fragments of an attempted writing.

condom off; condom on; condom, uh, maybe not needed so much...

Sam and Bethany Torode (now back to Bethany Patchin).  Evangelicals who once held Roman Catholic views on contraception and espoused JPII's theology of the body, then converted to Eastern Orthodoxy (Sam once wrote an excellent little article which described the worship at a tiny Greek parish in WI that my wife and I used to attend when visiting my wife's mother - in the article Sam describes moving from a convert Orthodox parish to a cradle Orthodox parish, it was around that time the Torodes publicly ditched the pro-NFP sex position, pun intended), then divorced and are now both liberal Protestants in Nashville.  Quite a story.  You can read about it here.  I wish there were more details.  I also wish them well.

Read somewhere that Bethany got in trouble with the piety cops for going to a priest that wasn't her regular confessor.  On the old blog I wrote (5+ years ago now) about how many of the converts I'd seen leave Orthodoxy left Christianity altogether.  American Orthodoxy is a last religious stop for more than a few who enter her, and perhaps the crisis of losing such a totalizing faith with so many cult-like microcultures on the part of people who grew up in faith-is-like-really-important-for-establishing-lifestyle-branding Evangelicalism is part of the reason that leaving Orthodoxy so often goes hand in hand with other personal crises.  Removing the bong & 4 IVs that were supplying the Kook Aid can be existentially grave for some.

Icing on the cake: Sam Torode has written for Touchstone in the past and even wrote the entry for Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity in ISI's American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (anyone want to buy my copy?).  I think it only natural for a person who becomes a Touchstonista at a young age to end up in ECUSA.  Its kind of like the "of course Francis Schaeffer's only son would be a Frank Schaeffer" phenomenon.

Update:  Then again, there are details I'd rather not have known.

56 comments:

  1. Wait? You actually own a copy?!

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  2. It helps connect the dots. Keep it in the bathroom and you will learn that the founder of the Manhattan Institute left to become director of the CIA and that the Federalist Society has chapters at 145 law schools. Plus I find the book encouraging, as it leaves one feeling confident that Conservatism of all stripes is intellectually thin and attracts petit-bourgeois dweebs, the fever swamp afflicted, and sociopaths.

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  3. I suppose that this is the same reason I regularly listen to conservative Christian radio. Everyone need to appreciate a good disaster from time to time.

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  4. I heard that they used FMG as their excuse for ditching NFP after their 4th was born. I remember it really pissing off the NFP crowd.

    It's all not surprising. They were kids having kids, when they shouldn't have even been married yet. I always feel sorry for those like them, and I know a few. If they are going to get married at 18, they should at least enjoy a decade of guilt free sex.

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  5. ...and who the hell wants to use a fucking condom?

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  6. Conservatism ... attracts petit-bourgeois dweebs, the fever swamp afflicted, and sociopaths.

    That's scary. I wonder which of those three categories I fall into? I suppose "petit bourgeois dweeb" is the most likely.

    I hasten to add that I am not a conservative anymore. But I certainly was one for many, many years so whatever it is that "conservatism of all stripes" attracts, I must be one of them.

    many of the converts I'd seen leave Orthodoxy left Christianity altogether. American Orthodoxy is a last religious stop for more than a few who enter her ...

    I've seen that, too. Indeed, there was a point in the process of my own conversion to Orthodoxy where I felt that if Orthodoxy were not the True Church, then there is no True Church and I should be better off becoming a Buddhist. (Since then, I seem to have managed to become a Lutheran without any significant temptation to Buddhism, so go figure.) It's that attitude that "either Orthodoxy is 'It' or Christianity is just a cock-and-bull story" that led many to believe that you were on your way out of Christianity altogether when you left Orthodoxy and shut down the old blog. I thought that your faith in Christ was deeper than all the phyletistic/BRE/whatever nonsense that is American Orthodoxy, and I said so at the time.

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  7. "Update"

    Wow... Anal rape... Wow... WTF is wrong with people...

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  8. From what I've observed the problems of marrying young and marrying late are pretty much the same in magnitude, but different. For those who marry young (under 22 for purposes here) the biggest problem tends to be grinding poverty. For those who marry later, the problems tend to revolve around a lack of fertility.

    What afflicted the Torodes tends to afflict people who seek the public forum. They seek affirmation in the public forum. It often reflects the absence of a real support system. It confuses confidence with speaking louder and bolder.

    If one looks to the historical record, one finds basically no support for the thesis that marital stability improves with advanced age upon entry. The current data will show that a woman should wait until 23 and a man should wait until 25 to be the optimum age. Those numbers almost entirely reflect economics and not social maturity.

