The militant Rational Wiki’s article on crank magnetism isn’t pretty. It shows a singular lack of sympathy for fellow human beings and one gets the impression that camps the authors don’t agree with are classified as cranks. For instance, its preppers link sounds like people making preparations for a political meltdown are complete crackpots for doing so. The more our present singularity unfold, the less plausible it seems to me that survivalists or preppers are complete kooks. The more things unfold, the more it looks like preppers were right the whole time.
Nonetheless, while I believe some beliefs tarred and featured in that article are right, including intelligent design (thus qualifying myself as an IDiot), and suspicion regarding how much vaccines and post-vaccine genetic therapy really help us, I was dismayed at seeing Young Earth Creationism 2.0 at an otherwise wonderful monastery where Fr. Seraphim of Plantina is held in high esteem, but entirely without the emotional toxicity I tried to document in The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts. These people, some of which are converts, are none the less emphatically not “Axe-Wielding,” and have a profound respect for other human beings. None the less, I was sad when I realized that people living in Fr. Seraphim’s wake are embracing flat-earth theory as a method of virtue signalling. (Thus, perhaps, qualifying myself as a stopped clock, allowed to be right twice a day, but the term is still extremely pejorative.)
I do not say that one should necessarily disqualify a perspective or political or religious opinion on the grounds that it is tarred as “crank.” However, I regard crank theories as a liability, and the sort of thing one should prefer to avoid, and not try to seek out. Enough truth is labelled as crank that we need not scrape the barrel of theories that are labelled as “crank” that are just ridiculous. As far as flat earth theory goes, please, no. As far as the moon hoax theory goes, please, no. I do not trust the government and I can readily believe the U.S. government could and would have hoaxed a moon landing if a bona fide genuine man on the moon was not in reach or for some reason less politically expedient than going to all the trouble to make a real moon landing. I don’t trust the U.S. government, but in this case I trust the U.S.S.R. government to have every technical competency and obvious vested interest to expose a hoax. It would have been a coup for them to catch the U.S. with its pants down. As things stand, no matter how mainstream belief in a moon landing hoax may presently be in Russia, the U.S.S.R.’s silence about any unmasked hoax in the U.S. praising itself for landing a man on the moon is really quite deafening.
As far as intelligent design issues go, I’m unhappy with the new Protestant Creationism, but as someone with an M.S. in math, evolutionists approaching me apologetically to try to convince me of the truth of “evolution” repel me. I use the term “evolution” in scare quotes because Darwin’s theory of evolution, of a slow and gradual change over time, has not been live in the academy for ages; you’re not in the conversation now unless you believe, as my University Biology teacher at IMSA said, “Evolution is like baseball. There are long periods of boredom interrupted by brief periods of intense excitement.” Meaning that “evolution” is not an evolution in any older or non-biological use of the term, and “evolutionists” believe, along with old-school and new-school Protestant Creationists, that major new kinds of organisms appear abruptly and without preserved intermediate forms among the fossil record. The assertion of such evolutionists as I have encountered entails that it is statistically easy for a breeding pool to acquire and sustain a large number of beneficial mutations in a geological eyeblink, and I have met as an argument for this a claim that Indian prostitutes have evolved HIV resistance in a single generation. This is unlabelled crank theory in fifteen feet high blinking letters, but no one on the “standard model” raises a whimper about it.
And C.S. Lewis was over the time aghast about people failing to see how the assertion of evolution was self-referentially incoherent [though C.S. Lewis might not have put in these terms, it gets failing marks from the Retortion Principle. Romantic love is explained away as a biochemical state produced by evolution, but this explanation does not only neuter romantic love; the explanation explains away all explanation, including evolution. Evolution can explain why we should have good enough brains to find food, avoid being food, procreate, and other things animals with brains seem to be able to do. It does not in any sense explain, however, why we should have brains good enough to formulate a true theory of evolution. It has been suggested that there is survival value in brains that could find truths, but if that is true, very, very few people have the kind of brains that evolution selects for. (Less than 1% of people who have ever lived have ever seen a printed word, and far less than that have even had even the chance to believe Darwinian evolution. Most of them have believed that life is spiritual in some form, rather than a by-product of mindless forces that did not have any life form in mind in any sense.)
There is also the other intelligent design argument, an argument not addressing biology but physics. I’ve met evolutionary apologetics who denied that any information needed to be, so to speak, “injected” for the formation of new life forms. I have never met a physicist to deny the physics intelligent design claim that the physical constants have been unimaginably tightly fine-tuned just to allow our life forms to be possible. The more time has passed, the more we recognize the fine-tuning, and we have long passed the time when we realized that the fine-tuning is much more closely tailored just to allow us to exist than, for instance, shooting a particle of light from somewhere around one end of the universe and having it hit the dead center of an atom somewhere around the other side of the universe. The only other way I can state in non-technical terms how low the odds that randomly generated physical constants would let us live are to winning a fair multi-million dollar lottery prize by buying just one ticket at a time many, many times in a row. (It’s almost as bad as evolving a new life form by having a breeding population acquire and sustain enough beneficial mutations to make a new life form.)
