I am at a monastery now, and one hieromonk early on explained that the monastery was trying to act on the problems that I tried to document in The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts. He explained to me how Protestants were coming with questions that were perfectly respectful, appropriate, mature and so on. Perhaps the deliberate example he gave was an outsider’s question, but not a bad question for a respectful outsider to be asking. And they are getting harassed and blasted to smithereens by axe-wielding Western converts.
And what the monastery is trying to do is provide a more wholesome alternative: a social network among other things, but a social network, run by Orthodox Christians, specifically not designed to be addictive, nor to sell advertising, but to serve the genuine interests of its members. The email account they provide is specifically intended to protect your privacy, as is the site as a whole. There is a $5 a month charge to cover costs, so we can serve it without ads.
I would, however, like to recommend using some of the lessons learned from Facebook. Like, for instance, the people who enjoy Facebook most are those who dip in and out quickly, not people who languish in depression, from others’ happy posts, for hours. If you’re going to use the social aspects of oKyrios, do so in limited moderation.
Besides social aspects, oKyrios has for instance a radio stations, a schooling system and recordings of bishops and other leaders offering really good lectures. About the lectures, which eclipse my own offerings, I would say this: Listen to one lecture and then stop for the day. Let it sink in; let it mingle with silence. This is not because I have any real concern about the lectures being anything but excellent, but one lecture sinking in is a good thing. An intravenous drip of noise is not a good thing, and that’s true even if the intravenous drip of noise is an intravenous drip of some of the best Orthodox lectures you’ll find anywhere on the web.
If you are not familiar with Humane Tech, at very least read their “Take Control” page, and apply its lessons to getting the best out of oKyrios. Consider setting a 15 minute timer and only stay on oKyrios for those 15 minutes.
You can get much better results from online services by making and following deliberate decisions, than if you just do whatever is easiest.
oKyrios is a wonderful resource, and all the better if you use it well!
“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu. “When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire-berry from the valleys in the Sun, and each fire-berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again (for we are at earth’s eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance.”
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.“
The reader is now thinking about evolution. He is wondering whether Genesis 1 is right, and evolution is simply wrong, or whether evolution is right, and Genesis 1 is a myth that may be inspiring enough but does not actually tell how the world was created.
All of this is because of a culture phenomenally influenced by scientism and science. The theory of evolution is an attempt to map out, in terms appropriate to scientific dialogue, just what organisms occurred, when, and what mechanism led there to be new kinds of organisms that did not exist before. Therefore, nearly all Evangelicals assumed, Genesis 1 must be the Christian substitute for evolution. Its purpose must also be to map out what occurred when, to provide the same sort of mechanism. In short, if Genesis 1 is true, then it must be trying to answer the same question as evolution, only answering it differently.
Darwinian evolution is not a true answer to the question, “Why is there life as we know it?” Evolution is on philosophical grounds not a true answer to that question, because it is not an answer to that question at all. Even if it is true, evolution is only an answer to the question, “How is there life as we know it?” If someone asks, “Why is there this life that we see?” and someone answers, “Evolution,” it is like someone saying, “Why is the kitchen light on?” and someone else answering, “Because the switch is in the on position, thereby closing the electrical circuit and allowing current to flow through the bulb, which grows hot and produces light.”
Where the reader only sees one question, an ancient reader saw at least two other questions that are invisible to the present reader. As well as the question of “How?” that evolution addresses, there is the question of “Why?” and “What function does it serve?” These two questions are very important, and are not even considered when people are only trying to work out the antagonism between creationism and evolutionism.
I was enthusiastically introduced to Matthieu Pageau, The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis, and enthusiastically looking forward to posting a review saying, “I speak of answering the question, “Why?” as is neglected in science, but in occasional hints and riddles. This is a full and direct treatment of the matter.”
The snake in the ointment
I viewed a podcast with the author, and on rational grounds this looks interesting. The best books to me are ones that challenge me enough to cause culture shock, and this did cause culture shock, and was as different and concerned with the question, “Why?” as I respected.
About two thirds of the way through the book, though, I put my finger on something I’d been ignoring to be able to see other things: reading the book was not prayerful. When my abbot loaned me a manuscript he asked feedback for, the most vital feedback I could give him was that when I began it reading was deliberative information processing, but well before the end reading was prayer, and good theology leads you into the presence of God. As a relatively minor symptom, the comments on divination were all secular in character, and though forbidding divination was mentioned at least once, it was never discussed as an evil sin and a shameful error that opens a gateway to demonic possession. The concepts of ‘space’ and ‘time’, put in quotes in the text itself to indicate a usage very different from any mainstream usage, brought the kind of interesting culture shock produced by good science fiction and fantasy, a bit like The Dark Tower that C.S. Lewis wisely refrained from publishing. Also somewhat unusual for an author presented as Orthodox is a claim to “carves Eastern Orthodox and other traditional images.” And the book freely refers to later parts of the Old Testament, but never the New Testament or the Church as realities shadowed in the Old Law.
A more serious problem is that the book tastes to me too much like Jung, and was recommended to me by a good friend in the process of leaving Jung behind. Carl Jung has been called the greatest threat to the Church since Julian the Apostate, and some people have said that at the beginning of every failed clerical career known to the speaker came finding insights in Jung. I do not object to a portrait of archetypes as such; I trade in archetypes myself and would never want to leave them behind. But whether this is a fruitful engagement… it is a hint and a riddle to point out that the book briefly mentions alchemy as something you’d never guess by studying today’s chemistry. It doesn’t mention alchemy as offering a shortcut by technique for inner transformation that all of the major world religions are inclined to answer, “Sorry, kid. You need elbow grease.” Even if conservative Protestants may be very eager to clarify that they believe you are sanctified by faith alone and not by elbow grease, they are also usually quite clear in a belief that if you have a living and a healthy faith and relevant opportunity, you had better be producing elbow grease. (Possibly Taoism is an exception? The Buddha left an interlocking eightfold path of ways to produce elbow grease.) But Pageau’s book never talks about alchemy as a cheap shortcut, and if you are going to declare that alchemy is different from anything you’d guess from looking at chemistry, you would do awfully well to say its techniques for producing spiritual transformation are shallow and flat next to any proper religious tradition.
There was one conversation I had with a famous egalitarian when I mentioned enthusiastically about John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, and he pointed out how the book was Jungian. And that was the hook when I swallowed a bait of quasi-traditional teaching about men and women at a time when live proponents of the position were few and far between.
I don’t want to repeat that error here, and I speak no words of ill-will if my friends fell for something I fell for hook, line, and sinker. But the book pulls off a reconceptualization big enough to provoke culture shock, and a many-layered understanding of symbol, but for all that it I found very little, if anything, that constituted a specifically patristic way of opening up the Old Testament to unhide the New, and while the book mentions details like alchemy and Tarot, I searched and failed to find mention of “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Church,” and so on.
I deem this book a failure, but I would really like to read another book that would succeed where it had failed.
The militant Rational Wiki’s article on crank magnetism isn’t pretty. It shows a singular lack of sympathy for fellow human beings and one gets the impression that camps the authors don’t agree with are classified as cranks. For instance, its preppers link sounds like people making preparations for a political meltdown are complete crackpots for doing so. The more our present singularity unfold, the less plausible it seems to me that survivalists or preppers are complete kooks. The more things unfold, the more it looks like preppers were right the whole time.
Nonetheless, while I believe some beliefs tarred and featured in that article are right, including intelligent design (thus qualifying myself as an IDiot), and suspicion regarding how much vaccines and post-vaccine genetic therapy really help us, I was dismayed at seeing Young Earth Creationism 2.0 at an otherwise wonderful monastery where Fr. Seraphim of Plantina is held in high esteem, but entirely without the emotional toxicity I tried to document in The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts. These people, some of which are converts, are none the less emphatically not “Axe-Wielding,” and have a profound respect for other human beings. None the less, I was sad when I realized that people living in Fr. Seraphim’s wake are embracing flat-earth theory as a method of virtue signalling. (Thus, perhaps, qualifying myself as a stopped clock, allowed to be right twice a day, but the term is still extremely pejorative.)
I do not say that one should necessarily disqualify a perspective or political or religious opinion on the grounds that it is tarred as “crank.” However, I regard crank theories as a liability, and the sort of thing one should prefer to avoid, and not try to seek out. Enough truth is labelled as crank that we need not scrape the barrel of theories that are labelled as “crank” that are just ridiculous. As far as flat earth theory goes, please, no. As far as the moon hoax theory goes, please, no. I do not trust the government and I can readily believe the U.S. government could and would have hoaxed a moon landing if a bona fide genuine man on the moon was not in reach or for some reason less politically expedient than going to all the trouble to make a real moon landing. I don’t trust the U.S. government, but in this case I trust the U.S.S.R. government to have every technical competency and obvious vested interest to expose a hoax. It would have been a coup for them to catch the U.S. with its pants down. As things stand, no matter how mainstream belief in a moon landing hoax may presently be in Russia, the U.S.S.R.’s silence about any unmasked hoax in the U.S. praising itself for landing a man on the moon is really quite deafening.
As far as intelligent design issues go, I’m unhappy with the new Protestant Creationism, but as someone with an M.S. in math, evolutionists approaching me apologetically to try to convince me of the truth of “evolution” repel me. I use the term “evolution” in scare quotes because Darwin’s theory of evolution, of a slow and gradual change over time, has not been live in the academy for ages; you’re not in the conversation now unless you believe, as my University Biology teacher at IMSA said, “Evolution is like baseball. There are long periods of boredom interrupted by brief periods of intense excitement.” Meaning that “evolution” is not an evolution in any older or non-biological use of the term, and “evolutionists” believe, along with old-school and new-school Protestant Creationists, that major new kinds of organisms appear abruptly and without preserved intermediate forms among the fossil record. The assertion of such evolutionists as I have encountered entails that it is statistically easy for a breeding pool to acquire and sustain a large number of beneficial mutations in a geological eyeblink, and I have met as an argument for this a claim that Indian prostitutes have evolved HIV resistance in a single generation. This is unlabelled crank theory in fifteen feet high blinking letters, but no one on the “standard model” raises a whimper about it.
