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.
Bravo: I’m not sure there is a difference between a soliloquy and a rant. Needing to get something off one’s chest is not so much an exchange of information as a medicinal purge that provides relief. Maybe like the lancing of some festering boil.
However, let’s not hope that anybody anywhere ever changes their opinion of political figures because they have heard the rant, they may however change their opinion of the ranter.
Myself and other Trump supporters find ourselves in a dark place after the election but one thing we have learned is that talking about him with non supporters is futile as we automatically write each other off as lacking in intelligence and understanding.
The only question I ask myself is ”do I care if the person I engage with continues as a friend”
From the bible I have learned that a few words can start a forest fire that cannot be controlled.
So if a relationship is worth being preserved, do not engage, do not even send clues about your opinion. The temperature is too high. It could be costly in every sense of that word.
If a continued friendship is not important then a polite rant might may serve as a relief valve, for simply medicinal purpose of course.
In that vein there are several old friends that I have contentedly let go their own way and I’m sure they feel the same.
It’s all a great shame and sad when expressing your personal opinions is an act of war.
I will certainly not however, engage in church or anywhere important.
I’m not even an American but I can see that what might be considered as the greatest and most influential nation on earth is divided so dangerously with the fault lines running through all aspects of society including the family structure.
Alpha: Thank you for information about how my post will be received.
I do not think it is a rant that G.K. Chesterton said in his “A Defense of Patriotism,”
‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’
The question of whether Donald Trump would knowingly incite violence to reverse an election against him is a question of this magnitude. It has been said that violence is in the U.S. political constitution (https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/01/americas-history-of-political-violence). I retweeted a tweet saying “This is the worst thing that happened in U.S. history unless you’ve read a book on U.S. political history.” Nonetheless, I see a difference between “Donald Trump, assuming he follows American political tradition of recognizing an election went against him,” and “Donald Trump, with or without civil war.”
However, I would see Confucius’s “It is useless to take counsel with those who follow a different Tao” as applying not only to “Against Donald Trump by any means necessary,” but people who will not accept that a Trump supporter says he has gone too far.
It is consonant with the verdict of history to say that the United States lost the nineteenth century civil war.
I expect that the verdict of history will be that the world lost this civil war…
It is a matter of historical fact that General Lee ceased hostilities first, and today all the states that seceded are legally part of the United States.
But talking about who won that war is a bit like talking about who won the earthquake in Lisbon that shook the Enlightenment.
Bravo: Hi again Alpha,
In calling your comments a rant I in no way meant to imply that what you said was without a thoughtful basis. However , in this day and age the stakes are much higher and with social media, opinions burn much brighter and are more widespread.
Being retired and largely independent of external pressures I am free to express whatever ideas I have. They can’t take my job away.
There is however something that needs to be addressed .The thought that corruption is alive and well at the highest levels of American society is no longer confined to some isolated extremists hiding in the mountains of Montana.
I realize that violence is an historical building block of the American experience but, the only reason that the country overcomes this violence is the belief that the democratic process is solid and largely without corruption.
Approximately half the country however, now has doubts that the democratic exercise is healthy and at the same time the judicial process is viewed with similar suspicion.
The overly technical, clumsy and drawn out voting procedures leave so many thinking, if we don’t have fair elections, what do we have? The answer is obvious.
I know that for constitutional reasons the USA population is armed to the teeth but it also may reveal that the population has always had a general distrust of it’s own institutions.
As a Canadian we have much to be concerned about in our own political process but the suggestion of widespread fraud never comes up.
But we are though so dependant on the USA for many things , democracy being number one and if you stumble and there is widespread distrust of your institutions all democracies are at risk.
The social media is of course a catalyst for all manner of social change. Some good some very scary.
Of course many of us outside your country love you and wish you well not just for your sakes but most importantly for ours.
Alpha: I agree with most of this, and am concerned about a downward spiral. Republicans and Democrats alike are contributing in large amounts.
Charlie: Good morning.
We conservatives have been struggling with an imperfect vessel of our faith, to say the least, in Trump. One common meme was that he used the same playbook they wrote to take down American culture against them. (Rules for Radicals, dedicated to Lucifer by the author Saul Alinsky, who was also a mentor of Hillary Clinton). This comes down to the game theory of the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. The way to get someone who has been hitting you for five decades to stop hitting you is to hit them back in the same way, every time, until hitting you no longer benefits them. It was cathartic to see the weapons they forged against us turned back on them. It had a certain scriptural precedent in that Hammon in the book of Ester is hung on the gallows he prepares for the Jews. Or Gideon blowing trumpets outside an enemy camp and all the armies within the camp killing each other in confusion.