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  9. The last comment should have just been my name, rather than the blog I participate at. The login worked previously okay. Oh well.

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  10. You know what I find astounding - I just realized how young the Torrodes were when they wrote their book against artificial contraception. For some reason I had thought them closer to me in age, but Bethany just turned 30 according to her blog. They were married at 19. This would seem to indicate they were married during or near 2000. They published their book against contraception in 2002 - March of 2002 at that. Which means they wrote it in 2001.

    WHO THE HELL TAKES A BOOK ON MARITAL SEX SERIOUSLY WHEN IT WAS WRITTEN BY 21 YEAR OLD NEWLYWEDS???

    And I wonder how many, whether from the Evangelical community, the RC community (the Torrodes were the darlings of conservative American Catholics for a season), or the Orthodox community advised the Torrodes that it was very dangerous business to be writing about sex when newly married and so young. I suspect too little was given too late. In 2003-2004 Sam was putting out small volumes on the Theology of the Body, apparently still in his very early 20s. I told my wife all this and she said somebody should have told these people to wait 20 years before saying a damn thing about the spirituality of sex in marriage. I hope all of these Touchstonista and First Things Catholics who went gaga over the Torrodes now consider themselves slightly culpable in the demise of a marriage. I cannot imagine the inducement toward stupidity and relational pathology that must be present when one is a recognized expert on Christian sex at the age of 22. Shame on the people who brought them that fame.

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  11. For the record, I've been informed that Sam is about 5 years older than Bethany. I suppose this very slightly mitigates my point above.

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  12. I appreciate your last comment, "Shame on the people who brought them that fame." Indeed. I also like the end of the NYT's piece, although I highly doubt it: “I am out of the business of trying to tell people what they should do,” Mr. Torode said. “I am out of that business for good.”

    And regarding her blog post, truly too much information. Poor children.

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  13. On the old blog I wrote (5+ years ago now) about how many of the converts I'd seen leave Orthodoxy left Christianity altogether. American Orthodoxy is a last religious stop for more than a few who enter her, and perhaps the crisis of losing such a totalizing faith with so many cult-like microcultures on the part of people who grew up in faith-is-like-really-important-for-establishing-lifestyle-branding Evangelicalism is part of the reason that leaving Orthodoxy so often goes hand in hand with other personal crises.

    Lol, *raises hand*. That's me, almost to a T. 31, converted to Orthodoxy in 2000, now...well, pretty much doesn't give a shit is my religious view. And yes, brief Byz Cath stint. Granted, my reasons for converting had to do with being guilty about other things, but still, after...oh, a couple-ish years, converts either tend to burn out and leave altogether, or really, really drink the kool aid and dive in head first.

    I used to despise the Orthodox practice of not having anonymous confession. Being glued to your parish priest for confession seemed...so Protestant (and like in Portland, where all the Orthodox clergy know each other, I never felt totally safe talking to clergy). On more than a few times I'd go to Holy Rosary in NE PDX for a weekday mass/confession.

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  14. I certainly feel sorry for her. I Googled her name, and on another forum, someone described her as having the maturity of a teenager. Which may very well be true-if you start out at an early age engaged in all sorts of social conservative tomfoolery, and do the whole convert uber pious thing, then most likely you're gonna burn out and leave religion altogether at some point. And then, when you start talking to and hanging out with normal people, it takes a long time to do that. No more Touchstone or debating the apostolic succession of Swedish bishops or reading the deranged retired Bishop of San Francisco talking out of his as on the Indiana list, or trying to harmonize conservative/libertarian politics with Orthodoxy/Catholicism...sooner or later you realize that its all bullshit, and leaves you totally inadequate to deal with real people, and to catch up on all the fun stuff you missed out on in your 20s.

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  15. In a slightly unrelated note, I was never part of the Federalist Society, but I know a number of people who were/are. I don’t think their presence at 145 American law schools means anything more than that there are 145 American law schools which, up until the 1980s/90s, were outwardly hostile to anything which remotely smelled of conservatism (be it economic, social, whatever). The (attempted) genius of the Fed Soc was that it would provide a broad enough canopy for conservatives of all stripes, even self-professed libertarians. I would say that a bulk of the Fed Soc today is libertarian, mainly because libertarian views are seen as “permissible” even in law schools which are heavily weighted toward left-wing views. You also have to keep in mind that the Fed Soc arose during a period when the elite law schools were dominated by critical legal studies, a movement as intellectual vacuous as it is comical. I understand that CLS came about, in part, as a response to Law & Economics, but L&E was never intended to be “conservative” in an ideological sense. Given the fact that a large swathes of L&E is nauseating to many conservatives (e.g., Robert Bork disowned the movement after it migrated away from “pure economic” realms like antitrust to begin proposing structural changes to family law, constitutional law, etc.), I think the CLS movement was motivated into existence by a misunderstanding rather than a substantive disagreement. But in the end, L&E is still going strong while CLS is quickly fading from everyone’s memory.

