"We have created a situation where it is possible for ordinary people to casually and without malice kill innocent lives. If we return to the three ethical questions, namely how ships can avoid bumping into each other, how they can internally stay shipshape, and what destination they are meant to reach, we are seeing terrible collisions that sink ships because unrestrained and trusting use of cell phones has devastated what little was left of their being shipshape."
What do ethical and religious questions have to do with technological use? They translate more reasoned purpose into device usage, creating a dialogue that stems from Hayward's exploration of "What kind of guidance would someone like St. John Chrysostom offer in using technology, if our technology were around in his day?"
From philosophical and historical citation and reflection to guidelines for employing technology in a more positive, purposeful manner that doesn't put it in the driver's seat of decision-making, Hayward provides a thought-provoking discourse that will especially lend to book club and discussion group pursuit.
Chapters tackle everything from Internet porn to missed connections and the altered states of mind and soul created by addiction to all kinds of screens: "He asked me if I had ever observed that an hour after seeing a movie, I felt depressed. I had not made any connection of that sort, even if now it seems predictable from the pleasure-pain syndrome. Now I very rarely see movies, precisely because the special effects and other such tweaks are stronger than I am accustomed to seeing; they go like a stiff drink to the head of the teetotaler. The little pleasures of life are lost on someone used to a rising standard of special effects, and the little pleasures of life are more wholesome than special effects."
This is because he links a modern social, psychological, and spiritual issue to guidelines on how better to take charge of that technological lure that too often creates in its user an emotional and spiritual void.
These topics wind neatly into Biblical passages, analytical reflections on the Word of God, and notes and footnoted references to a wide range of religious thinking that contrasts nicely with the ethical and spiritual topics under consideration.
Hayward also adds autobiographical notes into the inspection. This personalizes his citations and the experiences of loosening technology's allure and distractions.
The result is both a how-to guide and a spiritual work of Christian Orthodoxy which holds the rare power to reach beyond Orthodox audiences alone and into the general public. This topic should hold widespread interest, and ideally will be debated and discussed among many circles.
I'd like to offer a few words about the books of Archimandrite Zacharias, disciple of St. Sophrony, disciple of St. Silouan, and I would like to tell you about my favorite of his leitmotifs, but there is something more basic I would like to appreciate first.
C.S. Lewis said in his writing that reading George MacDonald's Phantastes had baptized his imagination. Archimandrite Zacharias's books do not aim at imaginative fantasy, or imaginative nonfiction for that matter, but they have helped me to want better and want Orthodox monasticism. They baptized my personal hopes and desires, so to speak.
I have identified with, and wanted to be like, various characters in literature: Charles Wallace Murry and Blajeny in Madeleine l'Engle's A Wind in the Door, Merlin in C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength and in Steven Lawhead's Merlin, and others. I have taken seriously what St. Ignatius's The Arena says that Met. KALLISTOS is so quick to offer embarrassed apologies for: the fact that people, having read a novel, want their life to be like their life in the novel.
I have also had such identification with saints in the Orthodox Church: St. Philaret the Merciful, for instance, and it has been said that when Orthodox faithful take interest in a saint, that saint has taken interest in that faithful. But even beyond St. Philaret, Archimandrite has helped me understand more completely what a monk is (though I may never fully know this side of Heaven), and desire a monk's ascetical feat: identifying with, and representing, "all Adam," the entire human race, before God. The priest (whether married or monastic) has a job of representing God to his flock and his flock to God; in Orthodoxy most monks are not also priests, but there is something equally significant in identifying with, and representing, all Adam before God. All sins are cosmic sins like those of Adam, but if a monk repents, that repentance is of cosmic significance, and monastic and non-monastic saints' repentance sustains the world.
One leitmotif of Archimandrite Zacharias is that of the "inverted pyramid." Men are arranged into upper and lower classes, and those in power lord it over those without power. Christ represents an inverted pyramid, where he is at the very bottom before the entire weight of the pyramid above him, and above him various ranks of angels sustain Creation, and above them all are the human race.
One specific and practical feature of the inverted pyramid is that if we seek to go down, Satan cannot go with us. Satan wished a throne above God's, and he can go with us whenever we desire more status, more prestige, more human honor. He can go with us if we desire to go above others. But he cannot go with us if we seek to go down, serve others, and serve more like the Servant of all Servants who went even to the depths of Hell to save us.
There is much in these books that is presently over my head, and I want to reread all of Archimandrite Zacharias's books sometime. However, the idea of Christ at the very nadir of the inverted pyramid, and that Satan can never go with us if we go down, is a treasure and a word that has stuck with me. I suffer, like many, from wishing more honor, and not always out of pride. Human honor can serve instrumental purposes that do not amount to pride. But if we seek to go down, if I seek to go down, it is beyond the devil's power to accompany us. He can accompany us well enough when we want honor, but not when we seek to empty ourselves in a participation of Christ's own self-emptying and descending to the depths of Hell to save all Adam.
This is a couple of paragraph's work taken from many profitable volumes of reading, and it cannot but fall short of a worthy account of Archimandrite Zacharias's offering. However, I cannot but thank Archimandrite Zacharias for mediating to me a word that the devil cannot go with us if we go down, and more than that, to baptizing my desires and helping me want to be a monk as much as I have wanted to be like any character in literature.
There was a great breakthrough in the Western use of frozen foods when someone visited ?Inuit? and found that their frozen fish, which they left outside igloos in bitter cold, tasted markedly better than that man had ever found frozen fish to taste.
Upon investigation, what was found was that it makes a profound difference for the taste of frozen food whether it is frozen at relatively high temperatures in the frozen range such as Western frozen food was until then, versus frozen food that is frozen at much bitterly colder temperatures than had been so far been used in Western freezing of foods.
As to why fish tasted different when it was deep frozen versus when it was put into freezers just barely below the freezing point, the bitter cold created lots of small ice crystals in the freezing fish very quickly, and these crystals were too small to generally rupture cell walls. When fish is frozen just a small amount below the freezing point, a few ice crystals form very quickly, and they grow large and rupture cell walls. Upon being taken out of freezing temperatures and cooked, fish frozen in bitter cold had intact cells that tasted like fresh food with intact cell walls, while fish frozen in temperatures just cold enough to freeze had cell walls torn by large ice crystals, to the effect of tasting much inferior to fish that was either fresh and never frozen, or quickly frozen in a deep freeze.
There is one sense in which a philosophical bent can look at frozen food with ice crystals big and small, and analyze from then on, but "common sense philosophy" is such a rarity, almost a contradiction in terms, because the philosopher seeks the simplicity of a single or a few large ice crystals that turn out to break cell walls in their crystalline clarity. People who have claim a "common sense" philosophy seem to have an inevitable caveat: hence Bishop Berkeley offers or at least claims smooth sailing with common sense, but only if you accept his "idealism," which bears no particular connection to the common label of "idealism" conveying a sense of a naive purism absent in many who are more experienced, but instead transfers the concept of the object from the subject to the object, in the term C.S. Lewis used in The Discarded Image, where it makes sense to speak of a rock, but by "rock" one does not mean that there is some kind of physical item that has any form of existence outside of minds, but only the sensation and presence of the minds of men and of God. In a philosophy TA who argued this, there are rooms that stop existing once you leave them, those one moves through in a dream, and rooms that don't stop existing when you leave them are only barely more real than the items we hallucinate in dreams.
One webpage written by a non-philosopher venturing into philosophy said that all we experience is an illusion (one could say a hallucination as much as dreams), but behind the illusion of a brick is (drum roll please) a brick. And Berkeleyan philosophy retains the illusion, the shared waking hallucination as well as the individual hallucination in dreams, but dispenses with a concept that there is an extra-mental brick that gives the illusion of a brick.
A visit to Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A History of Idolatry would see an opening point to say that a rainbow can be seen but is not a discrete physical items as far as atomized physics would understand things, and then goes on to say the same must apply to our experience of a tree. It could help some people see how speaking of a brick incorporates some social construction. To someone who has grown up in the West, there is a distinct concept of a brick (as opposed to, for instance, uncut stone) which has the shape of a rectangular prism with some holes (in an unglamarous version of "strong but light"er technology), and is ordinarily used in building walls in construction. Someone who has grown up in purely aboriginal environments will not likely perceive a brick wall as a regular geometric pattern of bricks and mortar used to build what is conceptualized as a "wall"; a person not exposed to such has no reason to have a concept of what the rest of a brick would look like upon merely seeing one side incorporated into a wall.
Though, it might be added with reference to the nature connection movement or the defiling read of Wizard of the Upper Amazon, people in aboriginal settings will come upon a natural scene and at a glance see things an urban person could not be led to see even with much effort. Something analogous is discussed in Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge, where an adult inculturated in Western middle class culture can look at X-rays and see things leap out at a glance that people outside the culture of expert practice could not be led to see. And this is for Westerners who began to read X-rays as adults. It is a capital error to conceive of primitive people as simply a modern person, perhaps a dumber modern person, with a great many points of knowledge subtracted. Primitive literacy in the surrounding environment, such as one can get late, remedial ABC's for in the nature connection movement, means taking in a wealth of things that most of us reared in civilization could not even imagine.
I hesitate to speak of astrology because it is one of the things that has come out, and it does not offer the same merely academic specimen it may have had in ages past. I regret choosing alchemy as an example to open The Horn of Joy. My conscience forbade me to read Planet Narnia which I understand to unfold the characteristics and qualities of the seven astrological planets in the seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia. However, I wish to declare at least one brief claim about astrology, suggested by some to be a precursor to today's scientific determinism.