And C.S. Lewis was over the time aghast about people failing to see how the assertion of evolution was self-referentially incoherent [though C.S. Lewis might not have put in these terms, it gets failing marks from the Retortion Principle. Romantic love is explained away as a biochemical state produced by evolution, but this explanation does not only neuter romantic love; the explanation explains away all explanation, including evolution. Evolution can explain why we should have good enough brains to find food, avoid being food, procreate, and other things animals with brains seem to be able to do. It does not in any sense explain, however, why we should have brains good enough to formulate a true theory of evolution. It has been suggested that there is survival value in brains that could find truths, but if that is true, very, very few people have the kind of brains that evolution selects for. (Less than 1% of people who have ever lived have ever seen a printed word, and far less than that have even had even the chance to believe Darwinian evolution. Most of them have believed that life is spiritual in some form, rather than a by-product of mindless forces that did not have any life form in mind in any sense.)
There is also the other intelligent design argument, an argument not addressing biology but physics. I’ve met evolutionary apologetics who denied that any information needed to be, so to speak, “injected” for the formation of new life forms. I have never met a physicist to deny the physics intelligent design claim that the physical constants have been unimaginably tightly fine-tuned just to allow our life forms to be possible. The more time has passed, the more we recognize the fine-tuning, and we have long passed the time when we realized that the fine-tuning is much more closely tailored just to allow us to exist than, for instance, shooting a particle of light from somewhere around one end of the universe and having it hit the dead center of an atom somewhere around the other side of the universe. The only other way I can state in non-technical terms how low the odds that randomly generated physical constants would let us live are to winning a fair multi-million dollar lottery prize by buying just one ticket at a time many, many times in a row. (It’s almost as bad as evolving a new life form by having a breeding population acquire and sustain enough beneficial mutations to make a new life form.)
I will not shy away from truth just because it is tarred as crank. However, I would say that each crank theory you embrace, and there are some I believe you should, is a liability in dealing with people on the “standard model” and you should believe them despite the fact that they are labelled out as crank.
Virtue signalling by seeking out additional crank theories represents serious philosophical and theological confusion. Defining oneself as different by seeking out crank theories represents serious philosophical and theological confusion. Counterculture for the sake of just rebelling against the common culture represents confusion. And both crank beliefs and counterculture represent a liability: one that should not be eliminated, but perhaps treated with some economy and recognizing that you are coming across as crank if you embrace crank beliefs.
And crank beliefs that are genuinely true should be treated with mystagogy: they should not be pushed on people not dislodged from the “standard model.” “I will not speak of Thy mystery to Thine enemies:” if you know a truth, and you know that another person will reject that truth if you say it, you do not say it. This is standard Orthodox mystagogy. Come Judgment Day, it will be better for that person not to be judged for hearing the truth and rejecting it: and it will be better for you, too, because you did not set that brother human being up for a greater degree of condemnation.
An adaptation of scientism’s much-loved “Ockham’s razor” may be helpful. Ockham’s razor, “Do not needlessly multiply [explanations],” is however sharp a tool intended to create better explanations by virtue of having fewer explanations. The same might apply to using crank theories to truth and edification.
Think about it. And maybe scale back on crank theories that are inessential.
OK, so I’m a dwarf standing on giants’ shoulders, but…
A life’s work between two covers… er, almost a dozen pairs of covers with four to six hundred pages in between… that could nicely adorn about two feet of space on your bookshelf… a little smaller in size than the complete Calvin and Hobbes…
“Must… fight… temptation…. to read… brilliant and interesting stuff from C.J.S. Hayward…. until…. after… work!”
If you don’t know me, my name is Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward, which I usually abbreviate “C.J.S. Hayward.”
But my name has to my surprise trilettered on Facebook to “CSH,” for “C.S. Hayward”. As in, the natural successor to C.S. Lewis. I take that as a big compliment.
I’m an Eastern Orthodox author, who grew up reading C.S. Lewis, and has read almost everything he wrote, including some of those reviewed in C.S. Lewis: The Neglected Works, but have written many different things in many styles. Readers have written things about parts of the the colllection like (J. Morovich):
A collection of joyful, challenging, insightful, intelligent, mirthful and jarring essays written by an Eastern Orthodox author who is much too wise for his years.
and (D. Donovan):
Each piece is a delight: partially because each ‘speaks’ using a different voice and partly because a diversity of topics and cross-connections between theology and everyday living makes the entire collection a delight to read, packed with unexpected twists, turns, and everyday challenges.
And all this for some of this collection.
These pieces are a joy to read, and a gateway to help you enter a larger world, and open up doors that you never dreamed were there to open. Want to really see how “There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy?” Read these.
The one single work I would recommend most by far, and has been strongly recommended by others, is The Consolation of Theology. It is based on a classic The Consolation of Philosophy, and it is meant to give consolation, joy, strength, insights and things that are beyond mere insight. In a pandemic, a collapsing economy, and times when grandmas are buying shotguns, and perhaps other things in the pipeline, happiness is possible, in our reach, and it is real.
My story includes Protestant origins and a progressive discovery of Orthodox Christianity. Because this is a collection of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I have set the works I would particularly recommend in bold in the Table of Contents.
I’ve also dropped the specified price per volume from $29.99 to $19.99.
(Please note: In the past, a bug prevented an avid reader furious he couldn’t read more than the first half of the Kindle edition. The Kindle edition has one review at one star, from someone who read the first half of the book and was infuriated he couldn’t read further. I’ve since fixed that bug, but the review is live and probably deterring people from purchasing. I can and do write well-received titles.)
I’d also like to make available downloads for cheap or for free, but I have a reason for posting this now. I want to keep my website, which has been online since the end of the 20th century, alive for however long I really can, but there are some things I can’t control and I am getting ready, I hope, to visit a monastery. What comes of that I don’t know, but I’d really like for you to own my books in paper. And I’m not sure how long it will be until Amazon makes a decision that will render my works no longer available. However, as a complement to the availability of paper books, I have available:
(One note:) I had hoped to make a free download available in Kindle and ePub, as well as an option of spending a few dollars on Amazon. However, one of the latest additions reads:
How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways. integer overflow error at 0x0
And when I tried to convert the text to an ePub to distribute freely, the conversion software errored out saying it had reached maximum recursion depth.
Then I was hit from all sides, from family at home and slapped down at church, including being informed my heirarch Archbishop PETER had spoken with many Orthodox doctors and chose to be publicly vaccinated. I wrote and then took down, in the interest of not becoming heretical, one post critical of Archbishop PETER when my spiritual father helped me to see that if I was not in formal dissent, getting awfully close. And as I was reminded in Lenten reading, it is not helpful to criticize one’s spiritual authorities: not a monastic priest, not a spiritual father, and all the more not the bishop I answer to in the end. I asked, and received, a blessing to receive vaccination from my spiritual father.
As the time approached, I was aware of unending doubt about my rightness to receive a vaccine, and Rom 14.23). I do not want to give the debate in that passage in cultural context, but after having seen my Archbishop to whom I answer set an example of receiving the vaccine, and receiving a blessing and assurances from my spiritual father to receive the vaccine personally, I still had constant, nagging doubts about whether I should receive the vaccine, and that Biblical discussion was at the forefront of my mind, along with a thought about stopping COVID being justification to make an exception. I claim no confused ideas about the Biblical principle, nor any sense of mixed messages from my conscience, nor anything else of that sort. And I furthermore would point out that my spiritual father is big on listening to that inner voice; he has never to my knowledge put me in a position previously of choosing between obeying that still, small voice and obeying him—and while Orthodox spiritual direction usually requires obedience, he has been clear, when I asked a blessing to have my confessions heard by cathedral clergy, that this is not full monastic spiritual direction and that I do not owe him monastic-style obedience. He allowed me to choose freely whether I wanted to receive the vaccine, so I cannot blame him for how I exercised my freedom. (I see very little mitigating factors once I recognized consciously that something was wrong.)
I sinned by taking the first dose of a vaccine, when my conscience was not in a state where I could legitimately take the vaccine. I do not here make any evaluation of the vaccines in general or specific people; I mentally asked, “What could go wrong?”
I don’t know all of what could have gone wrong. What I did realize after paying the price for drinking a sugary drink two weeks later was that when I received the vaccine, I was told at the top of an information sheet that if certain vaguely COVID-like symptoms if they lasted for longer than 72 hours, and it was two weeks later and I was ignoring significant and ongoing COVID-like symptoms, including muscle pains, headache, nausea, and by the way the swelling at the injection site is still visible. And (as of two and a half weeks later) they weren’t going away. I received, in the language of Romans 1, received in my person a due penalty for my error.
At about two weeks, my conscience was overwhelmingly strong that I should cancel my second dose. It was getting stronger and stronger, and then by chance I read a friend’s comment in a paper and while he is not a religious authority I answer to, unexpected words brought my struggle against my conscience to the forefront of my attention. I canceled it and haven’t had any social consequences yet. But my doctor’s office gave what I regard as at best excusable advice that I go ahead with the second dose as originally planned. The people giving the vaccines warn people not to have a vaccine within 14 days of receiving any other vaccine or any COVID. My primary told me to go right ahead and receive the vaccine in a few days even when I had significant and ongoing COVID symptoms that prompted her office to ask me to take a COVID test before coming in to the office.
I’ve been in a mind fog. I don’t know if the COVID symptoms are permanent; they do seem to be lasting just a little long even by the standards of a real, honest, legitimate COVID infection, let alone reasonable aftereffects for a vaccine. And tomorrow’s concerns are not my concern today; tomorrow’s concerns will be my concerns when tomorrow comes.
