How to Sneer

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to win an argument without actually having to make an argument? Arguments, after all, require a lot of work. They demand facts and logic. And to really argue well—in the style of Socrates or Aquinas, for instance—requires treating one’s interlocutor with charity.

Sneering, by comparison, is easy. There’s no need for carefully constructed syllogisms or verifiable facts. And a properly-wielded sneer can be more powerful than a sound argument. Rather than just silencing an opponent, it sends them whimpering for the nearest exit.

For practical lessons on sneering, look no further than a recent Baffler article by Jessa Crispin, entitled “Maiden America.” The target of Crispin’s sneering is evangelical “purity culture” in general, and “purity balls” in particular—those father/daughter events intended to celebrate and encourage sexual abstinence before marriage.

Crispin clearly disapproves of purity balls, and she wants you to disapprove of them too. Take a moment to see how she does it. You’ll learn the fine art of sneering in 4 easy lessons.

Lesson #1: Lean in to your disgust

To excel at this first lesson, you may find it helpful to emulate a schoolyard bully. Mock anything that seems strange. For example, note how Crispin describes a typical purity ball. “It’s hard to say which is stranger, that grown men have primped themselves up for a middle-school dance or that each couple is father and daughter, here to make ardent sexual declarations to one another.”

The abuse use of language is key here. These grown men didn’t just get dressed for the event. They “primped” themselves. And while it isn’t strange for children to be in the company of their parents, Crispin finds a way to make it sound disgusting. They are couples, making ardent sexual declarations to one another. Eww.

Lesson #2: Pathologize disagreement

The targets of your sneering aren’t just wrong. They are suffering from a disorder. For example: “Purity balls are the ritual high feasts . . . in which a whole nation of dads, including our presidents, obsess over the ins and outs of their daughters’ sexual organs.”

Did you catch that? They aren’t just concerned. They’re “obsessed.” There’s something deeply wrong with them. The phrase, “daughters’ sexual organs” is a nice touch. Sure, it’s baseless, but it further insinuates that these dads’ interest in their daughters is incestuous. And Crispin surely deserves bonus points for the lewdly suggestive “ins and outs.”

Get the hang of lesson #2 by practicing on unsuspecting townspeople:

  • Farmers are obsessed with the sex lives of barnyard animals.
  • Teachers are weirdly fixated on other people’s children.
  • Hospice nurses have some sort of fetish for the frail bodies of the dying.

Lesson #3: Confidence!

Now that you’ve decimated your targets with mockery and accusations of psychological disorder, it’s time to throw some facts at them. Unlike in traditional debate, these facts needn’t be true—but they just need to be delivered with a heavy dose of confidence. Otherwise, onlookers might suspect that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Again, Crispin provides a perfect example: “The idea of sexual purity was a relatively late addition to Christian doctrine.”

Just take a moment to admire that sentence. Imagine what confidence it must take, not just to say such a thing, but to print it in a national magazine! Crispin is on a roll!

Keep in mind that the people she’s writing about are Christians, whose religion is concerned with sexual purity. There’s a pretty good chance they’ll know that 1 Corinthians says to “flee from sexual immorality,” and that the “body is not meant for sexual immorality.” Or that Hebrews says to “let the marriage bed be undefiled.” Or that Jesus warned against even looking at a woman lustfully. Or that Galatians condemns sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality. Or that Colossians says to put sexual immorality to death. Or that 1 Thessalonians says to “abstain from sexual immorality.” Or that Proverbs says that “he who commits adultery lacks sense.” Or that Ephesians says that “sexual immorality and all impurity” shouldn’t even be named among Christians. Or that committing adultery violates one of the ten commandments. Or that maybe (just maybe) they’ve skimmed the book of Hosea.

Friends, sneering takes balls.

Lesson #4: Logical sequences are for dopes

Sneering can help free you from outmoded forms of discourse. (Tip: the word “outmoded” is a valuable tool. It implies that being out of fashion is the same thing as being discredited.)

Crispin give us a solid example of what it looks like to embrace the non-sequitur. After making the outrageous claim that, “sexual purity was a relatively late addition to Christian doctrine,” she substantiates it by saying, “not even priests needed to be celibate until the twelfth century.”

See how that works? Sexual purity didn’t exist until the 12th century because until then priests were allowed to marry. True, the first thing is only tangentially related to the second thing. And if she had checked Wikipedia, she would have learned that clerical celibacy was firmly in place several centuries earlier. But since her targets are still reeling from being called incestuous child molesters, they are unlikely to notice.