I do not believe the alignments of stars and planets in any way influence us, I said "Not for purposes of astrology!" when someone asked me to confirm my birthdate and provice where I was born, and I do not believe we have business with astrology. However, I do believe that the time of year one is born could influence one's initial experiences, including adult behaviors, and there would be positive selection in a folk system like astrology, and I would furthermore posit that as a theory the descriptions of any astrological sign describes any person than behaviorism, a cell-rupturing crystal in which, to cite The Discarded Image, the appearance of subjectivity is transferred from the object to the subject. Astrology cannot afford to rupture the cell membranes of common sense too badly, or people will reject it. Behaviorism is like much of philosophy in that it does rupture cells and produces a flat picture which, perhaps, describes no one better than any astrological assertion of personality type. Even if we restrict our attention to bird brains, it is unclear to an uninitiate like me how one would use behaviorism to explain bird brains’ well-documented ability to give GPS a run for its money in their homing! (I rather suspect that behaviorism draws one’s eyes away from asking or really seeing such questions.)
In C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, right after Ransom (the Director) has raised a philosopher's objection to MacPhee's assumptions, is found the following:
"The question is worth raising, Mr. Director," said MacPhee, "because I submit that it points to an essential falsity in the whole system of this place."...
"How do you mean, MacPhee?" asked the Director.
"I mean that there is a half-hearted attempt to adopt an attitude towards irrational creatures which cannot consistently be maintained. And I’ll do the justice to say you’ve never tried. The [tame] bear [kept as a pet] is kept in the house and given apples and golden syrup till it’s near bursting—"...
"The bear, as I was observing," said MacPhee, "is kept in the house and pampered. The pigs are kept in a stye and killed for bacon. I would be interested to know the philosophical rationale of the distinction."...
MacPhee made a little stamp of impatience and said something which was drowned first by Ransom’s laughter and then by a great clap of wind which shook the window as if it would blow it in.
MacPhee is complaining that he can not find a single (large) crystal that would contain both the keeping of pets and the use of animals for meat. But Ransom has not succeeded at placing both in the same large crystal; both coexist in his mind in a number of small crystals that keep cell membranes intact.
The suggestion I offer here is philosophical in character, and I am not using "philosophy" with the common meaning of "my philosophy," where the phrase "my opinion," or "my approach," would be more appropriate, along with a suggestion that a non-philosopher's "my philosophy" is almost never the sort of thing a philosopher trades in. But I would call my suggestion here philosophical without being offered as a part or aspect of an encompassing philosophy. I would call it philosophical, at least up to a point, without being the sort of thing that qualifies as a philosophy. And suggest that common sense philosophy, so much as one may speak of, might sacrifice the philosopher's few large crystals for eclectic common sense's avoidance of rupturing cell membranes. (And remind the reader that in Orthodoxy, attempting to endow the Orthodox Church with its first systematic theology is asking for a heresy trial.)
Orthodoxy extends in another direction away from mere common sense, offering foothills and peaks of mysticism, but the more spiritually advanced do not find bigger crystals; if they depart from a close map of small crystals, they depart in the direction of the living flesh of a live organism.
But that is the topic of another article entirely, and one which I might or might not write.
I was given a ride recently for a hospital visit over an hour away. I thanked the friend and postulant (beginner at an Orthodox monastery). He commented that he liked being with me, because I was very calm and calming to be around. That was exquisite politeness, but it was not flattery. Another postulant, my godson, commented that he liked being around me because he hoped some of my calm would rub off. The thought occurred to me that I might write down some of what I have learned about keeping one's calm, and send a link to both postulants. As I told them, some of my calm is hard-won, and I wanted to talk about what to do that might win it.
I do not believe the Law of Attraction as formulated in New Age to be desirable, but there is a Little Law of Attraction that is worth its proverbial weight in gold. The Little Law of Attraction is that if you think thoughts of peace, you will get more and bigger thoughts of peace, and if you think thoughts of anger, you will get more and bigger thoughts of anger, and conflict with it. If we keep our mind on our circumstances, we will be dragged into a Hell on earth. If we focus on the Lord, we will have peace and a Heaven on earth. Thus I would summarize the better parts of Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives by Elder Thaddeus, which also says that we have an incredibly beautiful sensitivity to the thoughts of others, and pick up on what they are feeling. This is part of why my deep calm was calming to the others. Furthermore, even if we do not realize it, we have a choice whether to be dominated by the anger of others. My understanding, not having read the book, is that this is the same freedom discussed in Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and the latter may be a better starting point. We may not recognize our freedom here, and it comes in a brief window, but we have a choice. Addicts are told, "You have more power than you think," and the power can be exercised in this short window.
That choice is in continuity with nipsis or the spiritual watchfulness of the Philokalia, which on this point I would summarize as follows. If there is a spark that can become a flame in your house, you can put it out before it becomes a proper flame. If it does become a proper flame, you can put it out before it spreads with a fire extinguisher, but this is worse than just putting out the spark. If it becomes a flame that is too big to put out with a fire extinguisher, and spreads through your house, if you leave with your life you can call the fire department and you may have the flame put out then, and get insurance to help, but it is better to put it out with a fire extinguisher than wait until it is too big for a fire extinguisher. There are several ways to escape with your life, but the earlier in the process you stop it, the better, and the least harm it will cause you. If you put out what is still just a spark when it is still just a spark, the entire remainder of the damaging process of a house fire is avoided.
For an Arthurian image, be like the Fisher-King, in a boat on the waters, watching with a spear to stab fish in the water. And there is something further I would like to point out: the Fisher-King is wounded through the thighs, meaning he is wounded between the thighs, and of a damaged virility.
The biggest attack on manhood in the recent past is porn. Porn is, to quote Proverbs, "in the beginning as sweet as honey, and in the end bitter as gall and sharp as a double-edged sword." Lust is the disenchantment of the entire universe, which disenchants everything else, and then disenchants itself. The only goal of lust is more lust, and porn is nothing more than an advertisement for more porn. Furthermore, what men do after looking at porn is an ultimate exploitation of the model, using her unhappy performance just as a tool to spark... if you have this struggle, and most men today do, think about what is really going on. And lust is cruel; it generates anger whenever it is not getting a "fix", and it is a great enemy to inner peace.
I mention this point, which may seem none of my business, because really the whole Sermon on the Mount relates to calm. Lust and porn are an enemy to calm, and worth getting free of. The Sermon on the Mount does not just help us reach calm when it touches on stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger's "We suffer more in imagination than in reality," and says not to borrow trouble from tomorrow because "each day has enough trouble as its own." Trying to solve the rest of your life's problems on a day's resources is a gateway to something truly hellish, and worry does nothing but hurt us: "Do you think you can add a single hour to your life by worrying? You might as well try to worry your way into being a foot taller!"
Another point in the Sermon on the Mount has to do with love for enemies. Love for enemies was something I knew to be important growing up, but I did not really know how. My struggles with remembering wrongs others had done against me (a sin by the way—and nothing merry!), became markedly better when I was able to thank God for them. St. Silouan and the writing of St. Silouan's disciple St. Sophrony and St. Sophrony's disciple Archimandrite Zacharias were tremendously helpful in helping me let go of an onerous burden of remembering all the bad things that had happened to me. They also underscore something important: how much you love your enemies is a litmus test for how far you love God, so love for enemies is not just one issue among others. We should not be angry to those who wrong us, but love and pity them for bringing occasion for our suffering. Innocent suffering is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and the Sermon on the Plain bids you leap for joy when you are badly treated because of Christ. However, the principle applies to undeserved suffering.
There was a student who worked in my department's office, who talked about having butterflies in her stomach about a shortly upcoming dance performance. I gave permission to offer a word of advice, and I asked her, "Is there a person, or a place, or a memory that is pleasant to think about to you?" She said that yes, there was such a thing. I said that she had practiced and the only thing remaining was to do the performance, and I told her, "I want you to think about that until the performance." Counting your blessings, and being grateful for all that God and other people have given you, is a recipe for joy, and it was more in reach than my telling her not to worry: yes, that is what I wanted, but on her resources, how? If some of what I said above is too much for you now, it may be an easier task to be mindful of your blessings. It has been said that in prayer we should not have very good thoughts but no thoughts, but that's a more advanced lesson. Even if St. Silouan and his spiritual progeny have something better, developing gratitude is a recipe for joy, and it is something else that we can do to try to push out remembrance of wrongs others have done against us.
When I was studying theology and things were getting rough, there was a period of about two or three weeks when I was stressed to the point of uninterrupted waking nausea. Part of it was triggered by a questionable decision a doctor made with my medication, but the heart of my worry was, "Will there be a place for me?" And there has been a place: I was at my parents' house, and then now at this monastery where I am trying to grow up. I am retired on disability. Now the question may come of, "But inflation is taking off," to which I would say, "The Bible never says, 'Lack of money is the root of all evil.'" Most of the original recipients of the Sermon on the Mount was addressed to the poor and downtrodden in what would today be considered a third world economy. As the cliché goes, "I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I know Who brings tomorrow." Possibly changes in the economy will result in, or rather trigger my death, but I have never in my life gone to bed knowing that I would wake up the following morning. I do not see my death as really negotiable, unless I live to Christ's return, and I would recall a joke where a husband and wife came to Heaven and the husband told his wife, "We could have been here several years earlier if you hadn't cooked such healthy food!" Death is not to be feared, just death outside of repentance, death outside of obedience to the Lord, and the Lord can see that there is a place to me even if I die tomorrow.
There is an old Protestant hymn that says,
Keep your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of this world will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.
My abbot underscores a short maxim of "Never react. Never resent. Keep inner peace." The intent of this posting is not to offer something better, but to offer an aid how. And if you want low-hanging fruit, try to let go of worry and trying to solve tomorrow's problems on today's resources, and start trying to push such thoughts out of your heart by giving them competition in terms of active remembrance of every good blessing God has given you in your entire life. And maybe read e.g. God the Spiritual Father or better the whole collection in Happiness in an Age of Crisis, which includes God the Spiritual Father and several other relevant pieces.
One of my friends said, "Star Wars is my life," and talked about having his father be the best pilot in the galaxy.
I have some real resonance for C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength. I have come to an odd and eclectic family, a "St. Anne's Company", headed by a Ransom (more than a philologist, His Eminence Metropolitan JONAH).
Where is Merlin? That could be me, and let me explain.