The adverse reactions are only part of the picture of why I am repenting; I ignored something very clear and mentally asked, “What could go wrong?” and I believe both that God is just to allow me to experience COVID symptoms now, and that ignoring conscience or clear thinking and asking, “What could go wrong?” (in other words, asking in my heart “But what could possibly go wrong?” has historically been a dangerous position for me to be in spiritually.
However, while I absolutely cannot judge Archbishop PETER for his research, actions, or conclusions, repentance of my own actions is in my heart.
I, Christos Hayward, publicly repent of receiving the first dose of a vaccination.
Epilogue, July 9 2021
I am, by the grace of and generosity of God, my archbishop and his school, a seminary student.
The seminary has assigned some texts to read, and the hardest had been about, for instance, Old Believer and Old Calendarist schisms. The canonical Orthodox authority who in large measure pushed Old Believers into schism was being an incredible jerk towards people who were trying to mind their own business. The canonical Orthodox authority who led people to become Old Calendarists was a Freemason, among other disqualifications, and was something like the Messianic fantasy of a PC-USA radical in the office of an Orthodox bishop. In these and I believe other meetings, I was left with a terrible sense that I would have really liked to sit down for a meal with the non-canonicals (one high-ranking non-canonical bishop radiated the Uncreated Light from his prison cell), while the canonical figures, not so much. (Or to be less diplomatic about it, they mostly left me wanting to puke.)
The USA’s Assembly of (Orthodox) Bishops, I have been told, has come out presenting the somewhat bloodstained COVID vaccines as desirable, definitely permitted and encouraged by example even if there has not been a strict requirement made. And… I am willing to see a decision like the OCA decision described in Contraception, Orthodoxy, and Spin Doctoring where a jurisdiction advocated and allowed a practice St. John Chrysostom bluntly called “worse than murder” and tried to explain his horror about it. I have been asked if I had a heirarch’s blessing to write that. I’m willing to hold a position, if it comes to that, that I do not share with my bishop and perhaps not anyone in the Assembly.
I have told my spiritual director that if it comes to a choice between not receiving any further vaccination and being admitted to housing, I am willing to go homeless. However, I am not willing to go non-canonical. Never mind if I believe COVID injections are the greatest breakthrough in human health since DDT. If I have to choose between remaining not fully vaccinated and remaining canonical, I will take as many injections as are demanded of me rather than forfeit my status as a canonical Orthodox Christian.
(Also, as far as vaccine complications, I had a blood clot from my leg migrate to my lung. The ER doctor said I was lucky to get to the hospital before it killed me.)
This piece arose from a conversation with a fairly bright friend I had where I realized I had been putting important points of data out but not explaining or clarifying very well how they were connected, assuming connections were obvious when they weren’t. This piece is not intended to add anything new to my portfolio of documents, but to explain and/or re-explain with more “connective tissue” where the reader will be told how they fit together.
Clearing away one distraction
The effort to go virtual made more painfully apparent the resource disparities affecting the underprivileged. I acknowledge such, but my point has nothing really to do with that. No objections to such discussion, but I am not attempting such a discussion here. I am discussing something else.
An example of a gap
To illustrate the kind of gap I am talking about, I would like to look at Bridge to Terebithia, which is partly driven by a cultural gap between a poor farmboy and an urban gal whom the author marks as being Privileged with a capital ℙ. It’s not just that, as the Wikipedia article points out, that her family is the one family in town where “Money is not the issue.” Her family does not own a television, a point which prompted the farmboy to assume her family is too poor to own a television. Other markers where the author attaches a bold-font label of “Privileged” are that she does not know the Easter story, but listens to it with some wonder and says it’s like the story of Socrates’s trial and death, or Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.
The story is largely a story of cross-cultural encounter, and it is so no less because the two central characters are both U.S. citizens, both white, of the same age, and for that matter are both can run. The privilege is not just that the girl’s parents are wealthy and purchase a rural house to take a break and re-evaluate their priorities. Not owning a television is a major marker of the girl’s Privileged family, and I will consider that very important in the points that follow. But my other major reason for presenting this, besides my wanting to underscore that the girl’s family Does Not Own a Television, is that studying and exploring a gap across what really amounts to culture is a large portion of what drives this story and makes this Newberry Award winner interesting.
Gaps like these, in my opinion, are well worth paying attention to, and it is my intent in this post to understand a few gaps and reap something very worthwhile from minding the gaps.
Why I disagree with “In the future, we’ll all be Harry Potter”
By saying that we’ll one day be like Harry Potter, I don’t mean that we’ll fly around on broomsticks or play three-dimensional ballgames (though virtual reality will let enthusiasts play Quidditch matches). What I do mean is that we’re about to experience a world where spirit inhabits formerly inanimate objects.
Much of the Harry Potter books’ charm comes from the quirky magic objects that surround Harry and his friends. Rather than being solid and static, these objects embody initiative and activity. This is precisely the shift we’ll experience as computational power moves beyond the desktop into everyday objects.
I do not contest Jakob Nielsen’s assertion that in the future we will have technology that sounds astounding by today’s standards. That much is indisputable. However, I strongly dispute the implication that to people living in that reality, it will be a world of wonder, or a world that we could wish were real to us, the way Harry Potter fans wish on some level they could live at Hogwarts.
I wish to assert, unfold, and unpack that however much some technologies may initially wow people who don’t have them, the future is this shimmering, desirable place the way Harry Potter’s Hogwarts is a place people so much wish that they could be their real world.
A meme about a gap: Old Economy Steve
There is a group of memes that rub in the smiling, pimply white face of some poor guy’s high school yearbook photo with a generic, mid-70’s hairstyle. They spitefully rub things in about a clueless, out-of-touch Old Economy Steve, and rub in that he is specifically clueless about the gap separating young people from himself:
Goes to law school.
Pays student loans with first paycheck.
Brought a house in his 20’s with a 9 to 5 job that didn’t require a bachelor’s degree.
“Kids these days have it easy.”
“When I was in college my summer job paid the tuition.”
Tuition was $400.
Pays into Social Security.
Becomes homeowner at 22.
Tells son’s generation it’s lucky because it can afford $200 smartphones.
Said, “Too many C____s, not enough I____s.”
Middle manages minimum wage employees.
“At my first job I only made $15k a year.”
In 1979 that was the equivalent of $47k.
Got my dream job,
By answering a classified ad.
“Why don’t you call and ask if they’re hiring?”
Hasn’t been on a job hunt since 1982.
“I worked all summer to buy a car.”
Grows up in one of the world’s best economies.
Creates the worst global economy the world has ever seen.
(“And all this before COVID,” one might add!)
Now I would like to ask you to keep one eye on what Old Economy Steve doesn’t get about our economy today, and watch a series of famous 1993 ad campaign run by AT&✁✆✇.*T.
In all or almost all of these things, we have pretty much what the advertisement stated, or something that makes said prediction simply obsolete. I admit readily that electronic toll collection is far more convenient than keeping track of various denominations of coins and stopping at a tollbooth and trying to throw the coins into one of those funnels, and the demolition derby to get back on to the regular highway. For that matter I see our toll collection as more convenient than what the commercial promises: we don’t even need to swipe a credit card through a reader to pay a toll; we just drive through at full speed and are charged the toll…
…but the actor in the ad displays an almost sexual thrill at being able to pay a toll while driving at full speed, and whatever the experience is like for us to whom it is an everyday activity, our experience is hardly an orgasm.
What we have now is simply not Old Economy Steve’s economy with draining charming and wonderful phones tacked on. And this has something to do with why I believe technology is part of our poverty.
Here and now, I submit, we are already living “In the future, we’ll all be Harry Potter.” The clarification on Jakob Nielsen’s part of “By saying that we’ll one day be like Harry Potter, I don’t mean that we’ll fly around on broomsticks or play three-dimensional ballgames” is already obsolete: we have flying motorcycles and with some basic Internet of Things features we could make three-dimensional ballgames no more dangerous than Harry Potter’s Quidditch. And it is probably child’s play, for initiates, to print an ornamental level of broomstick-themed decoration, even though a flying motorcycle may still look like a flying motorcycle:
“In the future we’ll all be Harry Potter” and “YOU WILL and the company that will bring it to you is AT&✁✆✇.*T” meet together. The prediction that we will carry our medical records in our wallets is obsolete because we have Internet-enabled health records. It is beside the point that a credit card sized device can carry our medical records. It is also obsolete to predict that in the future we will be able to get custom concert tickets from an ATM. We can buy tickets, pick seats, and show a QR code on our smartphones. And there is something quaint about the image of an enchanted mother giving best wishes to a baby through video phone booths; we can Zoom chat with laptops and mobile devices but some of us find mandatory Zoom chats depressing next to conversing face-to-face.
All this said, we ain’t in Old Economy Steve’s economy any more, and technology is part of our poverty.
In one post to a friend, I wrote,
Have you ever drained yourself by compulsively checking your phone easily a hundred times a day?
Have you ever had several Big Brothers know your every every step, every heartbeat?
Have you ever had every keystroke you’ve ever typed be recorded and available to use against you for all your remaining life?
Have you ever met people from the last generation that remembers what life was like before the world went digital?
and AT&T ain’t the only company that will bring it to you!
Conclusion: My own privilege
Having discussed how we have at least somewhat “Harry Potter”-like technologies, but we ain’t enjoying Old Economy Steve’s “Hasn’t applied for a job since Jimmy Carter—’You need to hit the bricks to find work. That’s what I did.'” living conditions any more, I would like to add an additional note, and tie in something from the beginning of this article, the Privileged girl in Bridge to Terebinthia.
I am in at least one privileged position comparable to the girl whose family doesn’t have a television.
I own a cellphone, and it doesn’t run my life.
(One I purchased a couple of years ago, used.)
I used to get sucked into social media, but have backed away to 5-10 minutes’ social media interaction per month, generally to announce something.
