An old e-mail exchange….

Dear Father,

The rather ill-tempered flare up on your Facebook page reminds me that I didn’t write to thank you for the defense on David Virtue’s site.  Bruce seems unable to grasp that there are distinctions among persons who are on the Catholic side of his evangelical Protestantism or that ‘Catholic’ is not simply a synonym for ‘Roman’.  That I was addressing a self-described Catholic conference of Anglicans might have suggested to him an alternative view, but didn’t.  So he concluded that my criticism of ACNA on such matters as Eucharistic doctrine or the invocation of saints must be a sign of Anglo-Papalism.  Pointing out that particular fallacy was probably worthwhile.  In the event anything more was probably a case of casting pearls before swine.

In the end my exchange on your Facebook page might be characterized as exactly the same kind of casting.  I forgot, though only for a moment, what a very diverse group of friends you have.  My main point, to you:   it’s not safe to rest on an economic argument.  The appeal of such arguments is that they allow the formation of a broader coalition than Americans will tolerate on religious or cultural warfare grounds.  But American conservatives largely have been trying the economic approach for the last generation or two, and for that reason in part, we’ve comprehensively lost the culture wars.  Since culture (which mostly really means religion, including irreligion) shapes everything else, that means that most of the economic arguments are going badly also and will probably do worse still in the future.

The U.S. has a couple of religion problems.  Ignoring the reality of Islam is one, though that is a far more acute problem for the Europeans than for the U.S.  Islam is violently engaged with every alternative religion or ideology that it rubs up against:  with Buddhism (Thailand, Bali), Hindus (India), Chinese agnostic authoritarianism, Judaism (Israel), Christianity (South Sudan, Nigeria, and so forth), and western liberalism (French trains, New York skyscrapers, London and Madrid subways).  That most Muslims aren’t very good Muslims, don’t want to blow up other people, and want what pretty much everybody else wants doesn’t alter the reality.  That ‘extremist Islam’ is not what most Muslims hold also is not very hopeful, if in fact the extremist form of Islam is a reasonable conclusion from the religion as it is interpreted by the regnant schools of Islamic jurisprudence – as I believe to be the case.  Or to put it otherwise:  there are many good Muslims (from my point of view), namely bad Muslims (from the point of view of Islamic jurisprudence).  Since the extremists are very willing to be very violent and to bully moderates, their influence seems decisive in many ways.  To pretend the regnant schools of Islamic jurisprudence are tolerant and loving is dangerously naïve.

Our more fundamental religious problem, however, is with the American religion.  The fiction is that we do not have an established religion.  But every regime has a religious teaching, and ours is no exception.  Our regime teaches Lockean tolerationism – an enlightenment agnosticism, sometimes with a deistic coloration adopted to make it palatable to a largely, if also largely nominal, Christian society.  The regime is agnostic:  the first officially agnostic regime in the world.  American society was more religious than the regime or than the intellectual leaders among the Founders, but that now is changing.  Eventually regime principle shapes all within the regime.

You referred to the Establishment clause.  Which one?  The one actually in the Constitution’s first Amendment, which simply prohibits a federal religious establishment?  Or the much later extension of that prohibition to the states?  Or Jefferson’s reading of it with his ‘high wall of separation’?  Or the current rather murky Supreme Court doctrine, insofar as it can be pieced together from disparate and conflicting opinions?  Or the future state of the matter, as any five Supremes may fancy without any real reference to history or to the actual text?  Reliance on the First Amendment in the world post-Roe or Obergefell is not very safe.

About our tolerationism, see my notes below.  They were written for an old college friend who took his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Chicago…and became a Latin Mass type.  The final bits below were to tweak some of his Romanism just a bit.

I hope all is going well with you and …the offspring….

Yours in Christ,



Dear _______,

I do think it would be fair to describe Locke’s position as ‘dogmatic tolerationism’.  By speaking of an ‘-ism’ I mean that the position is an ideology.  The ideology in question is ‘dogmatic’ both because, in one common sense of the term, it is an opinion held strongly, firmly, and tenaciously, but also because, in the narrower and religious sense of ‘dogma’, it is taught as an essential doctrine about matters of religious truth.  In fact Locke defines toleration as ‘the chief characteristic mark of the true church’.  Toleration is, it seems, the chief and most important dogma.  The opinion in question is largely negative, but it is for Locke nonetheless a central religious teaching or opinion.