There are three or four characters in literature I was strongly drawn to before becoming Orthodox: Charles Wallace of Madeleine l'Engle, A Wind in the Door, and later Blajeny from the same book; then Michael Valentine Smith of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. And there was something toxic in my identification with each.
I asked one brilliant friend if he knew of any good treatments of gifted children in literature besides A Wind in the Door, and he mentioned Stephen Lawhead's Merlin, and partway through reading it I went from wishing for such spectacular manifestations of awen to "We both belong to the same college!"
A standard distinction between flat and rounded characters in literature is that a rounded character believably surprises the reader. In C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Merlin comes awfully close to delivering nothing but believable surprises, and he is riveting. He is described, not as a figure from the ?5th? century, but as "the last survival in the ?5th? century of something much older", and while you could then "still do some things innocently, you couldn't do it safely."
Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and somewhere in there a sorceror's bargain slips in. "Give me your soul, and I will give you power," but under the circumstances it is not you who have the power. Count distracted parenting, where moms glued to mobile devices are pushing strollers in front of cars. My magnum opus is The Luddite's Guide to Technology, in which, instead of Merlin being told "You can't do that today," I am saying "You can't do that today."
And as far as believable surprises, one of my monastic brotherhood asked, with a warm smile, "Are you from another planet?" He sung a tune, and I said something about newer music. He said it was from ZZ Top in the 70's, and I said that I meant as the centuries go by.
More is perhaps to be said, but I wish to move on.
Here, I have been blessed to read Archimandrite Zacharias (Zachariou), and it talks about the cosmic nature of monastic repentance. He describes giant saints who have extended the life of the world. While this monastery may not have any epic saints or any saints at all, if the world does not end it will be due to the repentance of those today, and the college of Orthodox monasticism may do the job of little St. Anne's overcoming the hideous strength of Lewis's "N.I.C.E." And I am glad to be approaching membership in that team.
The analogy could be pushed still further (see the Christmas homily in The Sign of the Grail about how the figure of Merlin, deepened and enriched, becomes an image of Christ, but I do not wish to do so. In things that are truly great, a man may be asked to give up even the motives that led him into seeking something truly great.
I have learned instead a better understanding of what a monk is. A monk identifies with all Adam, and repents for all Adam, and this is a cosmic act, even as each sin is a cosmic act that repeats Adam's sin. The priest is responsible for representing God to his flock and his flock to God, while the monk is a representative of the human race.
The beloved St. Seraphim of Sarov echoed St. Isaac the Syrian: "Make peace with yourself and Heaven and earth will make peace with you." "Save yourself and ten thousand around you will be saved." And this is not primarily through the unlawful, to a monk, means of human struggling, but with a wholehearted flight to God.
The flipside of needing to sacrifice even the motives that led me to monasticism is that monasticism holds treasures I had not even guessed at before approaching monasticism, and a coincidence of similarity to being in a C.S. Lewis novel is an utter consolation prize to the feast I have been invited to and participate, if in the smallest way, to saving the world.
This much is written with heavy use of the discursive reason as applied to divine topics, and true monasticism has the heart hold all things and discursive reason be a sun next to the moon of the heart or spiritual eye. And even this description is dust and ashes next to the realities tasted in monasticism, and many which I am far from tasting even yet.
This "New Testament" is an "Old Testament" next to the realities of the spiritual struggle, the spiritual path, in monasticism.
I have been wary of Western Buddhism as a sort of neo-Deism: a religious faith, if it may be called that ("Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt."--G.K. Chesterton: Chesterton could also have said, "Buddhism is not a Creed. It is a Dao."), where in its native element the ethical heavy lifting is done primarily by what a Western scholar might call a system of virtues, and there are fewer inviolable rules, while the Western self-identified Buddhist picks up on the fewer inviolable rules but does not do heavy lifting by its Path of eight cardinal interlocking virtues.
Nonetheless, a visit to Buddhism can be helpful in another aspect. Buddhism is arguably a stronger grade of skepticism than is prominent in the West ("Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt."--G.K. Chesterton), but when the Buddha's followers asked him if there were gods, he said that there probably were, but the question was irrelevant, because any [good] deity would have already blessed us to the maximum extent possible.
My first response, on hearing that answer repeated decades ago, was, "Well, that rules out the Christian God very quickly." My thought there was that the great skeptic's answer did not entertain a correlation between being blessed by Deity and one's relationship with Deity. The Christian God, said in the Sermon on the Mount to make his sun shine on good men and evil men alike, has something beyond desire to bless us to the maximum extent possible, but for how well the blessing works for us, it matters whether we cooperate with the blessing or resist it. The Great Physician wants to give us the supreme Medicine, but it matters a great deal for us whether we take the Medicine as directed or throw the Medicine on the ground and spit on it. A Russian philosopher has been asked that perennial question, "Could God make a stone He could not move?" and answered, "Yes; that stone is man."
None the less, I have been having a struggle with something I should know better than, thirsting for worldly honors. Or, to be more precise, a mad thirst for more earthly honors when I have had enough honor that I should know that worldly honors do not satisfy or make lastingly happy. One thought that was in my conscience was, "What would St. John Chrysostom say?" And without thinking of exact words, I knew what kind of response he would give: a good dose of clear thinking that would paint black as black and white as white. I thought of gratitude for what I have been given--and a next life in which God offers honors such as eye has not seen and ear has not heard. I did not think of it at the time, but also relevant is a post I wrote when I tried and failed to locate a copy of St. John's "A Comparison Between the Monk and the King:" A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop. Or, as the Holy Cross Hermitage's ever-kind guestmaster condensed the entire topic, "Bishops want to be novices!" Wherefore, being a novice myself, I should recognize the privileged position I already hold, and be grateful for the crown assigned to my role as a novice, rather than hanker after the half-eggcupfull of external glory that is assigned to bishops but is withheld from novices. (I also did not think of being one of half a dozen at a monastery which has the artisan's attention of an esteemed bishop. Perhaps it is glorious to give communion, such as my Aboot gives, but the glory is dwarfed by the glory of receiving communion, a glory shared between Abbot and novice alike. (And by the way, my Abbot is a high rank of bishop, but he usually doesn't wear the crowns he is entitled to wear. He seems to leave wearing crowns to the novices.)
I fought against this mad thirst for a while and was losing despite my best efforts, perhaps a cue to the wise that what I was fighting was not some confused logic but a temptation and a sin to be repented of, and found a familiar enough foul stench in that my thoughts of being happy through external honors was not making me happy, but sad.
And when I had struggled enough, salvation came. It came not from recognizing the particular privilege of a novice, in learning the freedom that is in obedience to an Abbot, and of being entrusted a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light when more privileged roles bear a heavier cross. Salvation came, this time, in a visit from the Buddha, so to speak. And this even apart from what the Buddha had to say about desire.
I would not retract any of my earlier thoughts about "Well, that rules out the Christian God," but casts a particular light on the Providence of God, but this visit from the Buddha showed that there is something of the Providence in the idea that deity, if such exists, will already have blessed us to the maximum extent possible. C.S. Lewis said, "We want God to change our circumstances. God wants our circumstances to change us." And furthermore this combines in an odd way with the Christian God whose Grace can bring Heaven everywhere, but we can if we want veto enjoying Grace and instead experience it as Hell. The point of this visit from Buddhism is not really a point about the Grace available in my own particular circumstances, but about all circumstances in general, or rather a point about every particular circumstance. Until we have grown enough, and perhaps even then, the demons tempt us to ungratitude towards circumstances in which God has already blessed to the maximum effect possible, save our accepting and realizing His Providence as the Maximum Providence of God the Spiritual Father, of a God who cares for each of us more than an a mortal spiritual father takes care for his charges, of a God who however much our Plan A fails, and then Plan B, and Plan C, and so on down the alphabet, remains a God who is always dealing with us on Plan A. It can be easier to see this Providence years after the fact, to realize what painful circumstances gave you and what God saved you from by taking away what you wanted to pray for. And with effort, God can help us realize his Plan A for us where we are here and now. But the temptation is just that: a temptation, a hook of Hell designed to take away as much as possible our happiness in circumstances in which God has blessed us to the maximum extent possible save possibly our consent, and is building here on earth the foundation and substance of an eternal glory.
Dumber and Dumberer
And really, what had brought on this temptation, or rather immediately triggered it in my immaturity, was one of the magazines freely given our Abbot, a magazine offering trite coverage of an English Princess, who said, "Someday I will be Queen," "is 7 but thinks she is 17," and "speaks four languages," "is at the head of her class," and something about being a style icon. I would briefly comment on what I was coveting in her royal privilege:
"Someday I will be Queen!"
Before and also now, I consider bare membership among the faithful of the Orthodox Church to outclass primacy in the Church of England.
And I am trying to cooperate with God in reaching Heaven, in glory so great that we are advised not to think too much of our glorified state. And, further, I recall St. Rostislav: "I have heard of how Constantine, great among kings, appeared to a certain Elder and said, 'If I had known what glory the monks receive in heaven... I would have taken off my crown and royal purple, and replaced them with the monastic garb'."
One person at the Mars Society talked about asking people, "Who was the Queen of Spain in 1492?" The answer comes quick as a shot: "Isabella." Then the next question is posed, "Who was the Queen of France?" And to that I will add that armchair historian as I am, I do not know who was King of England in the days of C.S. Lewis.
One psychologist drew a sharp point of, "The average Harvard PhD has never met someone as talented as you," and I have been in the dubious honor of being so far ahead of what professors were used to that their social skills started to melt away.
Something about being a style icon.
I'm not sure that ever, in my entire life, have other people looked at what I was wearing to take cues for style. People have borrowed a T-shirt for me as an emblem of bad dressing.
The overall predicament I was in reminds me when I was traveling through a hardware store coveting ordinary Swiss Army Knives while looking for an impossible-to-find wiresaw a friend wanted:
When I had a SwissChamp XLT on my belt:
God has already blessed us to the maximum extent possible apart from the question of whether we choose to relate to that blessing as a blessing or a curse. In one sense, God has already blessed us as Buddha said. But we are the stone God cannot bless if we interpret His Providence as a curse.