They certainly have insanely low expectations of their own morality, and embody Borderline Personality Disorder. Add to that the origins of these policies in people wanting to bring down the country and destroy it (Frankfort School, etc), coupled with globalist feudal concepts like the so-called “Great Reset”, and you can see our concerns. We’ve seen this play before where some Germanic deadbeat rants some grand plan for humanity (Karl Marx, Adolph Hitler, or now Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum) and next thing you know, we are being marched off to death camps for disagreeing. Or getting our communications channels shut down, or possibly getting our online assets frozen. In each case, we are called conspiracy theorists for reading the books where they lay out their plans in their own words.
But that’s all politics. What about faith?
I keep coming back to this verse…. “Do not repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
I suspect if we ever see another conservative leader in this nation, it will have to be someone who isolates the ideologies rather than the individuals, as Trump did following the Alinsky rules. It may also be the only way we survive this whole purge or open any communications whatsoever outside this wall. If communicating with relatives, don’t attack the relatives. Attack the ideas if you must, but present better ones in full light and let them either come to the light or run from it. They will tend to internalize and regard as “in group” people like Pelosi, who endorsed the Jim Jones cult prior to the mass suicide back when they were still in California. Jones seems to be the role model of big tech, in terms of isolating their membership and only feeding them one story, constantly, at high volume. Any attempt to question the leader or exit the compound is met with harsh threats and condemnation, just as it was with Jonestown. This won’t end well. It may involve a Pygmalian Effect of separating the person and your expectations of them from their actions and opinions, in hope of drawing them to their better angels, in a positive feedback loop. One of my best friends is a leftist atheist, who was hardcore Michael Moore and Bush Derangement Syndrome two decades ago, who now is a Trump supporter who loves Jordan Peterson. Baby steps, I guess, but certainly unexpected. I’ve always loved her dearly, accepted her confessions of past crazy things, and treated her soul like a treasure. And shockingly, she’s felt the same towards me. That should be what America is all about. It once was. For us, it still is.
Scripture makes it clear we are to present the light and let them either come or go when they see it. We should of course pray first, during, and after for the seeds to fall on good soil. But the sower isn’t responsible for improving the soil. Only scattering the seed. We shouldn’t do things, either in culture or in our own hearts and souls, that make our own soil more stony. We can cancel out of institutions that hate us. The converse of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is “don’t feed the mouths that bite you”. Some seeds may take time to grow, so we maintain kindness in those situations. We overcome evil with good, as we were told.
I’m feeling deeply called to re-read the New Testament to see how the church did last time a tiny group of eleven people got cut off by a global government who wanted them all dead. A big part of that was that the disciples were the only light in a world that had gotten very, very, very dark. In such a world, not everyone is blind, but all eyes are equally useless until someone comes into the caves with a lantern lifted up to get their attention and held low to show the path. That may involve shaking the dust from our clothes as we exit Facebook groups or what not. It’s been bitterly disappointing seeing people I once regarded as mentors or at least role models go full Herodian.
Tomorrow can be as dark as it dang well please, because we don’t live there yet. Each day has enough trouble of its own, as Jesus said. As a pastor once said, there is as much darkness a foot ahead of God as there is a mile behind. Prepare for what may come, but focus on the wisdom God gives you in what to do each day. The days ahead will separate wheat from chaff, so grow your wheat and starve your chaff while you still have roots to draw from and sunlight to grow in. Night is coming, when no man can work.
I also come back to a few other verses. Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Do not neglect feeding your innocence, the starving of your guilt, nor observing with wisdom the things around you.
2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Alpha: Thank you. I disagree with you on many points, but I appreciate your taking the time and effort to seriously address the question.
One thing I might mention is a sort of “ethnocentric compliment” to the GOP. I haven’t pressed points against the left as much as the right, and it’s not because I think the left is better than the right (I am expecting disaster to unfold further with where Trump has placed the left, and we’re due to have a president Assume Emergency Powers), but because post-Truth Republican politics represent a greater failure to live up to conservative principles than post-Truth liberals politics fail to live up to liberal principles (unless you want to go along the same lines as Chesterton did in saying, “As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.” or Fr. [Richard John] Neuhaus in saying that insofar as extending the franchise is bedrock to liberalism, the pro-life position is “in fact the liberal one”).
I’m also reading the New Testament and trying to focus my gaze on the Christ who is Truth.
One other thought: Kallistos Ware, in The Orthodox Church (the standard English-language introduction to the Orthodox Church) comments briefly that the position of Christians today as being perhaps more like the Early Church than anything else. (The book is a must-read for certain audiences, but I am not offering it as directly how one ought to handle the things we have been discussing.)
Orthodoxy is not really involved in reconstructing the Early Church, but you might take a cue from oca.org/saints, with different saints’ lives each day of the year and Early Christian martyrs as one type of regularly recurring figure.
Our role might not be to bring out a situation where we would be citizens of the Christian, Byzantine Empire where the society was Christian, but to be sacrifices who, like the Early Church, shone the light of one candle rather than curse the darkness (and, eventually, triumphed over the Empire that wanted them dead).
