Revelation and Our Singularity

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

My seminary has Holy Trinity Monastery's (of what jurisdiction I do not know) Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament, five-star-reviewed on Amazon (a lone dissenter gave only four stars), and I decided in prayer to read the commentary on the Book of Revelation, which was translated by Fr. Seraphim and published by his St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

It helped, in part, to help me see why Fr. Seraphim is so respected in some quarters, and it does not strike me, as do other translations from the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, as being laced with an occult dimension or TMI that monks should normally flee from exposing to laity. It was, overall, a good and lucid translation of a classic commentary, but... I'm a little bit "not surprised" that the translation of Vladyka's commentary on Revelation was the one translation that appears to be Fr. Seraphim's doing. It has certain fingerprints. And at risk of irony as someone who dipped into the beginning of the commentary and then honed in on Revelation, it might gently be pointed out that Revelation is the one book of the New Testament that is intentionally not read in Orthodox services.

Among the positive points that may be mentioned, in a text that Fr. Seraphim chose to translate and that bears the Brotherhood's imprint, are that Revelation needs to be interpreted with extreme caution, and that responsible interpretation is layered. For instance, without any pretension of a single, exhaustive exegesis, he notes,

9:7-10 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.

This description of the monstrous locusts causes some commentators to think that these locusts are nothing else than an allegorical description of human passions. Each of such passions, when it reaches a certain limit, has all the signs of these monstrous locusts. In describing the coming day of the Lord, the holy prophet Joel describes also the appearance before it of destroyers who in part remind one of these locusts.

I suppose that by these locusts one should likely understand the evil demons who have prepared themselves for battle with us, and as signs of victory, wear crowns when we submit to them as having received an evil victory through pleasure. The hair of women [in cultures where women covered their hairs, out of modesty—CJSH] testifies of the demons' love of pleasure and arousal to fornication; the teeth of lions indicate their hardheartedness; their tails, which are likened to those of scorpions indicate the consequences of sins, which produce the death of the soul, for sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (Jas 1:15). (St. Andrew, Chapter 26)

But then he goes on:

Contemporary commentators, not without a certain reasonableness, find a kinship of these locusts with airplanes and their bombing attack.

This notes a similarity with admitted caution; Fr. Seraphim's translation earlier quotes the reference to hail, and earlier says, without such restraint, "Does this not refer to an aerial bombardment with its destructive and incendiary bombs," and follows with "Some people see also in this frightful mounted army tanks which spurt forth fire."

What is at issue here? It has been said, "Nothing is as dated as the future." And the text, should future scholars wish to date it, could date this text fairly closely by what technology it sees and what it has no hint of.

There is a counterbalance to "Nothing is as dated as the future." Things fade in. Prophecy collapses time without sharply distinguishing similar events that occur at different period, and when oca.org/saints, before the prophecies of St. Nilus, the party that posted St. Nilus's story wrote:

Saint Nilus has left a remarkably accurate prophecy concerning the state of the Church in the mid-twentieth century, and a description of the people of that time. Among the inventions he predicted are the telephone, airplane, and submarine. He also warned that people’s minds would be clouded by carnal passions, “and dishonor and lawlessness will grow stronger.” Men would not be distinguishable from women because of their “shamelessness of dress and style of hair.” Saint Nilus lamented that Christian pastors, bishops and priests, would become vain men, and that the morals and traditions of the Church would change. Few pious and God-fearing pastors would remain, and many people would stray from the right path because no one would instruct them.

The person who assessed the text as referring to the mid-twentieth century was in fact not quoting a timeline given by St. Nilus but giving a gloss by the presumably mid-twentieth century author of his life, and St. Nilus did not in fact give any timeline or date that my historical sensitivities could recognize. I have read his prophecies, the real ones that tell what the wording of the Mark of the Beast will be, a point I have never seen on the urban legend channel. But things are fading in. The original life posted referred to the "radio," not the "telephone." As far as men being indistinguishable from women, we have far eclipsed the summary of the prophecy above, which has no concept of widespread sex-change attempts. As far as passions go, we now have a sewer's worth of Internet porn. The prophecy could apply as much to scuba diving even better than submarines, but the oca.org/saints wording has not been changed. The prophecies stated that wisdom would be found that would let men speak in one place and be heard across the world, a prediction which has faded in in the radio, then also the telephone, then also the Zoom chat. What next? Who knows if haptics might make a "remote touch" that offers some ghastly and obscene parody of a mother touching her baby, remotely and from a phone? As far as the morals and tradition of the Church, contraception has transformed into being broadly seen as a legitimate option to Orthodox. Examples could easily be multiplied, but I think it would be better to recognize the singularity we live in, a singularity that is unfolding on many dimensions (the gender rainbow, the river of blood from black-on-black murders ever since "Black Lives Matter" took to the forefront (could we please reverse course and go for "All Black Lives Matter?"), a singularity following a century that with artists like Picasso radically transforming artistic conventions that a historian should regard as being like an eyeblink. Now changes are continuing to roll out, at an accelerating pace in a singularity. In a matter of weeks, models who were not half-starved began to be rolled out. Politically correct pictures of people usually did not show white people alone; they included a person of color. Now a further installment has been made: some pictures have a woman wearing Muslim hajibs, and increasingly common are wheelchairs to include people with disabilities (please note that most disabilities, including mine, do not have people using a wheelchair). And dominoes are falling: not only BLM, which seems to always and only be in reference to blacks needlessly killed by white police and by white police alone, but Islam's surge (with atheislam in which the West accepts under an iron yoke what it spurned under a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light), the cyber-quarantine, vaccines that will be socially mandated, transgender being in truth a prominent and well-integrated addition to what was once really just mostly "LBG", with schoolchildren being told "There's no right or wrong age to fall in love" (one archpriest called a spade a spade and said, "Putting the P in LGBTQP+"), and so on.

("Singularity" is intended by analogy to what the term means in physics. Gravity in physics has been compared to weighted balls moving on a level, stretched-out rubber sheet. Heavier balls stretch the fabric more than light balls, and they tend to draw each other in. They stretch the fabric, but don't break it. A black hole is when something stretches the fabric so singularly that the fabric of space folds in on itself, and you get potential wormholes etc. The difference between regular gravity and a singularity is loosely the difference between stretching the sheet by your weight on the one hand, and on the other hand ripping a hole in it.)

Furthermore, if I may offer what may seem an overly fine distinction, I think that matching up current events to details of Revelation is best avoided, but understanding that we are in a singularity and understanding that similarity may have value.

I had conversations with an adviser who really should have known better, who asked me, in asking if I was meeting basic duty, "Do you make allowances for greater ignorance in the past?" I answered:

I don’t make allowances for greater ignorance in the past. Allowances for different ignorance in the past are more negotiable. And I would quote General Omar Bradley: “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

I don't want to give an uncritical endorsement of the "Nature Connection" movement, as it seemed as I went through the eight shields thinking always, "This is overall good but I'm holding my nose at the spot we are in now," and eventually "I don't need Coyote as a totem."

However, any serious attempt to hear out nature connection, even as literature one does not give more than a willing suspension of disbelief, is that we have lost things that were known to past generations, and that surviving hunter-gatherers have an incredible richness in sensitivity to their surroundings and layers of patterns suburbanites can miss. And the advisor, in my opinion, had read too many ancient texts, and in the original, to have legitimate innocence in seeing the difference in knowledge as ancient Aramaic texts fail to reflect the victories of the Scientific Revolution.

I might briefly comment on the singularity we are in:

Recorded history does not really date past ten thousand years. The non-Neanderthal subspecies all living humans belong to dates back to perhaps forty times that length, and our genus dates back to two or four hundred times that length. Less than one percent of all humans who have ever lived have ever seen a written/printed word, let alone mass produced technology even on par with a pencil or knife.

I might comment briefly, if perhaps only to Jerry Root and other C.S. Lewis fans, that C.S. Lewis raised an objection to standard evolution that was a form of what is called self-referential incoherence. If evolution is true, then it explains why we have good enough brains to find food, avoid being eaten, and produce offspring... but not why we would have good enough brains to put together a true theory of evolution. Knowledge of evolution is no more than a biochemical reaction as romantic love is no more than a biochemical reaction, and it reflects philosophical confusion of a major order to say it is even theoretically possible that our theory of evolution could be true. This has been answered in part with a suggestion that evolution would select for brains that could find things that were true, but if that is the case, assuming evolution is true, it is an extremely parochial elite, less than 2% of the age of civilization and less than .0001% of the time people have been around that evolution has given anyone the kind of brains that evolution selects for. In my opinion that response to an objection shows serious philosophical muddle. And, incidentally, I believe that Fr. Seraphim was right, at least as regards popular culture, that evolution is not doing the job of a scientific theory, but the job of philosophy that allows atheism to account for what over 99% of humans have ever lived have seen as the work of some form of spirit.

Now before getting back to Fr. Seraphim, let me get back to my advisor. Elsewhere in our discussion, he hypothetically mentioned ancient prophecies of "mushroom clouds" that would "flatten cities," and benighted ancients failing to understand a reference to nuclear warfare that is neither particularly like toadstools in a forest, nor something that would make a smooth, level surface out of a city. I think I thought of, but did not mention, a suggestion that "mushroom clouds" are not the only way an ancient prophecy could describe global thermonuclear war; "And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places" (Rev 6:14) could be read as a surprisingly straightforward ancient prophetic description of conditions of nuclear war.