I will not shy away from truth just because it is tarred as crank. However, I would say that each crank theory you embrace, and there are some I believe you should, is a liability in dealing with people on the “standard model” and you should believe them despite the fact that they are labelled out as crank.
Virtue signalling by seeking out additional crank theories represents serious philosophical and theological confusion. Defining oneself as different by seeking out crank theories represents serious philosophical and theological confusion. Counterculture for the sake of just rebelling against the common culture represents confusion. And both crank beliefs and counterculture represent a liability: one that should not be eliminated, but perhaps treated with some economy and recognizing that you are coming across as crank if you embrace crank beliefs.
And crank beliefs that are genuinely true should be treated with mystagogy: they should not be pushed on people not dislodged from the “standard model.” “I will not speak of Thy mystery to Thine enemies:” if you know a truth, and you know that another person will reject that truth if you say it, you do not say it. This is standard Orthodox mystagogy. Come Judgment Day, it will be better for that person not to be judged for hearing the truth and rejecting it: and it will be better for you, too, because you did not set that brother human being up for a greater degree of condemnation.
An adaptation of scientism’s much-loved “Ockham’s razor” may be helpful. Ockham’s razor, “Do not needlessly multiply [explanations],” is however sharp a tool intended to create better explanations by virtue of having fewer explanations. The same might apply to using crank theories to truth and edification.
Think about it. And maybe scale back on crank theories that are inessential.
OK, so I’m a dwarf standing on giants’ shoulders, but…
A life’s work between two covers… er, almost a dozen pairs of covers with four to six hundred pages in between… that could nicely adorn about two feet of space on your bookshelf… a little smaller in size than the complete Calvin and Hobbes…
“Must… fight… temptation…. to read… brilliant and interesting stuff from C.J.S. Hayward…. until…. after… work!”
If you don’t know me, my name is Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward, which I usually abbreviate “C.J.S. Hayward.”
But my name has to my surprise trilettered on Facebook to “CSH,” for “C.S. Hayward”. As in, the natural successor to C.S. Lewis. I take that as a big compliment.
I’m an Eastern Orthodox author, who grew up reading C.S. Lewis, and has read almost everything he wrote, including some of those reviewed in C.S. Lewis: The Neglected Works, but have written many different things in many styles. Readers have written things about parts of the the colllection like (J. Morovich):
A collection of joyful, challenging, insightful, intelligent, mirthful and jarring essays written by an Eastern Orthodox author who is much too wise for his years.
and (D. Donovan):
Each piece is a delight: partially because each ‘speaks’ using a different voice and partly because a diversity of topics and cross-connections between theology and everyday living makes the entire collection a delight to read, packed with unexpected twists, turns, and everyday challenges.
And all this for some of this collection.
These pieces are a joy to read, and a gateway to help you enter a larger world, and open up doors that you never dreamed were there to open. Want to really see how “There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy?” Read these.
The one single work I would recommend most by far, and has been strongly recommended by others, is The Consolation of Theology. It is based on a classic The Consolation of Philosophy, and it is meant to give consolation, joy, strength, insights and things that are beyond mere insight. In a pandemic, a collapsing economy, and times when grandmas are buying shotguns, and perhaps other things in the pipeline, happiness is possible, in our reach, and it is real.
My story includes Protestant origins and a progressive discovery of Orthodox Christianity. Because this is a collection of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I have set the works I would particularly recommend in bold in the Table of Contents.
I’ve also dropped the specified price per volume from $29.99 to $19.99.
(Please note: In the past, a bug prevented an avid reader furious he couldn’t read more than the first half of the Kindle edition. The Kindle edition has one review at one star, from someone who read the first half of the book and was infuriated he couldn’t read further. I’ve since fixed that bug, but the review is live and probably deterring people from purchasing. I can and do write well-received titles.)
I’d also like to make available downloads for cheap or for free, but I have a reason for posting this now. I want to keep my website, which has been online since the end of the 20th century, alive for however long I really can, but there are some things I can’t control and I am getting ready, I hope, to visit a monastery. What comes of that I don’t know, but I’d really like for you to own my books in paper. And I’m not sure how long it will be until Amazon makes a decision that will render my works no longer available. However, as a complement to the availability of paper books, I have available:
(One note:) I had hoped to make a free download available in Kindle and ePub, as well as an option of spending a few dollars on Amazon. However, one of the latest additions reads:
How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways. integer overflow error at 0x0
And when I tried to convert the text to an ePub to distribute freely, the conversion software errored out saying it had reached maximum recursion depth.
Just as a man blind from birth does not see the sun’s light, so one who fails to pursue watchfulness does not see the rich radiance of divine grace. He cannot free himself from evil thoughts, words and actions, and because of these thoughts and actions he will not be able freely to pass the lords of hell when he dies.
Saint Theodora lived at Constantinople during the first half of the tenth century. She had been married, but was widowed early on and led a pious life, caring for the destitute and hopeless. Later, she became a nun and lived under the guidance of Saint Basil the New (March 26), living the monastic life in a solitary cell in her own home.
