Tabletop RPGs of the 70s and Early 80s

As an old-school gamer, I seldom bother with any of the modern RPGs flooding the market. But last week, for the first time, I found myself making an exception when someone called my attention to a game called Tales from the Loop. It may not come from the ’80s, but it’s set in the ’80s, and made me an instant fan. Here’s a look-back on all the classic RPGs that I either played, or owned, or now wish that I had. Tales from the Loop ranks here as well. It may as well be a classic RPG.

1. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977). 5 stars. Obviously, everything on my list is overshadowed by this one. 95% of my gaming career has been devoted to old-school D&D. The Golden Age, that is, which lasted between ’74-’83. I began playing at the end of the age, in ’81, and up through ’87, by which time the game had become hopelessly commercialized. The influences of the golden period were the pulp fantasies and morally shifty heroes: Conan, Elric, Fafhrd & Grey Mouser, characters from the Dying Earth, etc. Despite D&D’s repeated comebacks (especially with the 3rd and 5th editions), it’s never been what it was, and today’s players don’t necessarily esteem it as the ultimate RPG. A google search will turn up lists of “RPGs way better than D&D”, and the reason isn’t hard to see. Pulp fantasy is long out of vogue, and today’s teens don’t have the touchstones that made D&D so great and accessible. And not just pulp fantasy, even Lord of the Rings, which despite Gary Gygax’s protests, had at least some significant influence on his early design. It’s been almost a decade now since Peter Jackson’s films, and Tolkien doesn’t inspire the same levels of awe that it did in previous years. The pulps themselves are a distant memory, and are even deemed offensive in the politically correct era of woke culture. It’s a shame. The best gaming adventures are the old-school D&D modules, and my coming of age years would have been much less inspiring and imaginative without them.

2. Call of Cthulhu (1981). 5 stars. Of all the RPGs I regret never playing, this one looms large. If I could go back and redo my coming-of-age years in only one way, I would be sure to play Call of Cthulhu. And it says something that I feel comfortable ranking it with highest honors outside the top slot, when I’ve never seen it played, let alone play it myself. Back in the day I learned about it through Dragon articles more than anything, and only in the recent decade have I delved thoroughly into the rules and adventure modules. It’s well known that Cthulhu is a horror game that turned D&D’s heroic fantasy on its head, prioritizing investigation over combat, with PCs who are inherently weak: librarians, doctors, professors, amateur detectives, etc. You don’t play Cthulhu to become a powerful knight or wizard, but rather with the dismal expectation that your character will likely go insane, as your character learns about the horrors of the world and the complete irrelevance of humanity. Using the tools that are needed to defeat the horrors (knowledge and magic) will most likely plunge PCs into mental illness. The infamous sanity score has become the game’s hallmark. Horror reduces your sanity points like weapons reduce hit points. PCs acquire phobias, fetishes, obsessions, hallucinations, amnesia, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, and psychosomatic reactions that make them dysfunctional. They can learn magic, but this hardly amounts to a benefit, as magic just immerses them more in the horrors, and makes them panic more, drop things, go catatonic, or experience any number of mental problems. It’s a thoroughly nihilistic game, and the nice thing is that, unlike D&D and Gamma World, it has remained stable and consistent through all the seven editions. While I would surely use the 1st edition if I ever started playing, I have it on good authority that it really doesn’t matter which edition you play.

3. Gamma World (1982). 5 stars. Basically the Dark Ages of Our Future. Growing up in the Reagan era meant ongoing fears of an apocalypse that would turn our globe into a radioactive wasteland. But what raises Gamma World far above other post-apocalyptic fantasies is that its apocalypse takes place in the very far future — the 24th century (2322 AD) — which means that the pre-apocalyptic world is just as futuristic and alien. There are high-tech artifacts like blaster pistols and robots, and cars that fly. The world of the ancients is filled with mystery and wonder, which makes the game a lot like D&D. Most of the pulp fantasies that shaped first-edition D&D were post-apocalyptic (Conan’s Hyperboria, Dying Earth, etc). The worlds of D&D were “fallen” in some way, and Gamma World aligns with this, the only difference being that there are techno-gadgets instead of magic items, and mutant powers instead of spells. But the earth is a global sandbox — just like Greyhawk and Mystara — in which PCs move from one pocket of civilization to another, plundering lost wealth and artifacts. The default start date in this world is 2450 AD, about a century and a half after the nuclear wipe-out. The game is in its 7th edition now, but I won’t touch anything beyond 2nd. The 2nd edition (1982) is the best, perfecting on the first that came out in the ’70s. After these two classics, Gamma World became increasingly commercialized.

4. Tales from the Loop (2017). 4 ½ stars. The only entry on my list which post-dates the ’80s is set in an alternate ’80s world, and it deserves to stand proud in the surrounding company. Tales from the Loop followed the overnight success of Stranger Things and takes direct inspiration from it. In the game you play kids between ages 10 and 15, and solve science-fiction mysteries that involve the Loop, a massive particle accelerator that is nearby the town you live in. The Loop causes aberrations like corruption of the earth’s magnetic field, warping wildlife (even dinosaurs emerge around the Loop), and animating robots in dangerous ways. The rules come with two default locations: the Malaren islands of Sweden, and Boulder City Nevada. But the rules also emphasize that you can set the Loop anywhere you want. I’d use my old hometown of Lyndeborough NH, where I grew up in the late ’70s and early ’80s. A crucial aspect of this game is that adults are absolutely useless when it comes to helping out, so the kid PCs have to do all the leg-work and solve mysteries on their own. Around the mystery solving, there are the normal trials that kids suffer: bullies, school tests, crushes, and heartbreak. It’s such a terrific idea for an RPG, it’s a wonder it took so long for a TV-series inspiration. Best of all, the rules are easy to follow, and flexible enough to cover virtually any situation that comes up in the game. There are eight archetypes (“character classes”): Bookworm, Computer Geek, Hick, Jock, Popular Kid, Rocker, Troublemaker, and Weirdo. Seriously, who among us who came of age in the ’80s doesn’t want to play this? Tales from the Loop recreates an age I miss sorely as I turn 51 at the end of this month. It takes me back to my reckless attitudes and thinking as a kid, and, incredibly, it provides the mechanics for tapping into that heart and drive.

5. Traveller (1977). 4 stars. Even dinosaurs my age tend to forget Traveller. It wasn’t very user-friendly and assumed a significant amount of player knowledge of physics and astronomy. I remember trying to understand the ramifications of zero-g combat, and those weren’t defined anywhere; then also wanting to know what the hell a mass driver was. Without internet forums and google capabilities back then, you were pretty much left to make sense of the rules as you could. Oddly, there was much I loved about that open-ended aspect of the game and ended up playing it a lot with a cousin who preferred space travel to D&D’s wizards and warriors. One thing that struck me was the fact that PCs start out with loads of experience. In most RPGs the characters start at beginner levels, but in Traveller you come out of the military with years of skills under your belt. In most other ways, though, it shares plenty in common with D&D. Both games assume the characters are roguish adventurers “on the make”. The adventures involve shady activities in order to acquire money, and the characters are outsiders (“travellers”) without commitments to local planetary societies. (The Raza crew in the TV series Dark Matter remind me very much of Traveller.) The space world is a lawless frontier where authorities are distant and corrupt. That’s really the same basic framework of old-school D&D. My greatest Traveller memory is the point at which my cousin was finally able to design and purchase his own ship — and then all the mileage he got from it.

6. Middle-Earth Role-Playing (1984). 3 ½ stars. I never played the actual system, but I played the modules all the time by adapting them for D&D. So this one was hard for me to rank. Frankly I don’t like MERP as a gaming system (nor Rolemaster from which it derives), but the campaign modules and adventure modules are top-notch, and I wrote retrospectives of them all (starting with Rangers of the North). When I learned in the ’90s that Tolkien Enterprises finally revoked ICE’s license to produce gaming material for Middle-Earth, I went ape shit. The MERP modules were nothing less than scholarly, as fun to read as to play. They came to dominate my role-playing years in the late ’80s, and I even kept buying them in the ’90s when I wasn’t playing much anymore. I would check in at the local comic store religiously to grab every new release, and I’m glad I did: thanks to the Tolkien-Enterprise fascists, the modules are now collector’s items. It’s a shame, because they’re probably the most academic accessories ever written for any RPG. It’s as if Tolkien himself had taken up D&D and poured his linguistic and cultural scholarship into the hobby. The irony, of course, being that the high fantasy setting of Middle-Earth is on the face of it so at odds with D&D’s pulp fantasy roots. But I never saw a contradiction. Anyway, the MERP rules and gaming system would fall at the bottom of this list, while the adventure modules themselves would place very high; so a ranking of 6 feels about right.

7. Stormbringer (1981). 3 ½ stars. This one’s like Call of Cthulhu. I never played it, and like Cthulhu it’s a Chaosium publication. There are strong literary vibes in the Chaosium RPGs, and that’s part of the reason why I’ve been so turned on to them in recent years. Stormbringer is, as you might expect, set in the world of the Young Kingdoms, the realm from the Elric novels. It deals with a failing empire in conflict with the powers of chaos. The world is plunging into an apocalypse that has been foreseen, but which the PCs are utterly powerless to prevent. It’s a nihilistic game, again like Cthulhu, though in a more overarching abstract way. It does have its problems, and I can understand why it never became as popular as other RPGs, despite the fact that Moorcock’s novels were widely loved. The sorcery rules are very detailed, but it’s all a virtual waste, as PCs will rarely if ever have the chance to use sorcery. Magic in this world is brokered by demons, because humans can’t wield magic on their own. They have to bind and command demons to use power; so for example, to cast a fireball would require summoning a fire elemental and using its powers, or throwing its energy, at a target. And the ability to bind demons and other creatures is extremely rare, if not suicidal. On top of that, and in accordance with the predestination of Elric’s world, players have very little say in what their characters will be like. When they generate the characters, the dice determine their class and race as much as they determine their attributes. But there is a lot to admire in this game, and I wish I’d played it at least once.

8. Top Secret (1981). 3 stars. This is the most realistic RPG I ever played, though that’s perhaps not saying much. The early ’80s was the age of the Roger Moore James Bond films, and Top Secret plays on some of those extravagant plot lines. The PCs are field agents for a governmental agency, and they are assigned missions falling into one of three general categories: assassination (killing), confiscation (stealing), or investigation (spying). One might say loosely that it’s D&D in the modern world, for assassins, thieves, and rangers. The problem is that these character professions aren’t fleshed out too well; the professions mainly determine if the PC receives bonus experience points for succeeding in a mission that pertains to their profession. In other words, a field agent specializing in assassination would get bonus points for carrying out a kill, but that’s not to say that confiscators and investigators can’t assassinate. The game is purely percentile based: 2d10 for everything — attributes, skill checks, and combat. I have fond memories of skyjacking a 747 (I was a confiscation agent), though I botched the job by killing more innocent passengers than was necessary; it didn’t go well for me in the end. Alas, that was the only time I played Top Secret.

9. Star Frontiers (1982). 2 stars. This is the Star Wars of early RPGs, so it’s no surprise I never got around to playing it, given my constant dislike of George Lucas. I owned Star Frontiers, to be sure, and read through the Alpha Dawn rules many times. I even went through phases when I was inspired to play, but ultimately never did. Bubblegum space opera was never my thing. If I wanted outer space and star travel, I had the more solid and gritty approach of Traveller. (A reviewer in Dragon back in the day said that comparing Star Frontiers and Traveller is a bit like comparing Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey; and yes, that comparison is bang-on.) Probably the most compelling thing about Star Frontiers is the Sathar, the worm-like race trying to conquer the galaxy. The Sathar are elusive and seldom appear. They aren’t good at military combat and rely on hypnotic powers to recruit from and corrupt the four player character races: humans (of course), dralasites (giant amoebas with a prankish sense of humor), vrusks (huge insectoids that are team-driven, though not quite hive mind), and yazirians (flying wookies, who are easily enraged and go berserk). They live in an area of the galaxy as part of a multicultural federation that works against the Sathar. There are plenty of old-school gamers who rhapsodize about Star Frontiers. I’m not one of them.

Reprobates and Sinners: The Hell Roster and Bad List of Pastor Steven Anderson

Steven Anderson has been leading his church in Tempe Arizona since Christmas 2005, and his sermons have been online since February 2006. Thirteen years later he’s pounding the pulpit, kicking the pulpit, and yelling from on top of it as hard as ever. Here I list the sinners and offenders he habitually screams about. There are of course so many more, but these are the fourteen kinds of people he obsesses and returns to time and time again. I’ve divided the categories into three tiers, and ranked them, as I see it, from greatest offense to least — though let’s be honest, these are all mega-offenses in the eyes of our dear pastor.