And there are other comparisons that could be drawn. I intentionally don't want to belabor where tempting comparisons could be made, but the Internet and the whole locus of electronic technology could be described as fire from Heaven in "great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men," (Rev 13:13), and "With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication." (Rev. 17:5), where a basic utility, a socially mandated technology, includes an endless sewer of porn if you want it, and really at least soft porn if you try to research innocent topics on YouTube. There is more I could belabor: SecondLife fascinates the public and has been called SecondWife, with stern moralists saying, "Fornicate using your OWN genitals!" And about Babylon being thrown into the sea, I believe that it will be at some point as easy to take down any technological Babylon as start a nuclear war, and that inadvertently. Read The Damned Backswing as written in fifteen feet high blinking neon about our stack of technologies.

(Fr. Seraphim quotes, "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of this prophecy, God shall take away his share in the tree of life," and the commentary underscores that Revelation ends with "a strict warning not to distort the words of the prophecy under threat of the application of the plagues that are written in this book." I might suggest that it may be, if not exactly clear-cut wrong, at least in a gray area to add exact historical correspondences where fire and hail simply refer to aerial bombardment—or fire from Heaven (some people believe Elijah's "fire from Heaven" as being lightning), simply as neither more nor less than the lightning-like electricity that powers electronic gadgets. There are some points of contact, but it is not clear to me that it is right to make such a simple and complete identification of one historic detail with one text in Revelation.)

However, I present these to illustrate a temptation. Nothing is as dated as the future. An archaeologist of the future, if the Lord tarries (a point on which I am unclear and perhaps must be unclear), who found this article as somehow surviving the Digital Dark Ages and/or World War III, could closely date this article based on the major technologies I call out and the major technologies I don't show a hint of imagining. I wrote, Recognize that it will be easier to get the people out of the cyber-quarantine than to get the cyber-quarantine, our new home, out of the people. We have already with our Zoom chats laid practical foundations for George Orwell's 1984.

(And I might briefly state that I believe the examples I gave, if there is far future history to assess this article, will be much more dated than Einstein's simple prediction: "I know not what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." That kind of statement tells scarcely less but is far less dated.)

And I would like to state now a cardinal point:

I would be very careful about recognizing prophecies fulfilled in Revelation, but I would be much faster to observe ways in which we live within a singularity, and that is a singularity on par with what is called a singularity in modern physics when a black hole is formed.

There was a classic set of AT&T ads, dated to 1993, with the classic AT&T Death Star logo, looking like a dark vintage science fiction movie:

And on a humor newsgroup someone followed up with:

Have you ever received an automated sales pitch,
while you were still in your pajamas?

Have you ever had thousands of calls all over
the world charged to your stolen account number?

Have you ever had your paycheck deleted
by faceless intruders from across the globe?

Have you ever had an employer know more about your
whereabouts and activities than your spouse?

Have you ever been snuffed to dust by a
satellite laser while lying on the beach?

________
| |
| |
| YOU |
| |
| WILL |
| |
|______|

And the company that will bring this to you

is AT&T

There was one thing that AT&T wasn't straightforward about: No technology is permanently exotic.

The AT&T commercial portrays a world of wonder. However, "YOU WILL" is not especially wondrous to those of us living in that dark science fiction reality. We do not wonder at electronic toll collection; we do not wonder at being able to access webpages on another continent. No technology is permanently exotic, and we can obtain momentary relief by upgrading to the newest and hottest gadget, but then, alcoholics can obtain momentary relief of the living Hell of alcoholism by getting really drunk. The short-term fix does not work in the long run, and is in fact counterproductive. As far as (anti-)social media go, we have delivered the equivalent of a tofu virtual chicken in every pot. And tofu does not just feel and taste gross; it is nutritionally an absolutely terrible surrogate for real, honest animal protein. And even the parody left out one point in retrospect: "Have you ever been drained at compulsively checking your phone at least a hundred times a day? YOU WILL, and the companies that will bring it to you include AT&✁✆✇.*T."

A Bookshelf for Our Day

Let me give a few titles that I would strongly recommend reading, preferably in paper (kids, go ask your great-grandparents):

Francis Oakley, The Medieval Experience: Foundations of Western Cultural Singularity

I'm going to open this list with a dud. I am, or at least have been, a medievalist at heart; one of my books is a take on Arthurian legend, The Sign of the Grail, although I have since done something that is overdue. I have backed away from Arthurian legend as however enchanting it may seem if you don't know it, not being particularly edifying or profitable to explore.

It has been said that the singularity we live in now is the fruit of what developed in the Middle Ages. However, The Medieval Experience left me completely underwhelmed, and furthermore the more background knowledge I had of an area, the more hollow a failure to walk in another person's shoes the text appeared to be.

In the last real chapter, about precursors to feminism, the author quotes a non-medievalist Ibsen in words I wish to repeat in gory detail:

HELMER: To forsake your home, your husband, and your children! And you don't consider what the world will say.

NORA: I can pay no heed to that. I only know that I must do it.

HELMER: This is monstrous! Can you forsake your holiest duties in this way?

NORA: What do you consider my holiest duties?

HELMER: Do I need to tell you that? Your duties to your husband and your children.

NORA: I have other duties equally sacred.

HELMER: Impossible! What duties do you mean?

NORA: My duties towards myself.

HELMER: Before all else you are a wife and a mother.

NORA: That I no longer believe. I believe that before all else I am a human being, just as much as you are—or at least that I should try to become one.

It is a sign of feminism's hegemony that at least some women, despite every effort to want a career, ask "What is wrong with me?" because after all feminist direction they have received, they still can't dislodge a fundamental desire to get married and have kids. This last major chapter in The Medieval Experience falls squarely in the "She shall be saved from childbearing" camp, and all accounts of the good and/or improving state of women in the Middle Ages describes precursors to feminism's desire that a woman not be a homemaker. It doesn't just say that a woman should have other options besides being homemakers; it is that precursors to the good estate of women are always in terms of dislodging women from the role of wife and mother no matter how much women should want to be homemakers. And on this count, not a word of the book's account of proto-feminist tendencies shows the slightest acknowledgment and respect for some women wanting to be wives and mothers.

This book represents to me a missed opportunity. And for a book copyrighted in 1974, it doesn't seem to show the empathic understanding for today's singularity that it might, alongside failing to walk in a medieval mom's shoes. The original copyright year is the same year as Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, and Mander's title remains salient several decades later and after profound increases in technology, but The Medieval Experience is as a whole forgettable and gives remarkably little insight into the medieval experience as foundations of Western cultural singularity.

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

This book is a little bit more of a near miss.

I do not count it as a strike against this book that it takes some effort to appreciate; I am more than willing to recommend a book that will challenge its readers. But nonetheless, I see one or two major strikes against the book. Quite simply, it leads the reader to covet magic and many of its most tantalizing passages tantalize with magic from Atlantis. Furthermore, the character of Merlin is singularly riveting. One definition that has been used to describe the difference between a flat and a rounded character is, "A rounded character believably surprises the reader." Merlin comes awfully close to delivering nothing but believable surprises. And even if Ransom sharply limits Merlin's initiative, Merlin's presence is a problem. And I say that as someone who bore the nickname "Merlin" in high school.

However, this book is valuable in offering a sort of literary "YOU WILL" commercials, which admittedly did not portray how we are glued to mobile devices. The heroes are a delight to read about; the villains are more of a chore to read about, and the banality of evil comes through loud and clear. Furthermore, it is a description of a singularity, and on that point it is the closest work of fiction I know to a fictionalized telling of the singularity we are in.

On that score, That Hideous Strength is well worth the effort to appreciate.

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature: An Enquiry into the Origins and Consequences of Modern Science

A couple of comments about the author of this book. First, he is an important figure in the history of English-speaking Orthodoxy and did major work rendering the Philokalia in English. Second, he is a hypocrite and an old rogue. He has blasted the Western musical tradition, which an Orthodox might legitimately do, but one friend came to visit him and found him blasting out Wagner's opera, and that's Wagner's opera as in "Wagner's opera is not as bad as it sounds." I would also comment on how he writes.

The Rape of Man and Nature deals in caricatures and not the written equivalent of photorealism. However, this has usefulness if it is taken as caricatures and not a literal account of facts. It is a finding in psychology that people recognize someone more readily from a caricature than from a photograph, and the caricature artist's job is to take the most striking and salient features in e.g. someone's face, and then portray them in exaggeration that yields a striking clarity. And if Sherrard is a caricature artist in The Rape of Man and Nature, he is an excellent caricature artist.

This book really is a close "near miss," and I would readily recommend it for people who want a little bit of a feel of what was lost in the Scientific Revolution, and of what developments contributing to our ongoing singularity lost alongside scientific and technical gains.

Jean-Claude Larchet, The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul

I've mentioned other titles as near misses. This one doesn't just score a three point basket; it is nothing but net. (In more ways than one.)

I'm not going to try to list everything that is worth reading in this title. Buy it and read it yesterday.

C.J.S. Hayward, The Luddite's Guide to Technology

I'm not going to write at length about why I believe my work is relevant, but my suspicion is that this book and not the overlapping The Best of Jonathan's Corner will be my most lasting contribution, if (of course) the Lord tarries.

At the time of its writing, it has two stars on Amazon, two reviews, and no customer ratings. I would ask the interested reader to read what the Midwest Book Review has to say about it.

Looking back at C.S. Lewis

"These days of final apostasy" is not a new phrase; St. John Chrysostom in fact said that the world was breaking apart and coming to an end, but while antiquity ended, the world has continued.

The world has continued, and C.S. Lewis, on the eve of World War II, famously addressed students, "Life has never been normal. Humanity has always been on a precipice," although it may be that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night because the end of the world has been so insistently predicted over the ages that no one takes the message seriously.