There was something profoundly stupid in my coveting earthly honors, and that something would have remained stupid even without the irony, like the pears passage of the Blessed Augustine, of owning pears better than anything he coveted enough to steal.
Adam reigned as an immortal king and lord over the whole world. He had a wife like nothing else in all Creation, paradise for a home, and harmony with nature such as we could not dream of. And, he was like a little boy with a whole room full of toys who is miserable because he wants another toy and his parents said "No." And lest we look down on Adam, we should remember that I am Adam, and you are Adam.
And the content of such temptations is stupid: stupidity and something that backfires if we entertain them even just a little... but there is something to be said for temptations in God's Plan A.
Everything that God allows in our lives is either a blessing from God or a temptation which He has allowed for our strengthening.
God allowed me a miserable few hours coveting privilege that I might be strengthened, and even if things would have been much easier if I had not entertained the desire, he allowed me the temptation for my strengthening and harvested my sin that I might strike at the sin all the louder.
Don't weary yourself by trying to read him cover to cover.
Instead, just wait until you are "hungry," spiritually, then read St John Chrysostom only until you are "full," and set the collection down. Digest the material, and then wait until you are "hungry" again to pick him up. And then read more, but again only until you are "full." And let the cycle repeat.
A disturbance followed when it was noticed that [scientists] had left the whole of evolutionary theory outside in the unscientific badlands as well. But special arrangements were made to pull it in without compromising the principle.
Anybody here from the English department? The English department is a special place. If you want to find a Marxist, don't go to the political science department. Nary a Marxist will you find there. Go to the English department. If you want to find a Freudian, don't go to the psychology department. Nary a Freudian will you find there. Go to the English department. If you want to find a Darwinist, don't go to the biology department. Nary a Darwinist will you find there. Go to the English department. The English department is a living graveyard of all the dead and discredited ideologies that have been cast off by other departments.
It may raise eyebrows to say that Darwin's theory of evolution is no longer live in the academy, but I assert that the claim is straightforwardly true. Or to be precise, evolution may be believed by some people whose commitment to the theory greatly exceeds their scientific competency, but no biologist I can ever recall speaking with believes in evolution.
If we look at the term 'evolve' or 'evolution', as in "The idea slowly evolved in her head," Darwin's theory of evolution is a proper theory of evolution, saying that life forms are constantly morphing into something different, so one would expect a fossil record of slow changes that accumulate over time, somewhat like the size and shape of a human being evolves from a ball-like fertilized age to a person who has come into proper adulthood. And that is why Darwin's biggest opponents in his day were paleontologists, because paleontologists said that the fossil record as it was known then didn't show much recorded evolution. And Darwin said, "Give it some time until we know the fossil record better," and that might have been the right decision at the time. However, we've had over a century of additional research into the fossil record, and the "hostile record" as I called it has only become more hostile to being accounted for as a result of evolution.
Biologists I have asked have said, "We've progressed," and what they mean by that is that they have recognized and acknowledged that what has happened is not evolution in any straightforward sense of the term, but that the fossil record reflects long periods of very little change worthy of the name, interrupted by brief periods of rapid change without preserved intermediate forms. The technical term for this is "punctuated equilibrium," informally abbreviated to "punk eek." As my biology teacher at IMSA said, "Evolution is like baseball. It has long periods of boredom interrupted by brief periods of intense excitement."
I do not deny that what biologists teach is much closer to the fossil record than Darwin, but the surviving reference to "neo-Darwinian evolution" is a retaining of terms whose meaning has been rejected. No biologist I have ever known has said that "evolution" has kept her maiden name, but "neo-Darwinian evolution" is not a theory of evolution in any sense of the term. It might, I admit for the sake of argument, be true, but what it is not is a theory of evolution. And that takes it further from Darwinian evolution than any of the other theories of evolution that competed with Darwinian evolution in Darwin’s day.
I might briefly state that "Darwinian" or "neo-Darwinian" as an adjective for a theory of punctuated equilibrium labelled as evolution comes from roots where there were multiple theories of evolution in some competition. As a child in school taught out of the prestigious BSCS Blue, one other theory of evolution given in the text's "history of science" treatment, included theories like Lamarckian evolution, which states that if an organism does a lot of something, it will get better at it, and that these changes are inherited by offsprint where the Darwinian claim is due to genetics and an environment that filters for what works over what doesn't work. And today's "neo-Darwinian" theory of "evolution" is closer on this score to Darwin's framing of evolution than any of its nineteenth-century competitors I am aware of. But "neo-Darwinian evolution" is not just post-Darwinian; I argue above that it is post-evolution.
Having fired that salvo, I would like to move on, not too much to look at how Darwinism came heavily mixed up with racism and racist eugenics (whose Margaret Sanger said, "Colored people are like human weeds" and spoke at KKK rallies--there is every consistency between Darwinism and an attitude of merciless hostility to other races), but to look at how scientific this post-scientific theory is. And here I am not interested in the special arragements that were made to include evolution in science without compromise of principle.
Philosopher of science Karl Popper said, in essence, that to be a scientific theory, you have to have some skin in the game. Various camps like Marxism could explain all sorts of things; Karl Popper articulated a criterion of "falsifiability" that said that a real scientific theory can't explain some experimental outcomes. The more striking and unexpected an experimental outcome a theory predicts, and turns out right where the incumbent is wrong, the better it augurs for the theory.
Karl Popper made a case study of Marxism, and said that it was originally a falsifiable scientific theory because it made certain predictions. When those predictions turned out very wrong, they modified the theory so nothing really could prove it wrong, and in Popper's estimation, they saved it by making it no longer a scientific theory.
Here I am not relying on my graduate education so much as my undergraduate degree in math with two overkill probability/statistics classes, and I am relying less on my bachelor's than the math contests I participated in, and often placed, and a little less on all those math contests than a lower level math class where the teacher told us that we should make a rough gauge idea of what a result should be in using a calculator, because it is easy enough to mistype and get a very wrong answer. So if I was going to divide seven by twelve, I should know that six is half of twelve and so the result should be a bit more than one half. If I accidentally hit "*" instead of "/" and get an answer of eighty-four, I should recognize a wildly inaccurate result when I see it, and try again, this time more carefully.
This was not welcome advice, but I see it’s wisdom today, and it informs my incredulity in conversations with people trying to convince me of "evolution."
The basic assertion I have so far been given, for why punk eek changes so little for long periods of time and then abruptly produced new life forms, is that when things are stable, things are working and there is little incentive to change, while when things are chaotic, the incentive is much greater. What is left completely unaddressed is the statistical ability of a breeding population to acquire and retain beneficial genetic changes so as to meet the higher incentive to change.
There was one discussion with fellow IMSA alumni in relation to evolution I asked, "Suppose that I claim the ability to guess lottery numbers, and I am right once. How odd. Suppose I succeed in a second or a third time. And on another note, suppose for the sake of argument that we can rule out fraud. If we suppose that I can only guess one lottery number per minute, that I can only guess lottery numbers for forty hours per week, and that I will die of old age at seventy if nothing else gets me first. Is there any number of successful guesses I could make before you would believe I can guess lottery numbers?" The answer I got was "...No more than a dozen!"
We were discussing the Cambrian explosion, when several new creatures appeared that were so different that they each belonged to their own phylum. I said a lot of weird things occurred over time, and I was willing for the sake of argument to admit optimally convenient mutagen exposure, so we would never really run out of mutations. Speaking conservatively, I posited that a random mutation would have a 90% chance of being harmful and a 10% chance of being beneficial (a microbiology grad student said he would place the chances of harm as much greater--and incidentally, he was the one partner in the discussion who answered with a non-commital "You seem well-read" instead of shockedly shutting me down altogether), and I would posit for one organism, again speaking conservatively, estimate a thousand beneficial mutations necessary to produce a viable organism of a new species (how a breeding pool could acquire and sustain such beneficial changes was left unaddressed). The figure would be inestimable higher to get a new phylum). On that count, we are talking the odds of one viable creature of a new species as being similar to the odds of winning a lottery over one hundred times in a row. The answer to that line of argument received an interlocutor's response of, "There are some things we may never know."
(Also, some people cried "Foul!" about fraud being ruled out. But in the analogy, fraud would correspond to an intelligence manipulating creatures that did not arise by intelligent design to appear to have arisen by intelligent design. This may not be the Christian God, but nobody in the discussion was entertaining a belief that an intelligence manipulated available evidence to give a false impression that evolution occurred.)
I was originally drawn in to the Intelligent Design movement by reading its texts (see The Evolution of a Perspective on Creation and Origins). Since then, I have accepted that those texts were from the Disco Toot concocting a neo-Creation “Science” that would attract academics... but, though this leaves me as a churchman without a church, evolutionists' efforts to draw me in have driven me away and brought loud warning bells to my horse sense about statistics. Tuskless elephants, like Darwin’s pepper moth example, are not about the generation of new species but a shift in the proportion of two already existing phenotypes. Worse, I have been told, as an example of why beneficial genetic change is easy, I have been told that Indian prostitutes have developed HIV resistance in a single generation.
Generating helpful new genetic change is not statistically easy. Generating helpful new genetic change is statistically hard. And since I read Intelligent Design founding texts, no attempt to convince me that helpful genetic change is easily acquired have done anything but sound like loud warning bells to my horse sense about how statistics work.
And this is a second objection to calling punk eek "science." The discipline of biology may be on the whole less mathematical than the other hard sciences of physics and chemistry. Pure math is what is called "data free," while physics for instance has various constants which are not negotiable in their theories (for instance, a gravitational constant of -9.8 meters per second squared). Biology is more data-rich than either of the other two: the sheer amount of anatomy of various organisms that a biology grad student is expected to know alone dwarfs the level of data in chemistry or physics, and this is without looking at other areas such as biochemical mechanisms that a biologist needs to be conversant in. I do not count it as a strike against biology that it is the furthest of the three from being data-free, but in physics or chemistry as hard sciences make sense mathematically and statistically, and it is a liability of "evolution" if accepting it includes swallowing a pill of statistical hogwash.