Saint Theodora died in great old age in the year 940. Gregory, a disciple of Saint Basil the New, asked his teacher to reveal to him the fate of the deceased nun. “Do you want this very much?” asked Saint Basil. “Yes, I do,” Gregory replied.
“You shall see her today, if you ask with faith, and if you believe that your request will be granted.”
There is some slight controversy surrounding Fr. Cherubim the Half-Converted’s teaching on the phantom tollbooth. His position, as carried forth by others, is that practically every major element of The Phantom Tollbooth is already in the Fathers and is attested in quite ancient liturgy. Consequently, many argue, the book The Phantom Tollbooth is no mere imaginative children’s tale, but an entirely literal factual account describing life beyond the mundane.
When I was a catechumen, one thing the priest who received me into confession hammered on was that “There never was a golden age.” He presumably admires the saints of the great Christological councils but the point he made was that the Ecumenical Councils were a supreme medicine because the problems were so bad.
I do not recall him ever mentioning 19th century Russia in “There never was a golden age,” but he was presumably trying to prepare me for the nostalgia a convert into Russian Orthodoxy would encounter for 19th century Russia; I have said that my own jurisdiction may be the most nostalgic for 19th century Russia, although at least one OCA member lightheartedly suggested the OCA might have that title.
A somewhat different perspective was taken up, in a piece of correspondence I have long since lost contact with, saying that 19th century Russia was the worst century in Orthodox history, a sort of Gnostic wonderland with something to offer every idle curiosity. And while I have read truly edifying stories from 19th century Russia in a Cathedral bulletin, I’ve also read things that are more… X-Files in their toxicity.
It is reported that Church Fathers and ancient liturgy attest to the existence of tollhouses, but the average devotee of Fr. Seraphim of Plantina I have met knows more details about Tollhouses than all the ancient sources I have read put together, and it has been asserted to me that the obligation to bring all of your sins to confession is true to the point that it entails a binding obligation to successfully remember all of your sins, specifically meaning that if you confess every sin you ever remember in confession, but you forget one sin, the demons can stop you at the Tollhouses and you can go to Hell.
I think that, with such considerations, it might be valid to distinguish between tollhouses and Tollhouses. The former teaching, of ancient attestation, is such that the demons will grab you by any sin they can, and there is a need for repentance that includes straightforward, honest, and perhaps even soul-searching confession; hiding sins in confession makes your fault all the more serious. But it seems unbalanced, at least, to say that you can try with your whole heart to meet the needs of confession because there was one sin that you forgot to confess despite your best efforts.
Tollhouses may be a feature of 19th century Russian spirituality, but the full version with all the bells and whistles goes considerably further than do the tollhouses in the Philokalia for instance. I do not recall reading in any source not downwind of Saint Theodora’s story. Furthermore, I would suggest that legitimate interpretation recognizes tollhouses as one image among others, like Kalamiros’s “River of Fire” in which God pours out his Light on all, but the fires of Hell are nothing other than the Light of Heaven as experienced through the rejection of Christ, the only route through which the Light of Heaven appears with such joy. Legitimate belief in tollhouses should naturally coexist with saying that various Roman era martyrs who were martyred before they had any opportunity to give confession and be baptized are said to be “baptized in their own blood,” a term that applies to martyrs who were burned or otherwise killed through something other than blood loss, and should naturally coexist with the woman who was sanctified and later canonized after a single hour of repentance during which she had no access to a human priest and it is not stated that she confessed her sins to an angel or the like. Demons will try to stop us by any means they can, but the teaching of tollhouses is not a polestar among doctrines, much less a full cast-iron and legalistic insistence on Tollhouses.
St. Dionysius wrote, in the rising crescendo that would conclude The Mystical Theology:
In The Divine Names I have shown the sense in which God is described as good, existent, life, wisdom, power, and whatever other things pertain to the conceptual names for God. In my Symbolic Theology I have discussed analogies of God drawn from what we perceive. I have spoken of the images we have of him, of the forms, figures, and instruments proper to him, of the places in which he lives and the ornaments which he wears. I have spoken of his anger, grief, and rage, of how he is said to be drunk and hungover, of his oaths and curses, of his sleeping and waking, and indeed of all those images we have of him, images shaped by the workings of the representations of God. And I feel sure that you have noticed how these latter come much more abundantly than what went before, since The Theological Representations and a discussion of the names appropriate to God are inevitably briefer than what can be said in The Symbolic Theology. The fact is that the more we take flight upward, the more find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing. In the earlier books my argument this downward path from the most exalted to the humblest categories, taking in on this downward path an ever-increasing number of ideas which multiplied what is below up to the transcendent, and the more it climbs, the more language falters, and when it has passed up and beyond the ascent, it will turn silent completely, since it will finally be at one with him who is indescribable.