I think it is worth understanding to what extent we live in a singularity, and we have multiple things that could be apocalyptic events: apart from the obvious threat of global thermonuclear war in a world where each city and each major university has a hydrogen bomb aimed at it, the Internet could collapse like an increasingly brittle house of cards, and take the economy down with it. Or things could continue to change and new societal vulnerabilities could develop. The pace of change has been accelerating, and it might well continue accelerating until there is a step that is sui generis, on par with C.S. Lewis in the nonfiction fraternal twin to That Hideous Strength: The Abolition of Man, in which Lewis describes the final step in "man's victory over nature:"

The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature...

Man's conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man's side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car...

Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by step, to this conclusion. All Nature's apparent reverses have been but tactical withdrawals. We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on. What looked to us like hands held up in surrender was really the opening of arms to enfold us for ever.

I do not know how the world will end, or whether the apocalypse will turn out to be anything like any of the possibilities I mentioned. There has already passed a moment when a nuclear power ordered a military officer to launch global thermonuclear war. That was during the Cuban missile crisis, and all of us are alive today only in the wake of a soldier who refused to obey an unconditional order. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says, "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" God provided a way out of global thermonuclear war then, and he may shelter us, at least for a time, from a meltdown of the Internet. We live and die as God allows, and he may sustain us still. He may give us more to repent. Since Christ's First Coming, his Second Coming has always been imminent, and part of what I omitted from C.S. Lewis's passage above is a reality that has not literally been fulfilled even when That Hideous Strength's Pragmatometer is live in what is fed to us by the Internet:

The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself.

It is my own opinion that "a perfect applied psychology" is by definition a pipe dream, a materialist's explanation of spiritual phenomena such as is discussed in How to Think About Psychology: An Orthodox Look at a Secular Religion. But it is possible that Nature's final conquest of Man as described above will come without needing all-powerful eugenics, prenatal conditioning, or a perfect applied psychology. Pipe dreams have already become real. And one world government is an increasingly real possibility on more grounds than technology.

Conclusion

I have begun with an Orthodox Fr. Seraphim of Plantina and ended with a Protestant C.S. Lewis. The turn is not expected of an Orthodox author, but I have generally had an easier time with C.S. Lewis fans than those of Fr. Seraphim.

All the same, I hope to have shed some light in the process, and introduced a useful distinction between donning X-Ray goggles that let you infallibly identify historic details cryptically referred to by the details of Revelation, and recognizing and understanding that we live in a singularity very different from that of over 99.9% of humans who have ever lived.

Much Love,
Christos

A Conservative Soliloquy

Cover for Orthodox Theology and Technology: A Profoundly Gifted Autobiography

At various points in Trump's presidency, my mother would sit down with me and condescend to enlighten me from my naive views of politics, and explain to me Trump's feet of clay. At one point I told her that she had never during Barack Obama's eight years of presidency sat down with me to enlighten me about President Obama's weaknesses. She seemed shocked that I spoke of Barack Obama as having weaknesses, and said that he was so eloquent. I simply said that I had never and nowhere heard a conservative impugn Barack Obama's abilities as a public speaker. She positively bristled when I said he had ties to Islam. (I held my peace about a bumper sticker I saw a few times that depicted Adolf Hitler and Barack Obama side-by-side and said, "They both gave great speeches.")

The one possible critique I can think of Obama's public speaking performance is that he held his cards too close to his vest. When in debates between him and McCain both candidates were asked when life begins, Obama answered, "Go to Hell!" poetically refused to answer the question, saying that that was a question for scientists and theologians that was simply above his pay grade. (Obama retains a master diplomat's ability to tell you to go to Hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.) McCain answered the question: "Conception." By so doing he doubtless lost a number of people, but McCain answered the question instead of throwing sand in his audience's eyes. Much of the American public take campaign promises with a 40 pound block of salt, and the term "campaign promises" connotes that promises made when campaigning are not taken seriously as binding moral commitments. However, one of the pillars of political campaign speeches is an obligation to disclose what programs, policies, priorities, and positions a vote for the candidate will be voting for. But that is still the only objection I can even now think of to Barack Obama's public speaking performance; I suppose that if I watched Fox News (I usually try to avoid all television news and all television), I could find some criticism somewhere that Obama was not charismatic enough or that he failed to give electrifying speeches that drew many people in. However, as far as I am concerned, alleging incompetence in writing, crafting, and delivering speeches that drew people in is off the agenda for serious discussion on the right, left, and center. I may have heard a monk express a criticism during Obama's presidency of "I still don't know what he believes." Denying that Obama made well-executed speeches that attracted people is simply off the agenda, and I have never heard a conservative argue that Obama was not charismatic enough as a speaker or leader.


On the question of origins, which I really only bring in for analogy, concerns origins positions among conservative Orthodox. As far as origins goes (see QUICK! What's Your Opinion About Chemistry?), I regard my position as having liabilities. I have run into people who have to have a perfect origins positions without liabilities, and they end up convinced that the position they settle on has no faults at all, and in my opinion usually a worse origins position needing, perhaps, that the universe be only a few thousand years old in a position that comes unglued if you become convinced that the universe is billions of years old. If you know that your position on origins has liabilities, you can meet challenges without becoming unglued; you may change your mind about certain things, but there is much less danger that a rough blow may make you lose all faith.

I have never issued a vote meant to declare which candidate was the angel and which was the demon, and I have tended to assume that a vote for anyone I genuinely favored could only be a (de facto) protest vote, with scarcely more nor less traction in the electoral college than voting for Kermit the Frog. All of the elections I have faced have been a matter of finite choices, between two or possibly three candidates that have a fighting chance of winning the election, both of whom have strengths and liabilities.

If you want to know when I mentally checked out from my mother's condescension to enlighten me about Trump's faults, it was right after the election, when she recounted with white-hot anger (when she is beyond furious, she has a big unhappy smile, and she had a big unhappy smile then) about how Hilary Clinton had won the popular vote even if the electoral college had gone with Trump, down to reciting the exact count of popular votes for each candidate, down to the last digits. (This is part of why I jurisprudentially accept the electoral college, but I really wince when a Democrat wins the popular vote while a Republican wins the electoral vote.) After that point with my Mom, it simply didn't occur to me that her attempts to enlighten me about Trump's feet of clay corresponded to anything out of the ordinary; I would have been more able to take such condescensions seriously if she acknowledged legitimate faults on the part of Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama, like an allegation I had heard that President Obama used the Internal Revenue Service as an Infernal Revenue Service that made Christian charities waste millions of dollars on legal self-defense to keep out of to jail. So far, however, I never remember her owning up to a fault or downside to a Democratic president or candidate, even on a small scale. And I have seen the same white-hot smiling anger that her educated brother believes that what he believes to be literal murder on an epic scale is simply not one political issue among others.


I now hope that Trump is successfully impeached; my pro-life convictions do not allow me to regard a willingness to start a civil war to hold on to power as anything but beyond the pall. I note with sadness that while only one Republican publicly opposed a unanimous consent for Pence to invoke the 25th amendment, a majority (or for that matter anything more than a small handful) appear to be failing to push for Trump's impeachment. I have a bit of political, jurisprudential squeamishness about invoking the 25th amendment as suggested, as I had political, jurisprudential squeamishness about Illinois handling Blavojevich's impeachment as being driven by concerns of tremendous unpopularity and not by what would make good precedent legally. I am wary of invoking the 25th amendment to do the job impeachment was made for. But I do believe impeachment is called for, and I am if not especially surprised, at least saddened that after only one Republican blocked unanimous consent for 25th amendment applications, most Republicans are failing to push for impeachment.


Alexander Solzhinitsyn, on the way to seeing the limits of what revolution can accomplish, wrote, "Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil." (source—seemingly worth reading).

My next post after reading about Trump's inciting the riot was:

What Is Wrong With the World

G.K. Chesterton wrote a letter to the editor after a newspaper requested answers to the question, "What is wrong with the world?"

His answer, "Sir, I am." was the shortest letter to the editor in newspaper history.

St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "Acquire a spirit of peace within yourself, and ten thousand around you will be saved."

Everybody has an opinion about what needs to change after the riot.

Fortunately, with me the one political necessity is within my power: to recognize that "It is a trustworthy saying, 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,'" and to repent of my sins and take them to confession.

(It may be noted that a book contest to come up with the most politically incorrect book was won by a book about Orthodox priest and monk Fr. Seraphim of Plantina: Not of This World, which was pointed out to be barely political enough to be politically incorrect: but the best politics are in fact not of this world.)

But I am preparing for something tomorrow that is more political than my voting.

I am going to confession and own up to my sin as best as I can. And try to do better.


I said to my family, after a Sunday afternoon session where I had been the minority voice, that in the last election Hilary Clinton had always been portrayed with photographs that caught her at her most photogenic, and Donald Trump had always been portrayed in singularly unflattering photographs that looked to me like still photographs from speeches (people who have normal facial and verbal expression have their faces briefly contort to odd-looking expressions, and this is not a specific phenomenon of right, left, or center: a high-quality capture of anyone giving a normal speech on any topic—political or Toastmasters—will have some awfully unflattering still images). Afterwards, I wished I had not said such at the time, and to partly wipe a stain off my face wrote afterwards:

The recent events have been sinking in, and I am now with the Republicans as well as Democrats who broke out in applause after the vote was officially registered.

I now hope Trump is successfully impeached.