    I will give praise to the Fed Soc for creating a solid network of scholars who are ready, willing, and able to visit campuses hostile to their positions and debate the local talent. Personally, I find that it improves the intellectual culture of the school, even though the lectures are one shots and the students can go back to their pet ideologies the moment the discussion is over. But if it wasn’t for the Fed Soc, there are many law schools where you wouldn’t get a “dissenting view” on much of anything.

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  16. "details" link now goes to an error page. Dang. I always miss all the good stuff.

    On another note: I dimly recall reading the Torodes' rationale for ditching NFP, back in the day. It was FMG-drenched: Bad Westerners Bad Bad Bad St. Augustine & His Evil Perverted View of Sex as Bad Bad Bad Manichean Dichotomy Yuck Everything Western Is Bad, etc. and so on. I guess I should have figured they were just young kids...I knew absolutely nothing about them at the time.

    Diane

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  17. BTW, I consider myself pretty conservative, except on the immigration issue. Oh, and I'm not overly fond of war, either. But other than that....

    Diane

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  18. If you want to read Paul T.'s moment of truth about convert Orthodoxy, Touchstone has kindly provided an account here.

    It's funny watching all the "mere Christians" considering that, in the preface to that very book, Lewis wrote, "I have also said nothing about birth-control. I am not a woman nor even a married man, nor am I a priest. I did not think it my place to take a firm line about pains, dangers and expenses from which I am protected; having no pastoral office which obliged me to do so." Lewis repeated this demurral in a bunch of letters, but no matter: one can find a variety of interesting acts of exegesis across the net by people who really want him to oppose birth control.

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  19. Does FMG refer to the wife of a certain ECUSA-turned-Antiochian priest in Linthicum, Maryland?

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  20. CWin,

    Yep. FMG is actually FM-G.

    Interesting about Lewis. I recall reading something Lewis had written, concerning the period after he and Joy Davidman had their "Christian marriage," that they had enjoyed exploring "every nook and cranny" or something to that effect. I mention that only because perhaps it is in keeping with the bum chummery theme which has already entered this thread, and given what you note regarding Lewis and birth control, and given that some American Christians (particularly confused Evangelicals, those still overtly Prot and those pretending to be Catholic or Orthodox) believe that Lewis is the last breath of Western Christendom, I should think it most appropriate if it turned out he was into the occasional buggery bits. He did have those nasty boarding school experiences (and we know what English boys suffered so often in such locales) and did have that rather odd relationship with the old lady, and ends up falling in love with Davidman who was by all accounts a bit freaky, so I'm inclined to think that behind the whole I-hate-T-S-Eliot-and-understand-Christianity facade was the Christian king of kink. Come to think of it - mere Christianity probably made the new fascination with sex on the part of trendy "conservative" Christians possible. A Christianity where themes (patriarchy, anti-abortion, anti-homo, anti-"liberal", etc., etc.) replace ecclesiologies or even just natural allegiances depends upon the provocative.

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  21. A very sad story, to be sure. But you ought to be wary of generalizing too much from it (aside from the "kids in their twenties really ought not write books on marriage")
    Early marriage is actually a very good idea, at least if you believe in the traditional Christian teachings on sexuality, as I do. I married in my early forties, and believe me, I wouldn't wish that long struggle on anyone.
    Of course in this culture of permanent adolescence this is generally not wise, but there are exceptions.
    I have written privately to Owen on the subject of large families; he thought my 7 kids was a "huge" family and I just gave him some perspective, including an anecdote about a family I know.
    They were pregnant teenagers, whose devout Nazarene parents were urging abortion, but they defiantly married and had the baby. Then another and another and...they became Catholic, and endured years of poverty with an ever-growing batch of children. Eventually the dad landed a job as a union carpenter, so they are doing okay. The woman, who has always had difficult pregnancies, and who endured a horrible stillbirth, is currently expecting her twelfth child. Their marriage is sound, to all appearances, and they have no regrets.
    Of course they also have great strength of character, which this poor woman to all appearances does not.
    They, by the way, are not intellectuals nor Latin Mass types, just ordinary - or rather, extraordinary- Catholics.
    Having married young, they grew up together and still have a certain freshness, fruit of young and courageous love.