— Tier 1:  The irrevocably damned. The sinners in this category are reprobates and cannot be saved, according to Anderson. God has rejected them eternally, once and for all.

1. Homosexuals/pedophiles. By far the worst group, and in Anderson’s view the two are inseparable; it’s impossible to be one without being the other. Anderson believes that sodomites are not only sinners, but actual reprobates, based on the text of Romans 1:18-32. They have been rejected by God for rejecting Him one too many times. God finally got tired of being patient with them, and turned them into sodomites/perverts: “God gave them up to vile affections” (Rom 1:26); “God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (1:28); “God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts” (1:24). This, according to Anderson, is the explanation for homosexuality: “When sodomites say ‘God made me that way’, they’re actually right. But God didn’t make them that way when they were born. God made them that way when they rejected Him (‘glorified Him not as God’) one too many times, and then God discarded them by turning them into homos.” As reprobates, sodomites, unlike most sinners (those in tiers 2 and 3), cannot possibly be saved, nor should anyone want to try saving them: “He that is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev 22:11). It’s the whole reason God turned them into sodomites to begin with: to turn them into trash, because of their unrelentingly God-hating hearts.

2. Bible translators/biblical scholars. Almost as bad as the first category, these people are, like the sodomites, irredeemable reprobates. Anderson bases his view on the text of Revelation 22:19, which speaks of anyone who tampers with the Word of God — that is, anyone who either adds or removes from the words of the precious King James Bible, indeed anyone who insists on changing but a single word of that bible — as “blotted out of the Book of Life” and irrevocably damned. Once removed from the book, they can’t be put back in.

— Tier 2:  Especially wicked sinners. These offenders are at least capable of being saved, if they accept Christ as their savior in the Bible-believing way that Anderson espouses.

3. Abortion doctors; pro-choice crusaders; women who obtain abortions. Abortion doctors, or any who have some kind of pro-active role in procuring abortions, are especially wicked in Anderson’s view. They murder the most innocent and vulnerable.

4. Zionists. Israel is the most ungodly nation on the planet, according to Anderson. He calls the year 1948 a diabolical fraud. The Jews are not God’s chosen people, and have not been so for two millennia. Replacement theology shouldn’t be a cuss word but common sense; it’s a basic premise of the New Testament: “If the kingdom of God is taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof, you’ve been replaced! You were the people of God, you were that holy nation of the Old Testament, but now you have been replaced. And today, the physical nation of Israel has been replaced by believers, by a holy nation made up of all believers in Christ, whether they be Jew or Gentile, no matter what the nationality.” According to Anderson, Zionism is more anti-Christ than any other of the major world religions.

5. Modalists. These people really get Anderson breathing fire. Modalism is a heresy that denies the trinity. It says that God is only one person or entity who has three modes (or faces, or masks) which do not exist simultaneously, and that He changes modes by putting on different hats (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) as the occasion demands. In other words, according to modalism, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same person or entity. There is not three in one, but rather one who can morph as the situation requires. Christianity, of course, maintains that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct. There is one substance and one God, to be sure (which maintains monotheism), but there are three different persons or entities within that God. That’s the trinity. So what’s the problem here? The problem is that Anderson doesn’t like anything that remotely smacks of modalism. He goes ballistic when Christians so much as dip a toe into modalist waters, even when they affirm the trinity. So if you suggest to Steven Anderson that “Jesus is the Father” in some way (per Isaiah 9:6), or if you point out to him that the three members of the trinity are sometimes interchangeable (the bible says the Father raised Jesus from the dead in Galatians 1;1, but also that the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead in Romans 8:11, but also again that Jesus the Son raised himself from the dead in John 2:19-21), he will go into an apoplectic fury. Indeed if you say that “Jesus is the Father” — even if you don’t mean that in a modalist way — you will probably get screamed at, thrown out of his church, and branded a “Oneness heretic”, no matter what trinitarian confessions you’ve insisted on.

6. Atheists/evolutionists. For Anderson they are the same thing. Perhaps more than others on this tier, they are especially in danger of becoming reprobates — unrelenting “haters of God”, whom the Lord will turn into sodomites (category #1) if they persist in virulently rejecting Him.

7. Litterbugs. I have never seen anyone so enraged over litterbugs. Whether it’s hikers and campers who leave trash in the wilderness, or people who throw garbage on the side of the road, if Anderson sees you doing this, you’d best be prepared for a mighty tongue-lashing. And yes, he justifies his “environmental” tirades from the bible.

8. Men who piss sitting down. Germans and other Europeans especially, but any man who allows himself to be micromanaged into effeminate bathroom behavior. Anderson takes the King James phrase, “him that pisseth against the wall” (I Sam 25:22, 25:34; I Kings 14;10, 16;11, 21:21; II Kings 9:8), as a symbol of proper manliness. “And that’s what’s wrong with society today. We’ve got pastors who pee sitting down; we’ve got the president of the United States, George W. Bush, who pees sitting down; we’ve got a bunch of preachers and leaders who want stand up and piss against the wall like a real man.” Anderson is so serious about this, that he has openly rebelled against his mother-in-law when he visits her in Germany — against her “no standing policy when peeing”. On biblical grounds, he will not allow his bathroom habits to be micromanaged.

9. Doctors who perform in vitro fertilization; women who undergo the treatment. Those who engage in vitro fertilization instead of waiting naturally to get pregnant, according to Anderson, are stealing babies from God. Or, as he put it in one sermon, “ripping babies out of the hands of God”. (Side note: this has become a running gag with a friend of mine, when we joke about performing bodily functions before nature calls. So for example, urinating when I don’t really have the urge is “stealing a piss from the Lord”.)

10. Male gynecologists. Men who examine women’s nether regions are disgusting perverts, according to Anderson, no matter how medically professional.

— Tier 3:  Sinful Christians. Those who preach or espouse these views could either be false Christians, or simply misguided believers in Christ who need a tongue-lashing. In any case, these issues do set Anderson off like a bomb.

11. Pre-tribbers. I have to agree 100% with Anderson on this one. Christians who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture have nothing to show for themselves. The idea that Christians will be raptured (taken bodily up to heaven) before the onset of the apocalyptic tribulation (a) is completely un-biblical, (b) emerged only in the 19th century, and (c) was popularized by the Left Behind novels in the sensationalist way of The DaVinci Code. There are technical problems with this view (namely, there’s not a single bible passage that lends credence to it) and the more general problem, which is that the early apostles and Christians not only expected to suffer the tribulation before they were raptured; they saw it as their holy duty. In the synoptic gospels, the letters of Paul, and the Book of Revelation, the rapture comes after the tribulation and prior to God’s wrath pouring out over the earth. Anderson has produced a deluge of polemical youtube videos explaining Revelation’s timetable, but you don’t have to wade through them if you don’t want to. Just check out his helpful graph, which is probably the best available chart for the Book of Revelation (from a fundamentalist point of view, anyway).

12. Dispensationalists. One of Anderson’s mantras is that God never changes. He’s always the same. And above all, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The Old Testament carries the same moral imperatives it always did, and the God of the New Testament aligns completely with it. If you’re a dispensationalist, you’d best have the courage of your convictions, because Anderson will tear you a new one.

13. Calvinists, or anyone denying free will. This one convicts me out of the gate. I deny free will, though not because I believe in spiritual predestination, rather because I believe in material determinism. For Anderson, a scientific reason to oppose free will is as bad as a religious reason. He insists that we have the free will to do as we choose, and to believe as we choose. And he gets mighty incensed about the issue.

14. Lazy Soul-Winners. Anderson has broken fellowship with his Baptist colleagues over this. If you refuse to go out knocking doors at least twice a week, in order to save souls and win people to Christ — and above all, if you just leave door-hangers and tracts instead of knocking and talking to people — get ready to be screamed at like this.

The Dark Ages: Speaking the Unspeakable

Richard Carrier has a post explaining why he thinks The Dark Ages Really Were a Thing, and he also links to Scott Alexander’s Were There Dark Ages?, both of which I recommend as remedies to the ongoing fad. That fad urges us to avoid the term Dark Ages — if not erase the term altogether from our vernacular — owing to a fear of labels that judge or over-malign the past. It’s true there were western accomplishments during the Dark-Age period, but those accomplishments have been exaggerated to create a counter-myth that there was no serious setback to civilization after the Roman Empire. There certainly was.

Admittedly I was once hooked on the fad. Until about a decade ago, I made a point of calling the Dark Ages the “Anglo-Saxon Period”, which is an accurate enough label for the 5th-10th centuries but also a bit constraining. I eventually got tired of subjecting truth and facts to people’s sensibilities. It’s indeed appropriate, as Carrier and Alexander argue, to speak of a Dark Age Period — that is, a period in the west when there was a dramatic societal devolution. However, I don’t believe the start of this devolution happened at the point usually assumed. The Dark Ages are usually taken as the 5th-10th centuries (as Carrier believes), whereas I believe the term rightly applies to the 7th-10th centuries. The first proponent of this view, of course, was Henri Pirenne in the 1920s and 30s.

Pirenne’s revival

Pirenne’s major work, Mohammed and Charlemagne (1937), argued that classical civilization was destroyed not by the Goths, Vandals, or Huns, nor the Christian Church, but rather the Arab invaders of the seventh century. The Islamic invasions in turn ended up changing the face of Christianity. The detachment of the west from the east — politically, culturally, and religiously — was a direct consequence of Islam’s arrival on the worldly stage. Pirenne concluded famously that “Without Muhammad, Charlemagne would be inconceivable,” meaning that without Islam, the Holy Roman Empire would have (in all probability) never come to be.

There has been renewed interest in Pirenne, for good reasons and bad, and in a post-9/11 age the bad reasons usually get more attention. European nationalists and American neocons have latched on to Pirenne’s work in order to justify foreign policies of intervention in the Muslim world (especially getting involved in regime-change wars), which is an abuse of historical scholarship. One of the better defenses of the Pirenne thesis is that of Emmet Scott. In Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited (2012) he affirmed Pirenne with an eye on archaeological data, arguing that there was no gradual decline in classical society from the fifth to seventh centuries, as commonly supposed. There was certainly a decline from the third to fifth centuries, but that was followed by a revival in the sixth and early seventh, which was then dramatically terminated sometime between 620 and 650. The lights went out, quite literally, with the Islamic conquests. The Arabs brought the Romans to their knees, conquered the richest parts of the Mediterranean, and turned the sea into a military frontier. People fled the coastline and began building hilltop castles to avoid slaughter and enslavement. The Mediterranean was no longer a highway but a frontier of piracy and plunder. The sea became a blockade, choking off trade and communication with Byzantium. Papyrus became a thing of the past, and literacy plummeted almost overnight to levels equivalent to those in pre-Roman times. By the mid-seventh century a “medieval” or “dark” outlook had emerged in western Europe, thanks mostly to Islam. It’s at this point that one may legitimately speak of the inception of the Dark Ages.

A paper available online by Bonnie Effros, “The Enduring Attraction of the Pirenne Hypothesis”, examines the current renewal of Pirenne’s ideas, though it’s not particularly helpful. Not least because she relies on the supposed debunking of Pirenne in the ’80s by Richard Hodges and David Whitehouse (see p 196 of the article). Mohammed, Charlemagne, and the Origins of Europe: The Pirenne Thesis in the Light of Archaeology (1983) tried proving that western Europe was in an economic and cultural death-spiral before the appearance of Islam. But the authors relied mostly on evidence from central Italy, the one place we would expect to find societal deterioration, since the whole balance of power in the Roman Empire had shifted to the east: Constantinople was founded in 324, and by the beginning of the 400s Ravenna supplanted Rome as the capital of the western empire. Rome was then sacked twice, in 410 and then 455, with the western empire dissolving in 476. With all of that — a huge drop in the Roman aristocracy, population, and general fortune — we would obviously expect a dramatic drop in the wealth of the settlements around central Italy.

That’s not what happened elsewhere. Under the Visigoths in Spain, the Franks in Gaul, and the Vandals in Africa, society was reviving and flourishing, especially in the sixth and early seventh centuries. The archaeological record shows expanding populations engaged in vigorous trade within Europe and with the eastern Mediterranean; new territories being brought into cultivation; growth of cities both old and new; clear proof of dramatic technical and scientific innovation; advanced learning and scholarship. This was a revival, not a deterioration, and it was abruptly terminated in the early seventh century with the Muslim invasions. Hodges and Whitehouse’s debunking of Pirenne is discredited on a basic level. They used the exception (of central Italy) to argue a non-existent rule. For whatever reasons, people continue having difficulty believing the Germanic invaders were capable of civilization.