Now you may wonder why it is that, after starting out from the highest category when our method involves assertions, we begin now from the lowest category involves a denial. The reason is this. When we assert what is beyond every assertion, we must then proceed from what is most akin to it, and as we do so we make the affirmation on which everything else depends. But when we deny that which is beyond every denial, we have to start by denying those qualities which differ most from the goal we hope to attain. Is it not closer to truth to say that God is life and goodness rather than that he is air or stone? Is it not more accurate to deny that drunkenness and rage can be attributed to him than to deny that we can apply to him the terms of speech and thought?
So this is what we say. The Cause of all is above all and is not inexistent, lifeless, speechless, mindless. It is not a material body, and hence has neither shape nor form, quality, quantity, or weight. It is not in any place and can be neither seen nor touched. It is neither perceived nor is it perceptible. It suffers neither disorder nor disturbance and is overwhelmed by no earthly passion. It is not powerless and subject to the disturbances caused by sense perception. It endures no deprivation of light. It passes through no change, decay, division, loss, no ebb and flow, nothing of which the senses may be aware. None of this can either be identified with it nor attributed.
Again, as we climb higher we say this. It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is it speech per se, understanding per se. It cannot be spoken of and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It is not immovable, moving, or at rest. It has no power, it is not power, nor is it light. It does not live nor is it light. It does not live nor is it life. It is not a substance, nor is it eternity or time. It cannot be grasped by the understanding since it is neither knowledge nor truth. It is not kingship. It is not wisdom. It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is it a spirit, in the sense in which we understand the term. It is not sonship or fatherhood and it is nothing known to us or any other being. Existing beings do not know it as it actually is and it does not know them as they are. There is no speaking of it, nor name or knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth—it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation, it is also beyond every denial.
Language about God is necessary, but for people to whom the obligation falls, it is necessary to know that all images, even those sanctioned in Scripture, are limited. I remember being a bit grossed out when one acquaintance interpreted Genesis 1 to mean that God spoke with literal lips and a tongue, but I did not correct her; such a belief was appropriate for her spiritual condition and correcting her might have been the de-mythologizing sin of the monk in Everyday Saints and Other Stories who with his book-knowledge told a peasant that God had no need for physical food, that it couldn’t have been God who drank the offering bowl of goat milk the peasant offered nightly, and stayed up with the peasant until he saw that it was “just” a little fox who drank the milk. The angel accused the monk with his book knowledge of taking what little the peasant had, and explained something the monk had never thought of: that God had sent that fox every day to drink the milk in divine acceptance of the offering. De-mythologizing is a legitimate enterprise and St. Dionysius offers a much fuller and more robust version than anything Bultmann ever point out, but I do not see it as an obviously blessed thing for people who have reached de-mythologizing to go on crusades to take away the little that is all a less mature Christian may have.
The existence of ?ollhouses has been debated, and the OCA website features an article by Fr. John Breck that speaks of “the dubious teaching of tollhouses.” I would reply that tollhouses are evidently something that at least one Father in the Philokalia mentions in passing but precisely no one in the first four volumes makes a terribly big deal of. The lives of the saints cover a number of people whose logistics did not allow one final life confession with a priest, and here we have an air, “liberal” in the best and highest sense of the term, that is generous and has us interceded for in Heaven by saints who partly did not have the logistics to make a full life confession before death, and in no saint’s life that I remember is a saint alleged to have remembered every sin he ever committed to be able to successfully confess every sin on pain of going to Hell if he forgot one.
tollhouses are a feature of ancient Christianity, but I have never read in classic spiritual literature not cited above there being some kind of spiritual currency that a saint passing “the lords of hell” has to feed to demons standing on the way. Thus it may be that the Orthodox Church’s classic tollhouses are in fact not ?ollhouses of any description. In other words, for all I know, they may not be ?ollhouses, by definition, because they are not houses (or booths, or gateways), that collect tolls.
This is one area where I confess a degree of ignorance, but it is an ignorance I retain after reading ancient sources that really do not, in works I remember reading, offer such an account of Tollhouses that pander to any idle curiosity those drawn to a Gnostic wonderland could want. Furthermore, it has been my invariable experience that people who push Tollhouses on others are best avoided in the first place.
I do not see the image of tollhouses as really being subject to the debate. It’s part of the Orthodox collection of images, and it is an icon. Nonetheless, on the information I have, I don’t know that tollhouses collect tolls. And as regards fruit in my own life, I have given better confessions when I have not thought about Tollhouses and felt an obligation to remember every sin to the letter. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” and I believe I have confessed better when I have tried to bring my real sinfulness to Christ in the person of my priest and not when I was trying as hard as I could to keep tabs on all my sins.
You can believe in tollhouses without bearing the legalistic burden of belief in Tollhouses.
I am presently attending a Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia archdiocesan seminary, and one of the perks is that I am getting to meet Fr. Seraphim of Plantina and see some of why he is respected.
Fr. Seraphim, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church does not downplay at least some of the concerns I’ve had about the Blessed Augustine. I’ve heard Orthodox complaints in the past that when Evangelicals say “I’ve been reading the Fathers,” it usually means “I’ve been reading Augustine and no one else,” and my last real comment on the matter was that Blessed Augustine was a Church Father the way Evangelicals would imagine a Church Father: a philosopher whose subject matter was God and who heavily quoted Scripture. Fr. Seraphim acknowledges Blessed Augustine’s overreliance on reason, but suggests that balanced such concerns with a suggestion that Orthodox view him as a Church Father, if not necessarily of the first rank. His overuse of reason is seen as a liability; but it is apparently not seen as the end of the world.
