the same invading Christian enemy, different brand names for the same old crusade.

Officially, the Western world’s political and cultural elite does its best to undercut and push back against this narrative. The liberal imagination reacts with discomfort to the Samuel Huntingtonian idea of a clash of civilizations, or anything that pits a unitary “West” against an Islamist or Islamic alternative. The idea of a “Christian West” is particularly forcefully rejected, but even more banal terms like “Western Civilization” and “Judeo-Christian,” once intended to offer a more ecumenical narrative of Euro-American history, are now seen as dangerous, exclusivist, chauvinist, alt-right.

And yet there is also a way in which liberal discourse in the West implicitly accepts part of the terrorists’ premise — by treating Christianity as a cultural possession of contemporary liberalism, a particularly Western religious inheritance that even those who no longer really believe have a special obligation to remake and reform. With one hand elite liberalism seeks to keep Christianity at arm’s length, to reject any specifically Christian identity for the society it aims to rule — but with the other it treats Christianity as something that really exists only in relationship to its own secularized humanitarianism, either as a tamed and therefore useful chaplaincy or as an embarrassing, in-need-of-correction uncle.

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Stages, Structures, and the Work of Being Yourself by L.M. Sacasas

I have a half-baked theory, and I’m going to write about here to see where it goes.

My half-baked theory starts with the intuition of an analogy. I’ve been working on a piece for Real Life about the heightened self-consciousness our use of social media tends to generate (it was published today, you can read it here). I leaned a bit on some of Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical theory of the self to make my case.

In The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, Goffman suggested that we understand our social interaction by analogy to the theater. When we interact directly with others in their presence, it is as if we are actors on stage. On the stage, we are engaged in the work of impression management—trying to manage how we are perceived by controlling the impressions we give—the particular shape of which depends on the audience. But, in keeping with the analogy, we also have a back stage. This is where we are no longer immediately before a public audience. In our back stage area others may be present, but, if they are, they constitute a more intimate, familiar audience before which we are more at ease, some might say more ourselves. In our back stage area, we are able to let down our guard to some significant degree.

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If Your Enemy is Hungry: An eyewitness account from the last ISIS stronghold in Syria by Dave Eubank

Bullets flew by our faces and smacked into the ground around us. Snipers were shooting at us from the tent-and-truck city that was Baghuz, the last physical stronghold of Islamic State (ISIS). Below us, in a smoke-and-dust-shrouded valley at a bend in the Euphrates River, was the distillation of the most hard-core living ISIS members.

The battle being fought out in this little corner of the Syrian desert began when ISIS militants, with their families, had retreated from Mosul, Iraq, pushed out by the Iraqi army and coalition forces, to Raqqa, Syria, the last capital of the ISIS caliphate. From there, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had taken over the offensive and, with the help of air and artillery support of the coalition, had pushed them out to Deir Ezzor. The fight had continued, and the last remnants of ISIS were steadily pushed back along the east side of the Euphrates to Baghuz on the Iraq-Syria border.

Now, the thousands of people remaining were compressed into a dense collection of trucks and tents. We could see bunkers under many of the trucks and what looked like tunnel entrances. An ISIS woman from Norway who had fled earlier told us that there were more than 30,000 people packed into this last small space and each person had only a 3-by-6-foot space to live in. “It is a horrible, dirty, starving, stinking place of constant maiming and death,” she said.

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The Single Most Important Day in History RELIVE THE SURPRISE OF EASTER SUNDAY

It is Sunday, April 5, AD 33. This day will change the entire course of world history, more than any other day before or after, though only a handful of people will know this by day’s end. In an ancient, arid, Near Eastern city, one singular event will occur this day, unleashing a movement so compelling, so enduring, so influential, so unstoppable that two thousand years and billions of adherents later, it will still be growing, faster than ever, while the mighty empire that witnesses its birth will long lay in ancient ruins. This movement will shape nations, span oceans, birth universities, launch hospitals, transform tribal peoples in the world’s remotest places, and be spoken, read, and sung about in more languages than any other religious movement by far.