In some ways Locke’s teaching seems to be carefully and cautiously taught, merely ‘hinted at’ to persons ‘of parts’ (see final words of the first Letter Concerning Toleration).  But in fact Locke is clearly skeptical about the possibility of speculative knowledge in religious matters.  Locke does allow in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding for a knowledge of God deduced by reason.  But such deduced knowledge seems minimal, and Locke so defines revelation as to limit its possibility or significance.  Tolerationism usually builds on a skeptical belief that knowledge in religious matters is either very limited or that it will be best achieved by permitting a free competition of religious opinions and teachings.  Locke’s dogmatic tolerationism appears to have such skeptical foundations.

Tolerationism, then, as you note, is indeed not at all the same in its substance or in its motive as charity or as a positive respect for the dignity of even the subjectively erring conscience.

Locke is willing to enforce his religious doctrine.  He defines as ‘heretic’ anyone ‘who divides the church into parts, introduces names and marks of distinction, and voluntarily makes a separation because of such opinions’.  One becomes a heretic if one ‘obtrudes those things upon others unto whom they do not seem to be the indubitable doctrines of the Scriptures’.  That is, heresy seems mainly determined by the person with whom a person or Church disagrees.  It is not that Nicaea determines Arianism to be heresy, but Arians who determine Nicaea to be heresy.  Because the homoousios does not seem to the Arians to be ‘the indubitable doctrine of the Scriptures’, the opponents of the Arians are heretics if they separate from the Arians.  Locke says, further, that the only certain doctrines of Scripture are those that are so clear that concerning them ‘there can be no difference’ or disagreement.  Which is to say that for Locke all doctrinal controversies seem incapable of clear decision, and any attempt to determine doctrinal controversies, or at least any attempt to act upon such determination, is by definition heresy.

Truly this is a dogmatic opinion, and a very odd one.  Locke condemns any enforcer of orthodoxy, all non-tolerationists, as the only true kind of heretic.  So, again, toleration is defined by Locke as the chief mark or doctrine of the true Church.  And again, Locke concludes dogmatically that those are not to be tolerated who do not teach toleration.  Or, as someone else once wrote, toleration is the seminary of intolerance.

Here’s a complicating historical question:  since in Locke’s day the Roman Catholic James II attempted to legislate toleration (so as to improve the lot of English Roman Catholics), was he a better Lockean than the non-Juror Anglican clergy who rejected William and Mary and their tolerationism?  A clue:  the convocation of Oxford University had the books of Hobbes burnt by the public executioner and condemned indifferentism and related Hobbesian and Lockean opinions.  A partial answer to my question:  by imprudently pressing Roman Catholicism upon the Anglican establishment James lost his crown, undermined both the Established Church and also Roman Catholicism in England, and ensured the triumph of Lockean tolerationism.

As Aristotle and Tocqueville both tell us, everything tends to be colored by the regime’s principles.  In Locke-land even religion and the Church tend to become Lockean.  The regime’s problem is that it requires for its long-term survival the educative effects of religion, while it tends to undermine the kind of religion it needs.  And so we find ourselves where we are today….


Your Grace,

Thank you for the reply. Re – Virtue – I pray I didn’t come across as too hostile to Bruce. He spouts off on things regularly that he clearly doesn’t know much about, then resents his ignorance being pointed out and demonstrated; I’ve gotten to where I have very little patience for it. If I wanted to be especially aggressive, I would even say that the 39 Articles do not even ban invocation of the saints, purgatory, pardons, etc, but merely the “Romish Doctrine concerning them,” whatever that is. I’d need to dig around a bit more than I am capable of digging out here on whether it’s a response to Trent, or pre-Tridentine Catholicism, or what. That term “Romish doctrine” seems hopelessly vague.

With regard to the immigration policy debate, I admit I have rather…interesting…friends who comment on things. In general, I enjoy the variety there because I wouldn’t really encounter those points of view otherwise, and it’s helpful to know how those points of view operate. I would highly recommend not engaging ______ on anything other than the most superficial of topics. If she feels convicted about something, anything, she becomes an immovable object. On the Constitution, I am a painful literalist. I view the Establishment Clause a as forbidding Congress from passing a law that restricts the free exercise of religion. This means I really don’t care about religious materials being displayed in public spaces, for example, though I would prefer legislatures not use appropriated moneys for the express purpose of paying for them, except insofar as it guarantees the free exercise of religion, like with our military chapels. An immigration law, therefore, that restricted immigration on the basis of religious criteria would violate the free exercise of religion of a potential immigrant. An executive might bypass Congress by executive order, but Congress still provides the funding for such endeavors via law. Whether these laws apply to non-citizens is an interesting question. I also hesitate to introduce such a principle because as Christians become increasingly marginalized, I fear it would be used against us. Already, there are veiled threats of removing tax exemption status from organizations that believe the “wrong” things. I’d rather not cede to them additional power, if I can help it. Between you, me, and the wall, I don’t particularly like how the 14th Amendment has been interpreted to expand the scope and power of the Federal Government over individual states in the SCOTUS, but there isn’t much I can do about it. I am, as you say, constrained, chiefly to “defend and uphold” the Constitution.