Some people may wonder why it took me so long for me to figure out that Trump was not high enough quality to step down after losing an election. The main thing I would say is this:

After attending a liberal Roman university, I commented to the monk I mentioned earlier that I had read First Things, a Roman neo-conservative journal of religion and public life, and I also heard what liberal Romans asserted about Roman neo-conservatives, and I could not deny any individual assertion, really, but they nonetheless gave a roadmap that I couldn't really connect with any of my reading neo-conservatives in their own words. The monk I was speaking with commented that it's easier to write off the other party's members if you stereotype them.

I have noticed that certain candidates rightly perceived as threats by the left (Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump), not long after receiving mainstream attention, had journalism consistently portraying them as stupid. It is His Majesty's loyal opposition's sworn duty to oppose, and it is mainstream journalism's unsworn duty to make conservative politicians who represent a threat look stupid. So when Donald Trump started getting an incredibly hostile reception in the media, my thought was simply "I don't know what his strengths and weaknesses are; I haven't seen the minority report."

That there was hostile coverage of the present conservative President was not any kind of useful information.


I had a conversation with my brother who was and wanted to be somewhat left of center, but wanted to be a bit of an omnivore as far as his intake on current events, and he said with some sadness that on the left he could find coverage almost anywhere from centrist left to far left, but on the right it is difficult to find media coverage between the center and the far right. He can presumably watch Fox any time he wants, but he wants to be able to understand moderate conservative positions and understand what other people think.

I wrote to him after that conversation:

You said that you try to get something of a representative sampling of newspapers, and you have lots of options for journalism on the left, but fewer options for representation on the right that is not far right.

That may be because the main conservative way of understanding is not on relying on journalism, even right-slanted journalism, but reading books and studying history (N.B. I [requested an inter-library loan] and ordered a copy of The Medieval Experience: Foundations of Western Cultural Singularity). [My sister-in-law, my brother's wife] may be liberal, but she and her Mom's reservations about using Amazon for all purchasing is not based on just-exposed journalistic findings; it's based on a knowledge of history and a history-paced argument.

I am reading History of the Byzantine Empire and finding some relief in it; there's a lot of politics and it is a political history, and seeing some of the bad things that happened there help me be not dismayed at how bad some things are now.

I had also, perhaps in another case of "right lesson, wrong time," talked about discussion in a book about how a newspaper had given front-page coverage to an alleged gang of black militants taking over a hotel, and continuing to cover police casualties as the shootout unfolded, and then eventually having a buried clarification that there was not a gang of multiple black militants; there was one mentally ill black person who had been dead for a while, and the police casualties were a matter of police continuing to hit each other with their own ricochets. On that point I emailed my brother about the book that discussed this sort of thing happening in journalism and why one might choose not to get bearings from journalism:

One book which you might read, if for nothing else than a slice of [what has informed] my thought, is the ?1974? Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, written by an advertising executive who lost his faith in advertising and then lost his faith in television (Jerry Mander).

I did not mention First Things as conservative journalism, not exactly because I wanted to withhold information, but because I wanted to stress the difference between getting one's bearings from journalism and getting them from books. (Social media may well be a step below journalism, but I did not explore that; I never in the discussion discussed getting one's bearings from social media, from which I have mostly checked out.) Mention of that one journal might be helpful after talking about getting one's bearings from classic, non-current-bestseller books.

I went to spiritual direction and my spiritual director said something that challenged me to go one step further: get my bearings from the Gospel. I mentioned that one article said that a monastic leader had "cryptically" said, "It's better to read the Bible than the Internet," which I did not find cryptic at all. He was talking about where it is best to get one's bearings, even if one should pay attention to secular authorities about what simple quarantine measures may be advisable. And I was advised to back away from an unintended dip into social media.

It has also, incidentally, been commented that people who consume large amounts of (secular) media tend to be more secular.


When the Rush Limbaugh Show went big, I found it an embarrassment and I never found myself speaking with a fellow conservative who did not share that embarrassment.

I am still waiting to find a liberal who finds The Daily Show to be anything but a good dose of clear thinking about today's events.


I have mentioned earlier, not terribly impressed, that my Mom was shocked when I suggested she should have been able to tell the same sorts of things about Barack Obama as she was telling me about Donald Trump. In the interests of "Turnabout's fair play," I'd like to mention a couple of things I don't respect about Donald Trump, whom I held in light esteem for ages before his political rise. (To take an unlikely quote from Dorothy Parker, "If you'd like to know what God thinks about money, look at the people he gave it to.")

There is some talent reflected in his being a billionaire, but he reached that status through his casinos, and the vice of gambling is highly destructive. That's not an honorable way to reach billionaire status, even if it is legal.

I was also aghast at his having police clear the way by any means necessary for him to have a photo opportunity.


There was a long time where politics would be discussed at family dinner, and I would spend long stretches of time with something to say, looking for a social opportunity and quite often with my hand raised and emoting "I have something to contribute," and I was always, always shut out of the discussion by being socially strong-armed. I eventually sent an email asking people to either let me contribute to the discussion or stop discussing politics in my presence. They mostly stopped discussing politics in my presence at all.

There is some intimidation that comes with being profoundly gifted, especially an outlier, and I might briefly mention that while my whole family is very bright... but my SAT scores were higher than my father's SAT scores as a high school senior... when I took the SAT in seventh grade! Their social behavior conveyed that they were afraid of letting me speak, afraid that what I had to say might make sense. And that social exclusion helped me tune out what they had to say politically, because whatever they had to say, they were so intimidated, perhaps partly due to giftedness, that they abandoned simple good manners and completely shut me out of getting a word in edgewise at a social function specifically intended for family togetherness.

I might also mention briefly that after I was received into the Orthodox Church, at my next social function my uncle, a Protestant, "Orthodox Presbyterian" pastor, kept on telling me about "agreement" on all "essentials," and I simply kept my mouth shut. The minor reason was simply that I was tired, and my nonverbal communication should have been "I am not up for this," but the major reason was that even if I could summon plenty of energy, pushing and having him push back would not have been preferred Orthodox behavior on my part. He was intimidated, and even if I had plenty of energy for a lively discussion I believe I would have still been wisest to act as I did. After that single one-way conversation, he did not press me further.

It has, incidentally, been said that profoundly gifted individuals tend to be "very, very conservative, or at least populist." As far as why, I at least have had multiple cases of what a sociologist would call a "secondary socialization," and at least two of them have been secondary socializations that produce strong liberals. My best take on it now is that the standard ways of recruiting someone to the left work very well far into the gifted range, but are less effective in dealing with the profoundly gifted. It tends to run aground. Biblical Egalitarianism recruits via shady rhetoric and, sometimes, loaded language; the average gifted response is to be drawn in, but one possible profoundly gifted response tends towards, "That's loaded language," and shady rhetoric does not always catch the profoundly in its noose; sometimes it repels. The usual methods of getting someone to "get with the program" are often shady and often repel. Not specifically that all profoundly gifted are conservative; but profoundly gifted liberals and radicals will be more likely to be formulating tomorrow's political correctness than passionately caught up in today's political correctness. And neither do others' repellent attempts to get me to "get with the program" come from the left alone; see The Seraphinians for a response to a conservative camp that applied a lot of pressure to get me to get with the program.


In connection with asking my mother not to sit down with me and condescend to enlighten me about politics, I made a comment that "Master politicians, like master martial artists, like master chess players, do not take single layered actions. They can't afford to. This has the [consequence] that if you only understand one layer of a politician's action, you do not understand the politician's action."

When I was at the Sorbonne, my grammar professor commented that he absolutely could not forgive Mitterrand, whom he compared with Niccolo Machiavelli. (Under French electoral conditions, the person with the largest share of the votes wins, which means that if you have 40% of the vote and your opponent has 60%, you can win if you split your opponent's camp in half.) He talked about how Mitterrand split the right into the right and the far right, and effectively created Le Pen (in other words, a powerful ALT-right candidate who makes Trump look moderate by comparison; one comedy show said, "100% of the votes for Le Pen are bullet holes."), as a live and politically powerful figure. The specific means he used was to openly give real or imagined preferential treatment and privileged to immigrants, and when people were incensed, insisted that Le Pen be allowed to speak and that his speeches would be covered.

Hello, can we talk about the consummate rudeness of removing statues as a way to give the bolt of lightning needed to bring the Frankenstein of a vigorous and openly racist right-wing faction to power and life? The program to capitally insult Confederate flags and statues is not a single-layered set of decisions!


Some people may be wondering, "How can we get through to you people?" Not everything will work at all times, but I do have advice for ways to limit liabilities to your persuasive power:

  1. Don't cry "Wolf!".
    Furthermore, don't be surprised if our ears are deafened if you do cry, "Wolf!"

    White-hot anger at Hilary winning the popular vote but losing the electoral college is not advisable if you want credibility in drawing attention to Donald Trump's having feet of clay. And more broadly, if every candidate who represents a live threat to the Democrats' goals comes across in the media smelling like manure, be prepared for tune-out if you need to draw attention to something that smells like manure.

  2. Don't assume that political views you don't respect are born out of naivete.

    There was a profound degree of naivete in assuming I just needed an adult to show me a bit of perspective. I had carefully thought out views. Never mind if they were right or wrong; there was essentially nothing in my political perspective that was just because I didn't have someone prompt me to reach a better thought out decision. Also, if you condescend to enlighten someone politically, be prepared to be socially received as condescending to enlighten, and not have your points entertained even if the other party is polite in response to your rudeness.

  3. Don't point out which candidate is the angel and which is the demon, and furthermore, if you do, expect turnabout to be fair play.