I would like to pause to give a couple of humanistic notes.
First, one grad school roommate from Czechoslovakia (not specifically a biologist) commented that Darwin’s singular place among English-speaking biologists may partly be a local loyalty to an English-speaking scientist. He, in the land of Gregor Mendel, said that he had been taught Mendelian genetics as the central biological theory. If I had read "Evolution is the one theory in biology without which nothing else makes sense," some form of genetics is also a theory without which nothing else makes sense. And for that matter, genetics is a theory without which "evolution" does not make sense, but "evolution" is not a theory without which genetics does not make sense. I’m not sure Gregor Mendel's signal contribution of dominant and recessive genes is that central, but genetics such as Mendel studied is the foundation variations of evolution are built on.
I would also be remiss not to mention C.S. Lewis's objection to evolution, an objection that it disturbed and alarmed him how difficult it was to make people see. On purely philosophical grounds, (naturalist) "evolution" could not possibly be true. It explains why we could have brains good enough to find food, procreate, and avoid being hunted to extinction. It does not, in any sense, explain why we could have brains good enough to posit a true theory of evolution. It is a straightforward implication of "evolution" that romantic love is a biochemical reaction that could not rise to the dignity of error; but by the same stroke all explanation (including "evolution") is a biochemical reaction that could not rise to the dignity of error. We need to have some sort of impressive "special flower" status to formulate a true theory of evolution that denies us "special flower" status.
It has been suggested in response or anticipation to such objection that natural selection may favor finding beliefs that are true, but the objection seems to me ill-considered. Over 99% of people who have ever lived have never seen a written word. Darwin's theory of evolution and its successors have not been available to anyone to believe except within the last two hundred years, and when it has been available it has been believed (or just available) to a minority of the whole world population. The subspecies of modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, with our genus Homo around for maybe a few million. Timewise, evolution and successors have been available for less than one tenth of one percent of the time our subspecies has been around. Over 99% of people who have ever lived have believed that what we now call nature is spiritual in some wise. Post-Darwinian post-evolution is a mind-bogglingly parochial belief to our species as a whole. If natural selection selects for finding true beliefs, it has only hit its mark in a very parochial conditions; over 99.9% of people who have ever lived have had our naturally selected brains perform the way natural selection calls for.
One of the critiques lobbied by naturalists and evolutionists about some Christian theories is the "God of the gaps" objection. The objection asserts that unfalsifiable religious explanation is lodged in the gaps that modern science has not been able to cover yet. All things considered, present theories of "evolution" are now an "evolution of the gaps," where life forms evolve in the gaps of our knowledge of the fossil record, and if over a century of progressive increase in knowledge of the fossil record has smaller gaps between periods of equilibrium, unfalsifiable evolution is just asserted to have taken place in those much smaller and rarer gaps. This does not make evolution wrong on philosophical grounds per se; but like Marxism it has been defended on grounds that render it unfalsifiable, which amounts to abdicating from the throne of science. It is not grounds to deny that evolution might be true, but it is grounds to deny that evolution might remain a scientific theory.
I would suggest that at least for Orthodox, the discussion would be advanced just a little by stopping using the term "evolution" when in university biology departments all theories of evolution, and all serious openness to believe in evolution, have been dead so long they no longer even smell bad.
We’ve curated fruit flies for hundreds of thousands of generations and, while we can induce a mutation that causes antennae to grow from their eyes, but we have not yet bred a new species. The only species I know that is newer than Darwin’s theory is a radiotolerans or radiation-tolerant bacterium that evolved at Chernobyl after the meltdown. And, for reasons I won’t discuss here, that is the kind of exception that proves a general rule.
It might be productive to change vocabulary to more precise, and speak not of “evolution,” but of a post-scientific theory of post-Darwinian post-evolution.
I invite you to use the newer, up-to-date term. Enjoy!
The tweet treated the French leader as so obviously out of touch with reality that further comment was not even offered. But I'd like to talk a bit about my own education to say why there was a problem, not with the French leader, but the twit.
I have had about as much education in mathematics and STEM as there is to be had, though I did not end up with a PhD, and about as much education in academic theology as there is to be had, thought I did not end up with a PhD there either, and read Latin and Greek at a significant level, and for that matter spent a semester at the Sorbonne (I am the local francophone at my monastery). And I believe studying Latin and Greek is relevant, or at least reading classics in translation (I have read little beyond the Bible in Latin or Greek). And I believe a knowledge of the world's classics, such as one can find in the Norton Anthology of World Literature (beginnings to 1650, 1650 to present).
My first and less serious objection to the perspective in the tweet has to do with how I talked my way out of candidacy for a dream job. My interviewer said I would have my complete choice of languages and platform, and the core of the job and its description was to program a payment gateway that would take about a million people's membership fees. I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain one Information Technology manager's published opinion that ten years prior, IT work was "build, build, build", but then, even then, it was "Partner before buy; buy before build." And it wouldn't just be faster and cheaper to zero in on a good, vetted, mature open source project that could handle the collection of annual membership fees; it would have been hands down more secure. For me to give my interviewer what he thought he wanted would have been to put both of us in a situation where a routine programming error could jeopardize a million people's finances, and I would have had no other programmer in the organization to ask to review my code. A business analyst would not have boiled down "collect membership fees" to "write a program from scratch to collect membership fees;" a more obvious interpretation of the situation would have been to "identify and acquire a secure software solution appropriate to collecting membership fees." By that time, the wheel had already been reinvented many different ways, and so had the internal combustion engine. And I do not say that Python etc. skills are irrelevant; when I had trouble with WordPress I circumvented the issue by implementing a simple content management system in Python, and that has generated a site that I'm building. But the number of people who really need to know these languages is small and shrinking. I think Python is a particularly good choice for people interested in recreational and hobbyist programming, but I do not think it is beneficial across the board to expand primary education to cover the five R's of Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Ruby on Rails.
But here is my more serious concern. My prior spiritual director, before this monastery, looked at what I talked about and had written and said that my primary contribution seemed to be talking about Orthodoxy and technology. And that is work where a deep and sensitive understanding of METS issues is essential, but the heavy lifting is all done on humanities's power. And in terms of the liberal arts ideal, and educating an informed public, Latin and Greek in middle school makes sense. It sounds like an informed opinion, and not only makes classics more available to the general public, but provide an environment where French intellectual giants will grow up with the languages of most of the heavy lifting in humanities in the history of Western culture. Proficiencies in classical languages will also age and mature well compared to computer languages in particular. Someone who learned to read classics in Latin and Greek twenty years ago will have much profitable reading available today; but someone who had learned C, C++ and Java ten years ago, and has not kept up with the risings and fallings of programming languages, will be considered a dinosaur today. Classics age better than fashion.
"Conversation is like texting for adults"
There is a sort of chauvinism I have encountered, not least in my advisor saying, "Do you make allowances for greater ignorance in the past?" to which I coolly answered, "I do not make allowances for greater ignorance in the past. Allowances for different ignorance in the past are more negotiable." I refrained from saying that I make allowances for greater ignorance in the present. But I get ahead of myself.
Today's youth are not even learning face-to-face social skills, and still we have a chauvinism that we assume the competencies of our predecessors without needing to acquire these competencies as our predecessors have. Thomas Kuhn's post-truth account of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, says that after a heavily political revolution has occurred, history is rewritten so as to provide an additive picture where the history of related developments adds increases of knowledge when the change is not additive, but ecological. I have studied, though I find it very hard to put into words, what was lost in the founding of Western science. (The best indication I can easily give is to look at what C.S. Lewis says about science/magic in the final third of The Abolition of Man, and dig deeper in Mary Midgley's Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning, and perhaps my "Physics", which may or may not help.) But there is some real merit in what a friend wrote:
Learning with your whole body
I'm assuming that most of you have been to college. Even if you haven't, you've been learning for 12 years in an institution that has taught you that learning is done with the brain, that it comes from words written on screens or paper, and that the way you show what you've learned is to write intelligent words on screens or paper.
Here is the first thing I need you to understand: out here in the garden, you do not learn with your brain. You learn with your hands and with your eyes and with your whole body. Your brain is involved, sure. But don't let it take over. Don't separate "learning" and "working." Every moment you're in this teaching garden, and even a lot of the time you're working in other parts of the farm, if you pay attention you can be learning constantly.
School teaches us to think of learning as information. It's such a mistake! Yes, there is information that will help you learn to garden, and I'll teach you some of it—but if you don't learn it with your body, it won't be much use to you.
You're going to need educated eyes—you're going to need the ability to look at a plant and know if it's thriving, to look at a little seedling and be able to see in your mind how big it'll be so you can give it enough space, to look at a patch of weeds and have a sense of how much bigger it'll be next week if you don't kill it now. (The most advanced skill, which I'm still learning, is looking at a row of green beans and estimating—from how thick the blossoms & small beans on it are—how much it's going to produce over the next couple weeks.) You need educated hands—you need to be able to feel, when you're swinging a hoe, whether you're really biting into the roots of the weeds, and you need hands that know how to weed fast and effectively, and how to use a pitchfork, etc, etc. And you need instincts, too—when you've just transplanted a plant, you need to have the instinct to check on it till it's established, same as people have the instinct to check on a baby.
And you learn all that by experience. Writing it down won't help. Doing it while being aware of it is what helps. Be in the moment, don't be thinking of something else while you work. (Well, maybe when you're weeding strawberries!) Get your hands in the dirt and feel it, compare it with how it felt last week, watch and observe the plants as they grow—and watch the weeds as they die! Watch how much quicker they die on a sunny or a windy day, watch how they re-root themselves even from a lying-down position if it's too wet. At some point it all comes together and you start to develop a sort of instinctive understanding of the garden as a natural system. I've been doing this for five years now—I knew next to nothing about gardening before that—and I have a sense now of how all the pieces work together, not in theory but what's happening in real time in my own garden, and it's such a pleasure. It has been such a pleasure to go from someone who learned things only with her brain, to someone with hands and eyes that understand my garden.