Probably one of the most deeply profound things Frank Herbert ever wrote is found in Children of Dune. It reads, “When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.” I see that with the present debates over sexuality, and with the varying debates over religious “tolerance.” It is no small part why I prefer a decentralized system of checks and balances because it forces the powers of suppression to the lowest possible level.

At issue, I think, is whether the First Amendment works in any meaningful sense. Under the present system you describe as “dogmatic tolerationism,” I don’t think it does work well because it forces us to engage in self-harm. While I do not think the present system allows us to screen transparently on the basis of religious ideology, I am not always convinced that this is necessarily a virtue. It does not protect against implicitly religious systems, like the one you describe, along with pseudo-scientism that rejects disagreement thoroughly and utterly, and it leaves us vulnerable to explicitly hostile systems of belief. I am in the precarious position of having to defend a system which I find to be deeply flawed at times, but I take comfort in the words of John the Baptist to concerned soldiers. I’d rather a non-expansionist, Christian version of Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, or M. Aurelius, but that seems to be asking for too much. The great virtue (and downfall) of monarchy, it seems to me, is that the monarch is personally culpable for how his people are treated in a way that isn’t true for a representative democracy.

In general, I believe there was a going off of the rails with Griswold v Connecticut, and Roe only aggravated it. It seems to me quite plain that states have original jurisdiction in the vast majority of manslaughter cases, which necessarily includes determining what does or does not constitute manslaughter. Roe erroneously shifts that authority solely to the Federal government in the case of abortion, on the same flimsy pretense of “privacy” used in Griswold. We’ve been fighting about it as a nation ever since. On Obergefell, I’m torn. It’s clear to me that the way contracts are understood to work, a state must honor a contract begun in another state. If a state, therefore, decides legislatively that two people of the same sex should be able to share certain tax benefits, I am not, in principle, opposed, if it is construed purely as an economically based contract. The trouble is, the purely economic argument has never been the terms of the debate. Those who lobbied for those benefits don’t just want benefits, but more importantly, social recognition and acceptance from the rest of society that is mandated by the force of government. I’m not, however, quite sure how Equal Protection or Due Process fit into the equation. I was free to marry someone of the opposite sex. A homosexual was free to marry someone of the opposite sex. I was not free to marry someone of the same sex. A homosexual was not free to marry someone of the same sex. At no point were my civil protections any different than the civil protections of a homosexual, unless we get into the dangerously murky language about “not being able to marry the person I love,” which is a horrible standard for legality.  Kennedy’s ruling drives me batty because it invokes that purely emotional language about marriage — the same sort of emotional language that has led to heterosexual marriage being in relative shambles as an institution.

I’m doing well enough out here in Afghanistan, with approximately two months to go. The lack of a suitable Anglican community both here and in _______ has been rough at times, but I make do well enough by being able to say Mass regularly here, listen to hymns on my laptop, and reaching out to my Anglican associates stateside on Facebook. Episcopalians drive me batty, but we at least speak (roughly) the same language. It’s part of why I find Bruce so exasperating; I don’t run into much Calvinism outside of, say, Fr ______ and Fr _____, but neither of them hold to the views of sacraments and sanctification that Bruce peddles. I won’t lie; I have a number of Roman Catholic lay people and chaplains who prod me semi-regularly and good naturedly to swim over, but sitting through a Novus Ordo Mass quickly cures me of the temptation.




Dear Father,

The reference to ‘Romish’ doctrines and practices in Article XXII dates from 1563 and is the one change from the 1553 text (the Forty-two Articles) in Article XXII.  1563 was the final year of the Council of Trent:  the Tridentine decree on purgatory was one of the last, promulgated in December 1563, though purgatory and the other things mentioned in Article XXII are found in earlier decrees from Trent as well.  Cranmer’s 1553 text reads ‘the doctrine of school-authors’ rather than ‘Romish doctrine’.  While the Elizabethan change was probably meant to update the Article and point it at Trent, in fact on careful reading it narrows the applicability of the text.  A blanket condemnation of all scholastic views on the subjects mentioned would be broader than doctrina Romanensium.  The adjective largely empties the Article of content.  This interpretation does go against the common Anglo-Catholic line that the Articles condemn medieval superstitions rather than the later doctrine of Rome after its reforming council.  Happily for those of us in the ACC, the Articles are historical curiosities which do not require any particular defense or interpretation, so long as we are satisfied that they do not positively exclude the Catholic faith.