(I’m not completely sure what to do with the book’s claim that an Ecumenical Council placed Blessed Augustine as equal to the Three Heirarchs except maybe as an exuberant tangent spun off a Council’s long list of Church Fathers that included the Three Heirarchs, Blessed Augustine, and many more. However, this is not my main focus.)
To cite the preface to Fr. Seraphim’s title: “When I made a disapproving facial expression and stated that the Church does not give him the full title of “Saint” but only calls him “Blessed,” he replied, ‘Show me another Father who speaks stronger than Augustine on repentance.'”
My most immediate response is, “I don’t know about the Greek Fathers, but I’ve written more about repentance.” I invite you to read my chief work on the topic, Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret. The Orthodox Church speaks in her liturgy about “hope in repentance,” and repentance is something joyful that reaches well beyond what remorse even dreams of. A Protestant framing of repentance is to speak of it as unconditional surrender; Orthodoxy does not deny this but reaches further to compare repentance to awakening. There are more than glimmers of this in Augustine, but the most vivid quotes in Augustine’s Confessions look on evil with a horrid fascination. Things of goodness, sweetness in the Lord, are mentioned joyfully. However, there is nothing like this horrid fascination that has in regard to good things the forceful underscoring and unpacking that Blessed Augustine has for his sins. And really, evil cannot be as evil as good is good. I wrote of repentance about being blindsided by reward, to unpack one aspect of repentance. The goodness of repentance has much more to unpack than the evil of sin, and if there is anything wrong with Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret, it is how far it falls short of properly unpacking what a good thing and a blessing repentance is.
The process of repentance is an unconditional surrender to something you think you absolutely must have (the Philokalia says, “People hold on to sin because they think it adorns them), and when you surrender, if you surrender, you have lost nothing but a shackle, and you realize that you need a hole in your head like you needed that sin. You are blindsided by reward, and you realize that you were clinging to what was in fact a piece of Hell. However, the main focus is not on how horrible that piece of Hell was. It is, as my priest put it, that you have been clogged and in repentance you get unclogged, having a new freedom you had not even dreamed of. And, really, there are more things in repentance than are even dreamed of in our prior immediate mindset.
With all that stated, I would like to quote some of the most heavily underlined quotes in Fr. Seraphim’s copy of Blessed Augustine’s Confessions:
I disobeyed, not from a better choice, but from love of play, loving the pride of victory in my contests, and to have my ears tickled with lying fables, that they might itch the more, for the show and games of my elders.
I lusted to thieve, and did it, compelled by no hunger, no poverty, but through a cloyedness of well-doing, and a pamperedness of iniquity. For I stole that, of which I had enough, and much better. Nor cared I to enjoy what I stole, but I joyed in the theft and sin itself.
Fair were those pears, but not them did my wretched soul desire; for I had store of better, and those I gathered, I flung them away, my pnly feast being my own sin, which I was pleased to enjoy. For if aught of those pears came within my mouth, what sweetened it was the sin.
These are the kind of quotes that put the “Augustine” in “Augustinian,” and remorse gets more fascination than repentance.
When I was received into the Orthodox Church, I thought it was best to confess my sins vividly to help me in my remorse. Admittedly, I know that sins of lust and anger are not to be confessed in great detail lest the penitent reawaken the sin. But in fact what is preferred is to state your sins briefly, and I do not think that this is in the first instance either because of logistics or efficiency on the one hand, or on the other hand tied to what a fellow parishioner commented that you should just state the sin, because the further you go in detail the more likely you will be accusing yourself. While I don’t want to slight joyful compunction, the goal of repentance is not to stay in remorse. The goal is simply to wake up and be freed from your infirmity.
Remorse in itself does not save. Judas was remorseful, and hanged himself. Repentance would be turn to Christ and wash his feet with his tears. And Judas did not do that.
Seeing this book helped me understand why Augustine has repented, and it takes some guts to defend perhaps one of the most vilified of the Fathers of the Church. Or at least a contrarian mind. And some of the things I find questionable in Augustine seem to have some resonance with Fr. Seraphim.
Remorse is not repentance. Repentance vastly eclipses remorse, and it draws one’s eyes towards what Fr. Tom Hopko advised in, “Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.” Part of repentance leaves one realizing, “I was holding onto a piece of Hell!”—but that is not what fascinates a mind beholding the beauty of God and Light.
This book is written primarily to document a large-scale behavior problem. It is also meant to provide a preliminary analysis of what is going on. The movement is Protestant converts to Orthodoxy who are still fundamentalists and rally under the banner of Fr. Seraphim.