I read (among others) Jean-Claude Larchet’s The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul, and realized I was compulsively checking email and checking my phone a hundred times per day. I now check email often just once or twice a day, not compulsively. I also don’t really check my cellphone. I’ve turned off almost all notifications that I can. I still use my phone, for instance for GPS navigation, but on an opt-in basis. I try to limit what is initiated by my phone, and avoid what I have elsewhere called an intravenous drip of noise like the plague.
I’ve seen a very frequent Twitter poster ask, “Is there anywhere in the world that does not have Internet?” and in one sense the answer is almost a complete “No:” every continent, including the poorest continent of Africa, has expensive phones as common possessions.” But in another sense, the answer is, “It’s right under your nose. But don’t go to buy airfare. Read a couple of books, and make some lifestyle changes, and in an older word, repent.”
I would ask the reader to buy two books: The New Media Epidemic and my own The Luddite’s Guide to Technology. Please consider buying both of them in paper (“kids-go-ask-your-grandparents”), and if you buy just one, buy the first. I’ve found that it is possible to have an oasis or at least a relative oasis. It is not entirely easy, and it is even less obvious, but it exists for real. The New Media Epidemic also covers, as I do not, clinics and programs that exist for smartphone / internet addiction. (This is also somewhere a good Orthodox priest can help.)
I have other privileges besides having taken charge, at least mostly, of my cellphone and internet usage. I’m really book-smart, and I can’t simply give that to you, though I can write brainbuilding materials. I am also, in some circles, a famous author, or at least I’ve been told my name has trilettered on Facebook to “CSH,” i.e. “C.S. Hayward,” along the lines of “C.S. Lewis,” and even a scathing personal attack mentions that I am well-known among conservative converts to Orthodoxy. Despite all this Amazon has ways of interpreting its contracts so my income from Kindle books is a total of about $10 to $20 per month (I think I earn more if you buy one of the paperbacks from my bookshelf (or the one hardcover worth mentioning, but I’m not clear my income from Amazon will break three figures monthly, as it did before Amazon reinterpreted its contracts). I have, in God’s Providence, everything I need; I am retired on disability, and it is not uncommon for me to receive some boost on top of that. I really try to pray “Give us today our daily bread,” and beyond that cast my cares upon the Lord and upon a favorite saint, St. Philaret the Merciful, whose life is a testimony to everything the Sermon on the Mount says about treasures in Heaven and proper use of wealth.
And the Sermon on the Mount, with its teachings on wealth, is the true Oasis amidst a parched technoscape. Almost everything else that is good to be had is first drunk from that Fountainhead.
“If you keep your guitar in the case and get it out before you play it and put it away afterwards, you’ll spend less time playing your guitar.”
This advice was mentioned in reference to another Internet addiction, but I recently leveled up about not having my phone control my life.
I carry my phone turned off completely. Not sleeping and ready for action when I hit the sleep/wake button. Off.Completely. As off as I can do.
If I have a legitimate justification to use it, I turn it on for long enough to do whatever I need to do, and then I immediately turn it all the way off. It’s wonderfully inconvenient, and it lets me keep my phone with me as much as I want, have it available, but then be in a place in the world that does not have convenient, non-stop Internet access. And I can get there without needing to shell out for an expensive plane ticket to some faroff forgotten world, or for that matter shell out any money for anything at all.
Extra credit for fuller benefit: Don’t piggyback multiple activities at a time. If you use your phone to do GPS navigation, and realize you need to send a text, turn your phone off completely, when you arrive at your destination, then turn it on again, then send the text, then turn it off again completely, and you’re off!
And while you’re at it, upgrade to a watch that cannot be controlled by the government or hacked into by faceless intruders from across the world, perhaps the watch you had before getting a smartwatch—ine is a Casio Men’s Pathfinder Casual Watch PRW2500T-7CR Titanium. (Though I felt very small and shamed when I saw a doctor wearing a cheap $5 digital watch with no special features.)
Bravo: I’m not sure there is a difference between a soliloquy and a rant. Needing to get something off one’s chest is not so much an exchange of information as a medicinal purge that provides relief. Maybe like the lancing of some festering boil.
However, let’s not hope that anybody anywhere ever changes their opinion of political figures because they have heard the rant, they may however change their opinion of the ranter.
Myself and other Trump supporters find ourselves in a dark place after the election but one thing we have learned is that talking about him with non supporters is futile as we automatically write each other off as lacking in intelligence and understanding.
The only question I ask myself is ”do I care if the person I engage with continues as a friend”
From the bible I have learned that a few words can start a forest fire that cannot be controlled.
So if a relationship is worth being preserved, do not engage, do not even send clues about your opinion. The temperature is too high. It could be costly in every sense of that word.
If a continued friendship is not important then a polite rant might may serve as a relief valve, for simply medicinal purpose of course.
In that vein there are several old friends that I have contentedly let go their own way and I’m sure they feel the same.
It’s all a great shame and sad when expressing your personal opinions is an act of war.
I will certainly not however, engage in church or anywhere important.
I’m not even an American but I can see that what might be considered as the greatest and most influential nation on earth is divided so dangerously with the fault lines running through all aspects of society including the family structure.
Alpha: Thank you for information about how my post will be received.
I do not think it is a rant that G.K. Chesterton said in his “A Defense of Patriotism,”
‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’
The question of whether Donald Trump would knowingly incite violence to reverse an election against him is a question of this magnitude. It has been said that violence is in the U.S. political constitution (https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/01/americas-history-of-political-violence). I retweeted a tweet saying “This is the worst thing that happened in U.S. history unless you’ve read a book on U.S. political history.” Nonetheless, I see a difference between “Donald Trump, assuming he follows American political tradition of recognizing an election went against him,” and “Donald Trump, with or without civil war.”
However, I would see Confucius’s “It is useless to take counsel with those who follow a different Tao” as applying not only to “Against Donald Trump by any means necessary,” but people who will not accept that a Trump supporter says he has gone too far.
It is consonant with the verdict of history to say that the United States lost the nineteenth century civil war.
I expect that the verdict of history will be that the world lost this civil war…
It is a matter of historical fact that General Lee ceased hostilities first, and today all the states that seceded are legally part of the United States.
But talking about who won that war is a bit like talking about who won the earthquake in Lisbon that shook the Enlightenment.
Bravo: Hi again Alpha,
In calling your comments a rant I in no way meant to imply that what you said was without a thoughtful basis. However , in this day and age the stakes are much higher and with social media, opinions burn much brighter and are more widespread.
Being retired and largely independent of external pressures I am free to express whatever ideas I have. They can’t take my job away.
There is however something that needs to be addressed .The thought that corruption is alive and well at the highest levels of American society is no longer confined to some isolated extremists hiding in the mountains of Montana.
I realize that violence is an historical building block of the American experience but, the only reason that the country overcomes this violence is the belief that the democratic process is solid and largely without corruption.
Approximately half the country however, now has doubts that the democratic exercise is healthy and at the same time the judicial process is viewed with similar suspicion.
The overly technical, clumsy and drawn out voting procedures leave so many thinking, if we don’t have fair elections, what do we have? The answer is obvious.
I know that for constitutional reasons the USA population is armed to the teeth but it also may reveal that the population has always had a general distrust of it’s own institutions.
As a Canadian we have much to be concerned about in our own political process but the suggestion of widespread fraud never comes up.
But we are though so dependant on the USA for many things , democracy being number one and if you stumble and there is widespread distrust of your institutions all democracies are at risk.
The social media is of course a catalyst for all manner of social change. Some good some very scary.
Of course many of us outside your country love you and wish you well not just for your sakes but most importantly for ours.
Alpha: I agree with most of this, and am concerned about a downward spiral. Republicans and Democrats alike are contributing in large amounts.
Charlie: Good morning.
We conservatives have been struggling with an imperfect vessel of our faith, to say the least, in Trump. One common meme was that he used the same playbook they wrote to take down American culture against them. (Rules for Radicals, dedicated to Lucifer by the author Saul Alinsky, who was also a mentor of Hillary Clinton). This comes down to the game theory of the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. The way to get someone who has been hitting you for five decades to stop hitting you is to hit them back in the same way, every time, until hitting you no longer benefits them. It was cathartic to see the weapons they forged against us turned back on them. It had a certain scriptural precedent in that Hammon in the book of Ester is hung on the gallows he prepares for the Jews. Or Gideon blowing trumpets outside an enemy camp and all the armies within the camp killing each other in confusion.
They certainly have insanely low expectations of their own morality, and embody Borderline Personality Disorder. Add to that the origins of these policies in people wanting to bring down the country and destroy it (Frankfort School, etc), coupled with globalist feudal concepts like the so-called “Great Reset”, and you can see our concerns. We’ve seen this play before where some Germanic deadbeat rants some grand plan for humanity (Karl Marx, Adolph Hitler, or now Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum) and next thing you know, we are being marched off to death camps for disagreeing. Or getting our communications channels shut down, or possibly getting our online assets frozen. In each case, we are called conspiracy theorists for reading the books where they lay out their plans in their own words.
But that’s all politics. What about faith?
I keep coming back to this verse…. “Do not repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
I suspect if we ever see another conservative leader in this nation, it will have to be someone who isolates the ideologies rather than the individuals, as Trump did following the Alinsky rules. It may also be the only way we survive this whole purge or open any communications whatsoever outside this wall. If communicating with relatives, don’t attack the relatives. Attack the ideas if you must, but present better ones in full light and let them either come to the light or run from it. They will tend to internalize and regard as “in group” people like Pelosi, who endorsed the Jim Jones cult prior to the mass suicide back when they were still in California. Jones seems to be the role model of big tech, in terms of isolating their membership and only feeding them one story, constantly, at high volume. Any attempt to question the leader or exit the compound is met with harsh threats and condemnation, just as it was with Jonestown. This won’t end well. It may involve a Pygmalian Effect of separating the person and your expectations of them from their actions and opinions, in hope of drawing them to their better angels, in a positive feedback loop. One of my best friends is a leftist atheist, who was hardcore Michael Moore and Bush Derangement Syndrome two decades ago, who now is a Trump supporter who loves Jordan Peterson. Baby steps, I guess, but certainly unexpected. I’ve always loved her dearly, accepted her confessions of past crazy things, and treated her soul like a treasure. And shockingly, she’s felt the same towards me. That should be what America is all about. It once was. For us, it still is.