In the East, Hodges and Whitehouse again blamed the wrong people, this time the Persians. It’s true that the Persian War in 614 started the eastern fall, but it was the subsequent Arab Wars that brought the lasting devastation. There had been wars between Persians and Romans before; it was the way of Roman life for seven centuries. How is it that this particular Persian war (supposedly) led to the end of classical civilization in the east? No matter how destructive, wars are normally followed by treaties of peace, and then the recovery of economic prosperity. It always happened between the Romans and Persians, but it didn’t happen this time, and Hodges and Whitehouse have no answer as to why.

Pirenne had supplied the answer, of course, which I take to be self-evident: it was the Arabs, in the wake of the Persians, who laid the permanent waste. The religious concept of jihad was one of permanent religious war that made any kind of peace or genuine coexistence impossible. The annual obligation of jihad ensured ongoing war on Islam’s borders, while the provisions of sharia law meant that in lands taken over by Muslims, natives were provided no protection against bandits and herders who let flocks graze on and destroy the irrigated lands. Fertile areas became semi-desert, and cities became ghost towns.

The term “Dark Ages” is appropriate, but the period starts in the seventh century, not the fifth. Islamic jihad is what brought the darkness, not the Christian church or the Germanic rulers. That’s an unwelcome view in today’s age, where to even question the myth of Islam’s Golden Age is deemed “Islamophobic”, but there you have it.

And yet…

If the Christian church was not the cause of the Dark Ages, it would eventually become a major impediment to pulling out of that blackness.

Carrier, in his post, rightly notes that while Christianity did not cause the massive stalling of society, it did “guarantee by its take-over of the Western mind that nothing that needed doing to reverse that downfall would be done for at least a thousand years”, which is true. But at what point did Christianity become this kind of impediment? It started (per Pirenne and Scott) with Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.

Those who resist the term Dark Ages are often the same folks who romanticize or overvalue the Carolingians. Carrier’s swipe at the dynasty is a breath of fresh air:

“Even the so-called Carolingian Renaissance was a mere blip in this record, a brief, isolated, relatively unimpressive attempt at a recovery—that failed. Society wouldn’t really start pulling out of this hole until around 1000 A.D. The very pit of the decline was reached in the 7th century, but it took over two more centuries to get back to the rim of that hole, and over four more to get back to where Western civilization had once attained. And even that march up the wall of the pit was relatively inglorious. Compared to the High Roman Empire, the Carolingian era was barbaric, below even the level of societal wealth, sophistication and achievement of Classical Greece, which the Romans at their height had long since surpassed, and which no civilization on earth would obtain again until the Renaissance.”

Quite correct. The western empire under Charlemagne (r. 800-814) developed into a blooming theocracy that would come to mirror some of Islam’s worst elements. It would be the “Holy” Roman Empire whose authority no longer derived solely from its own military and economic strength (as in the time of the Caesars and Germanic kings) but increased dependence on church approval. For the first time ever, by the eleventh century, Christians began thinking in terms of holy war. The crusades were in defense against Islamic aggression to be sure (and in some ways a necessary evil), but nevertheless in contradiction to the church’s one thousand year stand of religious pacifism. The culmination of “Charlemagne’s seed” came with Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216), who established the inquisitions to enforce absolute doctrinal conformity. This copied Islam’s inquisition 50 years before, to root out and torture its own apostates in Spain and North Africa. Against such a legacy, Charlemagne’s half-successful efforts to revive literacy didn’t amount to much. The west fragmented into a besieged backwater as Vikings dominated the northern channels and Muslims strangle-held the South.

In Muslim lands, of course, religious dissent and apostasy had always been a capital offense, while for Christians the use of force to enforce orthodoxy was condemned by the early church fathers. Christians could be fierce in denouncing heretics, but only extremely rarely would a fanatic get violent about the matter, and when that happened the church spoke out against the violence. By the twelfth-thirteenth centuries, this had flipped 180 degrees: Catholicism now mirrored Islam in killing its own heretics, and the seeds of that mirroring go back to the ascendance of the Holy Roman Empire under the Carolingians.

So when Carrier concludes:

“Yes, the Dark Ages happened. They occupied the period from the 5th to the 10th century. And they took five hundred more years to fully recover from, bringing Western civilization back by the 15th century to all the peak markers of accomplishment that it had achieved by the 2nd century. That’s a thousand years we were set back. And yes, those ages were sufficiently dark in every measure to warrant the appellation. They dropped the Western world (and even, if less catastrophically, the Near Eastern world) to its lowest levels of decline by every measure not seen since before the rise of the Ancient Greeks who built up Western civilization on a foundation of democracy, technology, and science. The Dark Ages were an era we as human beings should look upon in shame, disappointment, and concern never to repeat what caused them or sustained them. They deserve the name.”

I agree with his summary statement but would put the start of the Dark Ages in the seventh century, not the fifth. Again: there was no decline in classical society down to the seventh century, but rather a decline from the third to fifth, followed by a revival in the sixth and early seventh, which was then dramatically terminated in the early to mid seventh. The result was much as people like Carrier and Alexander describe: dark times that went on longer than they should have, and that we should be comfortable “judging” with adequate labels.

Twin Peaks: The Return (The Parts and the Music)

There’s no way I could have done this ranking back in September of 2017. The eighteen parts of Twin Peaks: The Return are segments of a single cinematic canvass that take multiple viewings to get a clear handle on. I watched The Return for my third time this September, and, well, it’s finally time. Keep in mind that there are no “bad” episodes here, only those which are “less mighty” than the ones above it. The Roadhouse musical performances follow separately.

1. What is Your Name? (Part 18). Just when things seem to get resolved in Part 17, the narrative dives and drops us into this desolate finale. It freaked me out like nothing else Lynch has ever done, not even in Fire Walk With Me, and there’s still endless debate as to what happens here. At the end of Part 17, Cooper went back in time to save Laura Palmer from being killed; then she vanished into an Odessa-Texas alternate reality. But who sent her there? The demon-mother Judy, or by the benevolent Fireman in order to bait and trap Judy? (The former view is defended here; the latter here.) I believe most of the evidence favors the former, and that there is no victory over Judy at the end. The finale channels Lost Highway with its long night drives, and blurring of identities during the act of sex, and there is yet another History of Violence homage (the first being in Part 7) in the restaurant where Cooper shows down a trio of assholes single-handedly. But it’s the dread of watching “Carrie Page”, not knowing she’s Laura, yet knowing on some level that she is, that builds and builds to a crescendo, clamping our hearts in a vise, until that final terrible scream.

2. Gotta Light? (Part 8). This modern-TV masterpiece summons the unnerving dread of Eraserhead and the otherworldly awe of Malick’s Tree of Life and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here we get the genesis of Bob and birth of Laura, each the product of higher powers — the Evil Mother and Fireman, respectively — so Bob turns out to not be the Big Bad after all, or at least not the Biggest Bad. It’s his demonic mother, and in Part 15, she will be named: Jowday, or Judy. An important scene is that of the young Sarah Palmer hosting a moth-frog while the lumberjack’s mantra repeats over the air; presumably there are other moth-frog victims too. These seem to be a way of “tagging” potential hosts for a future day when Judy comes to earth, as she finally does at the end of Parts 1 and 2, emerging from the glass cage in New York, and then going out west to possess Sarah Palmer. Up until The Return, Sarah hasn’t been possessed, though she has been infected by a deep evil, which explains her schizo-problems in the classic series, and why she always had visions and nightmares of Bob. Frankly I’ve had my own nightmares since watching this episode, in which that undead lumberjack was outside pounding on my bedroom window, chanting: “This is the water, and this is the well; drink full, and descend; the horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within. This is the water, and this is the well…”

3. No Knock, No Doorbell (Part 16). Payoffs galore come in this embarrassment of riches, and plenty of the major players die. Hutch and Chantal, for one. Their storyline has been a constant Tarantino parody, and they go down in a bloodbath after provoking a psychopath by blocking his driveway. Richard Horne’s death is more biblical, like the Binding of Isaac; his father (Cooper’s doppelganger) pretty much sacrifices him by sending him in his place to climb the hill that has been booby-trapped with an electric explosion (the coordinates given by Ray in Part 13 and Jeffries in Part 15 each pointed here). Diane’s death offers the biggest revelation of all: she isn’t even Diane, but rather a tulpa whose purpose has been to keep tabs on Team Gordon and ultimately kill them all. Her confession about the night Cooper came to visit her holds some truth: a version of Cooper (Mr. C.) did rape the real Diane. She seems to have been pushed to this confession because she got a a one-word text message from Mr. C. (reading “all”), which triggered her and caused her to freak out and text him back the second half of the coordinates from Ruth Davenport’s arm (she had sent him the first half in Part 12), which lead to the White Lodge. She suddenly “feels herself in the Sheriff’s station” at Twin Peaks. (Which is where the real Diane is, in the form of Naido, being protected in a jail cell.) Most climactic is Dougie’s “death”; he wakes in his hospital bed, Dale Cooper once again, and I won’t deny I’m in tears when he assumes command like the hero we’ve missed this season, Laura’s theme starts playing, leading to his farewell to Janey-E and Sonny Jim. As if all this weren’t enough, Audrey Horne gives the best Roadhouse performance of the series, in her reprisal of “Audrey’s Dance”, a brilliant inversion of her sultry dance from season 1. But it turns out this dance is all in her mind: she’s sick and paranoid, and locked up in a psych ward — an upsetting but understandable fate for someone who was raped by the man she worshiped, and gave birth to a sadist like Richard.

4. Don’t Die (Part 6). I look so forward to this episode on my re-watches. The Dougie scenes are terrific. He’s driven home by a security guard, and has a touching moment in saying goodnight to Sonny Jim. Janey-E then finds out about his prostitute Jade, and tears him a new one, to which he replies with wonderful childlike innocence: “Jade give two rides”. Janey-E then arranges to meet with the thugs who are demanding his gambling debts, and her diatribe about the “99 percenters in a dark age” is hilarious. Then Dougie starts to unravel a network of corruption in the insurance case files, drawing cryptic images on the pages, which ends up scoring huge points with his boss. Cut to Richard Horne doing business with shady characters, while at the R&R Diner, Fat-Ass Miriam eats pies to the giggling fits of a waitress whose figure is also quite rotund. Shortly after, Richard Horne plows through an intersection, running over a little boy, and Fat-Ass Miriam is the only one who recognizes Richard behind the wheel of the truck. We see Ike the Spike carrying out a nasty (and messy) assassination of a woman who failed to kill Dougie; Dougie is of course next hit on Ike’s list. Finally, Hawk finds the lost pages of Laura’s diary in a bathroom stall door of the police station, apparently stashed there by Leland Palmer back in season 2 when he was brought in for questioning. It’s a hard-hitting episode all around.

5. Call for Help (Part 3). If you’re not hooked on The Return by this episode, you don’t have your priorities straight. The 20-minute opening sequence is a wet dream of Lynchian phantasmagoria, where Cooper, escaping from the Black Lodge, finds himself in the Realm of Nonexistence — almost a cross between the world of Eraserheard (ominous churning sounds, industrial hums) and Pan’s Labyrinth (eyeless humanoids). He’s protected from an unseen evil (who we will later know to be Judy) by two women, one of them being the eyeless Naido, the other being a Ronette Pulaski look-alike. The evil is referred to as “Ronette’s” mother. He exits the enclosure and finds himself floating in space, and he sees a huge face of Garland Briggs saying, “blue rose”, which is an FBI code word for either supernatural or extraterrestrial events. Naido falls off the capsule and plummets to Earth (this is October 1), where she will be found on the same day in Part 14. Eventually, Cooper gets “electrocuted” out of this Realm and into Las Vegas (nine days into the past, on September 22, as we later learn), taking the place of Dougie Jones, who vanishes in turn to the Black Lodge to be unmade. David Lynch as Gordon Cole makes his first appearance in The Return, as he gets a call saying that Cooper is in prison in South Dakota. The actual Cooper (“Dougie Jones”) goes to the casino and starts winning jackpot after jackpot — one of my very favorite scenes in the series. His childlike “Hello!”‘s are precious.

