Muslims and Buddhists: A Note Not Just to Divorced Orthodox Dads

"Never react. Never resent. Keep inner peace."

—His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH, leitmotif

And also. . .


—The Sum of Popular Religions

One person I respect did not give any warm reception to my repeating an observation that Orthodox fall into two categories: Muslims and Buddhists. But I maintain that the analogy works pretty well, provided it is used as just as a limited analogy: on the side of "Muslims," Orthodoxy should not have literal Jihad as its way of relating to others, and on the side of "Buddhists," Orthodox monks should not terrify the faithful through occult powers or skill in violence. There are people who devote their energies to Jihad, and on the other side there are mystics.

I have for a long time functioned like a Muslim and have pulled no punches: see works like An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism, followed by an even more explicit "The Church Must Breathe with Both Lungs" is Rome's "Amos and Andy" show. Neither was intended as a troll; both were intended to demarcate to Romans why cooperating with the mirror image of Rome's outreach to Orthodoxy simply does not make sense to Orthodoxy. I've seen, in Roman sites, statements that Orthodox believe Romans have valid sacraments and valid orders (a question that I have only heard one Orthodox raise, namely a former Roman), yet despite the asserted findings of Roman validity, Orthodox just don't care about reunion, and a broader social nexus in which I have never heard a Roman acknowledge Orthodox concerns about proper doctrinal reconciliation, nor any awareness that, for example, Rome's beloved St. Thomas Aquinas represents a problematic figure to Orthodoxy.

However, I am stepping away from that, after a "self-conversion" to be more on the Buddhist side, after I wrote A Mechanism, which I would invite you to read and come back to this place.

Advice offered

I know and love divorced Orthodox fathers who are involved in a power struggle with their ex-wives. I have only heard one side of their stories, and I don't want to assign guilt, but the account I have been given is that the fathers are trying to raise their kids in Holy Orthodoxy in a world that is going to Hell in a handbasket, and their ex-wives are trying, in effect, to pack the couple's children into the handbasket more snugly. But I would like to offer a word: There are alternatives to fighting.

As far as things to do... wait, let me step back and just give a message to something that takes precedence. One advice given to teachers in reference to children is that the words, concepts, and so on taught by a Sunday School teacher seem like they always go in one ear and out the other, but there is one lesson that is mind-bogglingly effective: the moral character of the teachers. Children taught by a perpetrator of financial scandal had severe handicaps at appropriately extending trust afterwards. Children taught by a loving and caring teacher, never mind if they lose 50% of the teacher's words and concepts, are given a boost to themselves to be more like a teacher they admire.

I don't know how effective it is to be in a power struggle. In for instance the Philokalia, people are very squeamish about appearing at legal courts, even if they are defending themselves and not pressing charges against others. However, gaze not long into the abyss, for the abyss will gaze into you. Heresiologists come to think like their opponents. To join a power struggle is to agree with an ex-wife about what is important and how it may best be pursued. And I recall St. Nikolai, in Prayers by the Lake, saying that if someone treats us in anger and we join their anger and degrade ourselves by going to their level, we have done nothing noble. There's a touch of "Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat," that applies.

I have some reservations about recommending Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, because it is the most occult-related book I have read from a canonical author. (It never condones occult practice but it is clear about how a curse can be given as part of how we are advised to avoid cursing.) However, it is a book which almost from cover to cover deals with alternatives to fighting, and describes a peacemaking power that someone consumed with legal power struggles would find difficult to even conceive.

I also have some reservations about recommending The Orthodox Martial Art is Living the Sermon on the Mount, because it is one of my titles and the jury is still out on it. However, I will say that the opening chapter and A Mechanism contain its high points.

I do not absolutely say that it is wrong to engage in a power struggle to have one's children brought up in the nest of Orthodoxy, but I would advise people in this situation to relax their grip on Jihad, and discover the Buddhist-like side of Orthodoxy. Your ex can only see and trade in one kind of power; you do not need the same albatross around your neck. But there is other power to be had, and the Buddhist character of being tranquil in stressful situations (see Calm), and love for your enemies and especially your ex. Your primary power base should be such as is discussed in Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives and the better bits of The Orthodox Martial Art is Living the Sermon on the Mount. Legal wrangling should perhaps take a back seat.

A brief aside

Stoicism has been discovered today and is treated like an ultimate secret weapon in the National Football League. I do not wish to try to explain or unpack Stoicism for everyday people today (this TED talk is decent), but I would ask: Stoic Seneca the Younger said, "We suffer more in imagination than in reality," and it provides ways of suffering nothing less.

Are we men or are we mice? If stoicism can help athletes who live for high-stakes conflict, do not Orthodox Christians have something better?

One closing suggestion

The story is told of a mature Orthodox teacher who was given a class of unruly kids who had driven away her predecessor. She got up to teach, and the children as before launched all the verbal missiles, but this time the missiles caught hold of nothing in her. They just passed through, ignored, and not one making even a ripple of hurt. After a few days, the children's active hostility gave way to an incredible curiosity about who she was and why they had not sunk her.

Part of how Christianity spread under the Roman empire was not just that Christians were publicly martyred; not only did families allow themselves to be tortured to death instead of offering sacrifice to idols, but the fact was that families came to their martyrdoms happy as could be, next to whom the torture was impotent.

A divorce is a process of formerly tightly bonded people fighting bitterly, and it may open doors, and possibly impress a judge, if you go through any legal proceedings you need, but without stress, hurt, or anger. I know someone who was joyful during a termination where his boss was first giving huge requests on next to no time and was very, very upset when he completed them successfully, and then things got worse. I do not say that a mere termination is anywhere near the league of a divorce. However, God can give grace to people who "should" be miserable, and if you cannot choose to have a heart at peace in divorce proceedings, maybe you could pray for such and ask others' prayers.

Don't have a Muslim divorce. Be a little more like a Buddhist.