    If you're trying to help someone see Donald Trump's weaknesses, be willing to be asked to see Hilary Clinton's or Barack Obama's weaknesses. If you're not willing, be prepared to lose credibility. Furthermore, if you want to disqualify Donald Trump for his sexual adventures, be prepared to disqualify Bill Clinton for his sexual adventures. You don't want to come across as believing that numerous cases of sexual assault are not significant to you in themselves, and only represent a card in your hand to play against a conservative when a conservative commits sexual misconduct. I held and hold a great deal of respect for the one self-identified feminist I met who was dismissive of Bill Clinton because of his sexual misconduct.

  4. Don't try to manipulate. If you do manipulate, prepare it to backfire, with results other than what you expected.

    The rumor has it that profoundly gifted people have a compensating weakness of "not picking up on social cues." I do not wish to state whether I agree with that overall, but I will say that to at least some of us, others' attempts to manipulate us stick out like a fifteen foot high sign in blinking neon. In short, some of us do pick up on social cues when the person we're communicating with is doing an absolute best to draw our attention away from picking up on social cues.

    I've dealt with people who have it stuck in their head that I'm "not picking up on social cues," and who don't have any light bulb go on over their heads when I explain the social cues I am acting on. (Normally, when I am told I am "not picking up on social cues" I have been acting on at least one major social cue that the person criticizing me was oblivious to, and my actions make sense given the fuller picture.) I, at least sometimes, am very adept at picking up on social cues that something is wrong socially and that the other person is trying to manipulate me or the like. I do not always do this instantly, but something sits wrong with me when I am being treated manipulatively, and the effect is to drive me away from whatever position you were trying to draw me towards.

  5. Don't misuse narrow social channels of rebuke.

    There are a couple of male friends at a group that read children's books aloud that shut me down by misusing trusted channels of social correction when I was profoundly uncomfortable with our reading Patricia Wrede's feminist fairy tales (I would call them more precisely "anti-fairy tales" in that their whole purpose in being written is to attack what is right, good, and wholesome about real fairy tales.) Later on, the male friend who was closer to me had a live warning about something that was genuinely dangerous and problematic about something I was writing. He used, in what would ordinarily have been a socially appropriate fashion, a trusted channel of communication and was completely caught off guard when I blew him off. But it was a legitimate, trusted manner of communication that he had previously betrayed.

I would underscore "Don't cry wolf!" Everything I remained wrong about Trump on was an a point where someone had previously cried, "Wolf!" or otherwise destroyed credibility, but assumed full and unimpaired credibility before me when it counted.

Furthermore, if you do have something to say where cries of "Wolf!" have deafened our ears, you would do well to show humility and concede points. Don't condescend to enlighten a poor sap. Don't take charge of the other person getting with the program. Don't show shock at how horrible the other person's beliefs are. Cries of "Wolf!" get tuned out, and so does taking the posture of a superior straightening out or enlightening a backwards subordinate.

The one more liberal person who affected me most in my views on Trump was the same brother who expressed frustration that he couldn't find center-right journalism and felt he was missing understanding of how a more moderate conservative might see things. He expressed opinions, including that Trump was "an idiot," but even that was without deafening pride. More basically, he came over on some other business after I had sent the email expressing hope that Trump was impeached, and offered to be available for conversation, and conversation was precisely what he gave me. Warm conversation that was willing to disagree, but respected me as a human being and never tarred me as an enemy or half-wit. He asked me to understand a couple of points, including that Trump's efforts to foment a civil war to let him (let's call a spade a spade) Assume Emergency Powers, but he was open and presented his own perspectives as imperfect. He was the person I approached about getting one's bearings from media versus classic books, and I don't know whether my email was taken as convincing, but I did send it with a live hope that he would consider an adjustment to his approach to understanding people he disagreed with, and possibly even investigate non-journalistic sources where he wants to understand how moderate conservatives understand things. (Please note that I am not purporting to be merely a moderate conservative. My point was merely to suggest an adjustment of what kind of resources to research when he genuinely wanted to understand another camp, and complained about slim pickings that were not extremist.)

And if you aren't willing or able to do that, consider keeping your mouth shut. It's not just a good policy for outnumbered conservatives. Liberals who have kept their mouths shut achieved this: they did not drive me away or deafen my ears. And compared to people who have condescended to enlighten and straighten out my naive and backwards assumptions, that is really something!

What Is Wrong With the World

Own C.J.S. Hayward's complete works in paper!

G.K. Chesterton wrote a letter to the editor after a newspaper requested answers to the question, "What is wrong with the world?"

His answer, "Sir, I am." was the shortest letter to the editor in newspaper history.

St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "Acquire a spirit of peace within yourself, and ten thousand around you will be saved."

Everybody has an opinion about what needs to change after the riot.

Fortunately, with me the one political necessity is within my power: to recognize that "It is a trustworthy saying, 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,'" and to repent of my sins and take them to confession.

(It may be noted that a book contest to come up with the most politically incorrect book was won by a book about Orthodox priest and monk Fr. Seraphim of Plantina: Not of This World, which was pointed out to be barely political enough to be politically incorrect: but the best politics are in fact not of this world.)

But I am preparing for something tomorrow that is more political than my voting.

I am going to confession and own up to my sin as best as I can. And try to do better.

Fr. Seraphim of Plantina: In Origins, Like a Next Cyril Lucaris?

Cover for The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts

Fr. Seraphim of Plantina may be in the process of canonization, but I would like to make one further suggestion.

Fr. Seraphim was right to say that evolution, as it is found in the general culture, is not science but philosophy. My own experience in challenging people with anything remotely resembling intelligent design (admittedly, not of Orthodox origins), is that only biologists are socially capable of entertaining a scientific challenge to evolution. Among scientific illiterates, challenging evolution on scientific merits is not conceivable. It's more or less blasphemy, and I can remember being in a liberal theology PhD program and finding that no other student had any real degree of scientific formation, but my having an M.S. (admittedly, in a discipline far from biology) and saying that evolution is not scientifically satisfying to me was not a conceivably legitimate thing to say.

However, I would take a look back in history at Cyril Lucaris, the subject of the biography Protestant Patriarch: The Life Of Cyril Lucaris, 1572-1638, Patriarch Of Constantinople. I have not read that biography, but I have studied his confession of faith... and as a graduate of Calvin University, I honestly find Cyril Lucaris to be more of a Calvinist than John Calvin. In regard to the what happens in the Eucharist, John Calvin actively concerns himself with the question of what St. John Chrysostom said (always in answering questions whose terms are set by the Reformation). Cyril Lucaris does not. He simply adopts John Calvin's positions.

What was going on historically was that the Orthodox Church was being approached with an alien theology, that of Rome, and in searching for an answer to Roman overtures, turned to... the tools of Protestant polemics and apologetics, ending up further from proper Orthodoxy than Rome. And perceptive readers may have noticed that I refer to "Cyril Lucaris" but not "St. Cyril Lucaris," because the Protestant Patriarch as he rightly was called was never canonized.

Maybe it is right to canonize Fr. Seraphim, but one of his liabilities was that he turned almost entirely to importing non-Orthodox Protestant theology, including giving a young earth virtual "Article by which the Church stands or falls" status, and the importing of Creation Science, a Protestant belief and praxis whose entirely non-Orthodox origins are documented in Evangelical Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

I have discussed some of this at length. However, here I would like to point out two things:

  1. Fr. Seraphim of Plantina was right to observe that in broader culture, evolution is not really a scientific theory; it is philosophy, and I would more specifically state that it goes further than most philosophy. People treat scientific challenge to evolution as inconceivable blasphemy, and while people can understand, perhaps in hostility, that some people do not accept abortion and gay rights as morally legitimate, the concept of scientific dissatisfaction with evolution is inconceivable blasphemy.

  2. While an uncreated or old universe is occasionally condemned by the Fathers alongside other of what were considered philosophical opinions, the position of drawing a line in the sand at a young earth is an entirely Protestant import to the best of my knowledge. I am not aware, nor have I heard, of any patristic document that is primarily concerned with defending a young earth of either six thousand or seven and a half thousand years. It's a Protestant import worthy of Cyril Lucaris.

    Furthermore, Creation "Science" is not science, or even dissident science. Creation "Science" is neither more nor less than a Protestant belief and praxis that was unknown among the Fathers and would only be formed by Evangelicals trying to battle evolution as science. Also, it's a pretty good rule of thumb that anything with "Science" in its name probably isn't science.

Fr. Seraphim of Plantina was by any account a significant figure in the life of the Orthodox Church, and he is right more specifically to say that evolution isn't culturally a scientific theory; it is deeply entrenched philosophy. However, in my opinion his response was entirely to raid the Protestant armory for Christian weapons against the attack, and in my opinion this is a move worthy of the Protestant patriarch Cyril Lucaris.

Furthermore, it has been observed that attempts to fight heresy have often resulted in heresy. Apollonaris, who has a heresy named after him (that Christ had a human body but the Word simply replaced the soul), was one of the people who struggled against Arianism, and St. Athanasius apparently welcomed him as a fellow warrior fighting against the same enemy and on the same team. (But St. Athanasius was wrong.)

If Fr. Seraphim is canonized as a saint, I would really like to see a verdict that he was right to see evolution as culturally being philosophy and not science, and that it was wrong to raid signature traits of today's Protestant armory, somewhat like it was wrong of Cyril Lucaris to raid signature traits of his day's Protestant armory and trying to fight heterodox teaching by fighting out of other heterodox teaching. And maybe that his attempts to fight heresy were rooted in different heresy.

Side note: Some people may ask why I have been open to intelligent design when I condemn Creation Science. I presently recognize that the more recent intelligent design was promoted as a second approach by the Protestant Discovery Institute.

The best I can say for that is that I now have a big question mark for most of intelligent design; however I have been driven away from evolution by attempts to recruit me by evolutionary apologists.