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  22. It is a wonder there are any convert Orthodox left.

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  23. Win,

    Well he did write it into That Hideous Strength. I never got the obsession with the man. Generally his writing was shit.

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  24. Lotar,

    Generally his writing was shit.

    I must gently, and partially, disagree with you here.

    I think it was probably a mistake for Lewis to fancy himself a fiction writer. His fiction is mostly quite poor, most often being a rather wooden allegory and quite preachy. The only novel of his that I think is any good is Till We Have Faces, probably because it is the least directly involved with Christianity. The Narnia series starts out OK -- The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is mildly charming -- but there is nowhere near enough substance for a seven-novel franchise. The nadir of Lewis's "fiction" is That Hideous Strength, which is a barely-fictionalized rewrite of The Abolition Of Man. Whatever is of value in Lewis's thought on that subject is much better conveyed in Abolition; That Hideous Strength adds nothing.

    Lewis's non-fiction is much better. His theological writings are not deep, but they are sound, and engagingly written. His apologetic works are well-suited to their time and to their purpose, which was principally to disarm the sort of facile and unthinking agnosticism then fashionable. I doubt whether his apologetics ever converted many truly principled atheists, but I am sure that he brought to Christ many who would otherwise have rejected the faith simply because they had never thought it through.

    His literary criticism (the stuff of his actual "day job") was first-rate.

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  25. David, compelling post. I suspect, though, that the strength of character allowed the overcoming of struggles and the large family, rather than vice versa, as some NFP and Quiverfull types would have it. Having myself married in my late thirties and had my child at three months short of forty, I agree that younger marriage and family-starting would be, ideally, better; but I'm hard pressed to see how it would be possible for most in our society as currently constituted.

    A counter-example to the family you mention is Scott Hahn and his wife. Early in my life as a Catholic convert (in the early 90's) I used to go with a parish group to conferences at Franciscan University in Steubenville (I'm much better now!). Anyway, I remember him speaking once up there, talking about the evils of contraception (that wasn't even the main topic of the talk) and discussing how his wife had had several children though her pregnancies were difficult and she'd needed more than one caesarian section. He concluded by introducing her to the podium to speak while saying that she was pregnant yet again, despite the probably need for another c-section.

    You'd have to have been there, but it was a triumphalist vibe of "poppin' another one out for Jeeezus", no matter what the cost to mother ('cause, it's only her life and health, y'know). Kinda bugged me even then in my more naive days--nauseates me now. Nothing like the humble, sacrificial love of the couple you speak of.

    Chris: The only novel of [Lewis's} that I think is any good is Till We Have Faces, probably because it is the least directly involved with Christianity.

    I'd agree with this and the rest of your comment. Till We Have Faces is quite good--he said it outright, but you can see it clearly here, that he was deeply and viscerally in tune with Classical mythology. Also, I read somewhere that Tolkien was quite critical of the explicitly religious content. He was careful to keep any such thing completely out of The Lord of the Rings and his other novels and stories. Tolkien also thought that, instead of trying to create a coherent mythos, that Lewis did a sort of mash-up of disparate mythological themes and tropes in the Narnia books. Of course, JRRT went to the other extreme on that, spending decades polishing one mythos to the nth degree.

    Anyway, I agree that Lewis's non-fiction, especially the criticism, was much better than his fiction, and that the Space Trilogy was the weakest of his fiction.

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  26. Having done an OB rotation this past Spring, allow me this: I know that in most hospital settings the husband/paramour who is next to the prego lady at a C-Section is subtly led to feel he has "watched" the event (whether screens or no screens), but allow me to say that if you have not watched a section south of the uterus, you have never watched a section. It is a brutal, gruesome procedure and hospitals today are c-section mills. I cannot help but think that any husband who actually knows all that a section involves, understands the physiology involved, and has for some reason seen a section done from south of the uterus, but still has his section prone wife popping out section baby after section baby, is among the most sick of sociopaths. Alot of OBs out there are butchers and the procedure is never nice. There is little I can think of in society today that is more anti-woman than a c-section operating room. And the more sections a woman undergoes, the more that uterus becomes a time bomb when carrying children. A uterus full of scar tissue is a very dangerous thing to the health of the woman and any children she carries. Life ain't a fucking Michael O'Brien novel where some angel comes in and saves the woman with the dangerous uterine condition at the last minute. If you really want to be pro-life then you need to be pro-uterus.