Scripture makes it clear we are to present the light and let them either come or go when they see it. We should of course pray first, during, and after for the seeds to fall on good soil. But the sower isn’t responsible for improving the soil. Only scattering the seed. We shouldn’t do things, either in culture or in our own hearts and souls, that make our own soil more stony. We can cancel out of institutions that hate us. The converse of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is “don’t feed the mouths that bite you”. Some seeds may take time to grow, so we maintain kindness in those situations. We overcome evil with good, as we were told.
I’m feeling deeply called to re-read the New Testament to see how the church did last time a tiny group of eleven people got cut off by a global government who wanted them all dead. A big part of that was that the disciples were the only light in a world that had gotten very, very, very dark. In such a world, not everyone is blind, but all eyes are equally useless until someone comes into the caves with a lantern lifted up to get their attention and held low to show the path. That may involve shaking the dust from our clothes as we exit Facebook groups or what not. It’s been bitterly disappointing seeing people I once regarded as mentors or at least role models go full Herodian.
Tomorrow can be as dark as it dang well please, because we don’t live there yet. Each day has enough trouble of its own, as Jesus said. As a pastor once said, there is as much darkness a foot ahead of God as there is a mile behind. Prepare for what may come, but focus on the wisdom God gives you in what to do each day. The days ahead will separate wheat from chaff, so grow your wheat and starve your chaff while you still have roots to draw from and sunlight to grow in. Night is coming, when no man can work.
I also come back to a few other verses. Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Do not neglect feeding your innocence, the starving of your guilt, nor observing with wisdom the things around you.
2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Alpha: Thank you. I disagree with you on many points, but I appreciate your taking the time and effort to seriously address the question.
One thing I might mention is a sort of “ethnocentric compliment” to the GOP. I haven’t pressed points against the left as much as the right, and it’s not because I think the left is better than the right (I am expecting disaster to unfold further with where Trump has placed the left, and we’re due to have a president Assume Emergency Powers), but because post-Truth Republican politics represent a greater failure to live up to conservative principles than post-Truth liberals politics fail to live up to liberal principles (unless you want to go along the same lines as Chesterton did in saying, “As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.” or Fr. [Richard John] Neuhaus in saying that insofar as extending the franchise is bedrock to liberalism, the pro-life position is “in fact the liberal one”).
I’m also reading the New Testament and trying to focus my gaze on the Christ who is Truth.
One other thought: Kallistos Ware, in The Orthodox Church (the standard English-language introduction to the Orthodox Church) comments briefly that the position of Christians today as being perhaps more like the Early Church than anything else. (The book is a must-read for certain audiences, but I am not offering it as directly how one ought to handle the things we have been discussing.)
Orthodoxy is not really involved in reconstructing the Early Church, but you might take a cue from oca.org/saints, with different saints’ lives each day of the year and Early Christian martyrs as one type of regularly recurring figure.
Our role might not be to bring out a situation where we would be citizens of the Christian, Byzantine Empire where the society was Christian, but to be sacrifices who, like the Early Church, shone the light of one candle rather than curse the darkness (and, eventually, triumphed over the Empire that wanted them dead).
When the Roman persecutions ended, one saint complained that easy living robs the Church of her saints.
Monasticism, called “white martyrdom” where what you would ordinarily call martyrdom is called “red martyrdom,” is essentially a surrogate for in peaceful times how you can obtain the spiritual profit known in the Early Church, persecuted in the Roman Empire.
Delta: Hi all
I have been following the correspondence with interest, although not being in North America some of the allusions pass me by!
What worries me is not so much the politics as the situation. Whatever their views, when large social media companies can disenfranchise bits of the population, life is getting dangerous. When some of those disenfranchised then set up their own platform, only to have it closed by a large retailer (Amazon), then I am really worried! At that point government has become irrelevant and it doesn’t matter much who is “in power”, because they are not.
Bravo: Yes Delta,
We are entering uncharted territory. It is no joke when power is vested in totally unelected corporate entities and the government sees them as allies rather than the “robber barons“ of yesteryear.
On social media we should be very wary . How many people could be losing jobs, or more, because of incorrect positions on Facebook?
We are rapidly approaching the same system already in effect in China and elsewhere , where citizens obtain scores based on evaluation through social networks.
This system of public exposure and correction is already playing a part in a small local network used in our municipality.
We cannot even be sure that this forum will always be free and available.
Social media has put the excesses of the Middle Ages on steroids.
Keep your eyes on 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.
It’s been some time that Twitter has had people seeing that at least some strains of conservative tweets (regarding LGBTQ+) were artificially censored from showing up from trending on Twitter.
Do We Have Rights? applies here. It may be helpful to see that what we have been deprived of has never been our right to begin with.
Meanwhile, in what truly counts, all of us have God’s ear, and his Providence.
To go to literal ancient history, I would like to look at economic policy under two emperors who persecuted Christians.
Decius created short-term convenience by devaluing the currency; in the ancient world, the value of (coin) currency was precious metal content, and he took in coins that were a third silver and paid out coins that were just dipped in silver.
Diocletian faced spiralling inflation, and (the one point where I remember the text expressing astonishment that an emperor thought something would work) assumed that inflation was just due to merchant greed, and placed signs by marketplaces announcing maximum prices and forbidding merchants on pain of death from charging more. Unfortunately for everyone, these prices were below cost for merchants, and legal merchants stopped selling things… which ended up driving prices even higher.
Now to more recent history in Wheaton, one move that was taken to curb Wheaton going liberal was to require professors to sign a Statement of Faith that said, among other things, that Adam and Eve were created from earth and not from hominids. I remember speaking with one psychology professor who interviewed with Wheaton and said she didn’t really believe that Adam and Eve were not made from hominids. She met with an answer of, “None of us really believe that,” and she responded with an astonished, “Then don’t sign it!”
The intent in the move was to curb liberalizing movements by selecting for people such as Wheaton attracts who believe in literal creation of humans not from any other life form but straight from earth. Unfortunately, such people exist but they are few and far between. The actual effect was to select for people such as Wheaton attracts who would perhaps openly cross their fingers in signing a major commitment to belief, which may have accelerated feminism’s becoming dominant at Wheaton.
I think, rightly or wrongly, that some of Donald Trump’s actions may accelerate things which have a nasty backswing. And that maybe going tit-for-tat won’t solve the problem.
I’m not sure my last email was constructive.
I would like to give a link to the Sermon on the Mount, which is if anything the Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven:
I’m returning to the Gospel after an overdose in current events.
I was winding down for sleep when I had something come to mind. I am usually wary when I meet surprising cultural finds that alter the plain sense of a Biblical text significantly, but I post from Blessed Are the Peacemakers, the oldest work on my site:
Jesus said “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:39) This is not a command to act as if you have no rights and passively let yourself be regarded as subhuman, but rather an insistence on the fact that you do have rights. In the society of that time, a slap on the cheek was not intended as a physical injury but rather as an insult, putting an inferior back in his or her place. The strength of that insult depended greatly upon which hand dealt it: as the left hand was seen as unclean, a slap with the left hand was the insult far greater than one dealt with the right hand. This was reflected in the legal penalties for an inappropriate slap: the penalty for slapping a peer with your left hand was a fine one hundred times the penalty for slapping a peer with your right hand; the penalty for slapping a better with your right hand was a fine while the penalty for slapping a better with your left hand was death. The people Jesus was speaking to most directly were, by and large, slaves and the downtrodden. A slap on the right cheek was dealt with the left hand. To turn the other cheek would leave the master with two options. The first would be to slap the slave again, but this time with the right hand (therefore declaring the slave a peer). The second would be not to slap the slave again (therefore effectively rescinding the first slap). Now, such impudence and sauciness would often tend to bring punishment, but it none the less says “Hey, I’m a human. I have rights. You can’t treat me like this.” It is not an action without suffering for oneself, nor does it inflict suffering on the “enemy”: but it does say and do something in a powerful way.
“Go the extra mile” was commanded in reference to compulsion to carry a soldier’ pack (same term in some language as would be used for military conscription), on Rome’s decisively good roads, with mile markers (in more or less the same sense as some countries have mile markers today).
A Roman soldier could conscript civilians to carry his pack for one mile but not more, and he faced stiff punishment if he required someone to carry his pack for more than a mile. The expected civilian behavior would be to carry an onerous pack until the next mile and then get away from it as quickly as possible. An entirely unexpected behavior would be to carry the soldier’s pack for one mile, and then keep on walking to try to carry it to two miles.
As Orthodox now, I have accepted communion with warrior-saints like St. George and St. Mercurius, and people who did not raise a finger in self-defense, like St. Boris and St. Gleb. Meaning that I do not get to pick and choose who is pleasing to God. I also have dropped my assumption that we have rights.
I’m wondering, though, if there might be some pearls in the sand in Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Christ was, at least on the account I mentioned (which I heard in a pacifist church), giving an effective and unexpected outline of resistance to be used by the poor and downtrodden. Some people have said they liked the article, and one veteran I asked for feedback on it said that there are precious few articulations of a pacifist position (and I did specifically engage soldiers for feedback). It’s fairly easy to find an articulation of just war; explaining how pacifism could make sense is not so easily found.
The emperor Valens, mercilessly sending into exile any bishop who displeased him, and having implanted Arianism into other Asia Minor provinces, suddenly appeared in Cappadocia for this same purpose. He sent the prefect Modestus to Saint Basil. He began to threaten the saint with the confiscation of his property, banishment, beatings, and even death.
Saint Basil said, “If you take away my possessions, you will not enrich yourself, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. This place in which I now dwell is not mine, and any place you send me shall be mine. Better to say: every place is God’s. Where would I be neither a stranger and sojourner (Ps. 38/39:13)? Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for Whom I live and labor, and to Whom I hasten.”