When the Roman persecutions ended, one saint complained that easy living robs the Church of her saints.
Monasticism, called “white martyrdom” where what you would ordinarily call martyrdom is called “red martyrdom,” is essentially a surrogate for in peaceful times how you can obtain the spiritual profit known in the Early Church, persecuted in the Roman Empire.
Delta: Hi all
I have been following the correspondence with interest, although not being in North America some of the allusions pass me by!
What worries me is not so much the politics as the situation. Whatever their views, when large social media companies can disenfranchise bits of the population, life is getting dangerous. When some of those disenfranchised then set up their own platform, only to have it closed by a large retailer (Amazon), then I am really worried! At that point government has become irrelevant and it doesn’t matter much who is “in power”, because they are not.
Bravo: Yes Delta,
We are entering uncharted territory. It is no joke when power is vested in totally unelected corporate entities and the government sees them as allies rather than the “robber barons“ of yesteryear.
On social media we should be very wary . How many people could be losing jobs, or more, because of incorrect positions on Facebook?
We are rapidly approaching the same system already in effect in China and elsewhere , where citizens obtain scores based on evaluation through social networks.
This system of public exposure and correction is already playing a part in a small local network used in our municipality.
We cannot even be sure that this forum will always be free and available.
Social media has put the excesses of the Middle Ages on steroids.
Keep your eyes on Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things of this world will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace.
It’s been some time that Twitter has had people seeing that at least some strains of conservative tweets (regarding LGBTQ+) were artificially censored from showing up from trending on Twitter.
Do We Have Rights? applies here. It may be helpful to see that what we have been deprived of has never been our right to begin with.
Meanwhile, in what truly counts, all of us have God’s ear, and his Providence.
To go to literal ancient history, I would like to look at economic policy under two emperors who persecuted Christians.
Decius created short-term convenience by devaluing the currency; in the ancient world, the value of (coin) currency was precious metal content, and he took in coins that were a third silver and paid out coins that were just dipped in silver.
Diocletian faced spiralling inflation, and (the one point where I remember the text expressing astonishment that an emperor thought something would work) assumed that inflation was just due to merchant greed, and placed signs by marketplaces announcing maximum prices and forbidding merchants on pain of death from charging more. Unfortunately for everyone, these prices were below cost for merchants, and legal merchants stopped selling things… which ended up driving prices even higher.
Now to more recent history in Wheaton, one move that was taken to curb Wheaton going liberal was to require professors to sign a Statement of Faith that said, among other things, that Adam and Eve were created from earth and not from hominids. I remember speaking with one psychology professor who interviewed with Wheaton and said she didn’t really believe that Adam and Eve were not made from hominids. She met with an answer of, “None of us really believe that,” and she responded with an astonished, “Then don’t sign it!”
The intent in the move was to curb liberalizing movements by selecting for people such as Wheaton attracts who believe in literal creation of humans not from any other life form but straight from earth. Unfortunately, such people exist but they are few and far between. The actual effect was to select for people such as Wheaton attracts who would perhaps openly cross their fingers in signing a major commitment to belief, which may have accelerated feminism’s becoming dominant at Wheaton.
I think, rightly or wrongly, that some of Donald Trump’s actions may accelerate things which have a nasty backswing. And that maybe going tit-for-tat won’t solve the problem.
I’m not sure my last email was constructive.
I would like to give a link to the Sermon on the Mount, which is if anything the Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven:
I’m returning to the Gospel after an overdose in current events.
I was winding down for sleep when I had something come to mind. I am usually wary when I meet surprising cultural finds that alter the plain sense of a Biblical text significantly, but I post from Blessed Are the Peacemakers, the oldest work on my site:
Jesus said “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:39) This is not a command to act as if you have no rights and passively let yourself be regarded as subhuman, but rather an insistence on the fact that you do have rights. In the society of that time, a slap on the cheek was not intended as a physical injury but rather as an insult, putting an inferior back in his or her place. The strength of that insult depended greatly upon which hand dealt it: as the left hand was seen as unclean, a slap with the left hand was the insult far greater than one dealt with the right hand. This was reflected in the legal penalties for an inappropriate slap: the penalty for slapping a peer with your left hand was a fine one hundred times the penalty for slapping a peer with your right hand; the penalty for slapping a better with your right hand was a fine while the penalty for slapping a better with your left hand was death. The people Jesus was speaking to most directly were, by and large, slaves and the downtrodden. A slap on the right cheek was dealt with the left hand. To turn the other cheek would leave the master with two options. The first would be to slap the slave again, but this time with the right hand (therefore declaring the slave a peer). The second would be not to slap the slave again (therefore effectively rescinding the first slap). Now, such impudence and sauciness would often tend to bring punishment, but it none the less says “Hey, I’m a human. I have rights. You can’t treat me like this.” It is not an action without suffering for oneself, nor does it inflict suffering on the “enemy”: but it does say and do something in a powerful way.