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  27. Also, I read somewhere that Tolkien was quite critical of the explicitly religious content. He was careful to keep any such thing completely out of The Lord of the Rings and his other novels and stories.

    From what I remember, the Catholic/Orthodox convert blogosphere talked about nothing else when the movies came out.

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  28. Personally I feel that Til We Have Faces far surpasses LotR. At any rate nobody ever tried to copy it. It seems to me that Joy had a lot to do with the book too, as it reflects her interests as well as his.

    Lewis's attitudes (or lack of them) about sexuality also reflect a world which was grossly distorted by WW I. Spinsters litter English literature of the next several decades because such a large portion of the male population was killed off in France that there literally weren't enough men to go around. Many women simply could not marry. Arrangements like Lewis had with Mrs. Moore weren't all that uncommon.

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  29. Dear Mr. White,

    I must confess I am rather intrigued by your political eisegesis of my honeymoon-kinkiness. For what doth a bit of beginner's-exploration hath to do with espousing either natal or contraceptive ideologies? How you've managed to deduce one from another is quite puzzling, I must say...

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  30. It should be noted here that a lot of caesarians are unnecessary.
    We had our last baby at home; we used to go to birthing centers in the hospital (though we had had one earlier baby at home) but these have disappeared. At least there are no longer any around here.
    According to our midwife, the hospitals discontinued them because with the midwives C-Sections were rare, and it was hurting their bottom line.
    Now that is the midwife's version, but in fact they are gone, and if that is the reason, how sick is that?

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  31. Dear Jack,

    It was obvious that after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe you had exhausted the question of all the things humans can do with beavers.

    Cheers!

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  32. I'm afraid that still doesn't address my question, sir.

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  33. Clive,

    Oh bother.

    I made no assertion or serious "guess" but rather a "it would fit the bill" and a fairly facetious go at that. Any eisegesis I engaged in was most certainly not political and I reject this notion that any and all speculation with regard to the sexuality of a writer or public figure is political. Darling of neo-Caths and Tom Monaghan employee Joseph Pearce, in his bio of Hilaire Belloc, speculates concerning the sexual problems of Belloc and his wife when they were first married. He speculates on the basis of what he knew of the sexual milieu Belloc and his wife grew up in and their life experiences we know about and their own temperaments. To apply the same speculation to Lewis should leave us with little confidence that his exploration of Joy Davidman was that of a beginning explorer. As for what "beginner's-exploration hath to do with espousing either natal or contraceptive ideologies" I only stated that CWin's Lewis quotes reminded me of other Lewis quotes. I will say that CWin's Lewis quotes reveal exactly that sort of sort of thinking which Lewis fans mock when it comes from one of their enemies. I did not think it my place to take a firm line about pains, dangers and expenses from which I am protected - really? By that logic most of what white middle class social conservatives in this country argue could should be dismissed. And it is fitting such thought should come by way of Mere Christianity, a work and a thesis which promotes an ethereal Christianity of values and sentiments and ideals wrapped in cheap apologetics (here I fondly remember Anscombe, who once kicked Lewis' ass in a debate concerning his pop apologetics confidences), the whole Oxford don song and dance notwithstanding. At the CS Lewis society here in Memphis the guy who heads it is married to a priestess, something Lewis hated. I've heard similar stories about the CS Lewis society in Manhattan. But that fits, because in the end Lewis is a thinker who wraps his subjective and sentimental religious persuasions in a cloak of "traditional Christian posture" that is not really traditional at all. Lewis very much represents the spirit of 20th century Anglicanism, though a "conservative" expression of that spirit as opposed to a liberal one - but conservative Anglican remains picksy choosy, they just tend to pick and choose different things than the liberal Anglicans do - though not always - see how many conservative Anglicans, including their clerics, followed Lewis and embraced the divorce and remarriage bit in the second half of the 20th century. Fine. Whatever floats their boats, but don't present it as traditional or truly counter-cultural, etc.

    I've read a fair amount of literary criticism in my lifetime. Lewis' English Literature in the Sixteenth Century gets mentioned a fair amount in work concerning that era (or used to anyway), but outside of Christian circles and scholar-friends of Lewis', it is not widely recognized as the work of profound genius that one hears it called among the fans. Outside of that work Lewis has no claim to be even a significant literary critic of the 20th century, let alone a top tier one. Were it not for Lewis' Christian writing gig and fantasy, he would be another grumpy don from his generation that churned out mostly insignificant scholarship. His hatred of TS Eliot, and the lengths he went to try and assault Eliot's career, is as pathetic as Belloc's false war reporting in WWI. But if you really want to get the best account of just how parochial, campy, and intellectual bloated and insignificant Lewis was, by all means read Maurice Cowling's Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England: Volume 3, Accommodations. Cowling's dismissal of the Lewis & Inkling cult is beautiful.