FATHER SERAPHIM ROSE was by nature a warm-hearted man. Often he used to say, “It is noble to defend the underdog.” He felt obliged to defend those who were considered by society to be somehow in the wrong. He believed that God was not necessarily on the side of those who are considered right, and that those who are dismissed and held in a negative light are in a position to be pitied. The latter, said Fr. Seraphim, are the ones whom Jesus Christ came to save; and therefore when he saw them being looked down upon, he took their side…
Our Lord Jesus Christ said: Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matt. 7:1). Psychologically, this means that in each act of judging another, the judge identifies the negative aspect in himself which he does not like, and thus projects it onto the other, thereby receiving gratification. He thinks that in this way he is getting rid of that negative aspect of himself, whereas in reality he is only breeding and nurturing it.
Our contemporary converts have a tendency to do likewise. They quickly [become] Orthodox, and then assume that by their conversion they have automatically become infallible. Thus they feel free to point out in others what in reality are their own faults, disguising this as righteous judgment. Instead of humbly seeing their own shortcomings, which are the outgrowth of preceding generations of Western apostasy, they often carry their Western legalism in the midst of the Orthodox Church, and as a result they deform the ancient Orthodox tradition and substitute it with modernism. In Russia this sickness has been identified by the term “renovationism.” If the course of contemporary converts will continue in the renovationist style, making Orthodoxy fit into their own mentality rather than vice versa, then their understanding of Orthodoxy will end up as a kind of “anti-Western” legalism, or to put it another way, Western legalism in an Eastern Orthodox guise. As Fr. Seraphim saw, this very legalism lies at the core of the “Eastern Orthodox” attacks on Blessed Augustine, and he wanted to avoid it at all costs.
The opening quotes Fr. Seraphim as saying, “I myself fear the cold hearts of the ‘intellectually correct’ much more than any errors you might find in Augustine. I sense in these cold hearts a preparation for the work of Antichrist (whose imitation of Christ must also extend to correct theology); I feel in Augustine the love of Christ.”
The more the author reads of Fr. Seraphim, the more wondering there is if Fr. Seraphim might be appalled by those who were under the banner of “Blessed Seraphim Rose.” This book, when it was new, was an underdog position, and to date the author knows no disciple of Fr. Seraphim’s legacy who has decided to defend this particular underdog, nor of any disciple who writes a review of this work in which this book is found to represent serious error but represent the work of an errant brother who is to be pitied but never hated. The author has refrained from praying, “Fr. Seraphim of Plantina, protect me from your followers!” but now wonders if Fr. Seraphim now stands before the throne of God and would welcome such prayers.
“Our contemporary converts have a tendency to do likewise. They quickly [become] Orthodox, and then assume that by their conversion they have automatically become infallible,” reasonably describes many of this book’s reviews, and the amount of poison to be found in them leaves the author to wonder if Fr. Seraphim would see him as an underdog.
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.)
(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
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
As the author, I have been told I have a very subtle sense of humor.
This page is a work of satire, inspired by the likes of The Onion and early incarnations of The Onion Dome.
It is not real news.
[Editor’s note: Our first reporter, assigned to investigate directly with the Canonical Autonomous True Orthodox Synod in Dissent, of the Dregs of the Dregs of Rubbish Outside of Rubbish Bins, ran away screaming. A more seasoned reporter was able to locate a Church scholar with a strong heresiological and religious studies background, who was willing to speak on the record; the official was available for comment but has requested conditions of anonymity.]
Reporter: So how do I get to the bottom of all this? What on earth is “the Article by which the Orthodox Church stands or falls?”
Scholar: Fr. Cherubim, like many after him and even those who anathematized him, retained significant Protestant attributes long after being received into the Orthodox Church. The concept of an Article by which the Church stands or falls stems from the Reformation, when Martin Luther rightly or wrongly pressed the entirety of theology as it was then known into a very small nutshell and cut off things that wouldn’t go in. He had a famed three Sola’s: “Sola gratia. Sola fide. Sola Scriptura,” that we are saved only by divine grace, saved only through faith, and accept Scripture alone as authoritative. The “Article by which the Church stands or falls” is that we are saved only by grace. It was, to Luther, the only doctrine that mattered: if you know whether the Church believes in salvation by grace alone, that is really the only question worth asking.
In Fr. Cherubim, called “Dead Cherubim Jones” by those who anathematized him, there are large bits of intact Protestantism that have survived and gotten a brushstroke or two of Orthodox décor. With or without anyone anathematizing anyone, the zealots, written CATOSDDDRORB, owe Fr. Cherubim a tremendous debt. There is no longer an Article by which the Church stands or falls, but now an Article by which the Orthodox Church stands or falls. Where the former was concerned with momentous questions of grace and salvation, this is concerned by how many miles across the universe is.
Reporter: Dead Cherubim Jones?!? How many mile—whaaa? Is there an indictment of ecumenism in all this?
Scholar: Hmm, yes, those types will give you quite an earful about ecumenism, but there is genuinely more going on. Let me take on a couple of housekeeping details before addressing the meat of the matter.
First, CATOSDDDRORB correctly notes that when people spoke of “Blessed Cherubim Jones,” they were making a twisted use of language. For many, many centuries, someone recently deceased in the Lord is referred to as, “Of blessed memory.” When Fr. Cherubim’s posthumous work came out, he is quite straightforwardly called “of blessed memory,” just like many people are referred to as being “of blessed memory” in the years following their demise.