6. There’s a Body All Right (Part 7). This is largely Diane’s episode, as she follows Gordon and his team back to the prison in South Dakota so she can question Cooper. After a harrowing interview (which makes rather clear that Bad Cooper raped Diane), she tells Gordon she knows the prisoner isn’t really Cooper. After they leave, the doppelganger blackmails the warden into letting him and Ray escape the prison. At Twin Peaks, Truman and Hawk read the missing pages from Laura’s diary, and conclude that “if the good Dale is in the Lodge”, and still there, then it must have been a bad version of Cooper that came out 25 years ago. Meanwhile in Vegas, Dougie is questioned by the police, when they find his car has been bombed, and of course Janey-E takes control of the conversation by scorning the police as incompetent fools. Then comes the most fucked up scene of the series: outside the insurance building, Dougie is attacked by Ike the Spike; his Cooper-FBI instincts take over immediately, and he grapples with Ike; suddenly the evolution of the arm (the brain on the tree) sprouts out of the sidewalk, hissing at him, “Squeeze his hand off! Squeeze his hand off!” Dougie/Cooper does just that, and is hailed a savior by the onlooking crowds. It’s a splendid homage to Cronenberg’s History of Violence. This is one of two episodes (besides Parts 1 and 18) that doesn’t contain a Roadhouse performance; it ends rather in the R&R Diner, to a mellow tune on the jukebox, which allows us to breathe better and process that crazy scene.

7. There’s Fire Where You Are Going (Part 11). This episode is packed with horrific events that end in a desert confrontation that almost goes the way of David Fincher’s Se7en. Bill Hastings’ head implodes as Team Gordon investigate the area in which Hastings and his librarian friend Ruth Davenport encountered an alternate reality called The Zone. Major Briggs had apparently been hibernating in the Zone, until he told Hastings and Davenport to find him a set of coordinates (to the White Lodge) in a military base. (When they did that for him, Briggs’ head disappeared and went to the White Lodge, while the rest of his body stayed behind.) Ghosts flit about this area, and Gordon finds the corpse of Ruth with the string of coordinates on her arm (which Diane later surreptitiously memorizes when Albert shows a photo of the arm). Over in Twin Peaks, Truman and Hawk are pouring over Hawk’s Indian map to locate the same place — Jackrabbit’s Palace, the grove mentioned in the metal tube left years ago by Major Briggs (which they opened in Part 9), which provides access to the White Lodge. On other fronts: Becky goes ballistic when she finds Steven is cheating on her, and almost kills her mother driving off to confront him with a gun. Bobby Briggs sees a strange zombie-like child figure crawling out of a stopped car. But it’s the final sequence that is alone worth the price of admission, as the Mitchum Brothers, on the brink of murdering Dougie in the desert, take him on as their friend. Like Part 7, this episode doesn’t end on a Roadhouse performance, but to the piano tunes of Angelo Badalamenti himself, in the casino restaurant, with Dougie and the Mitchums toasting each other — a new friendship that will play out wonderfully in the rest of the series.

8. The Stars Turn and a Time Presents Itself (Part 2). An episode filled with Black Lodge sequences is a treat, and the defining moment of the series is the deja vu encounter with Laura Palmer. She appears to Cooper 25 years since she last saw him (27 years, actually, but who’s counting), just as she had promised, and, repeating the same gestures, bends over to whisper in his ear. Twenty-seven years ago she had whispered the name of her killer in his dream of the Black Lodge (something like “My father killed me”); now she whispers the name of a power even worse than Bob (something like “My mother is Judy”), and tells him that he can finally leave the Black Lodge. At this stage, we have no idea what she’s whispering, or know anything about Judy, but by the finale it will be clear that she gave Cooper a mission to save her from being killed by her father in the past, so that she can ultimately save her mother from Judy — and save other people from the growing powers of the Black Lodge. But again, we’re completely ignorant of the demon Judy at this point; we think Bob is the big bad, and so when we turn to the scenes of Mr. C. (Bad Cooper, still possessed by Bob after all these years), they carry the deepest dread. He has hooked up with a shady pair named Ray and Darya: Bill Hastings’ secretary has information that Mr. C. needs, and she is willing to give this information to Ray. But soon Ray is arrested and put in federal prison for (supposedly) carrying weapons over state line; Mr. C. kills Darya, realizing that she and Ray have been hired to kill him. Before killing her, he tells her that tomorrow he’s supposed to get pulled back into the Black Lodge, and shows her a spider symbol on an ace of spades, saying, “This is what I want.” It’s apparently some great demonic power he wants control over, and who we much later realize is Judy, who of course is the one who wants him dead and back in the Black Lodge. Mr. C. instead wants to find the White Lodge and harness its power to use against Judy, and that’s the information Ray has. Meanwhile inside the Lodge, Cooper looks out from the curtains and sees his doppelganger driving toward the South Dakota prison, but before he can step out, he is sabotaged by the doppelganger of the Evolution of the Arm, without question Lynch’s most brilliant creation in The Return. The doppelganger forces Cooper into the Realm of Nonexistence (which will pick up immediately in Part 3), while July emerges in New York, summoned by the sex act of Sam and Tracy, and then goes to take up residence in the Palmer’s house at west… and we see Sarah Palmer in her living room relishing scenes of gory violence on TV.

9. What Story is That, Charlie? (Part 13). Here we see the two Coopers coming out on top in their respective worlds. Dougie and Janey-E are in Seventh Heaven, now that Dougie has cemented a friendship with the Mullins Brothers, who have lavished them with gifts, in particular a new car, and a play gym set for their son, which they set up in the backyard. Dougie even manages to avoid being poisoned by Anthony at the last minute, and turning his rival colleague to confession and contrition. And that’s not all: the gods are looking out for Dougie everywhere: the Las Vegas detectives finally get the fingerprint results for Dougie: he is a man who escaped from prison two days ago in South Dakota and is a former FBI agent. The truth is so ludicrous they laugh and trash the report as erroneous. As for Bad Cooper (Mr. C.), he gets the spotlight in this episode with the arm-wrestle match and his ascendance to boss-hood of this group of scumbags in western Montana that he has no use for. The brilliance of this scene is that it actually makes us root for Bad Cooper, for the first and only time in the series. He confronts Ray (an informant for the FBI), who confesses that somebody named Phillip Jeffries had ordered him to place the Owl Cave Ring on Mr. C.’s finger when he died. He tells Mr. C. that Jeffries is in hiding somewhere called “the Dutchman’s”, and gives Mr. C. the set of coordinates that will (supposedly) lead to the dark evil that Doppel-Coop is trying to find. Meanwhile, Sarah Palmer is watching violent video clips on repeat as she drinks and smokes; Norma refuses to dumb down her pie formula to increase profits; and Dr. Jacoby runs across his most loyal fan, Nadine, who is proudly displaying her gold shit-digging shovel.

10. The Past Dictates the Future (Part 17). Pardon my blasphemy for putting this in the bottom half, but there’s something at once momentous and unsatisfying about the penultimate climax in Sheriff Truman’s office. It concerns of course the character of Freddie. The showdown between him and Bob is rather silly and plays like a sophomoric satire on the superhero franchise. (Honestly, I haven’t seen anything this hollow from Lynch since the Wizard of Oz imagery in Wild at Heart.) I can understand the logic of involving a character from a far-away place like England. The Black Lodge has been efficient at removing local threats (Briggs, Jeffries, Cooper, Diane, Desmond, Stanley, Hastings, etc.), and so the White Lodge needs to employ agents for this showdown that the Black Lodge either can’t see coming (innocent Andy, naive Lucy), or someone so far away that the Black Lodge can’t get to and corrupt in advance (like Freddie). But Freddie doesn’t work. He’s introduced too late in the series (Part 14) for us to be invested in, he’s not compelling anyway, and his gloved “magic fist” is rubbish. A villain like Bob deserved to go out better than this. Everything else about this episode is top notch. Cooper’s return to Twin Peaks is glorious, and I love that the Mitchum brothers (with their bimbos in tow: Candie, Mandie, and Sandie) are in attendance: a wonderful team up of the Vegas gangsters and the Twin Peaks cops. Cooper’s time-travel back into Laura’s Fire Walk With Me scenes, and his altering of the past, is sublime. Noteworthy is what happens before all of this, when Cooper’s doppelganger enters the White Lodge. That Mr. C. is easily trapped and diverted from Sarah Palmer’s house to the Sheriff’s Office (the coordinates he was given in Parts 12 and 16 by Diane, like those given in Parts 13 and 15 by Ray and Jeffries, led him into a trap both times) shows that he’s not as Bad as he thinks; it’s his mother Judy who is the real Bad.

11. Laura is the One (Part 10). After the plot infodumps of Part 9, this one gets back into story, without any real plot advancements, but with searing drama nonetheless. It shovels up the rot of everyday life, where women suffer unflinching violence at the hands of vain and vicious men. Richard Horne beats a school teacher to death (the one who saw him run over the boy in Part 6), and then robs his grandmother of all her money, choking her and swearing at her in a scene out of Clockwork Orange. Becky is terrorized by her boyfriend Steven (repeating the mistakes of her mother Shelly under Leo Johnson). Candie thinks the Mitchum Brothers will kill her after she hits one of them by accident swatting a fly. In contrast to this misogynistic dysfunction, Dougie and Janey-E share an act of sex that leaves them wonderfully fulfilled. Janey-E is falling in love with her husband all over again. The only real plot advancement is in the thread of the Mitchum Brothers, who, having spotted Dougie on TV (from Ike’s attempt on his life), now plan to kill this man who won all their casino jackpots and (per the lies of Dougie’s colleague) refused their 30 million-dollar insurance claim. Laura is the One shows Lynch channeling Blue Velvet with a vengeance. Laura is a prism showing the helplessness of abused women; the message is visceral and profound.

12. There’s Some Fear in Letting Go (Part 15). The shitstorm is imminent now, and the tension ratchets up. There are also emotional farewells. In the opening scene Nadine lets Ed go, giving him permission, after all these years, to be with Norma. And for the first time ever, I have actually enjoyed watching her, as she — inspired by the freedom-fighting ravings of Dr. Jacoby — marches down the road, armed with her shit-digging shovel, to give Ed his eternal pass to romantic freedom. (“See Ed? I’m shoveling my way out of the shit!”) Gersten and Steven’s affair ends on a rather different kind of farewell, as Steven blows his own brains out under the tree. And Dougie and Janey-E share a precious moment, as Janey-E finally thinks everything is coming together for a happy marriage — having no idea that she’s about to be bidding farewell to her precious Dougie, who puts his fork into an electrical socket, presaging his return to the identity of Dale Cooper in Part 16. The crucial scene is Mr. C’s. He comes to the teleporting Convenience Store in western Montana, gets access to “The Dutchman’s”, where we see that Philip Jeffries has turned into a Dalek/overgrown tea kettle. Judy is now discussed for the first time in The Return. Like Cooper and the Fireman, Mr. C. also has a plan to either capture or destroy this evil entity, and possibly harness her power so that he can become top dog. But Jeffries is dicking him around: Mr. C. asks why he sent Ray to kill him, but Jeffries deflects; Mr. C. guesses that it was not Jeffries but the demonic entity who had called him back in Part 2, the evil that wants him back in the Lodge, who is indeed probably the Judy whom Jeffries once mentioned back in 1989 (in the Fire Walk With Me sequence). He demands to know who Judy is, and Jeffries gives him some coordinates where he can find her; these coordinates point to the same location as the coordinates given by Ray in Part 13. The Roadhouse scenes are among the series best: a bar brawl to the tune of ZZ Top’s “Legs”, and the end performance of “Axolotl”, as a girl crawls on the floor between everyone’s feet, freezes suddenly, and let’s out a scream for who-knows-what-reason. Jesus, bring on the shitstorm already.

13. Brings Back Some Memories (Part 4). Cooper keeps scoring jackpots, and then he is chauffeured home to settle into his new life as Dougie. His interactions with Naomi Watts are instant classics, as he struggles to perform the simple tasks of dressing himself and drinking coffee. These scenes are some of the most precious in the series. The episode lands the surprise of Bobby Briggs, who has become a cop; and it’s an emotional moment when he breaks down at the sight of Laura’s photo in the police workroom. Hawk and Truman are trying to figure out what is “missing” (as the Log Lady told Hawk), as it pertains to Dale Cooper and Hawk’s Indian heritage. Bobby offers that Cooper was the last person to see his father (Major Briggs) alive, before he died in the fire at his station on March 28, 1989. A day before this, Cooper had come by the house to talk to Major Briggs about something. (Which we know must have been Cooper’s doppelganger, though Briggs had no idea.) Gordon, Albert, and Tammy arrive at the federal prison in South Dakota. Cooper tells Gordon that he’s been working undercover all these years with Phillip Jeffries, and that he needs to be debriefed by Gordon. Albert tells Gordon that years ago he had authorized Jeffries to give Cooper some needed information about their contact in Columbia New York. A week later that contact was dead. Gordon feels they are in over their head, and wants to get Diane to talk to Cooper.