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  34. Daniel, thank you. Yes, most C-sections nowadays are unnecessary.

    I had one with Baby #2, who was footling breach. (So, in my case, I think it really was necessary, although in many cases, as you say, it's not.) I guess I don't see what all the fuss is about, though. I didn't see what was going on during the C-section, and I didn't want to, but the end result was great. (His name is Paul. :)) The anesthesia worked fine; I was ready to kiss the anesthesiologist's feet. Recovery was a bit rough, but so what? Recovery after any surgery is a bit rough.

    I guess I'm not as cynical as y'all. If the Hahns want to have a lot of kids, so what? It's their decision. Kimberly is the one who convinced Scott re "going natural," so I hardly think she's the put-upon barefoot-and-pregnant victim here.

    I dunno...can't quite follow y'all as quite as far as you are going with this.

    What strikes me about the NYT piece is not that it blames Convert Orthodoxy as the source for the Torodes' alleged benighted NFP Fixaion, but rather that it leaves Orthodoxy out of the equation altogether. The NYT author conveniently omits that part of the story, leaving the reader with the impression that this is yet another backwoods-fundies-see-the-liberal-light narrative. How tiresome that is (not to mention intellectually dishonest on the NYT's part).

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  35. (Don't mean to imply, BTW, that I'm a huge Hahn fan. I saw him and Kimberly once and enjoyed their talks, but I'm no celebrity chaser. Have been to exactly three Catholic conferences in my entire life: a charismatic conference at Notre Dame in 1974; a Marian conference in the mid-'90s; and the Hahn thing, sometime in the late '90s. Thass all.)

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  36. I suspect that the NYT may not have asked or even known about that part of their lives. This was a fluff piece. Folks who wrote a pro-NFP book as Evangelicals are now "secular Christians," divorced, and all for artificial contraception. Get a few nice quotes on that and a couple pics, end of story. To get into Orthodoxy and the Torrodes overall "spiritual history" would have required an article at least twice the length as that little article.

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  37. Owen, I'm sure you're right. Yep, a puff piece, definitely. Get the facts that fit the narrative, over and out.

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  38. Diane: If the Hahns want to have a lot of kids, so what? It's their decision. Kimberly is the one who convinced Scott re "going natural," so I hardly think she's the put-upon barefoot-and-pregnant victim here.


    Of course it's their decision and no other as to number of kids, risks, etc. Their family, as such, is no one else's business. On the other hand, given that they are highly public figures, and that they choose to make their familial options a point of public knowledge and moreover recommend them as the correct choice for Catholics in general, I think they're fair game for critique.

    In ecumenical contexts where non-Catholics are involved and an irenic tone is sought, the NFP crowed will dismiss the old "Catholics are supposed to have as many kids as possible" trope as a myth, assuring the audiences that the correct number of children differs and that such decisions are for the couple in mature discernment and prayer. The only difference from secular views is that contraception is verboten--only NFP.

    In what they actually promote though, and sometimes say when speaking to the True Believers, they do believe, or come perilously close to believing, in "poppin' 'em out for Jeeezus". You never see NFPistas (if I use one of Owen's favorite suffixes here!) with one or two children enthusiastically pushing NFP and discussion how they discerned that an only child or an heir and a spare were right for them.

    That the women in such cases aren't in fact "put-upon barefoot-and-pregnant victims" (and I agree with you, that doesn't describe Kimberly) in a sense makes it worse. They've drunk the Kool-Aid and think it's almost a duty to keep getting pregnant even if the risk to their own (and of course their child's) health is significant. I don't have direct experience with c-sections, though I tend to incline towards Owen's view; but to keep having children knowing in advance that you'll almost certainly have to have a c-section, and that the risk is much higher (I don't remember the details of the talk, but there was some kind of complication Kimberly kept having that necessitated the c-sections) seems to me problematic, at best.

    In any case, in setting Kimberly Hahn up as an example before a cheering crowd, NFPistas are essentially putting her forth as a role model. If she wants to keep having young'uns at foreseeable risk to her health, that's her and Scott's business; but when she implicitly sets that up as a model for others, I do have quite a problem with it.