It is an available alternative, and you find this in figures as ancient as St. Irenaeos, that instead of saying, “So-and-so of blessed memory,” things are packed in a bit to refer to that person of “blessed So-and-so.” So shortly after the death of an Alexander Schmemann or Vladimir Lossky, one can be entirely right to refer to “blessed Alexander Schmemann” or “blessed Vladimir Lossky,” and this is not just for famous people. A recently reposed member of your parish may just as rightly be called “blessed So-and-so,” and other things as well.
Fr. Cherubim’s camp abused this custom to effectively give Fr. Cherubim a seemingly official honorific that sounds like a type of saint. The term sounded more and more official as “blessed” was hardened into a never-dropped “Blessed,” and since this did not satisfy, “Blessed” became “Bl.”
Then when Fr. Cherubim had the temerity to challenge Protestant assumptions in posthumous unearthed texts, the “Canonical True Autonomous Orthodox Synod in Dissent, of the Dregs of the Dregs of Rubbish Outside of Rubbish Bins” split off from another jurisdiction whose name I don’t remember, and as their first act, anathematized Fr. Cherubim. Their second act was to collectively realized that “Bl.” really only meant “dead,” and that it would be calling a spade to refer to their former pioneer as “Dead Cherubim Jones.” With emphasis on “Dead.”
Reporter: Wow. You’re bending my brain.
Scholar: There’s more; if you need to, take a walk or sit outside for a few minutes. I’ll be here.
Reporter: Ok; thanks. Is there more?
Scholar: Ok. Have you heard Alan Perlis’s quote, “The best book on programming is Alice in Wonderland, but that’s just because it’s the best book on anything for the layman?”
Reporter: Now I have.
Scholar: Precise measurement as we know it didn’t exist. We have a platinum one meter bar under lock and key; we have measuring implements made to the most minute precision we can. Whereas, in the ancient world, under conditions of poverty that you can hardly imagine, having all kinds of measuring tools would be costly on tight purses. So, among other units of measure, they used parts of their own bodies for measurement. If a man straightens out his forearm, the distance from the outside of the elbow to the tip of the finger would be one cubit: a solution that was free, sensible, and practical. It, by the way, remains a brilliant idea today: circumstance permitting, if you want to measure a distance of a certain general neighborhood, if you don’t have a measuring implement handy, you can measure it in cubits, multiply it by some other tool and divide by the length of your body’s cubit. Voilà: approximate measurement in a pinch when you don’t have any artificial measuring-tool.
This may not be a direct observation of the Bible, but literature in the medieval West had creatures who at times appeared to be the size of insects and at others reached adult human stature, and there was a remarkable lack of interest in nailing down an exact size for such wondrous being. The astute viewer may watch some cartoons that take radical changes in size to be perfectly unremarkable, and entirely natural.
Now there are certain translation issues between the Hebrew and the Greek for the Old Testament, possibly stemming from relations between the arm and the leg. The “hand”, in modern Greek, interestingly extends to the elbow, and “daktulos” without further clarification can apply to either fingers and toes. Scientifically speaking, an arm and a leg are the same basic kind of thing; their proportions are different and their uses are different but they are each one of our four limbs.
And what gets really interesting is when you take Protestant fundamentalist efforts to determine the size of the Universe from the Bible.
Reporter: What’s that?
Scholar: According to the Hebrew and the Greek Old Testaments, the CATOSDDDRORB devotees yield a size of 4000 miles for the Hebrew, and 7500 for the Greek, and they decided to do things the Orthodox way and settle with the universe conclusively being 7500 miles in size.
Reporter: Um, uh, ok… does that do any real harm?
Scholar: Maybe, but that’s not really the point. The CATOSDDDRORB eagerness to straighten out scientists’ “backwards understanding of science” has irritated a number of members of the academy.
Reporter: That’s not too bad.
Scholar: There’s worse.
Reporter: Present CATOSDDDRORB members were scandalized when some further manuscripts were put to publication.
First, Fr. Cherubim said everything we said above and more. He said that a “foot” may be a unit of measure, maybe, but a foot of what? Of an insect? A dinosaur? Ezekiel seems to specify an explicitly human cubit. The Old Testament in either Hebrew or Greek seems to trade in “feet” (I will not comment on some ambiguities), but not “foot of man” as such.
Second, this draws on mathematical subtlety, but a distance on earth, straightened out as much as a sphere permits, corresponds to a certain angle of an arc. Distances between places can be a linear measure of how much surface is crossed, or (if they are straight) they can be an angle.
What this means is that distances, if we are dealing cosmologically, are cosmological distances. There are the difference represented by an angle between two rays from the earth’s center. In normal science, scientists are quick to use so-called “scientific notation” where the total size of the universe is a mouthful of 500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles wide but you write it as 5.0e+23.
But here’s the interesting thing. Fr. Cherubim was not dogmatic, or at least not dogmatic about the size of the universe.