So, next time you want to criticize something without the effort of making an argument, try sneering at it. It may prove difficult at first, but take heart. Over time your conscience will atrophy, and these once-outrageous methods will become settled habit.

Featured image: “Father Daughter Dance” by Elizabeth Pfaff (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Virtue Contra VirtĂč: Reflections on a Claremonster’s Idiocy

by Anti-Hystericus

For several decades, good, earthy conservative thinkers have noted with some disgust the Straussianus Claremonstrius, a peacocking species of intellectual native to the West Coast whose esoteric armchair philosophy, peculiar contortions of Plato and Leo Strauss, and atrocious SoCal fashion choices inspire his Eastern brethren to contest any claims to common ancestry. For when a pseudonymous author at Claremont goes so far as to “read into” a fellow scholar’s “esoteric endorsement of Trump,” it’s safe to say that the moniker of “Straussian” has become wholly detached from its namesake and the pretender is best escorted with mirth from the party.

Pity the joke is on us, however, for the Claremonster is in dead earnest and has used several intelligent words and rhetorical flourishes to make his point. And the viral masses are biting.

Our story begins in medias res aboard the doomed Flight 93, a mere six days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11—an allusion as tasteless as the cheeto-stain of a man whom the piece apparently endorses. We are standing with a semiautomatic to our head, handed a partly-loaded revolver, and told to take a spin or meet our maker. Obviously, a man of virtĂč, who stands in solidarity with Chicken Little and unflinchingly declares to the world that THE SKY IS FALLING, knows the only option is to put the barrel to his head and pull the trigger, however much those Pollyannaish dorm-room Marxists urge him to guard his moral agency.

The flurry of allusions is as dazzling as it is banal, and amid the hysterics and histrionics one almost fails to note the egregious elision of the received ethical tradition of the West, an ethical tradition which reaches beyond the Machiavellian virtĂč that delimits the author’s morals, and ties genuine virtue to the moral agency of the person as given by God and made in his image. Brutal, pragmatic, and Machiavellian things tend to have adverse effects on the soul, that tradition holds, and it is one’s soul that one must ultimately give an account for.

It is unclear that the author shares this sensibility (one is tempted to doubt his Christianity, given his appeal to pagan generals and pagan virtĂč, his worship of the martial above the meek, and the interests of the mass above the dignity of the image of God cast upon our shores). But Christians we are, and Christians we remain, and our vision must ultimately be cast beyond the success of this year’s (or any year’s) political bouts. We have survived a hostile culture before and are capable of doing so again. Our fathers have been fed to lions or coated in pitch and set ablaze without calling on Trump to save them, and the Church has managed to spring back from the setbacks. So forgive us if we’re not ready to declare 2016 the year it all finally unravels. We’ll take their virtue over virtĂč for now.

Editor’s note: With that Flight 93 analogy, is Claremont’s most subtle brain saying we have to fly America into the ground ourselves so Terrorist Hillary can’t do it? Aside from it being a ridiculous and offensive metaphor to begin with, the result seems undesirable. Since when has anarchy been a conservative value?

Juvenal on gay marriage

Gracchus has given a dowry of four thousand gold pieces
For a horn-player, or one perhaps who plays the straight pipe;
The contract’s witnessed, ‘felicitations!’, a whole crowd
Asked to the feast, the ‘bride’ reclines in the husband’s lap.
O, you princes, is it a censor we need, or a prophet of doom?
Would you find it more terrible, think it more monstrous
Truly, if a woman gave birth to a calf, or a cow to a lamb?
He’s wearing brocade, the long full dress, and the veil,
He who bore the sacred objects tied to the mystic thong,
Sweating under the weight of shields. O, Romulus, Father
Of Rome, why has this evil touched the shepherds of Latium?
Where is it from, this sting that hurts your descendants, Mars?
Can you see a man noted for birth, wealth, wed to another man,
And your spear not beat the ground, your helmet stay firm,
And no complaint to the Father? Away then, forsake the stern
Campus’s acres, you neglect now. ‘I’ve a ceremony to attend
At dawn, tomorrow, down in the vale of Quirinus.’ ‘Why’s that?’
‘Why? Oh, a friend of mine’s marrying a male lover of his:
He’s asked a few guests.’ Live a while, and we’ll see it happen,
They’ll do it openly, want it reported as news in the daily gazette.
Meanwhile there’s one huge fact that torments these brides,
That they can’t give birth, and by that hang on to their husbands.
But it’s better that Nature grants their minds little power over
Their bodies: barren, they die; with her secret medicine chest,
Swollen Lyde’s no use, nor a blow from the agile Luperci.
Yet Gracchus beats even this outrage, in tunic, with trident,
A gladiator, circling the sand, as he flits about the arena:
He’s nobler in birth than the Marcelli, or the Capitolini,
Than the scions of Catulus and Paulus, or the Fabii,
Than all the front-row spectators, including Himself,
The one who staged that show with the nets and tridents.