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Having Pets Instead of Kids Should Be Considered a Psychiatric Disorder by G. Shane Morris

If you grew up with dogs (as I did), you know that something bizarre and sad often happens when a mother dog loses her puppies. With hormones and maternal instinct coursing through her, she will frequently adopt inanimate objects as “replacement-puppies.” Usually, she chooses something like a boot, hat, or stuffed toy. Mother cats do the same thing, typically with socks. Whatever the object, the animal will carry it around, lick it, attempt to suckle it, protect it, and otherwise pour all of her energy and nurturing instincts into it—often for much longer than she would an actual litter of puppies or kittens. Something in her brain is soothed by the non-living replacement, but ironically, this replacement-puppy can prevent the mother from trying again to bear actual young. Her instincts are permanently misdirected, wasted on an object that will never be her real offspring.

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The Greatness Commission Christ, Individualism & the Meaning of Cultural Diversity by Anthony Esolen

Iam here to speak of cultures in all their splendid diversity, what it may mean to them when they encounter Christ, what that encounter has to teach us about where the value of diversity lies, and how that diversity is threatened by the secular West. But I think it would be most convenient to do first what Plato does in the Republic. That is, I should like to begin not with the great but with the small; not with the society or culture, but with the human person. To do so, I turn to a scene from C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce.

Imagine an old man sitting upon a stone, looking whimsically upon a traveler who has taken a bus from the gray city below to the bright borderlands above. The traveler gazes with wonder upon a beautiful woman whose robes seem like the expression of her person, so that she is clothed yet fully revealed in her clothing, as if she were Milton's Eve before the Fall, "with native honor clad / In naked majesty." They need no clothes in that country to hide themselves, but rather "the spiritual body lives along each thread." She is followed by a long train of immense beings bearing flowers and dancing, of youths and maidens singing, and of dogs and cats and birds and horses.

"Is it—is it?" the traveler stutters. He believes he is looking upon Mary, the Mother of God.

"Not at all," says the old gentleman with a broad Scottish brogue. "It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green."


The traveler is a bit confused. "She seems to be . . . well, a person of particular importance."

"Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things."

Sarah Smith of Golders Green; that is all she was, but the old guide tells us why she is great. "Every young man or boy," he says, "that met her became her son—even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter." Even the animals partook of her motherly care. Says the old man, "Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves."

In her they became themselves—that is an astonishing claim. Such is the elevating power of the love of Christ. Says the old man, "It is like when you throw a stone into a pool and the concentric waves spread out farther and farther. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young."

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Philosophers Should Be Keener to Talk About the Meaning of Life by Kieran Seitya

Philosophers ponder the meaning of life. At least, that is the stereotype. When I risk admitting to a stranger that I teach philosophy for a living and face the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’, I have a ready response: we figured that out in the 1980s, but we have to keep it secret or we’d be out of a job; I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. In fact, professional philosophers rarely ask the question and, when they do, they often dismiss it as nonsense. 

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Your Point Is? by Steven Poole

It was an idea long consigned to the dustbin of scientific history. ‘Like a virgin consecrated to God,’ Francis Bacon declared nearly 400 years ago, it ‘produces nothing’. It was anti-rational nonsense, the last resort of unfashionable idealists and religious agitators. And then, late last year, one of the world’s most renowned philosophers published a book arguing that we should take it seriously after all. Biologists and philosophers lined up to give the malefactor a kicking. His ideas were ‘outdated’, complained some. Another wrote: ‘I regret the appearance of this book.’ Steven Pinker sneered at ‘the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker’. The Guardian called it ‘the most despised science book of 2012’. So what made everyone so angry?

The thinker was Thomas Nagel, the book was Mind and Cosmos, and the idea was teleology. In ancient science (or, as it used to be called, natural philosophy), teleology held that things — in particular, living things — had a natural end, or telos, at which they aimed. The acorn, Aristotle said, sprouted and grew into a seedling because its purpose was to become a mighty oak. Sometimes, teleology seemed to imply an intention to pursue such an end, if not in the organism then in the mind of a creator. It could also be taken to imply an uncomfortable idea of reverse causation, with the telos — or ‘final cause’ — acting backwards in time to affect earlier events. For such reasons, teleology was ceremonially disowned at the birth of modern experimental science.

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The Why of Reality by Nathanael Stein

The easy question came first, a few months after my son turned four: ‘Are we real?’ It was abrupt, but not quite out of nowhere, and I was able to answer quickly. Yes, we’re real – but Elsa and Anna, two characters from Frozen, are not. Done. Then there was a follow-up a few weeks later that came just as abruptly, while splashing around a pool: ‘Daddy, why are we real?’ 