I know some of what I'm saying you may already know, but I still think it's worth saying at the start here. I've just seen so often how hard it is to get rid of the idea that reality is in our heads or on paper and start focusing on the reality that's under our feet—to stop going on what you think is supposed to happen instead of looking at what really happens. I know it took me a lot longer than it should have. I still remember my breakthrough moment. I was using the push-cultivator—which I'll teach you how to use—and it was a new tool for us at that point so I didn't know its capabilites. The thing is that when the weeds get to a certain height, the push-cultivator doesn't kill them anymore—you have to use a hoe. But I would push the cultivator on down the row and it would kill a few weeds and knock down the rest and cover them with dirt so the row looked clean, and I never noticed that their roots were still in the soil, and in my head I would make a little check mark—well that row's done. The next week, we'd be looking through the garden to see what needed doing, and there would be a bunch of weeds in that row again, and I'd go, "Wow! They came back fast!" and cultivate again. I still remember the day the little lightbulb came on in my head and I realized I'd never killed those weeds at all. I felt so dumb. That was the day I learned to look at what I was doing. Not just at what I thought I was doing.
And that's a lot of what is involved in learning a skill—not just knowing "how" but involving your hands and eyes and brain all together in the process, so that you can feel how the motion is working and you can see whether it's working—and you remember to double-check the next day whether it worked!
Okay, I have one more story. This one taught me so much. We had a temporary volunteer in the garden for three days. He was this guy who, if you told him how to do something, would look annoyed as if you were patronizing him or something. Because, you know, everybody knows how to hoe, right? Well, I got embarrassed by him being offended and figured he was right, maybe it was rude to try and tell someone how to do such simple stuff. I was a beginner too, at the time. Erin told us to hoe a certain section, and we did it. And we did it backwards. We started at the back of the section and walked backwards to the front as we hoed, so that all the plants we hoed up ended up in a pile in the next bit we had to hoe, covering the weeds there. The result was that at the end of our work all you could see was a pile of dead plants, so it looked great, it looked done. And the next day when those dead plants had dried up and withered away, what you could see was a section that looked like someone had hit it a few times here and there with a hoe—at least half of the weeds were still alive and kicking. The next day Erin took me aside and showed me how to hoe for real: you move forward, and you hoe up every inch of the soil, whether you see a plant there or not. And I've never felt embarrassed to teach anyone to hoe since then. It's a skill.
It's a huge mistake to think of any part of farming as unskilled labor. A skilled worker can weed about five times as fast as a beginner—if not more. Farming is skilled, complicated, grounded work that involves your hands and your eyes and your brain and your whole body—and at some point you may find it starts to involve your heart. You're learning something this year that you can be proud of.
In other conversation, she said that people seem to assume that low-prestige work doesn't require skill. And this is, if you will, one case of our chauvinism in assuming we have the knowledge of prior ages without any attempt to learn it, because we're making progress or whatever.
Before zeroing in on one case study, let me underscore one quote by General Omar Bradley that I will also quote below:
We have too many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.
Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.
A first clue to something big, tucked into a choice of children's books
I was once part of a group dedicated to reading children's stories (primarily fantasy) aloud. At one point the group decided to read Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons. I had a visceral reaction to the book as something warped, but when I tried to explain it to the group by saying that it was like the Un-man in Perelandra, I was met with severe resistance from two men in the group. Despite this, and after lengthy further discussions, I was able to persuade them that the analogy was at least the best I could manage in a tight time slot.
I was puzzled at some mysterious slippage that had intelligent Christians who appreciated good literature magnetized by works that were, well... warped. And that mysterious slippage seemed to keep cropping up at other times and circumstances.
Why the big deal? I will get to the Un-man's message in a moment, but for now let me say that little girls are sexistway too romantic. And this being sexistway too romantic motivates girls to want fairy tales, to want some knight in shining armor or some prince to sweep her off her feet. And seeing how this sexist deeply romantic desire cannot easily be ground out of them, feminists have written their own fairy tales, but...
To speak from my own experience, I never realized how straight traditional fairy tales were until I met feminist fairy tales. And by 'straight' I am not exactly meaning the opposite of queer (though that is close at hand), but the opposite of twisted and warped, like Do You Want to Date My Avatar? (I never knew how witchcraft could be considered unnatural vice until I read the witches' apologetic in Terry Pratchett's incredibly warped The Wee Free Men.) There is something warped in these tales that is not covered by saying that Dealing with Dragons has a heroine who delights only in what is forbidden, rejects marriage for the company of dragons, and ridicules every time its pariahs say something just isn't done. Seeing as how rooting out from the desire for fairy tales from little girls and little kids in general, authors have presented warped anti-fairy tales.
Ella Enchanted makes it plain: for a girl or woman to be under obedience is an unmixed curse. There is no place for "love, honor, and obey."
The commercials for Tangled leave some doubt about whether the heroine sings a Snow White-style "Some day my prince will come."
The Un-man's own tales
Perelandra has a protagonist who visits Venus or Perelandra, where an unfallen Eve is joined first by him and then by the antagonist, called the Un-man because he moves from prelest or spiritual illusion to calling demons or the Devil into himself and then letting his body be used as a demonic puppet.
How does the Un-man try to tempt this story's Eve?
[The Lady said:] "I will think more of this. I will get the King to make me older about it."
[The Un-man answered:] "How greatly I desire to meet this King of yours! But in the matter of Stories he may be no older than you himself."
"That saying of yours is like a tree with no fruit. The King is always older than I, and about all things."...
[The Lady said,] "What are [women on earth] like?"
[The Un-man answered,] "They are of great spirit. They always reach out their hands for the new and unexpected good, and see that it is good long before the men understand it. Their minds run ahead of what Maleldil has told them. They do not need to wait for Him to tell them what is good, but know it for themselves as He does..."
...The Lady seemed to be saying very little. [The Un-man]'s voice was speaking gently and continuously. It was not talking about the Fixed Land nor even about Maleldil. It appeared to be telling, with extreme beauty and pathos, a number of stories, and at first Ransom could not perceive any connecting link between them. They wre all about women, but women who had apparently lived at different periods of the world's history and in quiet differences. From the Lady's replies it appeared that the stories contained much that she did not understand; but oddly enough the Un-man did not mind. If the questions aroused by any one story proved at all difficult to answer, the speaker simply dropped that story and instantly began another. The heroines of the stories seemed all to have suffered a great deal—they had been oppressed by their fathers, cast off by husbands, deserted by lovers. Their children had risen up against them and society had driven them out. But the stories all ended, in a sense, hapily: sometimes with honours and praises to a heroine still living, more often by tardy acknowledgment and unavailing tears after her death. As the endless speech proceeded, the Lady's questions grew always fewer...
The expression on [the Lady's] face, revealed in the sudden light, was one that [Ransom] had not seen there before. Her eyes were not fixed on the narrator; as far as that went, her thoughts might have been a thousand miles away. Her lips were shut and a little pursed. Her eyebrows were slightly raised. He had not yet seen her look so like a woman of our own race; and yet her expression was one he had not very often met on earth—except, as he realized with a shock, on the stage. "Like a tragedy queen" was the disgusting comparison that arose in his mind. Of course it was a gross exaggeration. It was an insult for which he could not forgive himself. And yet... and yet... the tableau revealed by the lightning had photographed itself on his brain. Do what he would, he found it impossible not to think of that new look in her face. A very good tragedy queen, no doubt, very nobly played by an actress who was a good woman in real life...
A moment later [the Un-man] was explaining that men like Ransom in his own world—men of that intensely male and backward-looking type who always shrank away from the new good—had continuously laboured to keep women down to mere childbearing and to ignore the high destiny for which Maleldil had actually created her...
The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy's true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Lady is complementarian to the point where one wonders if the label 'complementarian' is sufficient, and the demon or Devil using the Un-man's body is doing his treacherous worst to convert her to feminism. Hooper says he is trying to make her fall by transgressing one commandment, and that is true, but the entire substance of the attack to make her fall is by seducing her to feminism.
A strange silence in the criticism
Walter Hooper's C.S. Lewis: Companion and Guide treats this dialogue in detail but without the faintest passing reference to feminism, men and women, sex roles, or anything else in that nexus. It does, however, treat the next and final book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, and defend Lewis from "anti-feminism" in a character who was a woman trying to do a dissertation on Milton: Lewis, it is revealed, had originally intended her to be doing a dissertation on biochemistry, but found that he was not in a position to make that part of the story compelling, and so set a character whose interests more closely paralleled his own. So the issue of feminism was on his radar, possibly looming large. But, and this is a common thread with other examples, he exhibits a mysterious slippage. His account gets too many things right to be dismissed on the ground that he doesn't know how to read such literature, but it also leaves too much out, mysteriously, to conclude that he gave anything like such a scholar's disinterested best in explaining the text. (It is my own opinion that Hooper in fact does know how to read; he just mysteriously sets this ability aside when Lewis counters feminism.) And this slippage keeps happening in other places and context, always mysterious on the hypothesis that the errors are just errors of disinterested, honest scholarship.
Jerry Root, in his own treatment in C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme, treats subjectivism as spiritual poison and problem of evil Lewis attacks in his different works: Root argues it to be the prime unifying theme in Lewis). But with slight irony, Root seems to turn subjectivistic, or at least disturbing, precisely where his book touches gender roles and egalitarianism. In his comments on The Great Divorce's greatest saint-figure, a woman, Susan Smith, is slighted: among other remarks, he quotes someone as saying that women in C.S. Lewis's stories are "he neglects any intellectual virtue in his female characters," and this is particularly applied to Sarah Smith. When he defends Lewis, after a fashion, Root volunteers, "a book written in the 1940s will lack some accommodations to the culture of the twenty-first century." But this section is among the gooiest logic in Root's entire text, speaking with a quasi-psychoanalytic Freudian or Jungian outlook of "a kind of fertile mother-image and nature-goddess," that is without other parallel and certainly does not infect the discussion of Lewis's parents, who well enough loom large at points, but not in any psychoanalytic fashion. Root's entire treatment at this point has an "I can't put my finger on it, but—" resemblance to feminists disarming and neutralizing any claim that the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary could in any way, shape, or form contribute to the well-standing of women: one author, pointing out the difficulty of a woman today being both a virgin and a mother, used that as a pretext to entirely dismiss the idea that She could be a model for woman or a token of woman's good estate, thus throwing out the baby, the bathwater, and indeed the tub. The Mother of God is She who answered, Be it unto me according to thy word, an answer that may be echoed whether or not one is a virgin, a mother, or for that matter a woman.