The official was stunned by his answer. “No one has ever spoken so audaciously to me,” he said.
“Perhaps,” the saint remarked, “that is because you’ve never spoken to a bishop before. In all else we are meek, the most humble of all. But when it concerns God, and people rise up against Him, then we, counting everything else as naught, look to Him alone. Then fire, sword, wild beasts and iron rods that rend the body, serve to fill us with joy, rather than fear.”
Reporting to Valens that Saint Basil was not to be intimidated, Modestus said, “Emperor, we stand defeated by a leader of the Church.” Basil the Great again showed firmness before the emperor and his retinue and made such a strong impression on Valens that the emperor dared not give in to the Arians demanding Basil’s exile.
(to Bravo:) I really appreciate how you have spoken about the U.S.
I know that Canadians can get weary of being regarded like the fifty-first state, and one Canadian roommate compared the relationship between our countries as “a mouse in bed with an elephant: the elephant does not know if the mouse is there, but if it rolls over, the mouse is squashed.”
If I had lived in the days of Whigs and Tories among the colonies, I might have fled to Canada.
Bravo: Growing up in war torn England and walking the graveyards of dead Americans gave me an appreciation for the “Yanks”. Also living within walking distance of the border and having spent considerable amount of time in the States gave me a genuine affinity for Americans and their zest for life and freedom.
Canada is also a great but somewhat different country, however to use another analogy of our relationship.
”Living in Canada is like living above an apartment one where they are having a rowdy but fun party.” Maybe you could turn it down a touch.
I haven’t been able to trace my sources at all, but I vaguely remember a book like Good to Great talking about a company like Intuit making a decision for a product like Quicken, a decision, not just to have a collection of really nice tools, but to declare war on the pencil.
The core insight behind ?Intuit? declaring war on the pencil when it made ?Quicken? was that accounting and finance types using accounting software would also use pencil and paper, and possibly a calculator. The company’s decision was to do user research, find out when and why finance users resorted to using pencil and paper, and then implement improvements to eliminate the need to resort to pencil and paper.
(?Intuit? has also been credited with a similar feat in making a lighter and cheaper version that was not just a more feature-limited version of mainstream accounting software, but would make sense to non-accountants who did not know all the technical terms as one would expect of finance and accounting professionals using the version of ?Quicken? made for accounting and finance professionals. Hence the change in terms to a dirt-simple “money in” and “money out.” This is an additional feat of user research and knowing your audience.)
I am interested in what might be called a “neo-old-fashioned mindfulness,” and an older part of this project relates to looking at your watch more than is necessary, an ancestor to “phubbing,” or snubbing someone socially by looking at your phone. I do not seek a new project, but articulate how we can continue an age-old Western pursuit of mindfulness with a few nuances updated to be mindful when using technologies not around when this aspect of manners came to be.
In a martial arts class, the teacher commented, “Set your foot down because you want to, not because you need to.” This was in reference to a swinging kick that started with picking up your leg from behind you and ended with setting it down in front. And in fact there is a difference between moving so that you have to set your foot down or else lose your balance, and moving so that you set your foot down because you choose to do so.
The difference is illuminating.
Face-threatening behavior and basically rude behavior
When I was taking Wheaton College’s “linguistics and anthropology boot camp for missionaries,” one theme that was underlined was the concept of “face-threatening behavior.” The core concept in face-threatening behavior is behavior that could cause the other party to lose face, and it is normally polite to try to soften or remove the danger of causing the other party to lose face. The next time the lecturer was asked a question by someone in the audience, he pointed out the asker’s politeness behavior: before asking the question directly, he offered some kind words to the person he was addressing. The social subtext? “I am asking you a question, but not because you’re a bad lecturer, and I don’t want to make you lose face.” In other words, politeness leads people to usually try and avoid getting egg on someone else’s face.
I remember visiting with a friend of about my age, some years back, where my friend had asked me to look at a printer. I looked at it briefly, but didn’t immediately see how to fix it. I then apologetically asked if I could call my brother, who worked at a well-treated internal help desk. The social message? “I’m doing something that is basically rude, but I don’t want to be rude to you.” And this was when I was acting entirely out of concern for my friend. I had made a first approach to a difficulty he asked me to look at, and when that didn’t resolve the issue, I made a sensible second approach. However, my behavior was an example of how to maintain politeness while doing something that is basically rude: calling and talking with someone else on my phone when I was visiting him.
On another level, I remember a post-graduation visit to a well-liked professor who, as we were talking, glanced at his clock and then apologized, saying that he looked at the clock because he was surprised it was dark so soon. This was a graceful recovery from a minor social blunder: needlessly looking at his clock, which is an example of basically rude behavior. When Madeleine l’Engle briefly states that Mr. Jenkins One “looked at his watch,” this is a social shorthand to say that Mr. Jenkins One was tired with the present social situation, was wishing it would be over and he could be doing something else, perhaps anything else, and that he wondered how long it would continue to drag on and on. And the professor I was visiting, who has a profound ability to enjoy and be present to practically anyone, made a social recovery after a behavior that carries a message of “I wish this conversation were over.”
Mindfulness and manners
Mindfulness as we use the term today derives from Buddhism, where Right Mindfulness is part of what in Buddhism is called “the Eightfold Noble Path,” and what in classic Western philosophy would be called cardinal or hinge virtues. (A “cardinal” or “hinge” virtue is not just a virtue, but a virtue that others hinge on, cardinal being Latin for “hinge,” with a cardinal virtue being a sort of gateway drug to further virtue. The “four-horsed chariot” of the cardinal virtues of classical antiquity lists courage, classically called “fortitude” or today “grit,” justice, wisdom, and moderation, to which Christian Tradition has added faith, hope, and love, and perhaps implicitly, humility.) Now Buddhism’s Eightfold Noble Path may be a different list of cardinal virtues than those in Western philosophy, and the two may or may not be two equivalent ways of cutting up the same pie. This question need not concern us here.
Different traditions have different lists of virtues, and it does not take any particularly great stretch of the imagination for a Westerner interested in virtue to recognize, for instance, India’s ahimsa, or not causing at least needless harm, as a virtue, and perhaps recognize it as a profound virtue and a cardinal virtue. It has also in my experience not been particularly difficult to get Western Christians to see mindfulness as a virtue, at least in some other tradition’s way of cutting up the pie.
However, this is not because they do not see mindfulness as an obligation. It is because they see the obligation as falling under the heading of manners rather than moral virtue.
A friend I mentioned earlier talked about how decades back, when Walkmans were eating tapes, about how his mother or grandmother had commented that people running with Walkmans on were not paying due attention to their surroundings. I’m not entirely clear how much our society’s concept of manners extends beyond treatment of other people (perhaps manners covers being gentle with your friend’s pets, or at very least leaving them alone if they’re not bothering you), but there is some sense in her remark that you owe attentiveness to your surroundings whether or not there are other people in the picture, and perhaps even that “being off in your own little world” is another name for Hell.
I am not specifically interested in establishing that mindfulness should be thought of as a department of manners, nor am I interested in establishing that mindfulness is a department of virtue. In the interest of not holding my cards too close to my vest, I think it is mostly in an area where the heart of manners meets virtue, and I am inclined to regard it, as I am interested in virtues, as a virtue. However, this is not a point I am interested in establishing. It could be argued that if you owe attentiveness, meaning mindfulness, to nearby rocks and trees as well as other people, it is a virtue rather than just manners as conventionally understood, but possibly some reader will find in this article itself solid reasons to believe mindfulness is manners first and foremost and should not in the first instance be lumped in with virtues. I am genuinely not interested in the question.
However, I will remark, as curiously interesting, that while I’ve seen attention to mindfulness blanketing the air and I have been invited to share in mindfulness exercises, not one of the mindfulness practices I have seen talks about old-fashioned manners to pay attention to others and the situation. Mindfulness is discussed as a Far Eastern virtue or discipline. I have never heard it connected to old-fashioned Western manners.
Fr. Tom Hopko’s famous (to Orthodox) 55 Maxims include:
Be always with Christ.
Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
Be polite with everyone.
Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
Do your work, then forget it.
Be awake and be attentive.
These at least overlap with mindfulness; when I spoke to one martial artist heavily influenced by Buddhism and quoted, “Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings,” he said, “That’s mindfulness!”
Fr. Tom never uses the word “mindfulness,” but he calls for politeness to “everyone” and to be attentive, and it would at least be consistent with his call for unqualified politeness to say “When you are exercising, be attentive to your surroundings rather than using the time to be off in your own little world.” And I believe there are several maxims of his that a mindfulness practitioner would rightly interpret as being mindfulness or overlapping with mindfulness. And, while Fr. Tom is Eastern Orthodox and perhaps praying for all of us from Heaven, his 55 maxims are written almost entirely on terms the West should be able to make sense of, and the incredible number of search results for “fr tom hopko 55 maxims” attest that he has written something simple that people can connect to.
Manners are much more important, and much more than arcana about which is the salad fork. “The fork goes to the left, and the knife guards the spoon,” is a particular alphabet and language in which manners are translated. It is at the exterior of manners that, under some circumstances, you could be given a bowl of water to rinse your fingers in before eating. A much deeper glimpse into manners is afforded in that a distinguished visitor to a Queen picked up his finger bowl and then drunk it, then Her Majesty picked up her finger bowl and then drunk it, and then every person seated around the table picked up their finger bowls and drunk them.
Manners, at least according to older generations and according to our conversations about manners with prior generations, has a great deal to do with paying attention to other people. It was both manners and mindfulness if Boomers and Gen X’s teachers told us not to pass notes and throw paper airplanes in class, perhaps with exceptions for e.g. the last day of school, but the fact that this may have made life easier for the teacher is incidental to teachers using humble gradeschool arithmetic classes to teach a major life lesson, and a major life lesson that is not only for dealing with authorities. I remember talking to one friend with a spine of steel about children who do not respect adults, and the biggest takeaway I took from the conversation is not that children who do not respect adults grind down adult patience. It was that children who do not respect adults can hardly benefit from adult help, and it is far easier to do something that will benefit a child who respects adults than one who is hostile and disrespectful.
