Sola Scriptura**

[UPDATED: October 8, 2017, at 12:23am. Corrected version.]

We are living through an interpretive crisis. Perhaps we should have seen it coming. The Christian world, after all, is now celebrating (if that is the right word) the five hundredth anniversary of being ripped apart by a similar challenge to its interpretive frame, started when a certain obscure lecturer in theology nailed (or notNinety-five Theses to the door of the university chapel in Wittemberg hoping to initiate a debate about indulgences. (Trigger warning: talk of Scriptural exegesis to come!)

Back then, Martin Luther and his fellow reformers (some of whom he vehemently disavowed, and yet who still get lumped together with him as anti-Catholic) came up with the idea that readers of Scripture should be able to interpret the texts themselves, without any necessary input from the Magisterium or the tradition. As Luther put it: “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it.”

Be careful what you wish for – to coin a phrase. Surely even Luther would be surprised at the way some read Scripture today.

You’ve heard about the Buzzfeed article, I’m sure. You will also know, if you read it carefully and not just for the juicy bits (see below), that I have been in touch with Milo for over a year, sending him things to read and suggesting ideas for his campus talks. On December 9, 2016, he wrote to me under the subject line “So here’s something I could use help on”:
I want to make my big Christmas talk about “How the Catholic Church has been right about absolutely everything ever”  
In the same thread we talk about making arrangements to meet in person for the first time in Chicago – I was hoping to meet at Trump Tower, but as it turned out, the weather made us change venue because Milo’s drivers were wimps not used to dealing with the snow; we got to meet at Trump Tower in July – and I tell him I have been brainstorming for just such an argument.

We talked by email more over the next week. I suggested various books for him to look at, including Diane Moczar’s Seven Lies About Catholic History: Infamous Myths About the Church’s Past and How to Answer Them(As I told him: “This book is a quick read, but as I remember does a good job answering some of the more persistent fables. The opposite of the Church getting everything right – things that everyone tends to get wrong about the Church!” To which he replied: “ah, excellent”).

And we came up with a list of themes: consensual marriage, education (he added this one), science, the separation of Church and State, and (my favorite) the rejection of identity politics in favor of a willingness to see all human beings as made in the image and likeness of God.

My proof? A passage from Scripture, from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (3:23-29):
Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
In the talk as he gave it at Minnesota State, Milo quoted only the central part of this passage, which I had highlighted for him.

From the script to his talk:
No lecture on Christmas would be complete without at least one bible quote. And here it is, Galatians 3:28: 
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 
The bible is arguing against the identity politics that has gripped western civilization in the last few decades. Identity doesn’t matter, because we are all human beings. The most vibrant places on earth for the catholic church are in South America, Africa, and even China. Hardly what you’d expect from a religion painted by the left as evil and white.
In his own words, from the video of his talk (at 9:30, with his ad libs in bold):
...Well, the bible is arguing here against identity politics. (Audience murmursNo, it is! It is! Now, they didn’t know about it then, but what they are effectively arguing for is a world not that dissimilar from the one envisaged by Martin Luther King. Identity doesn’t matter because we are all equal human beings. Now in their case it is equal human beings under God. But it might similarly be equal human beings freed from the shackles of identity politics that insist on dividing us all by race, gender, sexuality. The most vibrant places on earth for the catholic church are in South America, Africa, and China. Which isn’t really what you’s expect from a religion painted by the left as evil and white. It isn’t. Why? Because of that (pointing to the slide with the verse).

Because, as I had told Milo several times over the course of our email exchange:
It is actually the same with “race/class/gender”: the current identity politics are a kind of Christian heresy (as is Marxism): Paul says in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek [i.e. race], there is neither slave nor free [i.e. class], there is neither male nor female [i.e. gender]; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The identity fanatics want to pull us apart. – September 23, 2016
History is a huge one. What most Americans think they know about Catholicism are myths created largely in the nineteenth century by popular writers like Walter Scott, Washington Irving, and Mark Twain. Twain has an astonishing account in “Connecticut Yankee” about how the Catholic Church invented slavery (he seems to be thinking mainly about Anglo-Saxon England, to the utter neglect of the ancient Romans!). Slavery is a complicated issue: the main thing Christianity does is recognize even slaves as human beings (Galatians 3:28), which meant throughout the Middle Ages, the Church recognized an obligation to preach to all the people – and to hold the nobility to account for the way in which they treated the peasantry. I did a blog post in my Chivalry series on the difference between the Vikings (whom everybody celebrates in modern popular culture as murderous thugs) and the crusaders (whom modern popular culture like “Kingdom of Heaven” vilifies) with the giant difference between the two being the Peace of God movement of the early eleventh century. I can send links! – October 13, 2016
Galatians 3:28: this should be common to all Christians, that we do not seek to divide each other into groups by sex, race, or class. I think you can point to the Catholic Church in the global south, as they like to call it: the Church is much more vibrant in places where there are lots of brown and black people (Latin America, Africa, even China under threat of persecution) than it is where there are lots of white people now. Not all of these churches are Catholic, of course: lots of Anglicans in Africa creating problems for Lambeth Palace, lots of Pentecostals everywhere. And liberation theology, oh, my! Not the Church’s best moment. A good essay by Michael Novak that has been sitting in my browser waiting for this moment to send it to you! (I need to read it carefully, but the gist looks sound): http://www.nytimes.com/1984/10/21/magazine/the-case-against-liberation-theology.html?pagewanted=all– December 14, 2016
Knowing that sunlight is the best disinfectant, yesterday I posted this status on my Facebook page:

I gave chapter and verse from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians and – because we live in an age of easy reference to what people say from their own mouths, no need to rely on hearsay – a link to the video in which Milo uses this verse. By evening, I had received this screenshot from one of my friends:


I can only assume that the speaker here never clicked on the video. Somehow, I have no idea how, she has made Paul’s Letter to the Galatians “insane” and “anti-semitic.” What are my colleagues teaching their undergraduates these days? Do they (my colleagues) not know who Paul was? That he was originally the devout Jew Saul of Tarsus, active in the early effort to suppress the followers of Jesus, to whom the risen Jesus appeared in a blinding light as he was traveling to Damascus and asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Paul asked. And Jesus answered: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:1-9). After this vision Saul, blinded for three days, became known as Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles.