The critique Root repeats, on reflection, may meet an Orthodox response of "Huh?", or more devastatingly, "Yes, but what's your point?", not because Lewis portrays a saint as "no model of intellectual virtue," but because Orthodox sainthood is not a matter of intellectual virtue. Among its rich collection of many saints there are very few models of intellectual virtue, admittedly mostly men, and usually having received their formation outside the Orthodox Church: St. John Chrysostom was called "Chrysostom" or "Golden-Mouth" because of his formation and mastery of pagan rhetoric. But intellectual virtue as a whole is not a central force in the saints, and Bertrand Russell's observation that in the Gospels not one word is put in praise of intelligence might be accepted, not as a weakness of the Gospel, but as a clarification of what is and is not central to Christian faith. And in terms of what is truly important, we would do well to recall the story of St. Zosima and St. Mary of Egypt. If Lewis's image of sainthood is a woman who is not an academic, this is not an embarrassment to explain away, but a finger on the pulse of what does and does not matter for sainthood.
Root mentions the Un-man briefly, and gives heavy attention to the man who would become the Un-man as he appears in the prior book in the trilogy, but does not reference or suggest a connection between the Un-man and feminism. Root became an egalitarian, and shifts in his book from speaking of "men" to saying "humankind". And this is far from one scholar's idiosyncracy; a look at the World Evangelical Alliance's online bookstore as I was involved with it showed this mysterious slippage not as something you find a little here, a little there, but as endemic and without any effective opposition.
Un-man's tales for Grown-Ups
During my time as webmaster to the World Evangelical Alliance, the one truly depressing part of my work was getting the bookstore online. Something like eighty to ninety percent of the work was titles like Women as Risk-Takers for God which were Un-man's tales for adults. I was depressed that the World Evangelical Alliance didn't seem to have anything else to say on its bookshelves: not only was there a dearth of complementarian "opposing views" works like Man and Woman in Christ, but there was a dearth of anything besides Un-man's tales. The same mysterious phenomenon was not limited to a ragtag group of friends, or individual scholars; it was dominant at the highest level in one of the most important parachurch organizations around, and not one that, like Christians for Biblical Equality, had a charter of egalitarian or feminist concerns and priorities.
G.K. Chesterton said, "Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed." That might hold for Chesterton's day, and classics like Grimm and MacDonald today, but today's fairy tales, or rather Un-man's tales, do not tell children the dragons can be killed. Children already know that deep down inside. They tell children dragons can be befriended and that dragons may make excellent company. For another title of the myriad represented by Dealing with Dragons, look at the tale of cross-cultural friendship one may look for in The Dragon and the George. When first published, Dealing with Dragons might have been provocative. Now Tangled is not. And reading Perelandra leaves one with an uncomfortable sense that C.S. Lewis apparently plagiarized, in the Un-man's tales, works written decades after his death.
This issue is substantial, and Lewis's sensitivity to it is almost prophetic: sensibilities may have changed, but only in the direction of our needing to hear the warning more. And it is one Christians seem to be blind to: complementarianism seems less wrong than petty, making a mountain out of a molehill. But the core issue is already a mountain, not a molehill.
One of the two men who shut me down completely when I compared Dealing with Dragons with Un-man's tales, told me when I spoke with him a reason why my comparison was out of bounds: it provoked "a strong emotional reaction" to compare the book the group had chosen to Un-man's tales, and so I was making a problematic comparison. With his efforts to waft away and disable my reaction, I zeroed back in on the center: first, that the style of telling the tales was exactly the same between the Un-man and Patricia Wrede, and second, the content of the tales was exactly the same. But let me take a step further back.
That man was my best friend, and there was one time where he went away for a weekend and had a conversation with me the like of which I have not seen before or since. He gave extremely forceful and heavily loaded language indicating that "there is no... male nor female" mean as much as possible (he did not honestly admit that included was that "no male nor female" mean as much as possible what a feminist would want it to mean), and the question remains of what to do with passages that "appear to say" (always, and with another friend who found her way into the gender rainbow, heavy verbal stress on "appear" for any inconvenient passage) something contrary, and tried to neutralize the claim that the husband is the head of his wife by saying that in Greek the term "head" need not mean "boss" but can also mean "source," as in that "the head of a stream is where the stream came from (he never explained why the assertion that "head" means "source" diminished the authority of a husband).
I took a bit before responding, "That's loaded language!," followed by suggesting that he might repeat what he said with the language loaded in the opposite direction.
That conversation, with a man whose character was gentleness, honesty, and truth, left me mystified: why is it that feminism is always advanced by slimy language? This might be a worst example in my life (at least apart from the text I analyzed in my diploma thesis, Craig Keener's Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Woman's Ministry in the Letters of Paul), but it is far from an only example in my life, and since I started paying attention to the matter I have never noticed an attempt to advance feminism that was not slippery in rhetoric. The jarring blow helped me move from sitting on the fence between egalitarianism and complementarianism (and not considering the question important), to the belief that feminism is bankrupt enough that it cannot convincingly be advanced through clean methods of persuasion. My question was initially one of rhetoric alone, but my concern grew to encompass a movement that needs to use such language to recruit, and needed to use such language when feminism was widely held to be the moral high ground over complementarianism, and there was an incredible hegemony to the belief that if you want to advance the good of woman, you do so by promoting feminism. This was years and almost decades before I would quip, "He for She. Because feminism knows it is sinking."
My advisor on that dissertation, incidentally, has been a plenary speaker at a Christians for Biblical Equality ("well, I suppose one in three is not bad") conference. And he did not hinder me from a conservative thesis; Cambridge professors do not normally take out their differences on students. But he did try to recruit me. One example was, "And what about Biblical Egalitarians, who believe 'In Christ, there is no male nor female'?"
I responded by dismantling the missile: I first commented that in English language idiom, talking about the group who does such-and-such idiomatically means that the unshared, distinguishing feature of that group is such-and-such, and his assertion communicates that feminists and Biblical Egalitarians believe that "In Christ, there is no male nor female" and their opponents do not, where one conservative response might be, "The same God inspired passages feminists like and passages they don't like, and if your interpretation needs to neutralize one to make room for the other, your interpretation is broken." I do not ever recall a conservative rejection or attack on "In Christ there is no male nor female," because complementarians also believe, really and truly, that "In Christ there is no male nor female" is as much part of divine revelation as passages feminists attack.
Then I drew attention to a hidden payload: "In Christ there is no male nor female" was assumed to mean as much as possible what a feminist would want it to mean, an identical legal franchise extended to both male and female. If it is hard to see anything else, I would add a passing reference to St. Maximus the Confessor, who said that in hesychasm monks know what temptation is coming by what image they see: if a man's face who had wronged us appeared imagination, there was a temptation to anger coming, and if a woman's face appeared, a temptation to lust was coming, and in Christ there is no male nor female, meaning neither anger nor lust. Now I don't believe this is a complete interpretation; if it is truth, it has the truth of a layer, and there are other things on other levels that "In Christ there is no male nor female" should mean. But I reference St. Maximus the Confessor to give an example of what besides a feminist goal of equal legal-style franchise "In Christ there is no male nor female" could mean.
And this happened easily a couple of dozen times: he asked, regarding inclusive language in translation, if I thought Greek or English language conventions should be followed in Bible translations, and I said, "You're begging the question!" because he used "English language conventions" to automatically mean belabored inclusive language instead of naturally inclusive language, when the very point under consideration was whether a New Testament written in naturally inclusive language should be most faithfully translated by exchanging the naturally inclusive Greek for belabored inclusive English. At some point, after a great deal of this, he got discouraged and tried to recruit me less often.
I would suggest that feminism represents a deliberate and chosen ignorance that needs to reach out and dupe others. The verse in Genesis that declares the image of God also says what may more picturesquely be stated as, "Prong and tunnel He created them." And feminism is devoted to annihilating what in society that works out, just as its rhetoric is post-truth, the rhetoric of the assassin's guide to making foul rhetoric.
The most politically incorrect passage in Scripture: Romans 1
For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and venerated and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Some people have said this reads as a description of today, and I used to agree with that.* I quote the passage because it is explicitly an assessment of a deliberate and chosen ignorance.
* What's the asterisk for? Simply put, we've managed to go farther. What used to be called LBG has now become "the alphabet people," because they keep adding letters in a brainstorm of sexualities (or numbers, as in 2-S). (As a techie, I think /L.*/ is appropriate for LGBTQ+, and which people are actively working on expanding to LGBTQP+.)
Furthermore, there was a moralist injunction regarding SecondLife, saying, "Fornicate using your OWN genitals!" The technological nexus we live in has had a breach with natural living. Our ancestors devised one kind of artificial environment to be in, namely indoors most of the time, and we've taken artificiality to a next level unimaginable in St. Paul's day. Committing sexual vice in person, which is all the Apostle imagined, suggests face-to-face social skills. "Chang[ing] the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things," has been superceded for changing the glory of God for monsters that don't exist except as created by man: Pokemon is "in" as I write. Pokemon trainers do things St. Paul never imagined. Again, let me quote General Omar Bradley about one single dimension of our chosen ignorance, and that before technology that must be taken for granted today:
We have too many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.
Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.