“Go the extra mile” was commanded in reference to compulsion to carry a soldier’ pack (same term in some language as would be used for military conscription), on Rome’s decisively good roads, with mile markers (in more or less the same sense as some countries have mile markers today).
A Roman soldier could conscript civilians to carry his pack for one mile but not more, and he faced stiff punishment if he required someone to carry his pack for more than a mile. The expected civilian behavior would be to carry an onerous pack until the next mile and then get away from it as quickly as possible. An entirely unexpected behavior would be to carry the soldier’s pack for one mile, and then keep on walking to try to carry it to two miles.
As Orthodox now, I have accepted communion with warrior-saints like St. George and St. Mercurius, and people who did not raise a finger in self-defense, like St. Boris and St. Gleb. Meaning that I do not get to pick and choose who is pleasing to God. I also have dropped my assumption that we have rights.
I’m wondering, though, if there might be some pearls in the sand in Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Christ was, at least on the account I mentioned (which I heard in a pacifist church), giving an effective and unexpected outline of resistance to be used by the poor and downtrodden. Some people have said they liked the article, and one veteran I asked for feedback on it said that there are precious few articulations of a pacifist position (and I did specifically engage soldiers for feedback). It’s fairly easy to find an articulation of just war; explaining how pacifism could make sense is not so easily found.
The emperor Valens, mercilessly sending into exile any bishop who displeased him, and having implanted Arianism into other Asia Minor provinces, suddenly appeared in Cappadocia for this same purpose. He sent the prefect Modestus to Saint Basil. He began to threaten the saint with the confiscation of his property, banishment, beatings, and even death.
Saint Basil said, “If you take away my possessions, you will not enrich yourself, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. This place in which I now dwell is not mine, and any place you send me shall be mine. Better to say: every place is God’s. Where would I be neither a stranger and sojourner (Ps. 38/39:13)? Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for Whom I live and labor, and to Whom I hasten.”
The official was stunned by his answer. “No one has ever spoken so audaciously to me,” he said.
“Perhaps,” the saint remarked, “that is because you’ve never spoken to a bishop before. In all else we are meek, the most humble of all. But when it concerns God, and people rise up against Him, then we, counting everything else as naught, look to Him alone. Then fire, sword, wild beasts and iron rods that rend the body, serve to fill us with joy, rather than fear.”
Reporting to Valens that Saint Basil was not to be intimidated, Modestus said, “Emperor, we stand defeated by a leader of the Church.” Basil the Great again showed firmness before the emperor and his retinue and made such a strong impression on Valens that the emperor dared not give in to the Arians demanding Basil’s exile.
(to Bravo:) I really appreciate how you have spoken about the U.S.
I know that Canadians can get weary of being regarded like the fifty-first state, and one Canadian roommate compared the relationship between our countries as “a mouse in bed with an elephant: the elephant does not know if the mouse is there, but if it rolls over, the mouse is squashed.”
If I had lived in the days of Whigs and Tories among the colonies, I might have fled to Canada.
Bravo: Growing up in war torn England and walking the graveyards of dead Americans gave me an appreciation for the “Yanks”. Also living within walking distance of the border and having spent considerable amount of time in the States gave me a genuine affinity for Americans and their zest for life and freedom.
Canada is also a great but somewhat different country, however to use another analogy of our relationship.
”Living in Canada is like living above an apartment one where they are having a rowdy but fun party.” Maybe you could turn it down a touch.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Prof. Sarovsky slowly and reverently closed the book.
“St. Dionysius says elsewhere that God is known by every name and no name, and that everything that is is a name of God. And in fact in discussing symbols which have some truth but are necessarily inadequate to reality, crude symbols are to be preferred to those which appear elevated, since even their ‘crassness’ is a ‘goad’ spurring us to reach higher.”
“So now I’d like to have an exercise. Could somebody please name something at random, and I can tell how it tells the glory of God?”
A young man from the back called out, “Porn.”
Prof. Sarovsky said, “Ha ha, hysterical. Could I have another suggestion?”
Another young man called out, “Porn.”
Prof. Sarovsky said, “I’m serious. Porn, when you start using it, seems to be a unique spice. But the more you use it, the more it actually drains spice from everything else, and eventually drains itself, and when pornography can only go so far, you find yourself not only jailed but charged with rape. Lustfulness is in the beginning as sweet as honey and in the end as bitter as gall and as sharp as a double-edged sword. And much as I disagree with feminists on important points, I agree with a feminist dictionary: ‘Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice.’ Could I have a serious suggestion?”
A couple of cellphones started playing, “Internet is for porn.”
Prof. Sarovsky called on the class’s most vocal feminist. “Delilah! Would you pick a topic?”
