A Cycle Unfolds

A quotation misattributed to Gandhi reads, "First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. Then, you win." Speaking as someone who has closely studied Gandhi, it does not read like Gandhi to me, although Gandhi scholars have found a passage discussing satyagraha (Gandhi's nonviolent resistance) that if someone lashes out at you and you respond only in kindness, they will likely respect you. In Gandhi's version, your making a gentle response to the hostility you are met with is essential.

The cycle discussed in Zeitgeist and Giftedness...

I was ridiculed when I suggested the holy kiss would make an element for doctrinal study; my own advisor who had supervised an out-of-the way dissertation, in England where a social kiss was an unremarkable feature of the cultural landscape, met me with cutesie sarcasm about whether we could invent reasons to only kiss the prettiest people at church. I dug in a little, and he said it was an under-studied area. There's a bit more to this event that was necessarily in this cycle; my department could only conceive and could only allow a sociological study of kissing under the heading of Realia, the same sort of thing as "What did buildings look like, and how and with what were they made?" or "What weapons and armor, that Roman soldiers had, did St. Paul refer to when he talked about putting on the armor of Christ at the end of Ephesians?" which they believed was not appropriate for my Philosophy of Religion seminar.

But later, when I condensed top salient finds in a homily, The Eighth Sacrament, I had people coming and telling me there was more. With this and other areas, if I suggest something and am met with ridicule and hostility, that's a pretty good cue of what will be front and center in the Zeitgeist.

There are also cases where I was told Belabored Inclusive Language and Naturally Inclusive Language was a lost cause, and then some years later it was mainstreamed that "man" as a term for the human race is not automatically abrasive to women.

I mention pedestals in Zeitgeist and Giftedness; I think I have dodged the worst (a group of libertines, who alleged that conservatives don't like women or gays—a boilerplate leftist smear—lionized me for writing The Seraphinians, and didn't like it too much when I said that without contradiction I had written both The Seraphinians and Orthodoxy and Contraception, and I was able to step out). Or, if I may be honest with myself, I may have experienced a pleasant "fame lite" but simply not met the trial of being raised to an enormous pedestal. That may change if A Pack of the Cigarettes for the Mind gets a Pulitzer, but right now I am a monastic novice, just a novice, under the care of an abbot who wants to care for my humility, and for that matter an abbot who knows the experience of being put on a huge pedestal firsthand.

...and my signal contribution to the conversation

What I regard as my signal contribution, which I would really like for you to read, is in Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at the Dark Side of Technology and Its Best Use. It loosely falls under the category of "religion and science," although formed out of strident rejection that it is the duty and place of theologians to demonstrate the compatibility of timeless revealed truth with the present state of flux in scientific speculation. When I was doing time at Fordham, what I wanted to write for my thesis was what I informally paraphrased in "Religion and Science" Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution, and I do not recall any teacher showing a single word of toleration or acknowledgment to the core idea. A professor known for supporting adventuresome proposals said that eminent scientists agreed with academic theologians that theology needs to demonstrate its compatibility with current trends in science. (I would quote Chesterton: "We are not forced to accept the conclusions of science because science never concludes.")

But signs of another step has gone the way after the initial universal hostility. Other people have been coming up with similar conclusions, and based both on their words and how the cycle has unfolded in the past, I believe that they came to their conclusions independently of my work, and "invented it later," so to speak. A dear friend showed me Revenge of the Real, concerned that the author had been plagiarizing my work The Luddite's Guide to Technology, and close attention to subtle cues corroborated my initial suspicion that no, it was not plagiarized; a bright author had independently come to remarkably similar conclusions. Another happy meeting came with sabbathempire.substack.com, drawn to my attention by a fellow parishioner, which I regard largely as a nice complement to my own work. The themes are similar, but the perspective is different enough that neither of us is redundant to the other. I'm hoping to send him a copy of Hidden Price Tags next week.

When I started digging on this topic, I represented a lone voice. I am glad to no longer hold that distinction. Things are coming along the cycle so that now there are other people, independently, arriving at similar conclusions. And on that topic I wish to recall my words in Zeitgeist and Giftedness, "I might mention, by the way, that when someone bright is taking credit for being countercultural, it's usually a mainstream fashion before too long." There is a kind of "insider trading" as to future fashions that is to be found in observing this cycle at play.

Additionally, another encouraging step happened recently. A visitor to my monastery explained a conscious decision to forgo electric lights and instead use candles. Now I am a little wary about fire hazards and I use flickering electronic LED candles for safety. Nonetheless, I commented to him that it caused future shock to people to have bright light available at any hour of the day or night. What I didn't mention was that someone had eclipsed me, making a careful decision that hadn't even occurred to me to consider. This represents another major roadmark passed.

I refer the reader to Zeitgeist and Giftedness for further study. The examples I bring up there are all lesser examples than this; the concepts of naturally inclusive language and the holy kiss are all much smaller matters to consider than this, my signal contribution to the conversation. I anticipate future buzz on the topic, mostly independent of myself, and a possible pedestal. In Zeitgeist and Giftedness I talked about "fame lite," in that I have about 5000 unique visitors per day on my primary website, but a manageable volume of correspondence. Possibly in the future I may acquire enough of a pedestal to be answering a debilitating volume of essentially pastoral correspondence; for now I have been mostly free of the shackles represented by a proper pedestal. I submitted A Pack of the Cigarettes for the Mind for a Pulitzer Prize essentially in the hope of honorable mention status; The Shallows was a Pulitzer finalist, and I would have loved such a status, but I have opened the door to getting a Pulitzer Prize itself and the pedestal that comes with it.

There is one difference between my work and works I would claim for precursors, including Amusing Ourselves to Death, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, The Plug-in Drug, The Shallows, and The New Media Epidemic. However, there is an important distinction. I do not only try to analyze a problem, but offer strategies and solutions, in which regard I claim as other precursors the tradition of wisdom literature, a tradition older than the Old Testament and newer than titles like Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

If you have not explored my flagship publication as an author, Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at the Dark Side of Technology and Its Best Use, I encourage you to do so, or at least check out the first book. It offers a breath of fresh air to a deep, dank dungeon in which the tyranny of the clock has been superseded by the tyranny of the phone and the new "normal" is simply not normal. I invite you to read it.

Br. Christos J.S. Hayward