The fossil record does not show, as Darwin would have predicted, slow changes that gradually accumulated to make big differences, but long periods of stability interrupted by abrupt appearance (and perhaps disappearance) of species reflecting major changes, without preserved intermediate forms in most cases. What evolutionary recruiters have told me is that there is little incentive to change when things are steady, but a big incentive when things are chaotic. My response to that is to say that as a math major, it reads as statistical nonsense to me that a breeding population can acquire and sustain beneficial changes at any rate sufficient to meet a perhaps increased incentive to change.

Statistically speaking, any mutation in general has at least a 90% chance of being harmful, and much less than 10% chance of being beneficial. A new species forming in an eyeblink would require the uncommon event happening so rarely that you would be more likely to win the lottery every day for the entirety of a 120 year life. Or even more rare than that. New species happened far more often to make this believable as chance.

What I have been told by people trying to recruit me to evolution is that making beneficial changes is easy, and Indian prostitutes have evolved HIV resistance in one generation. (My response to that is incredulity, because this makes about as much sense to me statistically as a claim of young earth makes to a paleontologist.)

As an additional side note, I would mention something that evolutionists have never been brought up in my experience: scientific constants in physics. What I have never heard any physicist challenge is that the physical constants such as the speed of light, the charge of elementary particles, and so on, seem remarkably fine tuned just as we would need for human life to be possible. Again we are talking about winning lottery tickets numerous times in a row, in terms of statistical believability. The best response I've gotten is no contest to the possibility of human life being ludicrously unlikely, but no explanation either, just a random ludicrous impossibility.

For further reading, I would invite reading of The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts, and if you're interested Origins Questions: Creation, Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Orthodoxy!

Mindfulness and Manners

Mr. Jenkins One looked at his watch.

Madeleine l'Engle, A Wind in the Door

  1. Consider screen time, and multitasking, to be a drain on the mindfulness we are seeking from the East because we have rejected it in the West.

55 New Maxims for the Cyber-Quarantine

Declaring war on the pencil

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:

  1. Be always with Christ.
  2. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
  3. Be polite with everyone.
  4. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
  5. Do your work, then forget it.
  6. 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.

I've tried to share some of my fruits in 55 New Maxims for the Cyber-Quarantine; here I would like to zoom in on watches.

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.

A Heart to Heart About Technology, COVID, and Big Brother

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Let there be light!

I think I would like to depart from an initial discussion of lighting, on which point I would quote Hayward's Unabridged Dictionary:

Environmentalist, n. One devoted to a particular political agenda, regardless of its impact on the environment.

A recent project at Argonne National Laboratory was working on a new generation of nuclear reactor which would be in many ways a dream come true. Its design would be such that meltdown would be physically impossible. It could run on nuclear waste from other plants, not only generating power but reducing them to material which would become harmless in a matter of roughly a century, rather than millions of years. It could run on nuclear warheads, thus not only providing a safe and permanent manner to dispose of some of the most appalling and destructive devices ever created, but so doing in a manner which would provide useful energy to hospitals and families; a beautiful picture of what it means to beat swords into ploughshares.

However, it is still nuclear, and, in the eyes of environmentalism, all nuclear power is evil and must be stopped at any cost. This project was, most definitely, stopped at any cost. It was terminated at great monetary cost; it was nearing completion, and, now that it was ready to be tested on different materials, those materials must be disposed of, at a cost of ninety-four million dollars more than it would have cost to complete. It was terminated at great environmental cost; those materials are dangerous nuclear wastes, and, though they were going to be made harmless, they must now be disposed of in established manners; that is to say, function as the nuclear waste that environmentalists so adamantly oppose. However, they stopped something bearing the dirty ‘n’ word, so environmentalists are now happy.

It is at least fortunate that environmentalists do not yet have the means to extinguish the sun.

Historically, there have been many transitions of technology. Before he came along, people were happy with the solutions they had for indoor lighting, and those solutions exist: when I grew up we had an oil lantern and various candles, which were trotted out for power outages and candlelight dinners, and I use candles in my prayers today. However, you could brightly illuminate indoor spaces with Edison's light bulbs, and precious few people reach for candles and lanterns when they want illumination. The Amish might, for all I know, because of carefully thought out convictions. However, when the question of illuminating a building or a room comes up, people naturally reach for electric lighting, just like horses exist (and I would love to have a horse), but when the question comes of getting from one point to another, they reach for an automobile of some description, whether gas, hybrid, or electric. I'd personally love to have both a horse and a recumbent trike, and there are bicycle-friendly cities where people have made another carefully-thought-out decision, but for practical purposes I may have a say in which type of car I drive; I don't have a say in which of these are live options for my living situation. The invisible hand of the free market has removed candles oil-burning lighting and horse riding from mainstream use.

Having Big Brother legislate a technology transition from incandescent bulbs to good LED lighting would have been bizarre enough, but the move that was actually made, at first, was at any cost to the health of the environment. I have gently twisted a CFL to unscrew it and broken it; my understanding is that there are techhical implications which make it not a live option to make a durable plastic shell for the mercury payload, but people can and do mass produce thin tempered glass sheets that will substantially protect cell phones from some pretty impressive blows. Making CFL's that require more than being treated as if they are made of glass (something adults have learned in dealing with incandescent bulbs) is asking for environmental degradation that dwarfs the higher power consumption of an incandescent heat bulb.

Now the first white LED's I know of were what is called "lunar white", which looked white but (speaking as someone who used a lunar white LED flashlight to pick out clothes from a close closet) everything was a shade of grey and it was a wild guess whether a shirt and a pair of pants had matching color. Something of this has been explicitly acknowledged in LED lighting advertising that they show colors truly, and the problem has been overcome. And it is part of the normal flow for people to note that good LED bulbs don't need to be treated like they are made of glass (or at least I have never broken one), cost pennies on the dollar for your electric bill, apparently last for ages (or at least I've never replaced an LED that died), don't make a well-lit summer room even hotter, can be truthfully advertised as much more attractive for environmental concerns, and so on and so forth, and the forces of the free market would make incandescent heat bulbs go the way of the oil lantern and the horse without the faintest government intervention.

But what is odd, and really historically out of place, was that Big Brother decided he needed to power the change. It would have been a strange thing for the dead hand of government intervention to specify a move from incandescent bulbs to mature LED technology, but the exact inept move enforced was from incandescent bulbs, which contain no toxins to speak of, to a mercury delivery system that seems not to be intended for members of the general public to be able to handle without breakage. And again, I've broken a CFL by a gentle if firm twist that would have been entirely appropriate for a made-of-glass incandescent bulb.

What's true for the goose is true for the gander

We have not directly have laws in force that require us to use any technology, and people off the grid are welcome to stay off the grid. However, the quarantine has created social conditions so that now some technologies are socially mandated. No one is holding a gun to our heads and demanding we use Zoom—but the government is holding a gun to our heads and forbidding us most normal social interactions.

What can we do?

There are several things to do, and I would point out the top 10:

  1. Read The Luddite's Guide to Technology and apply it liberally.

    Please note that I am not jockeying for book sales, and if you don't want to buy a copy on Amazon, email me and I will send you a free copy. Most of it was worked out before the present cyberquarantine, but the issues have long roots, and a book on how to be responsible with beer and wine has everything to do if water and juice are restricted but 151 proof rum is now placed before us and available for free.

  2. Watch Depression is a Disease of Civilization, and implement what you can.

    There are different helpful material; the full bang for your buck as far as diet is concerned is available if you change your diet to Paleo. If like me you live somewhere winter days are short, compensate for the lack of sun. I use one of many entry level sun lamps during the day (I can see it but not visualize it.)

  3. Do what you can within the rules to live as human.

    It has been said in reference to fair trade that international laws are not biased against poor countries, but for the rich. Fair trade serves as a witness that it is possible to support dignified and human life if a conscious effort to that is done.

    The rules are not specifically prohibitions on all human contact; they just load the dice so a Toastmasters Zoom meeting is much more in reach than a face-to-face meeting, and it must be admitted that doing some things virtually has its convenience. However, it is still possible to have human meetings. It is still possible, if socially awkward, to have a conversation with a friend across six feet's distance. It is possible to eat at picnic tables six feet apart. Things like this are not impossible; they just take an extra bit of reaching when virtual interaction is in much easier reach.

  4. Limit your use of counterfeit social interactions, or at least try to consume them in balance.

    I have written in The Luddite's Guide to Technology about the goal of a tofu virtual chicken in every pot. I mentioned research that cultures that have absorbed tofu use and are not harmed by it consume only fermented soy, in limited quantities, and never as a substitute for meat.

    Social media (meaning anti-social media) are fake tofu. FecesBook keeps you plugged in and glued on, but it causes depression. The people who enjoy it most dip in and out quickly; prolonged use is asking for real depression.

    If you are feeling lonely, seek out a face-to-face conversation with a friend. Maybe a conversation at six feet distance while wearing a mask, but don't just reach for FecesBook when you feel lonely and want to feel better.

  5. Make counter-cultural technology decisions.

  6. I agreed with Jean-Claude Larchet's The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul before I read it, but reading Larchet raised the bar higher. I didn't watch TV or movies if there was a polite way to avoid it, and I still don't. What's different is that instead of checking my email every hour (and watching my clock), I now check my email once in the morning and other times as needed on a case-by-case basis. I also don't compulsively check my phone. My life is only the richer for this, and I have unplugged a drain on the human soul.

  7. If you can get away with it, wear a gaiter mask.

    I put on a gaiter mask just around my neck in the morning, pull it up to cover my mouth and nose when a mask is called for, and can breathe without feeling hot. It's a bit of a mask lite, but all the orthochristian.com articles about COVID being a big deal were by older men. I entertain some skepticism for a situation where e.g. a motorcycle fatality is classified as a COVID death because doctors know what side their bread is buttered on.