14. We Are Like the Dreamer (Part 14). By rights this episode should be a really strong one, as it contains the pivotal journey to Jackrabbit’s Palace on October 1, and Andy’s vision inside the White Lodge: the demonic Judy, the Convenience Store, the two Coopers, and the importance of Naido whom they find naked on the forest floor. But aside from that sequence — and the stunning scene in which Sarah Palmer opens up her face and and bites a man’s throat out — this is an episode weighed down by meandering exposition, and even almost half-ruined by the introduction of a silly character who becomes critical to the series’ end game. That character being Freddie of the Green Glove: a young man from Britain who was given a magic fist, and told by the Fireman to go to Twin Peaks where his “destiny would be fulfilled”. Seriously, did Lynch and Frost actually contrive something this half-baked? This episode finally connects Team Truman in Twin Peaks with Team Gordon in Buckhorn. The Sheriff calls Gordon to tell him about the missing pages from Laura’s diary that could imply there are two Dale Coopers. Gordon asks Diane if on the last night she saw Cooper he mentioned Major Briggs, and she says yes; Albert implies that Major Briggs, who died in a the fire 25 years ago, is out of place and time, since his body is young and only a few days dead, and found here in Buckhorn instead of Twin Peaks; and that inside his stomach was a ring dedication to a “Dougie” from a “Janey-E”. Diane looks alarmed, and tells them Janey-E is her half-sister living in Vegas, and Gordon calls the FBI to find this Dougie Jones.

15. Case Files (Part 5). In this episode we get the return of soap opera elements of the classic series: Norma and Shelly are still working at the R&R, but Shelly has a daughter in an abusive relationship (much like Shelly once was with Leo). There’s a bit too much of Sheriff Truman’s bitching wife. Dr. Jacoby, on the other hand, is put to hilarious use: now a freedom-fighting crank, he spews conspiracy theories on his own radio show, and peddles gold-plated shit-digging shovels (“Shovel your way out of the shit!”). Nadine seems to be his only fan. The best part of this episode, of course, is the Dougie storyline: Cooper’s day at work in an insurance meeting, where he calls out a colleague for lying about a claim, and is then tasked by his boss with reams of case files to work on as punishment, and then loiters outside on the plaza well into the evening, unable to get himself home. He befriends a statue to keep himself company, in a truly heartbreaking scene. Even for all the Dougie stuff, it’s not the strongest episode on whole.

16. Let’s Rock (Part 12). Some lists rank this as the worst episode, and it does admittedly try the patience of even the most die-hard Lynch fans, with scenes that move so glacially it’s obnoxious. But there are good sequences overlooked by the detractors, the best being the return of Audrey Horne. It took twelve episodes to get to her, and her prolonged, go-nowhere argument with her tiny bald husband becomes more suspenseful the less we can make sense of it. Then there is the other Horne, Benjamin (Audrey’s father), who we’ve seen in many episodes so far, but finally gets a strong scene, when Sheriff Truman pays him a visit. His reaction to the news of his grandson (Richard) being the one who ran over the boy makes me feel for Ben in a way I never have up to this point. Truman then gives Ben the old key to Cooper’s room at the Great Northern, that Dougie’s prostitute had put in the mail — cementing Truman’s conviction that Cooper is indeed active somewhere in some important way. Meanwhile Gordon brings Tammy onto the Blue Rose task force, and also deputizes Diane, though this latter is just to keep Diane close: He and Albert spy on her texts; she gets one from Mr. C. asking Diane if “they’ve asked about Vegas yet”; which Gordon knows nothing about. Diane figures the coordinates on Ruth Davenport’s arm point to Twin Peaks, and that must be where Major Briggs is now. She sends the first half of the coordinates to Mr. C. Finally, there are the scenes with Sarah Palmer who looks downright menacing; and there are strange noises inside her house. Oh, and I almost forgot: more of Dr. Jacoby’s hilarious shit-shoveling rants. Really, this episode isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be.

17. My Log Has a Message for You (Part 1). I can understand why this was released with Part 2, joined as a double bill. On it own it’s a relatively sluggish re-introduction to the world of Twin Peaks. We learn that Buckhorn, South Dakota is a sort of “New Twin Peaks”, where Cooper’s doppelgänger (Mr. C.) has been operating since his escape from the Black Lodge in the season-two finale. It’s also here that local police have just found the decapitated head of a librarian placed on the headless body of an unidentified man (Major Briggs, we will later learn), and suspect the school’s principal, Bill Hastings. Meanwhile, in New York, a young pair (Sam and Tracy) having sex are brutally savaged by a demonic force; the force appears in a glass cage owned by Cooper’s doppelganger (Mr. C.), who has been trying to trap this evil entity. Mr. C. hooks up with a shady couple named Ray and Darya. In Twin Peaks itself, the Log Lady tells Hawk that “something is missing”, having to do with Dale Cooper, and only Hawk can find it, on account of his heritage. The most critical scene, however, is the very first: Cooper is sitting in the White Lodge, and the Fireman tells him, “It is in our house now. Remember 430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone.” This scene takes place much later in the series, probably after Cooper electrocutes himself back into self-awareness at the end of Part 15. (Notice that in the above pic he doesn’t have his FBI pin, whereas he is wearing the pin in the Lodge scenes of Part 2; he reacquires the pin after the showdown with Bob in Truman’s office in Part 17. ) The meaning of the Fireman’s statement will unfold in the finale: the “it” refers to Judy, “our house” is the Palmer house, “430” is the number of miles that Cooper and Diane will have to drive to get to the alternate reality, “Richard and Linda” are Cooper and Diane’s alter egos, and “two birds with one stone” represents the overall plan of saving Laura and dealing with Judy at the same time. This plan is either (a) a backup plan, in case Judy foils Cooper’s attempt to save Laura in the past by sending Laura to an alternate world, or (b) part of the same plan to save Laura in the past, in which case the Fireman will send Laura to the alternate world in order to trap Judy.

18. This is the Chair (Part 9). If there is a worst episode in The Return, I suppose it’s this one. It’s almost entirely an exposition dump, necessary for our understanding, but weighed down by the expected freight. As Gordon and his team fly away from South Dakota, he gets two phone calls, the first from the Pentagon, telling him about the fingerprint match with Major Briggs on the decapitated body in Buckhorn; the second from the prison they just left, informing him that Cooper (Mr. C.) just escaped. Mr. C. (who had put the hit on Dougie in Part 7) tells Hutch and Chantal that he will have a hit job for them in Vegas. Mr. C. is also sending secret texts to Diane, indicating that she can’t be entirely trusted. The Police, for their part, cannot find records on Dougie Jones prior to 1997, and so they swipe his fingerprints from a coffee mug. Meanwhile, in Twin Peaks, Mrs. Briggs tells the Sheriff’s team about the night before her husband died, when he he met with Agent Cooper (who must have been the Bad Cooper, based on what they read from Laura’s diary in Part 7). She gives them a vial left by her husband, containing directions, dates, times, and a location (Jackrabbit’s Palace) — which sounds a lot like the information for entering another dimension that Bill Hastings is describing to Gordon’s team at the same time in Buckhorn. The interrogation of Bill Hastings is the absolute worst scene of the series. Hastings (played by douchebag Matthew Lillard) sobs pathetically as he relates the details of how he and Ruth Davenport located Major Briggs in an alternate dimension, how they helped the major find coordinates that would allow him to move the White Lodge to a new hiding place, and how Ruth was killed by “others” and that the major’s head vanished. His sobbing goes on and on, and it’s a tedious ordeal to sit through, but unfortunately necessary, unless you’ve seen the series enough times to know all the plot details.

And now, the music…

The musical sequences that finish each episode deserve to be ranked on their own. Most of them (except two of them, from Parts 7 and 11) are Roadhouse performances. One of them (the Nine Inch Nails, from Part 8) comes toward the beginning instead of the very end. Click on the links to see and hear the performances from The Return.

1. Audrey’s Dance, by Angelo Badalamenti (Part 16). The Return’s dreamiest and most nostalgic moment. Compare with the teenage Audrey, so full of promise, here, from Episode 2 of the classic series (“Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”). Now she’s in a mental asylum. The stage performance is all in her head, and it crushes me every time on the reveal.

2. Axolotl, by The Veils (Part 15). The edgy Roadhouse pieces that finishes the episode where a shitstorm feels imminent. On the bar floor a girl crawls on the floor, weaving through the feet of dancers, until she freezes and lets out a scream for some unknown reason. Pure Lynchian psycho-horror.

3. No Stars, by Rebekah Del Rio and Moby (Part 10). The singer of “Llorando” in Mulholland Drive gives a stunning performance (and notice Moby playing guitar), with a voice that goes through you like an awl. A suitable aftermath to the horrible scenes of abuse inflicted on women throughout Part 10.

4. She’s Gone Away, by the Nine Inch Nails (Part 8). One wonders how the Roadhouse found the money to hire The Nine Inch Nails, but anyway… the band perfectly summons the specter of Bad Cooper, who is possessed by Bob. Part 8 is of course all about how Bob was created.

5. Saturday, by the Chromatics (Part 12). Like Julee Cruise in the classic years, Chromatics seems made for the world of Twin Peaks. This soothing instrumental piece caps off the slow-paced episode that is Part 12, and is a favorite of mine.

6. Wild West, by Lissie (Part 14). Lissie’s liveliness sets her apart from the other artists on this list, and it’s interesting that she is used for Part 14, which is dream-themed — almost serving as a wake-up call at the end. It’s a great song.

7. Heartbreaking, by Angelo Badalamenti (Part 11). It’s nice to have a couple episodes that break with the Roadhouse formula (the other is at #12). Badalamenti’s scoring plays over the casino restaurant scene, in which child-like Dougie receives blessings and favors of the mob.

8. The World Spins, by Julee Cruise (Part 17). The first time Cruise performed this was in the final scene of the critical Episode 14 of the classic series (“Lonely Souls”), when Leland Palmer was finally revealed as his daughter’s killer. (See here.) It’s fitting that Cruise reprises the song in Part 17, right after Cooper goes back in time to prevent that murder.

9. Tarifa, by Sharon Van Etten (Part 6). This deeply emotional piece really hits the spot after the roller coaster ride of Part 6, involving the hit-and-run of a young boy, a messy assassination of the woman who failed to kill Dougie Jones at the Rancho Rosa Estates, and Janey-E’s “We are the 99 percenters!” diatribe as she pays off Dougie’s gambling debts.

10. Shadow, by Chromatics (Part 2). This band is so atmospheric they play twice (the other at #5), and they make a perfect first act in the series.

11. Snake Eyes, by Trouble (Part 5). A suitable piece to the upsetting booth scene in which the sadistic Richard Horne is introduced for the first time.

12. Sleep Walk, by Santo and Johnny Farina (Part 7). Nothing beyond these mellow notes are necessary after the batshit crazy scene of the brain-tree in the sidewalk.

13. Mississippi, by Cactus Blossoms (Part 3). Slow-burning country harmonies aren’t usually my thing, but this piece carries enough eeriness to go with the weird confusion of Part 3.

14. Lark, by Au Revoir Simone (Part 4). Lynch has always liked this band for the dreamy voices and haunting harmonies, but they don’t do much for me.

15. A Violent Yet Flammable World, by Au Revoir Simone (Part 9). See #14.

16. Just You, by James Hurley (Part 13). The otherwise excellent Part 13 is capped off by the worst performance. This song has been derided by even hard-core Lynch fans, ever since James first sang it with Maddy and Donna (see here) in Episode 9 of the classic series (“Coma”), and I’m not sure what Lynch was thinking by resurrecting it. Unlike Julee Cruise (see #8), the nostalgia power is very limited here. It’s just a cheesy song about a tortured romance.

Spotlight on Justice Neil Gorsuch

Justice Neil Gorsuch is becoming my favorite justice on the Supreme Court. When he took the oath of office, we all cringed. This was the first Trump appointee to the highest office in the land, and would surely be a boon for the causes of bigotry and crony capitalism. In fact he has proven to be one of the best judicial thinkers on the court, if not the best, and as likely to vote with the liberal justices as his fellow conservatives. Trump’s role model is Andrew Jackson; I wonder how Trump feels about his precious hand-picked justice who has allied himself with the liberals in many cases — two of them in favor of Native American Indians.