Delilah grinned wickedly and said, “I’m with the boys on this one. Porn.”
Prof. Sarovsky paused briefly and says, “Very well, then, porn it is. The famous essay ‘I, Pencil‘ takes the humble pencil up and just starts to dig and dig at the economic family tree of just what resources and endeavors make up the humble lead pencil. So it talks about logging, and all the work in transporting the wood, and the mining involved in the graphite, and the exquisite resources that go just to make the blue strip on the metal band, and so on and so forth, and the ‘rubber’ eraser and whatnot. The conclusion is that millions of dollars’ resources (he does not calculate a figure) went into making a humble wooden pencil, and he pushes further: only God knows how to make a pencil. And if only God knows how to make a pencil, a fortiori only God knows how to make a porn site…
“And, I suppose, a pencil must be a phallic symbol.”
Then he paused, and said, “Just kidding!”
The room was silent.
Prof. Sarovsky bowed deeply and grinned: “I’ll see you and raise you.”
And this is what he said.
I, Porn, want to tell you about myself. There are options that eclipse me, but I can make my point more strongly if I speak for myself, Porn, who represent myriads of wonders.
Nor do I suggest that the straight-laced print off a Porn image and frame and hang it on the wall. Though if they understood my lineage, the question would then become whether they were worthy to do so.
I have a magnificent and vaster lineage than “I, Pencil” begins to draw out. A brilliance in economics, the author simply underscores a great interdependent web of economic resources in the humble pencil’s family tree. Equipment, mining, logging, transportation: the economic underpinnings of a humble pencil amount to millions of dollars, and the details mentioned only scratch the surface even of the economics involved.
I have a vaster lineage, including such things as war in Heaven. Now the war in Heaven is over, and was over when the Archangel Michael only said his name, which in the Hebrew tongue says, “Who is like God?” and with that, the devils were cast down, sore losers afflicting the Royal Race one and all. And even then, it was only angelic spirits that could come anywhere close to their war against God. Even then, they are limited. They are on a leash. Perhaps someday I will tell you of why you are summoned to a holy and blinding arrogance towards that whole camp.
What is the Royal Race? I get ahead of myself.
I, Porn, don’t merely share a universe with the divine virtues. In my production there is the cutting off of self-will, long suffering, and as little lust as might be found in a monastery. Dostoevsky offers the image of the chaste harlot; I can add only that if Christ were walking today, Porn models would be among the first he would associate with.
The core impulse I, Porn, draw on, is good. It is a testament to the human spirit that nine months after a natural disaster, there is a wave of babies born. The core impulse is the impulse for the preservation of the species, the possibility by which a community of mortals has itself no automatic end.
It is closer to my point to say that God is not just good and divine; he has created a world that in every way reflects his grandeur. There are no small parts: only actors who are not really small. Every superstring vibration in the cosmos is grander and vaster than all the pagan gods of all worlds put together.
Or as G.K. Chesterton said, “Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pocket. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.”
It is still closer to my majesty to observe Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who suffered in the Gulag that Hitler sent observers for inspiration for Nazi concentration camps, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, not between political parties either — but right through every 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.”
The Heavens declare the glory of God—and so do I, Porn.
Perhaps the most beautiful doctrine in Origen that Orthodox must condemn is the final and ultimate salvation of all Creation: that the Devil himself will be a last prodigal son returning to home in Heaven. But the Orthodox teaching is more beautiful: a teaching that every spiritual being, every man, every fallen or unfallen angel, is given an eternal choice between Heaven and Hell and not one of these will God rape, however much he desires their salvation. To quote The Dark Tower: “A man can’t be taken to hell, or sent to hell: you can only get there on your own steam.” God has made a rock he could not could move, and that rock is man and angel.
The rising crescendo that practically seals C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” is:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
Which brings us to the messy circumstances of your lives.
George Bernard Shaw said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” We can see it, perhaps in a fantasy setting, in a passage from C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has Lucy tiptoe to a room with a spellbook and see a singular spell:
Then she came to a page which was such a blaze of pictures that one hardly noticed the writing. Hardly—but she did notice the first words. They were, An infallible spell to make beautiful she that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals. Lucy peered at the pictures with her face close to the page, and though they had seemed crowded and muddlesome before, she found she could now see them quite clearly. The first was a picture of a girl standing at a reading-desk reading in a huge book. And the girl was dressed up exactly like Lucy. In the next picture Lucy (for the girl in her picture was Lucy herself) was standing up with her mouth open and a rather terrible expression on her face, chanting or reciting something. In the third picture the beauty beyond the lot of mortals had come to her. It was strange, considering how small the pictures had looked at first, that the Lucy in the picture now seemed quite as big as the real Lucy; and they looked into each other’s eyes and the real Lucy was dazzled by the beauty of the other Lucy; though she could still se a sort of likeness to herself in that beautiful face. And now the pictures came crowding on her thick and fast. She saw herself throned on high at a great tournament in Calormen and all the Kings of the world fought because of her beauty. After that it turned from tournaments to real wars, and all Narnia and Archenland, Telmar and Calormen, Galma and Terebithinia, were laid waste with the fury of the kings and dukes and great lords who fought for her favor. Then it changed and Lucy, still beautiful beyond the lot of mortals, was back in England. And Susan (who had always been the beauty of the family) came home from America. The Susan in the picture looked exactly like the real Susan only plainer and with a nasty expression. And Susan was was jealous of the dazzling beauty of Lucy, but that didn’t matter a bit because no one cared anything about Susan now.