Much as C.S. Lewis points out in The Abolition of Man that the popular impression that magic was the old medieval thing and science was the new thing that swept it away, when in fact there was very little magic in the Middle Ages and science was born around the high noon of magic, Darwinism arose in the same nexus as eugenics and respectable racism which treated it as a problem to show human compassion to other races. Though I don't think this is what St. Paul had in mind, we have traded in human life in the image of God to human life in the image of mere animals, and lost a sense of special obligation to other people. Some people admit of finally getting that the Creation account in Genesis 1 means that all of us are family, a very different picture from the idea that the races can and should be in ruthless and violent competition. Darwin and Galton were cousins, and the former created a theory of evolution very different from what scientists call "evolution" today, while Galton used his concept of IQ to push eugenics.
The ignorance we have today is a hydra. We have phones to turn our brains into tapioca, and in the case of The Damned Backswing, we are using Zoom to connect to people all over the world, people which we could only once in a blue moon meet with face to face. In recent history, Google scanned books and made them available, and has now confiscated access to priceless classics. Today Zoom makes things easy in terms of connecting with others, but that can be whisked away too. And at some point we will stop meeting our neighbors face-to-face, even worse than the present conditions that have led a religious leader to tell America "You can put a man on the moon but you do not meet your neighbors face-to-face." And the time will come when people stop meeting together.
I want to write today something to do with happiness, something that is interwoven with my whole life story.
"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."
"It isn't Narnia, you know," added Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"Are—are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."
These words, from the end of a book by C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia were for me a big spiritual turnoff for as long as I can remember. (They went over my head when my father read The Chronicles of Narnia to my brother and me as little boys.)
When I read those words, they could not but grate because I wanted to continue to live vicariously in Narnia, not our world which seemed so drab and dull, and I was more interested in Aslan than a real Christ. And here I wish to touch on something.
The term "occult" has a few senses and meanings; it can mean supernatural power not given by God; or it can mean something that may or may not be supernatural but is very obscure and known to few. One classic study of occult memory techniques in Renaissance times is occult in both senses. By contrast, a familiarity with the story of the twelve paladins as heroic literature may or may not be occult in its supernatural dimension but is occult in the sense of being obscure. Today, Harry Potter and the X-Men may glorify an imaginary occult world but they are not occult in the sense of being obscure by the standards of pop culture: both of them are backed by tremendous marketing muscle to be a global financial powerhouse, and one need not try to delve into obscure matters to start becoming interested in either.
At that point I remember being puzzled by a counselor showing something almost like a patriotism towards one of the colleges in Harry Potter; in one sense it may seem harmless enough but I would expect a psychologist to know enough about happiness not to build a proper patriotism for something not literally available. I remember in reading "How to Be a Hacker" that talked about "hackers" (software experts who are usually not focused on breaking computer security) as being "neophiles", meaning people who, like the "Athenians and strangers" of the Bible in Acts 17:21, "...spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing." And though technologies change and develop and there is little end to which changes of some sort are available, one of the big things I read on reading propaganda for HTML5 is that the axe ground against its predecessor XHTML spoke of an appetite for change in excess of the admittedly significant technical changes HTML5 heralded. The amount of bad smell attributed to XHTML was reminiscent of New Age people grinding an axe against Newton, or perhaps today Einstein, as a primary authority figure. My involvement in physics, for instance, never really turned up figures grinding an axe against past paradigms by physicists. Newtonian physics may be considered to have been surpassed, but I was taught Newtonian physics before relativity, and engineers (and for that matter some physicists) routinely stick with Newtonian physics in a large number of cases where the discrepancy between Newtonian and relativistic physics (or quantum mechanics, or superstring theory) is dwarfed by much larger imprecision in other matters. And being a neophile is a downwind attribute of finding that things one already has are just boring and really not being happy with life as it is. I would expect a psychologist to know, not so much that enough involvement in literal occult activities is a recipe to lose your mind, but that placing what is rightly called patriotism in a mere fantasy setting is a recipe to find what one can literally have, to be quite dull in comparison. Perhaps a degree of curiosity towards new things is helpful in rapidly changing times, but boredom with tried and true technology is not an attribute of happiness, and patriotism for Hogwarts represents a problem in the first world that is not, as the idiom goes, a "first world problem." A true first world problem is something minor that is blown out of proportion. A spiritual condition that can let you be in circumstances coveted worldwide and not appreciate it is a matter of grave concern. In a world where many are hungry, many lack clothing or shelter, where many lack a safe place to stay, many people wish for a lot that comes easily in the USA, and is taken for granted when one pines for Harry Potter and Hogwarts. A true "first world problem" is something like having a cracked phone screen or having to use cheaper and rougher toilet paper, for the lack of graver and more pressing concerns. Being an American white middle class professional is something that is coveted around the world. (Being an American white middle class professional who thinks her lot is dull, and pines for a bit of spice in patriotism for Hogwarts, is a significant missed spiritual opportunity.)
I harp on escapism because even though I have resisted some of its manifestations, it is something I know well, and it is not innocent or harmless. I imitated the staring in one place that opened a portal to a magical world in The Last of the Really Great Whang-Doodles; in a French language novel by a friend, there was no question about whether escape was to be found, only of how it might be ferreted out. There is also in fiction the possibility of intense concentration or some other intense psychological state breaking through; though it is not exactly a delivery of escape by which the curse is broken at the end of Ella Enchanted, the ace card that trumps magic nothing else could ever break illustrates another portal by which escape is provided in literature. In my own experience, reading or dipping into games can be a way to imbibe tainted spiritual realities as well.
My own attempted interest in Arthurian legends (in The Sign of the Grail, I omitted entirely one part of the rhythm of Arthurians where two knights hacked each other to death's door and were both well a few weeks later (contrast history where a sword duel was usually eventually fatal to both duelists), is relatively unique in that I don't see the fountainhead as being Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur, but studied the medieval flourishing that escaped Celtic folklore into mainstream European popularity in the 12th century "Brut", and was finally transformed into a 1000 page synopsis by Mallory as the end of a flourish. (And I tried hard to convince myself that reading an arbitrarily long sample of Arthurian legend is fascinating. Most of the time I was fighting uphill to convince myself that what I was reading was interesting, when I knew it was deadly dull.)
These Arthurian legends, told and retold and formed and reformed from about the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, concern a time frame of allegedly the sixth century. The times in which the stories were told were separated from the time they occurred in by about as many centuries as the reteller's timeframe is distant to us historically, before history and period awareness were really discovered in Western culture.
For just a slice of what changed between the sixth century and the centuries of these retellings, such things as knights who fought on horseback and jousts simply were not available in sixth century England. Historically knights were mounted shock troops who fought from on horseback, and that depends on the stirrup, a technology not available in sixth century England. Without stirrups, horses can be useful but they can only take you to a battle scene faster where you can fight on foot. A knight riding on horseback in a battle, or in a joust, simply was not available in the sixth century any more in the sixth century any more than people in the twelfth through fifteenth centuries would have been able to coordinate their combat by using modern radios, walkie-talkies, and cellphones in a world where news really couldn't travel faster than people.
They are the medieval equivalent of our fantasy TV shows having Robin Hood's merry band go through a haunted house, and have Maid Marian confronted with a magical apparition the other side of a mirror and saying, "I am having... a biochemical... reaction!" or otherwise show scriptwriters who know how fantasy storytelling works today, but do not share Lewis's and Tolkinn's writing of medieval fantasy out of a profound knowledge of medieval literature and history. And in the days when these Arthurian legends were rampant, it really is not academic peskiness to suggest that chivalry was the real religion of the nobles, or to observe that Western Europeans traveling to the Byzantine empire participated in the dangerous sport of jousting that was practiced one place and the other sometime around the thirteenth century. "People now don't really love," to quote a repeated didactic comment about courtly love by a troubador, are the kind of signal that tells the historian that the milieu of medieval mania for Arthurian legend embodies courtly love as never before.
(And something of the same sensitivity gives me hope when Orthodox say that too little of the greatness of ancient monasticism is alive now, because it may signal a flourishing quite independent of our needing to re-create the conditions of the Egyptian deserts met by the followers of St. Anthony the Great. The Philokalia is very widely read among the faithful today, and that in and of itself is exciting.)
My mother showed consternation in relating a report that children surveyed would "rather be rich and unhappy than be poor and happy," but the consternation played out in circumstances in my life. Many people today would rather be escapist and ungrateful and unhappy with the here and now than be happy and grateful with the here and now.
I had the privilege of studying at the University of Cambridge in England, and in a very real sense that was an escape into a golden other world for me. A real Narnia to me, if you will. And it did not make me happy; I very much preferred being in Europe when the opportunity was open even if I was unhappy there. It was not until after I had returned to the U.S. that I learned how to be happy in the here and now. Years after that I traveled to Mount Athos, and I was expecting to feel better, but I was just happy, if the word "just" is appropriately used in such a case. The voyage was one of tremendous blessing to me, but I did not feel better for a transition to the Holy Mountain's medieval settings.
When I was at Cambridge I was received into the Orthodox Church, and I bristled when I read Vladyka KALLISTOS's comment in The Orthodox Church that Orthodoxy "is not something Oriental or exotic," because that is precisely what I wanted Orthodoxy to be for me. I also bristled when the priest who received me said, "Orthodoxy is slog!" Now, years and a decade later, I find that Orthodoxy transforms slog.
My "escape from escape" essentially unfolded as follows. When I had been leaning enough on, for instance, subtle mind tricks, one priest commented to me that monks in the desert were perennially warned about escape, with pastoral advice of praying through the temptation until it was gone. And I finally came to a point where I bleakly let go of escape, when all of my desire on one level was to escape the bleak here and now, and in an instant my eyes were opened and I no longer found the here and now to be bleak. Nowadays, the temptation comes back from time to time and I need to keep on intensely praying through the temptation the Fathers called "the demon of noonday," but even if the activity of prayer is initially bleaker, I know where victory comes from. When I pray through the temptation, sooner or later it leaves, and I find that the here and now bears some of the marks of Paradise.
"The road less traveled" is today the embrace of the here and now instead of trying to find happiness via escapism, and leaving the broad highway of escapism for the narrow and straight road less traveled, by all means, makes all the difference.