I went back through all the SCOTUS rulings since Gorsuch joined the court, and singled out 24 of the most notable decisions, especially the controversial 5-4’s. Out of these 24, I agree with Gorsuch 16 times, or two-thirds. He’s not especially astute on labor law and worker’s rights, but on most matters he’s a sharp jurist. For that matter, in my view, the conservatives on whole come down on the right side about as often as the liberals.

I list the 24 rulings chronologically. The nine which are bolded in red I regard as especially important or noteworthy. Of those nine rulings, I agree with six.

Guilty Pleas (6-3). In Class v. United States (2/21/18), the majority held that a guilty plea, by itself, does not bar a federal criminal defendant from challenging the constitutionality of the law that he violated. The decision was penned by Breyer, who argued that the plaintiff “does not in any way deny that he engaged in the conduct to which he admitted. Instead he seeks to raise a claim which would extinguish the government’s power to constitutionally prosecute the defendant if the claim were successful.” He was joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, Roberts, and Gorsuch. Alito dissented, joined by Kennedy and Thomas. The four liberals and two conservatives (including Gorsuch) had it right. Admission of guilt and challenge to the rightfulness of the law are two separate issues.

Tax crimes (7-2). In Marinello v. United States (3/21/18), the majority ruled in favor of a business owner who didn’t file tax returns and destroyed some of his banking records. They found the Omnibus Obstruction Clause in the Tax Code to be too broad, since it makes it a crime to “obstruct or impede the due administration” of tax laws, without specifying what constitutes obstruction. The decision was penned by Breyer, who said that “to convict a defendant under the Omnibus Clause, the Government must prove the defendant was aware of a pending tax-related proceeding, such as a particular investigation or audit, or could reasonably foresee that such a proceeding would commence”. He was joined by Gorsuch, Roberts, Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Kennedy. Thomas dissented, saying that the majority, “has constructed an opening in the Omnibus Clause large enough that even the worst offenders can escape liability”. He was joined by Alito. The three conservatives (including Gorsuch) and four liberals were right here.

Defense Attorneys Conceding the Guilt of their Clients (6-3). In McCoy v. Louisiana (5/14/18), the majority ruled that a court violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights when it allows defense counsel to admit guilt over the defendant’s express objections — even if counsel believes her strategy is necessary to avoid the death penalty. While criminal defendants have the constitutional right to represent themselves, they do not cede all control over their cases when they opt for the assistance of counsel. Ginsburg penned the decision, joined by Roberts, Kagan, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kennedy. Alito dissented, arguing that McCoy’s lawyer merely conceded his clients’ guilt in killing his victims, but did not concede guilt of the charged crime of first-degree murder, which requires specific intent. The fact that his client killed the victims was so incontrovertible that the lawyer had no choice but to admit it, or his legal defense would have been feeble. He was joined by Thomas and Gorsuch. Here the four liberals and two conservatives prevailed over three conservatives, and probably rightly. Lawyers usually know best in these cases, but the person on trial should have the ultimate say in admission of guilt. Here’s a case where I disagree with Gorsuch.

Worker’s Rights (5-4). In Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (5/21/18), the majority upheld the validity of employment contracts in which employees give up their right to collective litigation against their employer. Backstory: Several years after leaving his job, Stephen Morris filed a class action against his employer in federal court for, among other claims, violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The suit contradicted the terms of his arbitration agreement: it was in court, and it combined the claims of several employees. Morris argued that since the individualized arbitration clause of the arbitration agreement violated his Section 7 rights of the NLRA, the district court should refuse to enforce the agreement. The Ninth Circuit agreed with him, holding that the arbitration agreement violated the National Labor Relations Acts (NLRA), and also because the Federal Arbitration Acts (FAA) “does not mandate the enforcement of contract terms that waive substantive federal rights”.
— The Supreme Court reversed this finding. Gorsuch penned the decision, first framing the issue as a straightforward matter of resolving a potential contradiction between two federal statutes: “It is this Court’s duty to interpret Congress’s statutes as a harmonious whole.” He then argued that the text and history of the FAA made clear that courts should presumptively enforce arbitration agreements, even those that called for individualized proceedings. Section 7 of the NRLA is silent about litigation. Other statutes are much clearer in their grant of collective litigation rights, and “it is anachronistic to construe Section 7 to confer class action rights”. Gorsuch was joined by Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy.
— Ginsburg dissented, arguing that the majority subordinated employee-protective labor legislation to the FAA. She placed the NLRA in historical context, as an attempt by Congress to correct power imbalances between employers and employees. Agreements to not litigate collectively are comparable to the “yellow-dog contracts” of old — employment agreements in which the employee promised not to participate in any union activities. Ginsburg then made an affirmative argument for a broad interpretation of Section 7 of the NLRA, and concluded that the right to collective action was protected by Section 7, and moreover that nothing in the text of the FAA “requires subordination of the NLRA’s protections”. Ginsburg was joined by Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer.
— So here the five conservatives trumped the four liberals, and not for the better. Gorsuch’s starting point was flawed: It is not the Supreme Court’s duty “to interpret Congress’s statutes as a harmonious whole”, as he claims, but to examine each statue on its own constitutional merits. Gorsuch is usually better than this.

Warrantless Automobile Searches (8-1). In Collins v. Virginia (5/29/18), the majority ruled that the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception does not permit an officer’s warrantless search of a vehicle parked in the immediate surroundings of a home. Sotomayor penned the decision, joined by everyone, except for Alito. It should have been a 9-0 ruling.

Wedding cakes (7-2). In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (6/4/18), the majority upheld a private business owner’s right to refuse to design one of his products in a particular way.
— The well known backstory: A same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, asked a Colorado business, Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake for them. The owner, Jack C. Phillips, refused to make the cake, citing his religious objections to same-sex weddings. Craig and Mullins filed discrimination charges under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). The Colorado Civil Rights Commission issued a cease-and-desist order to Masterpiece Cakeshop, which the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld over Phillips’ allegations that both the order and CADA itself violated his First Amendment freedoms of expression and religious exercise. Phillips appealed to the Supreme Court.
— Another important backstory: In a different case, a homophobic Christian named William Jack asked a Colorado business, Azucar Bakery, to make a cake with anti-gay messages on them. Jack wanted two Bible verses written on his cakes: “God hates sin. Psalm 45:7” and “Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18:2.” He also wanted the cake to include a portrayal of two grooms holding hands in front of a cross with a red “X “over them. The owner, Marjorie Silva, refused to make cakes like this, citing her objection to derogatory language and imagery. Jack filed discrimination charges, and in this case the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled in favor of the baker: The Commission claimed that Azucar Bakery did not discriminate against Jack because of his religious identity, but because his request included objectionable language and imagery. William Jack tried two other bakers, who also refused to make anti-gay cakes for him.
— With these two scenarios in mind: The Supreme Court majority ruled that The Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ free expression rights. Kennedy penned the decision, arguing that the Commission had acted hostile to the Phillips’ religious beliefs, and those violations alone required the Supreme Court to reverse the Colorado Court of Appeals’ decision. Kennedy was right, but he was copping out by leaving open the bigger question — of whether the baker would prevail on the merits of his case alone. Kennedy was joined by Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Kagan. Thomas concurred separately.
— Gorsuch also concurred separately, and he went further than Kennedy and the others, by taking the case on its merits, arguing that the Commission had erred more profoundly. It had failed to recognize that private business owners cannot be compelled to create a product that they object to on religious or moral grounds, which is indeed what the Commission had implicitly acnowledged in its own treatment of William Jack. The Commission, said Gorsuch, should have found in Phillips’ favor, just as it had found in favor for the three bakers who refused to accommodate William Jack. All four bakers were in the same situation. The bakers in the first case refused to sell a cake that denigrated same-sex marriage, just as the baker in the second case refused to sell a cake celebrating same-sex marriage. Most critically: The bakers in the first case were happy to sell to persons of Christian faith, just as the baker in the second case was happy to sell to gay people. In both cases, it was the kind of cake, not the kind of customer, that mattered to the bakers. Gorsuch’s reasoning was entirely correct.
— Ginsburg dissented, joined by Sotomayor, arguing that William Jack had requested a cake with specific images, statements, and bible verses designed to express rejection of same-sex marriage. In contrast to Jack, Craig and Mullins simply requested a wedding cake. That’s not true: the wedding cake for Craig and Mullins would have obviously had writing and/or imagery signaling a gay wedding, and that’s the reason the baker objected to begin with. If it were just a cake with nothing at all to indicate it was a cake for a gay couple, the baker would have had no problem making it. The bottom line — and the line that only Gorsuch seemed willing to take a firm stand on — is simple: You cannot compel business owners to artistic design; you can only compel them to provide equal access to a commodity. The bakers in both cases — the ones who rejected William Jack’s request, and the one who rejected Craig and Mullins’ request — sold whatever products they made impartially, without any discrimination against anyone. Their doors were open to anyone, on a first come first serve basis, without prejudice. That’s what matters. Ginsburg’s dissent is one of the most feeble arguments she has ever penned.
— The five conservative and two liberal majority was right, but only one member of that seven (Gorsuch) addressed the substantive issue.

Retaliatory Arrests (8-1). In Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida (6/18/18), the majority ruled that the existence of probable cause for Fane Lozman’s arrest for disrupting a city council meeting does not bar his First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim. A retaliatory arrest claim is one where a plaintiff alleges that he was arrested not because he committed a crime but in retaliation for exercising his free speech rights — most often for publicly criticizing a government official or governmental decision. In this case, the stated reason for Lozman’s arrest was the suspicion that he was disturbing the peace. Lozman claimed that his arrest was retaliation for his criticisms of the council’s plans. The question the court had to decide was: If there was probable cause to suspect Lozman was committing a crime, is he still allowed to make a claim for retaliatory arrest? Kennedy penned the decision, answering in the affirmative, joined by everyone on the court (Gorsuch, Roberts, Alito, Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Bryer) except Thomas, who said in his singular dissent, “I would hold that plaintiffs bringing a First Amendment retaliatory-arrest claim must plead and prove an absence of probable cause.” This four conservative and four liberal ruling should have been 9-0.

Warrantless Searches in the Digital Age (5-4). Carpenter v. United States (6/22/18), was a blockbuster case about how the Fourth Amendment fits into a world of digital surveillance. Analog precedents pointed one way, while digital technologies pointed another. Up until this ruling, third-party doctrine held that any information shared with third parties (phone records, bank records) lost the expectation of privacy and Fourth Amendment protection. The hugest outrage was President Obama’s dragnet collection of internet, email, and phone metadata on every American citizen — an act which obliterated everyone’s privacy fortress. In this case, police obtained cell-site location information (CSLI) from private cell phone company providers about the whereabouts of Timothy Carpenter, who had been suspected of being involved in a series of cell phone store robberies; his personal cell-phone location data provided solid evidence that he was in the vicinity of the crimes. Though the police obtained a court order, Carpenter alleged that they needed a full probable cause warrant.
— The majority agreed with Carpenter, and Roberts penned the decision: “In light of the deeply revealing nature of CSLI, its depth, breath, and comprehensive reach, and the inescapable and automatic nature of its collection, the fact that such information is gathered by a third party does not make it any less deserving of Fourth Amendment protection.” The information reveals private details of one’s life and violates a reasonable expectation of privacy. Roberts was joined by Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer.
— Three of the dissenters (Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito) rejected the majority view absolutely. Thomas argued that it was time to reconsider the reasonable expectation of privacy theory and move back to a property-focused Fourth Amendment. Kennedy argued that “The court’s ruling puts needed, reasonable, accepted, lawful, and congressionally authorized criminal investigations at serious risk in serious cases, often when law enforcement seeks to prevent the threat of violent crimes.” Alito similarly said the Court had “unwittingly jeopardized the subpoena powers of law enforcement”. The fourth dissenter (Gorsuch) sided with the majority’s view that third-party doctrine was antiquated in the digital age, but suggested a positive law inspired approach to Fourth Amendment rules that would offer at least some leeway to law officials.
— So here Roberts joined the four liberals for an important Fourth Amendment victory. Carpenter signaled the end of the third-party doctrine as traditionally understood.