The temptation, patterned after real temptation of the real world, is to want a horror. It is because Lucy is bewitched that she even wants what the spell promises. The destruction of kingdoms when lords vie for her beauty? Women may want to feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, but the count in stacking dead bodies like cordwood is no true metric for beauty. As a faithfully portrayed temptation by C.S. Lewis, what is being desired is not something Heavenly. It is a vision of Hell, pure and simple. While in the grips of temptation, she could not be happy without casting that spell until she let go of it from a strong warning from Aslan. But even if she succeeded, she would be even more unhappy. Her success would rival world wars or nuclear wars in its destruction of beautiful worlds, and if it didn’t bring her death, she would live on in a wrecked world, knowing for the rest of her life that it was her petty self-absorption that obliterated the majesty of worlds.
Even if we scale from back from undisguised fantasy, we can look at what is a practical possibility for some people in the real world. Cameron Russell’s Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe me, I’m a model. The TED talk eloquently explains that being a supermodel is not all sunshine and not the solution to all life’s problems. For that matter it isn’t even the solution to body image problems, and the final point she shares is that as a model she has to be more, not less, insecure about her body, no matter how lovely she may appear to others. It turns out that supermodels are intimidated by… other supermodels. Being a model is not a way to be exempt from body image struggles.
And this is in no way a solely a phenomenon about body image. There is one man where professional opinion is that he is smarter than most genuises, and that the average Harvard PhD has never met someone so talented. And his work history, given that he’s tried to give his best? Here’s something really odd. One job assistant said, “You don’t want your boss figuring out you’re smarter than him.” When he hands in his first piece of work, only some bosses respond kindly to work that is beyond the boss’s wildest dreams. Most of them find themselves in unfamiliar social territory, and strike out or retaliate. He’s been terminated a dozen times and is now retired on disability, the best financial arrangement he has had yet. It may be true, up to a point, that there’s something likable about being smart. That doesn’t mean in any sense that the smarter you get, the more people like you, or that your life is easy.
There is a portal that far excels entering another world, entering Narnia, Hogwarts, or Middle Earth. And this portal is much harder to see or look for than Narnia. It is entering the here and now you have been placing.
Spiritual masters have said to want what you have, not what you don’t have, and want things to be for you just the way they are. Now there is such a thing as legitimately seeking to solve, lessen, or improve a problem, and wishing you had a better-paying job, a car, or a nicer house. Wishing never runs out, and if you get the Apple Watch you want, wishing will just wish for newer or different things. Buy something you don’t need but will make you enchanted for a month. I dare you.
Oh, and by the way, I, Porn, know all about wishing. I know everything about it, and I know everything it can’t do.
When you let go of escape, soon you may let go of relating the here and now as the sort of thing one should flee, and some thick, sticky grey film will slowly melt away from your eyes and they will open on beauty all around you, and you will have crossed a threshold no fantasy portal even comes close. And you will have every treasure that you have. And perhaps, in and through ancient religion or postmodern positive psychology, cultivate a deep and abiding gratefulness for all the blessings you have.
In the Way of Things, there are two basic options one can pursue. One is the Sexual Way, and the other is the Hyper-Sexual Way. Let me explain.
Study after study has been launched to investigate which group of mavericks has the best sex, and they have been repeatedly been dismayed to find that the overlooked Sexual Way has the most pleasure. The overlooked Sexual Way is that of a contest of love, for life, between one lord and one wife, chaste before the wedding and faithful after, grateful for children, and knowing that the best sex ever is when you are trying to make a baby. After the first year or two some outward signs get quiet and subdued, but the marriage succeeds because the honeymoon has failed. It deepens year after year and decade after a decade, and a widowed senior can say, “You don’t know what love is when you’re a kid.” And here, like no other place, beauty is forged in the eye of the beholder. Here, unlike fashion magazines, sweaty fitness regimens, and dieting, and weighing, and accursed “bodysculpting,” a woman can and should be made to feel like she is the most beautiful woman in the world, to a husband to whom she really is the most beautiful woman in the world, as naturally as the Church on Sunday. As Homer and Marge humbly and quietly sing to each other, “You are so beautiful to me!”