In Madeleine l’Engle’s day, needless attention to a watch or clock was the go-to device to avoid practicing mindfulness for a time. It changed and told you where you are. This pint of beer that Boomers tried not to drink too many of has been replaced by a pint of rum in the smartphone, and a pint of weed in the smartwatch and its successors. Mr. Jenkins One looked at his plain old pre-digital watch, probably one without a second hand, while kids now enjoy (or are bored with) a virtual acid trip quickly surfing from one smartphone app to another.
If we care about mindfulness, an excellent starting point is to drink deeply of what we can learn about manners especially from Boomers while we still can.
My own rather counter-cultural technology choices
Some people seek great merit in being counter-culture. I do not think counter-culture is too great an index of merit, and not just because I believe some countercultures, such as the Klu Klux Klan, are evil incarnate. I have sought, even if I have so far not achieved my goal, to reach life on Orthodox turf where I will not be working out a private heresy in counterculture. None the less, I believe that many of my most helpful technology choices amount to counterculture, whether or not I have the faintest desire to be counter-cultural.
When I was in high school, and for far longer, I made it a matter of pride not to wear a watch. It helped me evade, for a certain age, the tyranny of the clock. Since then I have worked professionally where late is unacceptable, and I’ve been bitten by the personal information management and logistics bug; I have my own system for keeping track of calendar appointment, tasks, etc., so at a glance I can see a month or more of scheduled events and when they are scheduled for. And now I own an Apple Watch.
Any freedom I have from compulsively checking phone, email, or watch is a freedom on the other side of needing to deal with logistics.
But a funny thing happened along the way.
I’ve almost exclusively used the solar watch face because, while it may be beautiful, it is less distracting than the face of my industrial strength Pathfinder watch, which changes every second and shows patterns in the numbers (to a mathematician, 11:23:58 looks familiar). I have it set to a smaller analog clock face display within the solar face because from childhood I’ve found analog clocks harder to read than digital. (If analog clocks were easier for me, I would have the digital display, and if I had the option to turn off the inset clock besides the outer solar display, I would turn it off.)
Taking a cue from Humane Tech, I have dug around in “Accessibility” settings and set the watch face to grayscale. It’s beautiful, and the analog clock face’s second hand, brown on blue when seen in color, blends in remarkably well. I have to strain to see it the one time I genuinely want to watch a second hand’s sweep. I also found, under “Display and Brightness,” how to turn off one of the key reasons I purchased an Apple Watch 5: its “Always on” display. It now takes just a little more work to check my watch, supplemented by wearing an oversized fleece whose sleeves tend to cover my watch face.
I’ve also turned on the hourly chime, also an accessibility feature. This reminds me to check the clock once an hour, and relieves me of having to constantly check. If I need to check email once an hour (my preference is to check it once a day), I don’t need to check either my watch or my email compulsively; my watch will remind me on the hour.
Furthermore, I set alarms for when I need to do something. Besides appointments and things like taking medication, I have followed a practice recommended by sleep advocates and set an alarm for when I should go to bed and not when I should get up.
I would briefly pause and acknowledge one objection to the technique above, which is that doing things according to a preset timer and quite possibly stopping when you have momentum going is not as good as working on tasks for as long as they naturally take. For those no ancient or modern watch is needed. However, while I believe working on something for however long it takes to unfold naturally is often better than working for a fixed length of time set without knowledge of how things will unfold, I believe that use of intelligently set alarms is better than clock-watching. (One further aspect of intelligent use of alarms is to have two alarms for something: one five or ten minutes before, meaning when you look at your watch because of the “early warning” alarm, it’s time to start wrapping up; and one at the exact time, meaning it’s time to stop.)
I have almost completely unplugged logistic need to check my watch unprovoked, and I may have the most unobtrusive, if still most expensive, watch I’ve owned. Every non-Apple watch I’ve owned had a digital display, and most recent ones have been gadgety (I have owned three Pathfinders). However, the gadgetry is almost always there if I summon it, and I can take shortcuts by twiddling with complications.
The Apple Watch is designed and marketed as the next level of integrating digital and everyday life, and in my opinion that is not a wise thing to be wishing for at all.
However, it is also powerful enough that judicious choices mean it can be tamed into unobtrusiveness further than any previous watch I’ve owned.
I’m glad for my Apple Watch. For as long as I’ve owned a timepiece, my Apple Watch is the biggest friend of mindfulness to grace my wrist yet.
A few closing words
I would recall a few words from Seeing Through Native Eyes. The main speaker recounted a visit to Kalihari bushmen, who retain hunter-gatherer life unhindered today, and an elder asked him in reference to a device, “Is that a timepiece?”
He said, “Yes.”
The elder said, “Then I don’t like it.”
He said, “Why not?”
The elder said, “Every time you look at it, the next thing you do is rude.”
If you want mindfulness, cultivate an inexhaustible interest in manners.
Why did we call ourselves the Katana? It was in the excitement of a moment, and a recognition that our project has some off the elegance of a Katana to a Japan fan. We were more current than today’s fashions and for that matter made today’s fashions, but representing an unbroken tradition since Plato’s most famous work, what they call the world’s oldest, longest, least funny, and least intentional political joke: The Republic. Things would have been a lot easier if it weren’t for them. They obstructed the Katana.
The Katana have a dynamic thousand-or-so goals, but there is only one that counts: the relentless improvement of the Herd. Some of the older victories have really been improving agriculture what seems like thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold, with mechanized engineering for farming and a realization that you can have meat costing scarcely more than vegetables if you optimize animals like you’d optimize any other machine, under conditions that turn out to be torture for farm animals. There are some lands where the Herd has been imbued with enough progress that the middle class has about as many creature comfort as there is to be had, and for that matter among the poor the #1 dietary problem is obesity. Maybe we made the Herd look more like pigs, but please do not blame us! We aren’t eating that much!
And we are altruists through and through.
We have been providing the Herd with progressively greater “space-conquering technologies”, as they are sold, which neuter the significance of their having physical bodies and the structure of life that was there before us. First we gave gasoline-powered Locomotives and great Aerobirds, devices that could move the meat of the human body faster. Now we are unfolding another wave of body-conquering technologies, which obviate the need to move meat. They are powered by a kind of unnatural living thing. Perhaps the present central offering in this horn of plenty, or what we present as a horn of plenty, is a Portal: a small device carried by many even in the poorest lands, that draws attention to itself and such stimulation it offers, disengaging from ancient patterns of life.
Things would be so much easier if it weren’t for them. We tried to tell people that they hate women; now we’ve told people that they hate gays. They still get in the way of progress.
Yesterday there was a planned teleconference, a town hall among the Katana after an important document from them had been intercepted. It was encrypted with a flawed algorithm, but cryptanalysis is easy and semantics is hard, and we gave the document to the semanticians for analysis.
The title of the document was straightforward and one that the Katana was happy to see: “How to Serve Man”. But the head semantician came late, and his face was absolutely ashen. It took him some time to compose himself, until he said—”The book… How to Serve… How to Serve Man… It doesn’t contain one single recipe!”
As a graduate student in math at UIUC, I had full teaching responsibilities for a general education class second semester. I tried in good faith to make as much of a mathematical paradise as I could, and it failed as a communication failure because of my lack of empathy.
What was essentially going on in the class, without my realizing it in such terms, was that I was that I was trying to break the mind of “MSM” (the math department acronym for “mindless symbol manipulation”), somewhat like a Zen master trying to break the mind of reason with koans such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Now I had some interest in Zen, and asked my advisor about creating a Zen mathematics, but I did not consciously connect my teaching of the class with Zen. In retrospect, I wish I had. I don’t think that I was wrongly acting out of what I had read in Zen koans but I do think I was drawn to Zen because I thought in something of the same way. Orthodox Zen might deny that I was in any sense acting in Zen, and would presumably be right if they made that assertion, but my #1 priority in what I did was to break the mind of “mindless symbol manipulation.”
What I failed to understand was how different people think, and how differently I thought. Some of what I did might have been appropriate in another class, but this was not a weedout class or a class for math majors. I did keep my supervisor in the department informed of what I was doing and kept on the same page as him, but I didn’t understand that “mindless symbol manipulation,” which was present in the department’s assigned text I was working from, is perfectly appropriate to many people to have as their take-away from a math class, especially a general education class for non-majors. Possibly the way I taught it would have been entirely appropriate for a weedout class, but I was not teaching at the class’s freshman level.
I’m wary of comparing myself to a Zen master because in many circles I moved in, Zen was respected and comparing yourself to a Zen master is a way of saying, “I’m really something!” But here I really was acting like a Zen master in a way that was not helpful. Possibly this was a Zen made dumber or an ersatz Zen, but the ways in which I was like a Zen master made my teaching worse.
I would comment incidentally that I have had contact with Zen classic texts but not the living and dynamic tradition. I do not consider myself “enlightened” as a Zen practitioner would use the term, but the Zen pedagogy works for teaching Zen. I do not know how that tradition works in its live and dynamic form, but the tradition is transmitted successfully from generation to generation, from successful masters to successful novices (and yes, I know that a Zen practitioner would say that people get enlightenment from themselves, and perhaps that the goal of a master is to create conditions where novices will realize enlightenment for themselves).
Whether my failure in Zen-like teaching was a failure in being like Zen, I don’t know. I don’t know that Zen pedagogy has only a semester to enlighten pupils, or who are taking one class as part of a liberal arts educational package deal. But in any case, the extent to which my de facto pedagogy had common ground with Zen was a sincere communication failure that I was out of place TA’ing a math class at an American university.
A more recent communication failure: Almost all communication with Roman ecumenists
To Catholics who insist that we share a common faith, I wish to ask a question that may sound flippant or even abrasive. A common faith? Really? Are you ready to de-canonize Thomas Aquinas and repudiate his scholasticism?