In Paul’s own words, as recounted in the Letter to the Galatians (1:11-24):
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by men is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the tradition of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. 
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
Paul is more famous now for the things that he wrote about men lying unnaturally with men (Romans 1:26-27), but in the history of the Church he is more important as the one who insisted that both Jews and Gentiles might be followers of Jesus, as against some of the other apostles (the “circumcision party”) who argued that Jesus had been sent only to the people of Israel (Acts 11). This is why Paul was so insistent in the Letter to the Galatians that there was “neither Jew nor Greek” after baptism. Not because he hated the Jews, but because he wanted both Jews and Greeks (a.k.a. Gentiles) to be part of the same Church.

Richard Spencer would not agree. (In his own words, about Milo: “Ignore him. Milo is not Alt-Right or an identitarian or nationalist of any kind. Why should we demonstrate loyalty or kindness to a man who fundamentally does not agree with our basic premises?”) I know this. Milo knows this. And I know that Milo knows this because we have talked about it.



Milo wants nothing to do with Spencer and his ilk, as he has repeatedly said throughout the course of the past year and half since he and Allum published their article for Breitbart on the alt-Right. In the article, they famously put Spencer in the group of “Intellectuals” (as opposed to the “Natural Conservatives,” “The Meme Team,” and “The ‘1488rs’”). Wondering about this, I asked Milo, did he really believe, as they had put it in the article, that Spencer was “dangerously bright”? Because, I said, when I read one of Spencer’s talks it sounded dangerously loopy. Or, as I put it in the subject line to the email I sent: “Okay, no, he’s a goofball.”****


In contrast, Sarah Posner, reporting for Rolling Stone, seems to have been thoroughly taken in. Again, from my Facebook page (the image of Spencer is from the link to her article):


Milo is the one who wants us not to look at race (“Jew or Greek”) or class (“slave or free”) or gender (“male or female”) as we define what it means to be American. Milo is the one who wants America to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” That is why he enjoys singing our national anthem so much.***

Spencer along with actual white supremacists like Andrew Anglin* are the ones who fantasize about such historical Never Never Lands as “white ethno-states” empty of blacks and Jews.

Milo may be physically nearly blind – he is! All you have to do is watch how his eyes cannot track people at a distance when he is talking with them; it is also why he has to have his nose nearly touching his smartphone screen in order to be able to read it – but at least he knows how to read Scripture in context.


Which is more than I can say for those in the media and academia who have spent the past year and half trying to label him as a white supremacist because he refuses to put people into the boxes that they do.


*Here is Anglin, miffed at not being included in Allum and Milo’s article, explaining why Milo, whose mother is of Jewish descent, is dangerous:
Beware of anyone who isn’t talking constantly about Jews. They are probably up to something. They are at best useless. Any attempt to downplay the Jew role in the destruction of Western civilization should be looked at as subversion. 
This Breitbart article is the first large-scale attempt to co-opt the movement and remove the Jews. I expect Breitbart to do follow-ups, pushing this same narrative. Probably, they’ve been awarded this task by other Jews. 
The Jews have their schemes. 
But we also have schemes. 
And God, the universe and the spirits of our ancestors stand with us against the darkness of the eternal Jew.
**Example of how things may be read out of context, on the original title of this post. A former student writes to me: 
Final question – was the title of your post meant to echo the popular 4Chan meme “Hitler did nothing wrong”? Very clever, if so, and also (excuse my saying so) truly disgusting.
I did not know this. I have never been on 4chan and do not know all of their memes. I know that Milo has used the phrase “Milo did nothing wrong,” which is why I used it. It still does not make Milo a white nationalist or white supremacist, any more than the Apostle Paul’s saying “There is neither Jew nor Greek...for you are all one in Christ Jesus” makes him an anti-Semite. But it is a good example of how someone can innocently get sucked in to using phrases that others use to mean things that she herself does not mean. I told you we were living through an interpretive crisis. Try making an OK sign in a photograph. Or drawing a cartoon frog. Do you believe me now?

***Milo has explained why he did not see Spencer’s supporters in the karaoke bar: he is nearly blind. They sold the video in which Milo sings “America the Beautiful” for $10k so that it could be used in exactly the way that the clips in which Milo described his being abused as a teenager were: to take Milo down. Why should white supremacists like Spencer and Anglin want Milo taken down if Milo is on their side?


Andrew Anglin: “Homosexualist half Jew”

**** NB: Spencer did manage to convince admissions committees at the University of Virginia, the University of Chicago, and Duke University that he was worth admitting to their undergraduate, Master’s, and Doctoral programs respectively. Think about that for a moment. Maybe Milo is not the only one whom he has misled, as he most certainly did that evening in Dallas at the karaoke bar.

Image: Caravaggio, Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1601).

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