    A gaiter mask removes a strong disincentive to social interactions of the normal face-to-face type.

  8. Consider getting a pet.

    Some people are not animal people, and I am not personally in a position to responsibly own a pet. However, a friendly, good-natured cat or dog makes wonderful companionship without a quarantine, and possibly makes essential companionship with a quarantine. And if you like animals but can't own one now, do spend some time with the pets of any friend you visit.

  9. Vote your conscience—and your fears

    A First Things feature sometime back said:

    We vote our fears. And a very good thing that we do, according to the formidable Dennis Prager. In his newsletter, he lists the major interest groups of the two major parties and then suggests that we ask ourselves: “If all the listed Republican groups had their way, what would happen to America? If all the listed Democratic groups had their way, what would happen to America?” Mr. Prager asked himself and concluded that, while he supports almost none of the organizations on the Republican list, he fears them less than the groups on the Democratic list, and so he “nearly always” votes Republican. Here are his lists. Republican: National Rifle Association, Christian Coalition and Religious Right, Big Business, Black Conservatives (e.g., Clarence Thomas), Pro-Life Organizations, Conservative Justices, Tobacco Companies. Democrats: American Civil Liberties Union, Hollywood, Teachers’ Unions, Black Leaders (e.g., Jesse Jackson), Feminist Organizations, Liberal Justices, Trial Lawyers, Alcohol Companies.

    The comment is dated by more than twenty years; the lack of mention of the gender rainbow alone says that the ink is far from being wet. But I would mention something to those who do vote your fears:

    The quarantine will be bad under Trump and worse under Biden. That it will go badly under Trump hardly needs saying, but under Biden we are talking drones to enforce the wearing of masks, and who knows what else after federal drones have their "killer app" role of enforcing mask use. Please, have the courage to vote your fears.

  10. Live The Sermon on teh Mount and Thomas Hopko's 55 Maxims.

    In Robert Heinlein's sex-crazed, anti-Christian Stranger in a Strange Land, the grandfather-figure asks the heroine if she knows the Bible, and when she says "not much," he says, "It merits study, it provides helpful advice for most emergencies." And really, it does. "Do not worry about tomorrow; each day has enough trouble of its own" is very, very practical advice. If you haven't availed yourself of this kind of resource, visit an Orthodox Church that is open (some are). If you have, dig deeper.

    And in any case, give thanks in any and every circumstance, and be mindful of what you have to be grateful for.

  11. Share this with others!

    I think this post is worth sharing. If you like it, please share it with others!

  12. And that's all.

    All the Best,
    C.J.S. Hayward

Hysterical Fiction: A Medievalist Jibe at Disney Princess Videos

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From Falstaff to Herodotus, grace: I send your excellence my manuscript, as revised again, and have returned the Imaginarium. I have tried to envision what life was really like in The Setting, but yet also keep things contemporary. Please send my boots and cloak by my nephew.

Here is the story:



Oct 8, 2020, Anytown, USA.

Anna looked at the sky. The position of the sun showed that it was the ninth hour, and from the clouds it looked like about four or five hours until there would be a light rain.

She stood reverently and attentively, pulled out her iPhone, and used a pirated Internet Explorer 6 app to spend deliberate time on social networks: first Facebook, then Twitter, then Amazon. It was the last that offered the richest social interaction.

Technology in that society underscored the sacred and interlocking rhythm of time, with its cycles of lifetime, year, month, and day, right down to the single short hour. But there was a lot of technology, and it had changed things. The road had for ages been shared between pedestrian man and horse. Now, decades after automobiles had taken root, it had to be shared between man, horse, and motorcar. A shiny, dark Ford Ferrari raced by her on the sidewalk. She paused to contemplate its beauty. Then she listened, entranced, as a poor street musician played sad, sad music on an old Honda Accordion.

And in all this she was human. Neither her lord nor she knew how many winters each had passed when they married; neither she nor her lord for that matter knew that it was the twentieth century. She cared for birth and mirth, and she loved her little ones. She did not know how many winters old they were, either. And there was life within her.

And she was intensely religious, and intensely superstitious, so far as to be almost entirely tacit. She knew the stories of the saints, and attended church a few times a year. She lived long under religion's shadow. And her mind was tranquil, unhurried, unworried, and this without the slightest effort to learn Antarctican Mindfulness.

And in all this, she was content. Her family had lived on the same sandlot; more than seven generations had been born, lived, and died without traveling twenty miles from this root. The stones and herbs were family to her as much as men, but this was, again, tacit.

She was human. Really and truly human, no matter what others thought the epoch was.

Then a crow crowed. She looked around, thoughtfully. It was well nigh time to visit her sister.

"But how to get there?" she thought, and then, "I have walked in the opposite direction, and she will be upset if I am even two or three hours late."

Then a solution occurred to her. She reached into her pocket, pulled out her new iPhone Pro, pulled up the Uber app, and ordered a shared helicopter ride.

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

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!"

[With apologies to Damon Knight, To Serve Man.]

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Zen and the Art of Communication Failure

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Zen and teaching mathematics

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

Perhaps my greatest failure communicating with Roman ecumenists has been in An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism, where I wrote:

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?

No.

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.

Later on in An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism, I followed up on the older quote:

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:

  1. It presented Orthodoxy and Rome as identical in all essentials.
  2. 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.

On that point, those posts, and this post, stay.

A Few Possible Critiques of the Nature Connection Movement

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

The importance of standard critiques

I remember one ethics class where I commented with deliberate wary tentativeness, "One comment that has been made about the atom bomb is that it didn't just save lots and lots and lots of American lives, it also saved lots and lots and lots of Japanese lives," and then added something very important: "...but I don't know what the standard critiques of this claim are," bracketing that claim in a considerable degree of unknowing. And I was not surprised, nor did I argue, when a later resource in the course had someone comment in reference to just war, "The claim is not, 'If we do not do this, this is what they will do,' but 'If we do not do this, this is what we will do.'" I have heard some people point out that American politicians had campaigned on a platform of unconditional surrender by the Japanese, but this assertion is a detail of American culture and an irrelevancy if you are going to claim to be within just war theory. (Another unintelligible point on just war terms is the choice to make civilian cities the ground zero of an experiment.) "We campaigned for unconditional surrender" is not a consideration that factors into the principles of just war. Neither jus ad bellum nor jus in bello explains why it is justifiable to reject any surrender short of an unconditional surrender, a condition tantamount to letting infidel trample on the holy city. I do not know what the terms are on which the Japanese emperor sued for peace before the use of the atom bomb, but he did sue for peace before we dropped the bomb, and the burden of proof falls on people who assert it was a matter of just war to detonate nuclear weapons in a push for unconditional surrender rather than try to work with the Japanese emperor for terms of peace, perhaps not all those originally proposed by the emperor, that would deal with the threat but not insist on unconditional surrender and consent to let the infidel trample on the holy city as much as they saw fit.

(It might also be commented that Albert Einstein asked that his theory be used to develop nuclear weapons to stop Hitler, and he was horrified that his work was used against the Japanese, which he did not consider to be picking on someone our own size: "Should I have known, I would have become a watchmaker." But, culturally speaking, once we started to develop nuclear weapons there was essentially no way culturally we were not going to use them, and if we did not have nuclear weapons available in time to use them against the Nazis, Japan was next in succession.)

My reason for mentioning this is that I added an important qualifier: "but I don't know what the standard critiques of this claim are." These are not weasel words. I am no fan of weasel words nor slippery rhetoric: see a dissertation focused on slippery rhetoric. But in a very real sense, what I was saying was that I didn't understand the right import of the assertion (that nuclear weapons were mercifully quick, and had a far lower body count compared to the anticipated bloodshed of a land invasion where women and schoolchildren were doing combat drills and preparing in every way for a fight to the death), because I didn't have a situated understanding, in particular knowing what lines of standard critique would be. (I have not heard anyone deny that assertion; the critique I saw essentially said, "No contest that it would be less bloody, but you are using the wrong standard and here is why.") More broadly, understanding an assertion in the Great Conversation is incomplete if you do not grasp how it is situated in the Conversation, and part of that is understanding standard critiques.

Two senses of nature connection

I did a search for "nature connection critiques" on Google and DuckDuckGo, and Google got very quickly into academic articles having those three keywords but no connection to the nature connection movement, and DuckDuckGo gave nature connection pages without any critiques I could discern.

So I may be blazing a bit of a trail here in trying to situate nature connection.

I would like to begin by making a distinction between two significantly different senses of "nature connection."

The first sense is an engagement with nature across many times and places, usually without any sense of nature connection in the second sense.

The second sense is an engagement with the nature connection movement's tools, core routines, etc. The distinction between these is the difference between a general first category and a specific second type. The concerns I raise here mostly regard the second specific type.

I desire greater connection in the first sense, and it is one of the things I hope for in Orthodox monasticism, an arena that normally exposes one to nature a great deal and reaches further. (Perhaps I should say a third and other specific type centered on such things as virtue.)

A glimpse into a larger pattern

One place to start is Coyote the Trickster. Coyote is described in the pages of Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature, or at least what he does is described, and I'm not sure how to pin Coyote down (if he even should be pinned down). Is he only an animal as materialist science would understand an animal? That one possibility is the one I would be quickest to reject. Perhaps a coyote, the animal, is special, but what is Coyote? A spirit? A god? An archetype? A familiar? A patron saint? A Platonic Idea? An astrological sign? A totem? One god who is part of a henotheist God or Greatest Spirit in vaguely Hindu fashion?