_____’s breezy willingness to engage in self-contradiction was sufficient clue that there was little point in further conversation.  In fact, she and Mr. There’s-Nothing-More-to-Say both made clear that they embrace ‘toleration’ in a dogmatic and intolerant fashion such that the concept is beyond clarification or critical discussion.   Sometimes with self-reflective people it is possible to show the internal contradiction of intolerant tolerationism.   If in addition they are Christians, sometimes it is possible to move them from tolerationism (a secular ideology) towards Christian categories that preserve what is valuable in tolerationism without accepting or encouraging its skeptical assumptions.  I distinguish tolerance from charity and from respect for (even an erring) conscience.

One doesn’t have to choose between a monarch and representative democracy.  Of the six regime forms outlined by Aristotle, the best that is usually achievable in practice is the mixed regime with monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic components.  The British constitution before the reform of the House of Lords under Edward VII was a pretty good example.  The Founders sought to incorporate some elements of the same with the original forms of the presidency and senate and with federal judicial appointments for life.  But the agnosticism of the U.S. system renders the regime, in my opinion, untenable in the long term.  The system requires the moral effects of orthodox religion (as suggested, e.g., in the conclusion to Washington’s Farewell Address).  But because the regime tends to turn religion into liberal democratic religion, which rapidly secularizes, the regime undermines its own foundation and the necessary condition for its continuation.

The First Amendment is a weak reed on which to rest.  A Court that will sweep away a federal statute (DOMA), state constitutional amendments, federalist deference to the states, and 2000 years of tradition on marriage, is unlikely to resist for long the legal theories that would muzzle ‘wrong’ views.  Yes; tax exemption is likely to be an early target.  And on that one the secularists would actually not be violating any law, positive or natural.  A tax benefit that the state grants, the state may freely withdraw.  But I would anticipate the attack going much further.  The astonishing speed with which Windsor and Obergefell became possible shows how quickly the Court is capable of ‘evolving’ against unbroken traditions deeply rooted in natural law.  In some ways an end to tax exempt status might even have a positive benefit:  the anti-Christian tendencies would come out into the open to show Christians our real position.  The pre-Constantinian Roman situation is indeed relevant.

Of course I hope I am unduly pessimistic but suspect I am not.

By the way, these recent SCOTUS decisions confirm my contention that judicial review of congressional legislation is wrong and bad.  I regularly challenge lawyer friends to name one important case in which the Supreme Court clearly was right in overturning a congressional act.  Nobody can do it.  The closest people come is Brown versus Board of Education:  but that overturned local and state policies that the Court (Plessy versus Ferguson) was complicit in, not an act of Congress.  In short, Marbury versus Madison was wrong.  As bad as Congress can be, it is less harmful, more often right, and more easily corrected than the Supreme Court.  The idea that judicial review in regard to federal law disperses power and stands as a bulwark against tyrannical temporary majorities is belied by Roe, Windsor, and Obergefell:  all of which concentrate power in the Court and undermine the rule of law, popular sovereignty, and the objective good.

An agnostic position on Obergefell really won’t work.  The government has no interest in promoting ‘love’ in general or specific domestic arrangements in particular once it severs all natural connection to the procreation and nurture of children.  The new dispensation discriminates against me, as a single person, and against many other domestic arrangements (e.g., polygamous ones) for no good reason.  It is irrational and unjust.  So let’s allow individuals to register any domestic arrangement they desire and stop playing favorites.

A Novus Ordo Mass is one cure for Roman fever.  A good, objective history of Vatican I is another, and one that carries more weight with me.  (Even the development of doctrine argument for papal claims falls apart when one sees the actual extent of the claim:  that Vatican I teaches what the Church always taught, as if Peter and Clement really believed just what Pio Nono believed.  Right.)  Also, I wonder how much will be left standing by the end of Francis’s reign.  I am, again, not optimistic.  Certainly my traditionalist RC friends are not.

This has become a bit gloomy.  Good news:  I really am quite cheerful.  We used to have a big Leninist problem, but now Putin sits under a giant icon of the Theotokos.  I did not think we’d be free of the Soviets in my lifetime.  We’ve swapped the Commies for the Muslims.   We’ll see what God has in store on that front….  I’m told the pace of Muslim-to-Christian conversion is way up, not least because of revulsion concerning jihadist violence.  Oremus.



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