    I'd close with an observation I made regarding this post over at Arturo's blog. People promoting NFP and pregnancies regardless of risk are big on talking about "trusting in God". Oddly, I never here such people talking about "trusting in God" when the doctor finds a malignant tumor. They may go to Lourdes or pray novenas or invoke St. Peregrine, but they damn sure don't skip chemo or surgery. God must be less trustworthy on those kinds of thing....

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  39. Owen, I haven't read the debate between Anscombe and Lewis, and I'm not likely to do so, because Miracles has always struck me as a particularly weak book, even after he revised it. The weakness I see comes from a personal perspective which leads me to dismiss the value of even considering the questions it addresses, which pretty much ruins me for doing apologetics on the terms that most people would recognize. But at any rate reading around I get a different impression of their encounter. First and foremost, Lewis definitely gets points for acknowledging that he had made mistakes in his arguments and for trying to fix them. Second, I also get the impression that Anscombe, if not entirely satisfied with the revisions that Lewis made, did see them as improvements.

    There's no point in going over the "picksy choosy" thing because we already know each other's sneers by heart by now, but I would observe that the inevitable fate of "ecumenical" conservative journals like FT and Touchstone is that the RCs end up taking over. I gave up on the former when I realized that (a) Gilbert Meilaender was pretty much the only real Protestant left, (b) he was the only one whose articles had anything to say to anyone who wasn't already Catholic, and (c) Neuhaus's routine dig at the Anglicans each issue got awfully Colluphidist. I was never much of a Touchstone reader but they seem to be down to a single Baptist these days.

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  40. Well, Tu, I'd say that there's a pretty substantial difference between a baby and a malignant tumor, but I don't want to get derailed into an argument here at a blog where I enjoy just hanging out and being silly. :)

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  41. Besides, I need to get back to work. :)

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  42. Well there is always the hydatidiform mole or "molar pregnancy." But now I'm just reaching for the nursing school geek thing.

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  43. Diane, I wasn't comparing children to tumors! I was trying to show the inconsistency in NFPista thought. They start from the premise that contraception is wrong, and then if anyone objects (what if I can't afford more children), they say, "Trust God." The other place that phrase gets tossed around is in appeals for money, in which stories get trotted out of people of few means near financial default who gave sacrificially and then found that everything worked out just dandy. It was in this context that I gave the tumor analogy--"just trust God" seems to be said only to preach the evils of contraception or to get bucks, but never in other situations. See?

    Of course, you never hear stories of families who trusted God and then had the mother die in childbirth, or trusted God and then lost their home and went bankrupt. It would ruin the narrative.

    I'm not saying we shouldn't trust God; I am saying that "trust" doesn't mean naively abandoning any semblance of rational thought in the belief that God will always fix things. The Christian teaching is that God doesn't fix things in this world, anyway--that's what "bearing the cross" is about. NFPistas and priests or others pushing for bigger tithes imply some kind of Calvinist-cum-Santa Claus God who makes things work out just fine if we'll just trust Him enough by avoiding contraception no matter how many kids we have and give till it hurts and then give some more. Unfortunately, this modus operandi of God bears little relationship with observed reality.

    I'm not trying to derail you into an argument, btw--I just find the rhetoric that these groups use very offensive and I think it promotes a distorted picture of God and religion more generally.

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  44. I'm not saying we shouldn't trust God; I am saying that "trust" doesn't mean naively abandoning any semblance of rational thought in the belief that God will always fix things

    Totally agree. Sorry for misunderstanding.

    I disagree re contraception, but I admit that it's easy for me to talk, because we had our babies later in life, and after the second, the old reproductive system shut down. Wouldn't have minded a couple more, though. Babies rock.

    I'm not an NFP-ista, but I do subscribe to Church Teaching on the contraception question. I also agree that multiple babies can be a financial and emotional burden, but, as you say, that's the Cross. Which doesn't mean going out and procreating like bunny rabbits. And let's face it, most families who practice NFP or some other natural method (including the "Catholic and Careless" non-method) do not end up with 25 kids. Horror stories and worst-case scenarios are not the norm.

    Anyway...I think we mostly agree, so I will shut up now. :)

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  45. Sorry for awkward phrasing. I mean to say:

    "Which doesn't mean that couples should go out and procreate like bunny rabbits."

    BTW, re the C-section issue raised above, and in deference to Owen's nursing-school knowledge: While I am fully prepared to admit that C-sections are probably brutal and grisly (I sure in heck would not want to witness one), I also hafta say that they do, well, save a lot of lives. Not too many women die in childbirth in the U.S. these days. I, for one, am grateful for that. :)

    OK, sorry for rambling. Now I really will shut up.