I think that all of the possibilities above are at least illustrative, but this choice of the coyote writ large is perhaps not best for Christians, and not just because Coyote is coyote writ large. The text asserts Jesus and Buddha represent the Trickster; Jesus the trickster is illustrated by the cleansing of the Temple. Now it would perhaps be unfair to ask the work to do serious Biblical exegesis, but the cleansing of the Temple was one of the least prank-like actions he took. He wasn't manipulating people; he was deeply offended by irreverent use of the Temple and drove people and animals out without the faintest mercurial intent. Not to say that there is nothing like the trickster in Christ; the story of Christ and St. Photini ("the Woman at the Well") has St. Photini enlisting Christ's help in fleeing from her shame, and Christ opening things up until she has been pulled through her shame and runs with no further shame saying, "See a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Christ?" Christ was mercurial enough that if you tried to catch Christ the Word in some trap of words, you always, always lose. And, perhaps, it is an exegesis of Christ that Orthodoxy has what are called holy fools. But the use of the cleansing of the Temple gives a sense that the text has been conscripted to fit the Trickster archetype. (For that matter, the story of Buddha has his father trying very hard to ensure that he would be a political leader, and he chose instead to go on a quest and found a religion. Perhaps in the cornucopia of Mahayana Buddhism we have Zen masters who may use trickery to teach, but I do not see that Buddha was being a Trickster to choose a divergent career path from what his father wanted.)

And I was trying to think of a good way to present a companion aspect, and I'm not sure I've found one. When I was in middle school, one Social Studies question was, if we had lived in the 19th century, we would have braved the hardships to settle the West. And I, little schoolboy that I was, said that the question was irrelevant because the West was already settled by people who had a right not to be killed. My teacher didn't like that and tried to push me to answer the question on the terms that it was posed, and none of my classmates said anything like that. But to Native Americans, apart from Guns, Germs, and Steel concerns about Europeans carrying diseases Native America had no defenses for, how should Christianity be seen? It was the religion of white Americans who disregarded as basic interests among the Native Americans as life and not being subjected to needless and major suffering, and so it is not a surprise that my brother, a historical re-enactor, talked about one re-enacting group who re-enacted a first contact between white and Native American and who were explicitly Christian, calling themselves The King's Regiment or the like, and were distinguished for all other re-enactors in that they did not engage in native American spirituality which was understandably laced with something anti-Christian.

Nothing I have listened or read from the nature connection movement is explicitly or directly anti-Christian. Critique may be implied in assertions that reject Christian practice, however nothing I have seen appears to be there for the purpose of facilitating attack on Christianity. However, nature connection is largely grounded in Native American figures, and even if nature connection is mostly secularized, people who dig into nature connection roots beyond nature connection will sooner or sooner run into this. We have, perhaps well outside of Native American culture, seen T-shirts saying:

Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.

But there is something profoundly important besides the humor. As I explained it to a friend at church, if we dug into the Book of Grudges we could probably find that far enough back, his ancestors did nasty things to my ancestors, and far enough back my ancestors did nasty things to his ancestors, but the only things he had needed to forgive me were things I had done personally. That's not how all cultures work, and that's not how most or all of the Native American cultures work. The Problem, as seen in Native American cultures, is not just that reservations have 35% unemployment. The Problem is that living conditions in today's reservations are one link in a continuous chain of maltreatment that is the same thing as the Indian Removal Act and every other form of terrorism since 1492.

I don't blame Native Americans for this. And I'd be very wary of claiming a teachable moment to impress on these people that Eastern Orthodoxy is not the Christianity of the settlers and it is the #1 religion among indigenous peoples in Alaska, and that my archbishop's patron saint is one of the patron saints of our land, an Aleut martyr killed by the Jesuits. (N.B. I know a man whose academic career was ended by today’s Jesuits in a singularly unfortunate fashion.) But there are elements in Native American nature connection that conflict with Christianity, and others who dabble in Native American spirituality may dabble in something anti-Christian.

I might also point out that I have looked through wildernessawareness.org and 8shields.org and none of the bios I found let me discern a self-identified Christian of any stripe. I expect that at least a few of the members self-identify as Christian, but if nature connection is just for human beings, and you're not trying to call people out of Christianity, not having Christians represented is kind of a gap.

A body without a head

The nature connection movement does much of the job of a religion: it does the work of peacemaking without invoking the Price of Peace, its practitioners engage in culture repair without exploring the cultic element of worship, and more broadly it treats what it means to be human without addressing created man as made in the image of God. Possibly there is a failure of complete secularity in pursuing "sacred fires;" I am not completely sure I understand what the word "sacred" means but it is culturally important and best started with a bowdrill or other ancient means. However, I find it difficult to construe the term "sacred fires" as it is used while neutering the term "sacred" to mean something secular.

I might comment in regards to secularity: secularity didn't arise in Western history because of atheists crying for the Church's blood; it arose when Western Christianity fragmented and each community treated others as infidel. It arose out of really nasty religious wars as a voice saying, "Can't we all just get along?" and I call the nature connection movement "secular" as a recognition that it is intended to be appropriate to everyone. I have yet to detect a derisive word from a nature connection leader towards any religious community or tradition. However, this choice of common ground has an anemic dimension, something to do some of the work of a religion, but in a secular way, which psychology does on a larger scale. Orthodox would see this as a body needing a head, and wonderfully animated if we receive it.

Closing words

The final critique I would give, with a challenge, is this: nature connection, as it is pursued, is a body without a head that only becomes richer and deeper if it has a head. I would challenge you to read my book The Best of Jonathan's Corner, or for a better text, take a rebel author who works in caricatures, who decries Western music and blared Wagner's opera ("Wagner," as in, "Wagner's opera is not as bad as it sounds"), and wrote, The Rape of Man and Nature, and see rebellion against all things Western done right!

Furthermore, these words are not meant to dismiss nature connection in either sense. They are written to family, not meant as taking no prisoners. Much of what is delivered in Native Eyes is an approach to core routines, and core routines are about equally foundational to Orthodoxy. It's nice to see discussion of engaging in core routines. And it's nice to see agape or love (or as nature connection has called it, "connection") in reference to nature. A Christian could summarize ethics as saying we should love God with our whole being, love our neighbor as ourselves, and love nature as our kingdom. Furthermore, if you read closely, you may see that I don't find any critique of nature connection in the broader and more generic sense. I may question Coyote as totem, and I would gently note that my brother with the "What Would Loki Do?" T-shirt says for that trickster that the line between "Ha ha, fooled you!" and "Ha ha, killed you!" is a remarkably fine line. But I do not see a trickster edge as necessary for nature connection in the first, broader sense. Certainly it is not a necessity for nature connection in Orthodox monasticism, where animals cease being afraid of monks and cease to harm them.

Furthermore, the perceptive reader may note that none of my critique really affects nature connection in the broader sense. Historically, it is a rule in ethics that you don't forbid what isn't happening. The New Testament was written in an agrarian society where a large amount of nature connection was assumed. A parable takes its literal sense from a Sower sowing seed; Christ says that he is the Vine and his Father is the Vinedresser, and perhaps no one felt a need to explain something a friend pointed out, that you have to love a vine to prune it well. There were some moral failures common to ancient times and our own; the older Ten Commandments remain relevant. But the fact that the New Testament never condemns disengaging from awareness with nature in favor of an inanimate thing: this does not necessarily prove that the New Testament authors would make such condemnations if faced by today's issues, but it also doesn't make silence mean that there is no nature connection implied in the New Testament. The evidence concerning "nature deficit disorder" suggests to the person interested in ascesis that the harm caused by a lack of engagement with nature is a failure with a moral dimension. Furthermore, as has been pointed out, "Silence does not equal contempt." In the Christian tradition, you have homilies for some religious feast which never mention the occasion for the feast. And this is true for questions that had been explicitly raised and addressed.

The human race is built on a hunter-gatherer chassis. The human race is built on a hunter-gatherer chassis, and we ignore this to our peril. The core insight to the Paleo diet is that the human organism works best on the kind of foods available to a hunter-gatherer, even if it takes extra effort to eat that way instead of MacDonald's and Cheetos, and also that it is highly desirable to approximate hunter-gatherer exercise. The nature connection movement says that we need more than food and exercise, and as much as doctors may prescribe vitamin D for people who don't get enough sunlight to synthesize the vitamin the natural way, we need to take added effort to consume vitamin N, Nature, even or especially if it takes going out of our way. There may be a Standard Social Sciences Model which asserts that human nature is infinitely malleable, but it is not, and we can still be biologically alive while living in a way that humans aren't made to function.

There is an insistence among some that “Biology is not destiny.” Maybe, but biology is destiny to those heedless of the chassis we are running on. The less than ten thousand years of civilization (without which written history is possible) represent an eyeblink next to the four hundred thousand years we’ve had Homo sapiens sapiens and perhaps two million of some form of humans: written history represents less than 2% of the time we have existed as humans, with no significant evolution represented. Freedom, such as is available, recognized is as hunter-gatherers. And this may be a point where the nature connection movement deeply informs the conversation.

The nature connection movement is a voice worth listening to, and I hope these words can help it contribute to the conversation.

Epilogue, written some time later

I have backed away from the nature connection movement.

The core reason why, besides noting whether I have business in the tradition's core routines, is that when I listened to Seeing Through Native Eyes and read much of Coyote's Guide to Nature Connection, it seemed like as a whole the offering made sense, but at each particular point along the way I held my nose about the particular part I was reading.

That kind of squeamishness is something I don't consider wisely ignored.