—Juvenal, Satires, II. 117–148, A.S. Kline trans.

The nauseating evil of criminalized addiction

“The state where giving birth can be criminal.” The stories in this investigative report by The Nation should fill us with rage. Sponsored by four idle and felonious state senators—Reginald Tate (D), Janice Bowling (R), Todd Gardenhire (R), and Charlotte Burks (D)—a new law imposed criminal penalties on mothers who give birth to babies considered to be “drug-addicted” due to the mother’s illegal narcotic use during pregnancy. All of the Democratic state senators voted for the legislation, and only seven Republican senators voted against it.

This is the very definition of immoral legislation. First, in an attempt to criminalize the harm to an infant resulting from drug use, it actually criminalizes giving birth. Tennessee is a state in which abortion is legal before fetal viability. This law encourages drug-addicted mothers, especially those for whom pregnancy may be an unexpected hardship, to abort their unborn children rather than seek the compassionate care they need. Continue reading The nauseating evil of criminalized addiction

Brief thoughts on negative criticism

Today’s essay by Sordello brought back a couple of thoughts I had regarding the kerfuffle over Marilynne Robinson’s dismissive comments about Flannery O’Connor and the ensuing negative reviews of Robinson’s own recent novel, Lila. I have not yet read Lila so I can’t comment on that. But Robinson is one of my treasured influences, along with O’Connor, Roger Scruton, and others. (I reviewed Scruton’s Beauty a couple of years back. Along with Robinson’s The Death of Adam, it’s in my personal “top 10.”)

Every reader shares, to some degree, the tendency to look for what we want in a book, and to be disappointed if we find something else. I had a disappointing experience recently when I read Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The first half of the novel was thrilling and evocative, I thought a real triumph in postmodern literature. I didn’t like the ending. Set in the prosperous postwar 1950s, the latter half of the book expressed a kind of spiritual malaise and depression which was quite a contrast to the hope and magic of the beginning. Continue reading Brief thoughts on negative criticism

“The church ought to be doing [x] instead of obsessing over sex.”

Part 3 of Will Barrett’s series on “The Intra-Evangelical Culture War.”

The X could be any number of good and important things the church ought to be doing. Most likely, it means feeding the poor, healing the sick, promoting racial reconciliation, or agitating against economic injustice. It it is possible that some churches neglect their part in these activities, but to point this out in a dialogue about sexual morality serves no purpose but to divert attention away from the question at hand with an irrelevant attack on the credibility of the opponent.

Imagine a formal debate in which one speaker declares that both sides would be better served by calling off the debate in favor of doing something more constructive. Then, after his opponent leaves the room, he proceeds to stump for his own point of view on the issue. This is precisely the tactic some progressive Christians use when faced with conservative arguments about the morality and theology of sex. Although they may complain that conservatives are taking too much time away from works of justice and mercy to preach about sex, I have yet to hear of any sexually progressive Christian commentator hold his own advocacy to the same standard. Continue reading “The church ought to be doing [x] instead of obsessing over sex.”

Would Jesus turn water into wine at a same-sex wedding?

Marie Antoinette must be ghostwriting editorials and judicial opinions now, because all we hear from the bench or on the internet these days is let them eat cake. Yes, today’s pundits and jurists can think of no more dangerous threat to democracy than a few confectioners who don’t want to provide same-sex couples with the flavorless monument to conspicuous consumption that is every American couple’s dream. Continue reading Would Jesus turn water into wine at a same-sex wedding?

Why we can’t outgrow church: an ecclesiology of suffering

Donald Miller responded to his critics today, suggesting that he is one of many Christian leaders he knows who, according to him, do not attend church. What a fascinating morsel of gossip, casually tossed to the salivating watchdogs. Tell us more, Don!

Besides being a petty example of the “but all my friends are doing it, Mom” excuse, this reasoning does little except to suggest one more reason evangelicalism is in trouble. Continue reading Why we can’t outgrow church: an ecclesiology of suffering