Terrorism (5-4). In Trump v. Hawaii (6/26/18), the majority ruled that President Trump lawfully exercised the broad discretion granted to him to suspend the entry of aliens from seven Muslim countries into the United States, countries construed to be jihadist hotspots. Roberts penned the decision, joined by Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and Gorsuch. Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Kagan. Sotomayor also dissented, joined by Ginsburg. The five conservatives trumped the four liberals, and in my view rightly. The Supreme Court has no power to second-guess the president’s executive decisions, no matter how disagreeable, only to decide if the president’s decisions are constitutional or not. Aliens who have never set foot on U.S. soil have no constitutional rights, and nor should they. While the Constitution prohibits discrimination in the issuing of visas, it does not limit the president’s authority in any way to block the entry of nationals from certain places, just as several presidents have done before Trump. And while the Establishment Clause prohibits unduly favoring one religion over another, there were many majority-Muslim countries that were not subject to Trump’s ban. Trump’s moratorium was not a sweeping ban against any and all Muslims, but a target against certain countries for purpose of national security. Whether or not one agrees that Trump’s ban was necessary, the majority was correct that he has the right to enforce such bans as he sees fit. Presidents have wide discretion on questions of alien entry into the U.S., and that is as it should be.
Side note: I thought Trump’s ban was stupid for many reasons, not least because a place like Saudi Arabia wasn’t on the list of seven countries, even though it spends millions of dollars promoting jihadist warfare all over the world, and even though most of the 9/11 hijackers came from there. The list of seven countries was actually from a law signed by Barack Obama for the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015; Trump’s executive order simply lifted those countries from Obama’s template without any real thought behind it. Regardless of my feelings for the idiocy of these laws and bans, the majority was right: Trump’s ban was not in any way unconstitutional.

Union Agency Fees (5-4). In Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (6/27/18), the majority found that the extraction of agency fees from non-consenting public-sector employees violates the First Amendment. Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), which concluded otherwise, is thus overruled. Alito penned the decision, joined by Thomas, Roberts, Kennedy, and Gorsuch. Kagan dissented, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer. The five conservatives trumped the four liberals. Wrongly, because the those who refuse to pay agency fees still reap union privileges. They are able to file grievances and expect the union to represent them, and they get all the pay increases and benefit bumps negotiated for them by the union. With Abood overturned, teachers and police must now lobby public employees to pay full union dues, even though those employees will get the same benefits from the union if they pay nothing at all. Abood had made clear that agency fees could not be used to pay for political activity; the fees could only pay for collective bargaining and other apolitical services the union provides, and which all employees benefit from. But Alito found that provision in Abood to be insufficient. “Merely separating out the political and apolitical parts of union fees is not sufficient to respect employees’ First Amendment rights. If non-union supportive employees are forced to pay agency fees to avoid a free-rider problem and ensure that unions have adequate funding to bargain for their members, then those employees are effectively being coerced into funding speech with which they disagree.” Speaking as someone who has worked in a union environment for years (and as a union president for seven years), I can say that Alito’s objection is nonsense.
— Kagan made a trenchant dissent: “There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this nation’s law— and in its economic life—for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy. The majority has overruled Abood for no exceptional or special reason, but because it never liked the decision. Speech is everywhere—a part of every human activity (employment, health care, securities trading, you name it). For that reason, almost all economic and regulatory policy affects or touches speech. The First Amendment was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance, including over the role of public-sector unions.”
Side-note: I regard the overturning of Abood v. Detroit as conceptually (if not as drastically) equivalent to the hypothetical overturning of Roe v. Wade. Both were landmark 70s rulings that established important precedents, and have been cited favorably in numerous rulings ever since. But in the minds of those who simply hate the decisions, Abood and Roe were each “poorly reasoned” and inconsistent with fundamental rights (free speech, to life). It is in fact Janus that goes down as one of the most poorly reasoned SCOTUS decisions of the past two years, and let’s hope there is no analogous overturning of Roe v. Wade in the future.

Indian Tax Exemptions (5-4). In Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den Inc. (3/19/19), the majority ruled that a fuel wholesaler owned by a member of the Yakama Indian Nation was exempt from paying state fuel taxes for using public highways because the Yakama Treaty of 1855 granted members of the Nation the right “to travel upon all public highways” and preempted its obligation to pay the tax. Breyer penned the decision, joined by Sotomayor and Kagan. Gorsuch concurred separately, joined by Ginsburg. Roberts dissented, arguing, “Under our precedents, a state law violates a treaty right only if the law imposes liability upon the Yakamas ‘for exercising the very right their ancestors intended to reserve.’ Tulee v. Washington (1942). Because Washington is taxing Cougar Den for possessing fuel, not for traveling on the highways, the State’s method of administering its fuel tax is consistent with the treaty.” He was joined by Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh. Gorsuch countered his fellow conservatives’ literal reading of the treaty by pointing out that the treaty was drafted by the United States in a language the Yakamas could not read, and the Yakamas had relinquished large amounts of territory in exchange for their treaty rights. Under these circumstances, Gorsuch argued, the treaty should be interpreted as the Yakama understood it. The end result is that Gorsuch and the four liberals trumped the other four conservatives in favor of the Indians, and I believe this was the right decision.

Detention of Criminal Aliens (5-4). In Nielsen v. Preap (3/19/19), the majority ruled that the sweeping provision of the Immigration and Naturalization Act — the mandatory detention provision — still applies to defendants, even if they are not detained immediately after being released from criminal custody. The mandatory detention law (1996) requires that criminal aliens (non-citizens) are detained for the duration of their deportation proceedings (without a hearing) because they have past criminal records, years or even decades ago. The result is that people who have never re-offended, rebuilt their lives with their families, and become productive members of their communities are subject to mandatory imprisonment as their deportation case winds its way through the immigration court system, with no hearing to determine if they need to be locked up in the first place. That’s too bad, according to the majority. Alito penned the decision, joined by Roberts, Thomas, Kavanagh, and Gorsuch. Breyer dissented, joined by Kagan, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor. The five conservatives trumped the four liberals. I agree with the majority. Even though I find aspects of the Act to be odious, the case isn’t about whether an alien may be removed from the United States on the basis of criminal offenses, nor whether or how long an alien may be detained during removal proceedings or before removal. It addresses the narrow question of whether the mandatory detention provision of the Immigration and Naturalization Act was being violated or not; and it clearly was not. Put simply: the courts lack jurisdiction to decide questions concerning the detention of non-citizens before final orders of removal have been entered.

State Executions (5-4). In Bucklew v. Precythe (4/1/19), the majority denied a death-row inmate’s request to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia. The backstory: Russell Bucklew had assaulted his former girlfriend, shot a man who tried to intervene and left him to bleed to death, kidnapped his ex, and raped her. Later he broke out of jail, broke into the ex’s home and attacked her mother with a hammer. He suffered from a rare disease called “cavernous hemangioma,” which produces blood-filled tumors around his body. The tumors are inoperable and fragile; if they break, they might flood his throat with blood. He cannot sleep lying flat, or else he will choke. For this reason, he appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that Missouri’s execution procedures would likely cause him to choke to death on his own blood, and asked instead to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia. The majority ruled against him, with Gorsuch penning the decision as follows: “The Eighth Amendment has never been understood to guarantee a condemned inmate a painless death. That’s a luxury not guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes. What it does guarantee is a method of execution that is not cruel and unusual. And ever since the founding, people have understood that the only way to tell if a method is cruel is to compare it with other known and available alternatives, to see if the state is inflicting substantially more pain than necessary to carry out its lawful sentence. Even if execution by nitrogen hypoxia were a feasible and readily implemented alternative to the State’s chosen method, Mr. Bucklew has still failed to present any evidence suggesting that it would significantly reduce his risk of pain”. Gorsuch was joined by Roberts and Alito. Thomas and Kavanagh concurred separately. Breyer dissented, saying that “executing Bucklew by lethal injection risks subjecting him to constitutionally impermissible suffering, violating the clear command of the Eighth Amendment”. He was joined by Ginsburg and Kagan. Sotomayor dissented separately. The five conservatives trumped the four liberals, in my view rightly. While I think the liberals have good sensibilities, there is a constitutional difference between “painful” and “cruel and unusual”, and I believe the conservatives made the correct ruling based on that distinction.

Class Action Lawsuits (5-4). In Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela (4/24/19), the majority ruled that courts may not infer from an ambiguous contract that a company has consented to arbitrate on a classwide basis. The backstory: Frank Varela tried to file a class action complaint against his employer, Lamps Plus, after the company released his personal information in response to a phishing scam. He filed the lawsuit alleging negligence, breach of contract, and invasion of privacy. Citing the contract of employment signed by Varela, Lamps Plus moved to compel bilateral arbitration, not agreeing to the class action. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the class arbitration could move forward because of the ambiguity of the contract. Lamps Plus appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the majority found in the company’s favor. Roberts penned the decision, joined by Alito, Kavanagh, and Gorsuch. Thomas concurred separately. Ginsburg trenchantly dissented, arguing that “mandatory individual arbitration continues to thwart ‘effective access to justice’ for those encountering diverse violations of their legal rights”. The five conservatives trumped the four liberals, in my view wrongly, not least because the majority reached its holding without actually agreeing that the contract was ambiguous. So this is another case where I disagree with Gorsuch.

Private Lawsuits Tried in Other States (5-4). In Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt (5/13/19), the majority overruled Nevada v. Hall (1979), which had for 40 years permitted a sovereign state to be haled into another state’s courts without its consent. States now retain their sovereign immunity from private suits brought in the courts of other states. Thomas penned the decision, arguing that “Nevada v. Hall is contrary to our constitutional design and the understanding of sovereign immunity shared by the states that ratified the Constitution.” He was joined by Alito, Roberts, Kavnagh, and Gorsuch. Breyer dissented, and was joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Here the five conservatives trumped the four liberals. I can see this issue from both sides and don’t really have a strong opinion here. States rights are tricky, and I can be pro- or anti- depending on the issue.

Indian Treaty Rights (5-4). In Herrera v. Wyoming (5/20/19), the majority ruled (a) that statehood does not imply termination of reserved hunting rights for Indians, and (b) that establishment of a national forest does not render an area occupied. The backstory: In 1868, the Crow Tribe had entered into a Treaty with the United States, ceding most of its aboriginal territory but retaining a portion for the establishment of the Crow Reservation and retaining hunting rights in the ceded territory. In Ward v. Race Horse (1896), the Supreme Court held that hunting rights were repealed by the act of admitting a state into the union. Relying on Race Horse, the Tenth Circuit in 1995 had held that the Crow Tribe’s reserved hunting rights were repealed by the act admitting Wyoming to the union in 1890 or, alternatively, because the establishment of the Bighorn National Forest in 1897 meant the forest was now occupied. In 2015, Herrera, a Crow member, challenged his prosecution by Wyoming officials for hunting elk in the Bighorn National Forest. The Supreme Court majority reversed the Wyoming Supreme Court and ruled in the Indians’ favor. Sotomayor penned the decision, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Gorsuch. Alito aggressively dissented, joined by Roberts, Kavanagh, and Thomas. Here Gorsuch joined the four liberals in favor of Indian treaties, and I would have voted this way too.

Private Corporations Which Host Public/Governmental Forums (5-4). In Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck (6/17/19), the majority ruled that Manhattan Community Access, a private corporation operating public access channels, is not a state/governmental actor subject to the First Amendment; and thus the corporation was within its rights to suspend contributors from using the station’s public services and facilities. (The Second Circuit Court had disagreed, saying that MCAC, while a private corporation, nevertheless hosted public-access channels which are a public forum for First Amendment purposes.) Kavanagh penned the decision, joined by Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch. Sotomayor dissented, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. In this important decision, the five conservatives trumped the four liberals. It’s an important decision, because it bears on questions of huge corporations like Facebook and Youtube when they police the world and ban users (like Alex Jones) for offensive material; or when they ban users, or delete comments or videos, even on the public/governmental pages they are hosting. Facebook, for example, hosts many public library pages. As governmental employees, the librarians cannot censor hate speech comments on their FB pages. But according to this Supreme Court ruling, the Facebook execs are within their rights to step in and do so if they wish. Much as I hate to say it, the conservative majority got it right. I personally hate it when corporations like Facebook and Youtube try to police their functional equivalent of a digital town hall. (Facebook exercises more control over the public discourse in the U.S. today than any government ever dreamed of having.) But the fact is that they are not legally a town hall. They are private corporations, and it’s ultimately “their house and their rules”. The liberal justices had their hearts in the right place but their heads in the cloud. Had this decision gone the liberal way, it would have set a bad precedent in blurring the separation of private and governmental spheres. It would have tied the hands of business owners from making decisions they should be allowed to make.