Scholar: Of course he was dogmatic about some things; he is dogmatic that this universe in entirety belongs to God, and scarcely less adamant that God could have created the universe at any size he wanted. However, his scholarship on the universe’s size never really nails down dogmatically that the universe is either 4000 or 7500 miles wide, or a number with lots of zeroes. If you are at all careful, you will recognize that he mentions something more devastating to CATOSDDDRORB: the size of the universe does not seem to be a particularly live question, or one that attracted particularly much debate. The Fathers didn’t really make a fuss about it. But he also fails to vindicate the standard model. Not only does he not make known use of scientific notation, but he does not seem to name the numbers that motivated people to create scientific notation in the first place, or for that matter numbers at all. One gets the impression that he envisioned a “middle-sized” universe, incredibly large to the CATOSDDDRORB crowd, ludicrously small to standard science. The gist of his writing is not to help people get the right numeric calculation. It is, here, to draw to people’s attention to how much they don’t know, and gently draw their attention to greater things.
Reporter: What was the reaction to that?
Scholar: In a heartbeat, “Blessed Cherubim Jones” became “Dead Cherubim Jones,” and the new Canonical Autonomous True Orthodox Synod in Dissent, of the Dregs of the Dregs of Rubbish Outside of Rubbish Bins anathematized him. The chief complaint was that he failed to buttress their efforts to take a beloved Protestant ambiance in Biblical exegesis, substitute the Greek for Hebrew Old Testament, and make their calculation of a 7500 mile wide Universe into the Article by which the Church stands or falls.
Reporter: This has been very interesting. Do you have any further reading to recommend?
On Facebook, one Orthodox priest (ROCOR, if I recall) commented in reference “Blessed Seraphim Rose,” “‘Blessed?’ When did that happen?”
I’d like to unravel that a bit. Let me say it’s very simple when that happened. It happened when Fr. Seraphim breathed out his last breath.It’s that simple.
We have an expression today that someone who has passed away in the Lord is said to be “of blessed memory.” That expression has been with us forever. Ecumenical councils like Chalcedon have even used a shortening of the original phrase, “blessed.” So today we might speak of “blessed Alexander Schmemann” or “blessed Alexander Lossky” as quickly and readily as “blessed Seraphim (Rose).” Or really these other two might be more appropriate, because we usually try to avoid using a monk’s last name.
But the meaning of “blessed” has been hijacked!
There are at least two difference between “Blessed” for Fr. Seraphim compared to any other camp I’ve met:
First, the ‘B’ is capitalized like an expected honorific; Fr. Seraphim seems to never be “blessed.”
Unique in what I have seen, “Blessed” has been abbreviated to “Bl.”
Both of these nitpicks point out to something. More specifically, the word “Blessed” when used of Fr. Seraphim does not work like most adjectives. It is not fluid. It functions as the kind of honorific that would be rude to omit. And all this is strange if the point is to announce to the whole world that Fr. Seraphim has passed away.
In some academic circles this would be called, “misusing a speech act.” For practically everyone else I’ve sampled, the term “blessed” is a gentle ackowledgement of someone’s passing and nothing more.
In the fundamentalist usage, the use of “Blessed” is not, however much used, a shrill insistence to keep on telling the whole world that their leader, Fr. Seraphim, is dead.
Fr. Seraphim’s following is not not even honest, not even to themselves: people warp an obscure term to be able to treat Fr. Seraphim as, to quote one flame, “If he is not a saint, who is?”
And to put things differently, the practice of calling someone of blessed memory, “blessed,” is being used as a sort of ecclesiastical loophole to venerate someone who has not been canonized.
Let me try to both introduce something new, and tie threads together here. Subjectivism can at its heart be described as breaking communion with reality. This is like breaking communion with the Orthodox Church, but in a way it is more deeply warped. It is breaking communion not only with God, but with the very cars, rocks and trees. I know this passion and it is the passion that has let me live in first world luxury and wish I lived in a castle. It tries to escape the gift God has given. And that passion in another form can say, “If God offers me Heaven, and Heaven requires me to open up and stop grasping Fr. Seraphim right or wrong, I will escape to a Hell that makes no such demand for me to open up to God or His reality.” And it is a red flag of this passion that breaks communion with reality, that the people most devoted to Fr. Seraphim hold on to pieces of fundamentalism with a tightly closed fist. And these Protestant insistences are a red flag, like a plume of smoke: if one sees a plume of smoke coming from a house, a neighbor’s uncomfortable concern is not that a plume of smoke is intolerable, but that where there’s smoke, there’s fire and something destructive may be going on in that house. And when I see subjectivism sweep things under the rug to insist on Fr. Seraphim’s canonization, and fail to open a fist closed on Protestant approaches to Holy Orthodoxy, I am concerned not only that Fr. Seraphim’s colleague may have broken communion with the Orthodox Church to avoid Church discipline, but that Fr. Seraphim’s devotees keep on breaking communion with reality when there is no question of discipline. The plume of smoke is not intolerable in itself, but it may betray fire.
There’s some pretty twisted logic there, and it’s warped in the same way.