I don’t have a ready answer this time, partly because I don’t really understand the question. Four-year-olds ask Why? a lot – the stereotype is true, maybe even an understatement – and they use Why? ambiguously. Like little Aristotles with their legs dangling from their car seats, their Whys are ‘said in many different ways’. Sometimes these Whys even fall under neat, Aristotelian types: they might be asking what the point of something is, or how it’s made, or even asking for a criterion. Usually, you can feel your way by context.

But sometimes, like now, I have no idea what my son is asking me to explain. He’s learning about the world, and learning how to ask questions about it at the same time, so there are at least two moving targets. My only clue so far is that he previously wondered whether he was real, which made it sound like he was trying to sort things into real and not-real. So maybe the follow-up is a request for a definition: What makes something real? What distinguishes the real things from the unreal ones? If so, this could be a bit awkward. ‘Why’-questions at their most straightforward correspond to ‘Because’-answers, where the ‘because’ refers to something other than what we’re trying to explain. You’re cranky because you haven’t eaten; we’re driving because we need to get food; this food is healthy because it has the nutrients you need. But when the question is ‘Why am I real?’, what other thing is there to fill in the blank after ‘because’?

I have a professional interest in this query. The notion of reality is one of the most basic and most abstract ones we have. Raising questions about the very idea of what’s real has led to some of the most important, classic work in philosophy – from Parmenides to Aristotle to Avicenna to Aquinas to Immanuel Kant. It also, however, has a tendency to produce the kind of frustrating, easily caricatured work that leads people – including many philosophers – to wonder whether certain questions are simply pointless or even illegitimate, and to adopt a kind of skeptical stance towards abstract questions in general. That attitude can be helpfully critical, but it can also be facile and self-stultifying, and it likes to masquerade as pragmatic good sense.

So how does that kind of question get started? It’s easy enough to notice when a child starts confronting questions about good and bad, right and wrong. That’s one reason for thinking that these questions have good credentials. But when, if ever, does reality itself become an object of curiosity, or puzzlement, or wonder – and why?

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Who Owns a Woman’s Body? Not Who You Think by Andrea Palpant Dilley

Modern feminism has spent the last century fighting to give women the freedom to have jurisdiction over their voting rights, their ambitions, and their bodies. Some of the movement has done great good. But some of it has done great harm by reinforcing a common and problematic idea: that women’s rights ought to be understood in terms of property rights. “Owning your own body” seems like a natural enough freedom—who wouldn’t want it?—but in fact, it delivers a reductionistic conception of human flourishing that fails both women and the unborn.

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60 hours, 50 abortions: A California Doctor’s Monthly Commute to a Texas Clinic By Soumya Karlamanga

The protesters are already positioned when she pulls up in her rental car. One lurches at women approaching the clinic, rosary beads dangling from her outstretched palm. Another hands patients tiny fetus dolls that match their skin color.

The doctor tries to ignore them. There are demonstrators at every abortion clinic and they’re all the same, she thinks: a nuisance. In Northern California, where she lives, a man yells, “Don’t take the blood money,” as she arrives at work.

At least here, in Dallas, the protesters mostly stay on the sidewalk. The doctor slips inside the mirrored glass doors of the clinic — one of the busiest abortion facilities in the United States.

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Facing Cultural Storms by John S. Dickerson

ive years ago, I praised John S. Dickerson’s first book, The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker, 2013), and quoted his good pastoral advice: “When someone is addicted to alcohol, pornography, marijuana, or illicit heterosexual sex, we tell them (if we are scripturally sound) they need Christ’s power to overcome that lifestyle. When someone from those same tribes comes to Christ, we expect them to be drawn to their former way of life. We expect that learning to walk with Christ will include some stumbles, falls, and retreats into those old entrenched patterns.”

He applied that to the LGBT debate: “A person must come to Christ, and then Christ can free them from their slavery. … Many evangelicals swap the cart and the horse—expecting homosexual unbelievers to overcome their behavior without the power of the cross or the Holy Spirit. … No matter what tribe an unbeliever belongs to, we should lovingly expect them to act like pagans until they come to Christ. … As with any tribe, don’t focus on changing behavior. Focus on changing relationship to God through Christ. … Don’t be surprised when you are hated and misunderstood about this issue. You will be.”

Now Dickerson argues that six trends are reshaping American culture. “My goal in stressing them is not to frighten anyone,” he says. “Rather, I believe God has called and appointed us into this precise moment in history, so that we can do great things for His Church and His Kingdom.” Here’s his summary of what we face. —Marvin Olasky

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