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  46. I thank Owen for giving that "south of the uterus" view of C-sections. It's insidious and very damaging, how people are led to believe that C-sections are no big deal. They are done way too often. Granted, they save some lives, as Diane notes, which is not to be minimized. But I think Owen has told the truth that needs to be told about how C-sections are abused and in fact endanger lives, too.

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  47. C. Wingate, the crux of the issue with Lewis and Anscombe was over the former's chapter on what he called "naturalism", by which he meant a materialist, determinist view of the cosmos. His basic point was that if everything is totally determined by blind, determined causes, then the same is true for our minds. But if this is so, then it's hard to see how we can claim accuracy for our very thinking, including the doctrine of materialistic determinism. If that's true, we think and believe what we're determined to think and believe, whether it's true or not.

    A crude analogy (not Lewis's): blind cave fish have adapted by evolution to have no eyes since it promotes their survival. However, the cave fish's perception of reality is incorrect insofar as it fails to be aware of even the possibility of light. What is adaptive is not necessarily true. Interestingly, in a vastly different context, Nietzsche made the same point (I think it was in Beyond Good and Evil).

    I've tried to find information about the specifics of the debate, and Anscombe seems to have made some highly technical and (to me) abstract criticisms of Lewis's original contentions. I confess I'm not quite sure I understand the critique. To the (limited) extent that I do, I'm not completely sure I agree that Anscombe was right; but I don't really grasp the issue that well. Beyond that, your description of Lewis's response seems right, from all I've read. There seems to be disagreement as to whether he abandoned specifically apologetic works as a result of this or not, and as to how shaken he was by Anscombe's critique. Ironically, she was a practicing Catholic, and so as theists they were both "on the same team".

    On your second topic, I don't read conservative ecumenical magazines much anymore, so I don't really care; but given that (presumably) Orthodox and Catholics aren't imperiously driving away Protestants and taking over by force, what does that say about such publications? Btw, one example "worse" (from a non-Catholic perspective) than any of the ones you list is the (by me execrable--and I am Catholic) New Oxford Review, which started as an Anglican publication and then changed to Catholic altogether. Go figure.

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  48. Good grief, I had managed to put NOR out of my mind for years. Man I couldn't stand them. If nothing else, they never got the memo that Anglicans are supposed to be calm, urbane types rather than popping the safety valves all the time.

    Far be it from me to express knowledge of the internal politics of these magazines, but I get the impression that from the Roman perspective there the Anglicans tended to become a tolerated rather than co-equal presence, used when their arguments advanced the Roman apologetic cause and ignored when they didn't. Also I get the impression that a fair number were undoing psycho-theological treatment to suppress their Anglican urges on the way to the banks of the Tiber.

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  49. There is something of a hiatus in Lewis's apologetics for a time after the debate but he did eventually resume writing apologetic works.

    When reading Lewis one should keep in mind that his thinking changed a lot and that there is a speculative-to-experimental quality to much of it. If you buy a copy of The Pilgrim's Regress now you will find a preface from him saying that he wrote this when he was newly converted and didn't understand that his conversion was atypical, and that looking back at it he sees a lot wrong with it including losing his temper at one point. The early enmity with Eliot faded as both of them shifted positions over the years, to the point where considerably later in life they were working together on a project to update the psalter. In spite of the Oxfordian, reserved, magisterial colors that a lot of his supposed supporters paint him in, he is really something of a mercurial character.

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  50. At least with NOR you don't get the neo-con Catholicism you get with First Things, or the pathetic sappiness you get with Touchstone, or the pathetic condescension you get from both. I much prefer acerbic and "we don't give a shit who we piss off"ness of NOR.

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  51. That's a good point, Owen. I prefer my reading like my drinks--straight up, not watered down (even if they taste repulsive), and whatever else you want to say about NOR it's sure never watered down!

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  52. Some people eat Marmite too.

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  53. "At least with NOR you don't get the neo-con Catholicism you get with First Things, or the pathetic sappiness you get with Touchstone, or the pathetic condescension you get from both. "

    I'm with you, but what is it with the creepy clip art drawings favored by NOR editors?

    Soon to be ex-Episcopal priest

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  54. I don't have anything to add to this discussion other than that I am very pleased to have found this blog. Splendid writing, thinking and discussion. I will be back and, hopefully, will have a bit more time to join in the conversation.

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