This question has been met with far more fury than Romans have given anything else I ever said. But I wish to ask a specific followup question:
Do you think I asked that question because I really thought that Rome would answer by abolishing Thomism?
My false hope was that at least some Romans would answer that Ok, some Orthodox have reasons to spurn our ecumenical advances because we do not believe the same in all Orthodox essentials.
Orthodox has essentials that are not known to many Romans, and one of them is that systematic theology is heresy, including all Thomism and all Scholastic theology.
If Thomism is structural to Rome (and I have read Thomas Aquinas at length and studied him as a graduate student), and is simply off-limits to Orthodox, this is an Orthodox essential that Rome will not share.
Some of the flames have said it is asking too much to ask Rome to part with Thomas. But I am not seriously asking that Rome change the place of Thomism. I am asking that Rome respect a difference, and one that is essential to Orthodoxy.
Am I seriously suggesting that Rome de-canonize Thomas Aquinas? Not exactly. I am trying to point out what level of repentance and recantation would be called for in order that full communion would be appropriate. I am not seriously asking that Rome de-canonize Thomas Aquinas. I am suggesting, though, that Rome begin to recognize that nastier and deeper cuts than this would be needed for full communion between Rome and Orthodoxy. And I know that it is not pleasant to think of rejoining the Orthodox Church as (shudder) a reconciled heretic. I know it’s not pleasant. I am, by the grace of God, a reconciled heretic myself, and I recanted Western heresy myself. It’s a humbling position, and if it’s too big a step for you to take, it is something to at least recognize that it’s a big step to take, and one that Rome has not yet taken.
I spelled out the point. I did not think it realistic to ask Rome to get rid of Thomas Aquinas. I asked for recognition of differences. And not one Roman reader has read the text enough as intended to at least recognize an attempt to bring recognition for difference.
Rome is sincere in saying that Orthodox and Roman have a common faith and agreement on all essentials, but they are Rome’s essentials!
If I may make a half-risqué point, one of the major realizations tucked into C.S. Lewis’s “mere Christianity,” one of the realizations that the prophet of “mere Christianity” realized is that what is essential differs between camps and confessions.
Evangelicals who claim agreement with Rome on all essentials commonly differ from “the Reformers” by holding to something key Reformers reject, namely the teaching that St. Joseph the Betrothed and the Mother of God had an ordinary, physical marriage, and those called Christ’s brothers and sisters by the Gospel are Jesus’s half-brothers and their natural children after the flesh. But they are being entirely sincere in saying they agree with you in all essentials, because this point is a very minor point to those who believe it. And that is what you do to Orthodox when you claim to agree on all essentials.
Some have said, “Diplomacy is the art of politely letting the other party have it your way,” and without dissimulation this is part of what others have done. Rome has decided that it’s OK to say the Creed with or without the Filioque clause; I have only read one Roman ecumenist call on fellow Romans to drop the Filioque as a needless antagonism towards Orthodox. But, however much you consider it appropriate to ask Orthodox to follow suit and agree that it’s OK to say the Creed with or without the Filioque clause, this would represent a profound shift to Orthodox. The Roman expectation that “agree to disagree” postures by Rome should have Orthodox rightly be asking small changes in practice may fit Roman conceptions of fairness, but the difference you are accepting Orthodoxy to accept is profound, kind of like the Protestant “You do it your way and I do it my way” about St. Joseph and the Mother of God is asking you to accept a profound difference. A response of “You have no idea what Thomas means to us” is assuming I was trying to ask a reasonable asking price for reconciliation—and not realizing that I do understand something of his importance in Rome, and was trying to articulate a difference.
I’m deliberately not covering other areas of difference because that one is enough and I want to slightly reduce the chafing this causes a Roman reader.
But let’s look at something more closely.
The ten thousand dollar question
Did this communication really fail?
Did it fail by being too Zen-like, or perhaps too much like Zen made dumber?
One classic koan says something like,
A master asked a novice why he was meditating.
The novice said, “I am meditating so I will be enlightened.”
The master started to polish a tile.
The novice asked, “What are you doing?”
The master said, “I am polishing this tile to make it a mirror.”
The novice said, “You can’t make a tile into a mirror by polishing it!”
The master said, “And neither can you make a mind enlightened by meditation.”
As in other koans that drew me, the master earned his pay by delivering what classical hackers call a “clue-by-four.” The master delivered a jolt, or more loosely a spark that could light a fire.
In writing this I have decided to try to work out a warning label for this and “The Church Must Breathe with Both Lungs” Is Rome’s “Amos and Andy” Show, essentially saying that these pieces remain posted because of what Orthodox readers may take from it, and I don’t think they are beneficial to Romans to read. But if I was not right to post these articles publicly, I believe the first article was entirely appropriate for the audience it was first written for.
There was one Roman priest-monk who had corresponded with me a bit, and he offered to give me an ecumenical article that he explicitly told me was written in a way that was “sensitive to Orthodox concerns.”
I was puzzled, but a bit wary, but tried to be open to it. I remain at a loss for what he meant by “sensitive to Orthodox concerns.” But it there were two salient features that stood out:
It presented Orthodoxy and Rome as identical in all essentials.
It did not, anywhere, ever, acknowledge even the existence of Orthodox concerns about union with Rome without necessary and essential requisites to any appropriate restoration of communion.
And in that context, I was right to write a strongly worded clue-by-four.
He responded with the longest intense flame and ad hominem against me personally and against Orthodoxy that I’ve read. And he was sharply surprised when I asked him not to trouble me further.
Really, “but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” and “Noblesse oblige.“
If he is going to be a Roman hieromonk speaking with a lay Orthodox author who has not identified as ecumenist, he should not expect an Orthodox lay author to agree that Rome and Orthodoxy are the same in all essentials. If he in fact does spout a piece that he labels as sensitive to Orthodox concerns and completely fails to acknowledge any Orthodox perception that Orthodoxy and Rome differ in things Orthodoxy considers essential, he should not be surprised to receive a strongly worded clarification in response.
And on that point the clue-by-four did something. It jolted enough life into him that he did not begin to defend his position that there are no essential-to-Orthodoxy differences between Orthodoxy and Rome. And he called me one of the “hardliners” that ecumenist Orthodox had warned him about in explaining Orthodoxy’s true baseline, or at least what they presented as Orthodoxy’s true baseline.
It is the opinion of some that ecumenism is the ecclesiological heresy of our day. It is true enough that I don’t really know what the #2 contender is for being the ecclesiological heresy of our day. (Perhaps jumping from one non-canonical right-wing jurisdiction to another in the hope of finding at last a sanctuary from ecumenism?)
Furthermore, it is not just an opinion among laity that ecumenism is flawed. A local council in my jurisdiction said the following,
Those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ’s Church is divided into so-called “branches” which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all “branches” or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united to one body; and those who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!
Please don’t read this as “This is what’s wrong with Protestant ecumenism, but ecumenism between historic Churches as defined by Rome is squeaky-clean A-OK!”
My remark of “A common faith? Really? In that case, are you willing to decanonize Thomas Aquinas and repudiate his scholasticism?” is a koan, perhaps an ersatz koan.
It was meant to give a shock of reality to Rome’s “Amos and Andy” show.
Whether I was justified publicly posting the post I wrote for that correspondent is debatable. However, it is the case that Rome has it stuck in their heads that Orthodox believe the same in all essentials, and everything save Orthodox recognition of the same is already in place for Orthodoxy to restore communion with Rome. And it really would be nice if Romans could acknowledge that there are unreconciled differences, such as whether Thomas Aquinas is a doctor whose teaching is strustural, or whether (as one subdeacon I know preferred to call him) Thomas Aquinas is a “joker” who should not be followed in theology.
I would delicately suggest that at least before ecumenism was a driving force, Rome and Protestantism alike had their “friend or foe” system sensitized by the controversies manifest in the Reformation, and Rome’s understanding of essentials is entirely along these lines. So Rome has a checklist of, “Do you believe in Sola Scriptura or do you believe in the authority of Tradition as well as Scripture alone?”, “Do you believe that the Holy Mysteries are really and fully the body and blood of Christ?” and so on, and see that Orthodoxy answers all of these questions the same as Rome does, but these are not all the questions Orthodoxy considers important. The Orthodox categorical rejection of all systematic theology, including the system formulated in Thomas Aquinas’s systematic theology, and less (or more) dramatically that the Orthodox Church does not feel entitled to change her philosophy and branding someone as (for instance) an Aristotelian is already more than halfway to “A hit, a very palpable hit!” (I might delicately point out that Rome’s questions as described above do sometimes miss features of Orthodoxy. Orthodox believe the Holy Mysteries are fully the body and blood of Christ, as Rome believed before Aristotle was “the Philosopher,” but the Thomistic, Aristotelian formulation of transsubstantiation is off-limits and may be seen as paradoxically paving the way for the Reformers to carry Aristotelianism’s materialist dimension to its deeper end.)
Whether my communication was right or justified in seeking a “clue-by-four” may or may not be justified, and certainly if it was inappropriate to write, it was even more inappropriate to post publicly instead of taking a flamewar to email. However, I have not merely encountered a situation or belief that Rome is right and Orthodoxy is wrong about whether full justification exists for Orthodox to reciprocate Roman ecumenism. Rome may on some level recognize that Orthodox do no not return Roman advances, but since I have joined the Orthodox Church in 2003, I absolutely never recall a Roman acknowledging that Orthodox believe there are points essential to Orthodoxy that would justify refraining from restoring communion. What I have seen, for instance, is a website saying that Orthodox acknowledges that Rome has valid orders and valid sacraments, but just doesn’t care about reunion. This didn’t even say that Orthodox agree with Roman doctrine and all Roman essentials.
And if I’m not sure my posts should be available to Romans, I categorically believe they should be available to Orthodox who have been told by Roman ecumenists that Orthodoxy and Rome are identical in the only essentials that matter.