If the sexual impulse is spent wisely in the Sexual Way, it is invested at exorbitant interest on the Hyper-Sexual Way. Wonder what all that curious monastic modesty about? It compounds an essential sexual condition, by which a monastic, man or woman, becomes a transgendered god and his sexual desire is entirely fixed on God. Does this seem strange? Let us listen to St. Herman of Alaska:
Further on Yanovsky writes, “Once the Elder was invited aboard a frigate which came from Saint Petersburg. The Captain of the frigate was a highly educated man, who had been sent to America by order of the Emperor to make an inspection of all the colonies. There were more than twenty-five officers with the Captain, and they also were educated men. In the company of this group sat a monk of a hermitage, small in stature and wearing very old clothes. All these educated conversationalists were placed in such a position by his wise talks that they did not know how to answer him. The Captain himself used to say, ‘We were lost for an answer before him.’
“Father Herman gave them all one general question: ‘Gentlemen, What do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness?’ Various answers were offered … Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain; and so forth in the same vein. ‘It is not true,’ Father Herman said to them concerning this, ‘that all your various wishes can bring us to one conclusion—that each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love?’ They all answered, ‘Yes, that is so!’ He then continued, ‘Would you not say, Is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, and that which by preference is most worthy of love, the Very Lord, our Jesus Christ, who created us, adorned us with such ideals, gave life to all, sustains everything, nurtures and loves all, who is Himself Love and most beautiful of all men? Should we not then love God above every thing, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out?’
“All said, ‘Why, yes! That’s self-evident!’ Then the Elder asked, ‘But do you love God?’ They all answered, ‘Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God?’ ‘And I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, I cannot say that I love Him completely,’ Father Herman protested to them. He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. ‘If we love someone,’ he said, ‘we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?’ They had to admit that they had not! ‘For our own good, and for our own fortune,’ concluded the Elder, ‘let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!’ Without any doubt this conversation was imprinted in the hearts of the listeners for the rest of their lives.’
Fr. Herman had something better than pixels on a screen. Much better.
Perhaps the most controversial argument in the history of philosophy is by Anselm of Canterbury, who said, “If God exists, nothing greater than him could exist. Now God either exists in reality and also in our minds, or only as a concept in our minds. But to exist in reality as well as our minds is greater than to exist only in our minds. Therefore, God must have the higher excellence of existing in reality as well as our minds.”
I am not specifically interested in bringing agreement or disagreement to this argument. First, most people first meeting this argument feel that something has been slipped past them, but they can’t put a finger on where the error is. However, I did not exactly include this argument to discuss what it asserts, but what it assumes: if God is greater than anything else that can be thought, then we have something that pierces deeply into the Christian God.
The joke is told that four rabbis would get together to discuss Torah, and one specific rabbi was the odd man out, every single time. And they said, “Three against one.” Finally, the exasperated odd rabbi out knelt down, prayed, “Gd, I’ve worked very hard, and they never listen. Please send them a sign that I’m right.” It was a warm day out, but a sudden chilly wind blew by, and some clouds appeared in the sky. The other three rabbis said, “That’s odd, but it’s still three against one.” Then the rabbi knelt down, prayed, “Please make a clearer sign,” and the wind grew more bitter and it began sleeting. The rabbi said, “Well?” The other rabbis said, “This is quite a coincidence, but it’s still three against one.” Then before the rabbi could begin to pray, bolts of lightning splintered a nearby tree, there was an earthquake, the earth opened, and a deep voice thundered, “HE’S RIGHT!” The rabbi said, “Well?” Quick as a flash, another rabbi said, “Well? It’s still three against two!”
The humor element in this element extends beyond, “If God has spoken, the discussion is over.” The humor element hinges on the fact that counting does not go from “one, two, three, four” to “one, two, three, four, Five”: there is infinite confusion in adding one God to four men. As written in Doxology:
Thou who art One,
Eternally beyond time,
So wholly One,
That thou mayest be called infinite,
Timeless beyond time thou art,
The One who is greater than infinity art thou.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
The Three who are One,
No more bound by numbers than by word,
And yet the Son is called Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ,
Divine ordering Reason,
Eternal Light and Cosmic Word,
Way pre-eminent of all things,
Beyond all, and infinitesimally close,
Thou transcendest transcendence itself,
The Creator entered into his Creation,
Sharing with us humble glory,
Lowered by love,
Raised to the highest,
The Suffering Servant known,
The King of Glory,
Wert thou a lesser god,
Numerically one as a creature is one,
Only one by an accident,
Then thou couldst not deify thine own creation,
Whilst remaining the only one god.
But thou art beyond all thought,
All word, all being,
We may say that thou existest,
But then we must say,
Thou art, I am not.
And if we say that we exist,
It is inadequate to say that thou existest,
For thou art the source of all being,
And beyond our being;
Thou art the source of all mind, wisdom, and reason,
Yet it is a fundamental error to imagine thee,
To think and reason in the mode of mankind.