Separation of Powers (5-3). In Gundy v. United States (6/20/19), the majority ruled that the attorney general does not have the power to write his own criminal code. The precise question: could the attorney general both declare that a pre-SORNA sex offender was required to register under SORNA (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act) and then prosecute him for having failed to register? This placed the power to make a law and the power to enforce it in the same hands, which is a classic violation of the separation of powers, and a clear delegation of legislative authority. The majority ruled yes, that Congress did not unconstitutionally delegate its legislative power to the attorney general. Kagan penned the decision, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor; Alito concurred separately. Gorsuch dissented, arguing thus: “It would be easy enough to let this case go. After all, sex offenders are one of the most disfavored groups in our society. But the rule that prevents Congress from giving the executive carte blanche to write laws for sex offenders is the same rule that protects everyone else.” He was joined by Roberts and Thomas. (Kavanagh took no part in the decision because he had joined the court after oral argument.) So here Alito joined the liberals, for a “liberal” ruling. I believe the conservative minority under Gorsuch was right. Like Gorsuch, I can’t think of any case in which the Supreme Court ever allowed the chief prosecutor of the United States to write the criminal law for those he’s going to prosecute.

Property Rights (5-4). In Knick v. Township of Scott (6/21/19), the majority ruled that property rights are as important as other rights in the Constitution, and federal courts may not turn away takings cases. The backstory: government agents had forced Rose Knick to allow public access to a suspected grave-site on her farmland, and she sued over the unconstitutional property taking. But a federal court refused to hear her federal claim, and so she asked the Supreme Court to overturn this precedent so that property rights are on equal footing with other rights such as due process and free speech. She prevailed. Roberts penned the decision, joined by Kavanagh, Alito, and Gorsuch; Thomas concurred separately. Kagan dissented, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer. In this case, the five conservatives trumped the four liberals. Rightly so, in my view. Property rights are certainly constitutionally important, and their cases should be heard.

Free Speech: Vulgar and Scandalous Trademarks (6-3). In Iancu v. Brunetti (6/24/19), the majority struck down a law banning vulgar or scandalous trademarks. Applying that rule, the government had denied a trademark for the name “FUCT,” concluding that it was phonetically equivalent to the past tense or past participle of “fuck”. Kagan penned the decision, arguing that the trademark law’s restriction violates the First Amendment because “it disfavors certain ideas”. She was joined by Ginsburg, Thomas, Alito, Kavanagh, and Gorsuch. Roberts dissented, saying that while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, “it does not require the government to give aid and comfort to those using obscene, vulgar, and profane modes of expression”. He was joined by Sotomayor and Breyer. In this very interesting case, two liberals and four conservatives upheld the First Amendment, while one conservative and two liberals did not. This weight of opinion lends credence to the claim that the stronger threats to free speech come more from the left than the right. Obviously the majority was right.

Guns in Crimes of Violence (5-4). In United States v. Davis (6/24/19), the majority ruled that the law which provides enhanced penalties for using a firearm during a “crime of violence” is unconstitutionally vague. Gorsuch penned the decision, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomeyer, and Kagan. Kavanagh dissented, joined by Thomas, Alito, and Roberts. So Gorsuch joined the liberals, over against the other four conservatives. Here we have the rather shocking result of liberals going light on violent gun crime (making for a rather “conservative” ruling) and most of the conservatives advocating harsher measures against gun owners (making for a rather “liberal” ruling). The unexpected decision can perhaps be explained, at least partly, on account of the fact that the Trump administration was gunning hard for the defendants, in which case the liberals may have been less interested in going light on violent gun crime, and more interested in “sticking it to Trump”. Likewise, the conservative dissenters could have been pandering to Trump. Gorsuch is the only one who looked really objective here. Nonetheless, this is another case in which I disagree with Gorsuch. I would have dissented here. The use of guns in crimes of violence warrants stiff penalties.

Child Pornography (5-4). In United States v. Haymond (6/26/19), the majority overturned the lower court’s denial of a trial by jury to a man convicted a second time of carrying child pornography. Gorsuch penned the decision, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan; Breyer concurred separately. Alito dissented, joined by Roberts, Thomas and Kavanaugh. So here Gorsuch joined the liberals, for a “liberal” victory. I would have ruled the same way. A new crime demands a new trial, no matter how despicable the offense.

Gerrymandering (5-4). In Rucho v. Common Cause (6/27/19), the majority ruled that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Roberts penned the decision, joined by Thomas, Alito, Kavanagh, and Gorsuch. Kagan dissented, arguing trenchantly: “The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives. In so doing, the partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people.” She was joined by Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor. In this decision, the five conservatives trumped the four liberals, and very wrongly in my opinion. This is certainly a constitutional question, as Kagan wrote; the conservatives just didn’t want to get their hands dirty. So this is the eighth case on this list in which I disagree with Gorsuch. This ruling and Janus (union agency fees) are the two rulings I can say I not only disagree with, but I’m honestly disgusted by.

Warrantless Blood Tests (5-4). In Mitchell v. Wisconsin (6/27/19), the majority ruled that when a driver is unconscious and cannot be given a breath test, the exigent-circumstances doctrine generally permits a blood test without a warrant. Alito penned the decision, joined by Roberts, Breyer, and Kavanagh; Thomas concurred separately. Sotomayor dissented, joined by Ginsburg and Kagan, and Gorsuch filed a separate dissent. So here Breyer joined the conservative majority, and Gorsuch joined the liberal dissent. I would have dissented too. Involuntary blood tests require warrants, pure and simple.

Trinitarianism, Modalism, and Somewhere In-Between

The answer to the question, “What is the biblical view of the trinity?”, isn’t so easy. Classic trinitarians and modalist heretics each seem to think the matter straightforward.

A. The traditional view of the trinity states that the three members of the Godhead are distinct, eternal, and co-existing. They fall within a chain of command and are not co-equal. The Son is subordinate to the Father (I Corinthians 15:28); Jesus says “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28); etc. The three persons (or entities) are one in substance, but they are not one person or one entity. Thus Jesus cannot be the Father. The Son and the Father “are One” (John 10:30), but the Son is not the Father. In other words, Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are the same God; but they are not the same person or entity.

B. The modalist view denies the trinity, and says there are no distinctions in the Godhead. God is only one person (or entity), and he has three modes (or faces, or masks), which do not exist simultaneously. Therefore these three modes are not eternal and do not co-exist. God changes modes, putting on different hats (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) as the occasion demands. It is thus perfectly okay to say that Jesus is the Father, because there is only one person (or entity) to begin with.

Modalism can be dismissed rather easily, not least because it opposes the biblical view that God never changes (Malachi 3:6), Jesus never changes (Hebrews 13:8); etc. It also makes for ludicrous readings of biblical narratives which show Jesus praying to the Father, asking on the cross why his father has forsaken him, etc. On the modalist view, this would be a God with a serious split-personality disorder. However, the classic trinitarian view, while far more plausible than the modalist, isn’t unassailable. There are biblical texts which do imply that Jesus is the Father, and for that matter that all three members of the trinity are the same entity.

It’s useless to appeal to logic, though some have tried. Those who say that Jesus is the Father (view B, and view C below) might use the transitive property of equality: if x=y, and y=z, then x=z. So if Jesus is God, and if the Father is God, then Jesus must be the Father. Classical purists (view A) could just as easily retort that if x>y, then x≠y. So if the Father is greater than Jesus (John 14:28), then Jesus cannot possibly be the Father. Stalemate. Logic won’t get us anywhere, because the trinity can’t be understood logically. It can only be defended on the basis of how the biblical texts present it (whether or not one chooses to accept the bible).

I believe it is valid to make an equation between Jesus and the Father — or between any two members of the Godhead — and still be called a trinitarian, based on a comprehensive reading of the bible. This view may carry the most theological tensions, but it’s the one that doesn’t require any hand-waving or ignoring inconvenient passages. It may be described as follows:

C. The modified view of the trinity holds that the three members of the Godhead are still distinct, eternal, co-existing, and that they fall within a chain of command. But they are also co-equal, and these three persons (or three entities) are at the same time one person (or one entity) as a whole. Thus the Godhead can use plural pronouns and singular. “Let us make man in our image… and so God created man in His image” (Genesis 1:26-27). Thus God is three persons but he is also one person. It is thus okay to say that Jesus is the Father — as long as one still holds to the idea that there are three distinct persons in the one person of God. It could perhaps be represented with the diagram of three concentric circles of the same size, distinct but superimposed on each other. (The circle I use on the right has seven of them, but pretend there are only three: red for the Father, yellow for the Son, purple for the Spirit.)

The advantage of this view is that it holds together both of the following:

— 1. One the one hand, the bible makes clear distinctions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These are the passages favored by classical trinitarians, the proponents of view A. For example, in the account of Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11/Mt 3:16-17/Lk 3:21-22), Jesus the Son is being baptized; at the same time, the Spirit of God physically comes down on him like a dove; and then the Father’s voice from heaven speaks out and approves him. Obviously the synoptic writers aren’t portraying Jesus as a ventriloquist, throwing his voice upwards as if he and the father are non-distinguishable. Or when Jesus cries out to the Father on the cross, he’s not putting on an act and really just crying out to himself. The Father is actually a person (or entity) in heaven, who looks down and speaks to his Son at his baptism; and who chooses to ignore him at his crucifixion; likewise the Spirit is a clear distinct entity at the Son’s baptism.

— 2. On the other hand, the bible also blurs the lines between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These are the passages favored by modalists, the proponents of view B. For example, in Galatians 1:1, the Father raised Jesus from the dead; in Romans 8:11, the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead; and in John 2:19-21, Jesus raised himself from the dead. So who raised Jesus from the dead? His dad, the spirit, or himself? All are true, which means that Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit) are, in some cases, interchangeable. For another example, in Romans 8:9, the Spirit “dwells in you”; in Romans 8:10, Christ “is in you”; and in Ephesians 4:6, “the Father is in you”. Again, the three members of the Godhead are ultimately the same person or entity. Then there is the famous passage of Isaiah 9:6, sung in hymns and Handel’s Messiah, speaking of Jesus (the son) being the “everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”. It goes without saying that for purposes of historical criticism, Isaiah’s prophecy about “the son” didn’t originally have Jesus in mind; but from the Christian point of view, it certainly is a prophecy about Jesus, who is nothing less than the “everlasting Father”.

As I see it, the only way to hold together the clear distinctions of (1) and the blurring distinctions of (2) is by view C. This is the view, for example, of Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church. The three distinct persons in the Godhead are also one person. It is valid to say that Jesus is the Father, but not in a modalist sense, as if the person of God becomes either Jesus or the Father, depending on the need or occasion, switching like a chameleon back and forth. According to the biblical texts, Jesus and the Father are very distinct, eternal and co-existing. But at the same time, they are co-equal and ultimately one person. That’s what it means to be “three in one”.

If that’s contradictory theology, so be it. If the in-between view carries too many tensions, then blame the bible. The answer to the question, “What is the biblical view of the trinity?” doesn’t come by what makes the cleanest sense, or the most logical sense (as if there’s anything much logical about the trinity), or by favoring one set of passages over another. The biblical view of the trinity accounts for all the data, as best as it can.

 

Post-script: I am not personally advocating or disparaging any of the three models, only explaining what I think aligns best with the biblical texts.

SCOTUS: Not nearly as predictable as we expected

If one thing is becoming clear, it is that the Supreme Court isn’t nearly as predictable as we thought it would be after the Trump appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanagh. An article in USA Today actually sees the liberal faction as the greater tribal threat. As a liberal myself I take the point:

“In sum, if lockstep voting and a results-driven court concern us, it isn’t the conservatives we should be worried about. While senators, journalists and academics love decrying the Roberts Five, it’s the (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg Four that represent a bloc geared toward progressive policy outcomes. To be sure, a reinvigorated conservative grouping may yet come to dominate the court — especially if Trump fills another seat — but it hasn’t happened yet.”

I went backwards and considered the most recent SCOTUS rulings (since Kavanagh joined the court last year) to see explicitly how the opinions break down. The results are interesting to say the least. It’s noteworthy that the conservative Gorsuch aligned with the four liberals on no less than five occasions for a 5-4 ruling: Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den Inc., Herrera v. Wyoming, United States v. Davis, United States v. Haymond, and Mitchell v. Wisconsin.

And there are only seven cases in which all five conservatives trump the four liberals: Nielsen v. Preap., Bucklew v. Precythe, Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, Knick v. Township of Scott, and Rucho v. Common Cause. I actually agree with the conservative majority in four of them (Nielsen, Bucklew, Manhattan, Knick), was neutral about one (Hyatt), and disagreed with them only in two (Lamps Plus, Rucho).

Like his predecessor Scalia, Gorsuch is proving himself to be the best conservative justice on the court (and at this moment in time, he’s my favorite), and the conservative justices on whole are not doing so badly.