Thou art not one god because there happeneth not more,
Thou art The One God because there mighteth not be another beside thee.
Thus thou spakest to Moses,
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Which is to say,
Thou shalt admit no other gods to my presence.
And there can be no other god beside thee,
So deep and full is this truth,
That thy Trinity mighteth take naught from thine Oneness,
Nor could it be another alongside thy divine Oneness,
If this God became man,
That man become god.
The Trinity does not represent a weaker or less consistent monotheism than Islam. The Trinity represents a stronger and more consistent monotheism than Islam, and that is why it can afford things that are unthinkable to a Muslim.
A Hindu once asked a Christian, “I can accept the truth of the incarnation, but why only one?” And in that conversation, where the Christian defended only one incarnation, both were wrong. Or rather, the Christian was wrong; the Hindu was merely mistaken.
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to BECOME him forever.
One theology professor tried to explain to a Muslim that the Trinity is how Christians get to the absolute Oneness of God. The men who first articulated the doctrine looked with some horror on the concept of using the word “Trinity” as a handle for the doctrine.
Regarding the Hindu mentioned, I would say that there have been many, many true incarnations of God, and they still continue. Now the Hindu concept of an Avatar can be what Christianity rejected as docetistic, with Christ not recognized to have real flesh. However, what I would rather have been said is this: No one besides Christ enters the world with part or all of God as part of them. However, the reason for the coming of the Son of God is to destroy the devil’s work. An ancient hymn states, “Trying to be god, Adam failed to be God. Christ became man, to make Adam god.” And the vast company of Saints that God keeps on giving are in fact the gift of a company of Avatars; we just have a different understanding of how one reaches a very similar goal.
The Philokalia says, “Blessed is the monk who regards each man as God after God.”
St. John Chrysostom comments on the Scripture: “We beheld,” he says, “His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father.”
Having declared that we were made “sons of God,” and having shown in what manner5 namely, by the “Word” having been “made Flesh,” he again mentions another advantage which we gain from this same circumstance. What is it? “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father”; which we could not have beheld, had it not been shown to us, by means of a body like to our own. For if the men of old time could not even bear to look upon the glorified countenance of Moses, who partook of the same nature with us, if that just man needed a veil which might shade over the purity7 of his glory, and show to them have face of their prophet mild and gentle; how could we creatures of clay and earth have endured the unveiled Godhead, which is unapproachable even by the powers above? Wherefore He tabernacled among us, that we might be able with much fearlessness to approach Him, speak to, and converse with Him.
But what means “the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father”? Since many of the Prophets too were glorified, as this Moses himself, Elijah, and Elisha, the one encircled by the fiery chariot (2 Kings vi. 17), the other taken up by it; and after them, Daniel and the Three Children, and the many others who showed forth wonders; and angels who have appeared among men, and partly disclosed to beholders the flashing light of their proper nature; and since not angels only, but even the Cherubim were seen by the Prophet in great glory, and the Seraphim also: the Evangelist leading us away from all these, and removing our thoughts from created things, and from the brightness of our fellow-servants, sets us at the very summit of good. For, “not of prophet,” says he, “nor angel, nor archangel, nor of the higher power, nor of any other created nature,” if other there be, but of the Master Himself, the King Himself, the true Only-Begotten Son Himself, of the Very Lord of all, did we “behold the glory.”
For the expression “as,” does not in this place belong to similarity or comparison, but to confirmation and unquestionable definition; as though he said, “We beheld glory, such as it was becoming, and likely that He should possess, who is the Only-Begotten and true Son of God, the King of all.” The habit (of so speaking) is general, for I shall not refuse to strengthen my argument even from common custom, since it is not now my object to speak with any reference to beauty of words, or elegance of composition, but only for your advantage; and therefore there is nothing to prevent my establishing my argument by the instance of a common practice. What then is the habit of most persons? Often when any have seen a king richly decked, and glittering on all sides with precious stones, and are afterwards describing to others the beauty, the ornaments, the splendor, they enumerate as much as they can, the glowing tint of the purple robe, the size of the jewels, the whiteness of the mules, the gold about the yoke, the soft and shining couch. But when after enumerating these things, and other things besides these, they cannot, say what they will, give a full idea of the splendor, they immediately bring in: “But why say much about it; once for all, he was like a king;” not desiring by the expression “like,” to show that he, of whom they say this, resembles a king, but that he is a real king. Just so now the Evangelist has put the word As, desiring to represent the transcendent nature and incomparable excellence of His glory.
Elsewhere we are asked to consider what things would be like if a King were to take up residence in one of the houses of a city. Would not the entire city, and each house in it, be forever honored? And the Son of God is now one of our homeboys. He ascended into Heaven and brought us with him, enthroned in Heaven with him.
We are the Royal Race. We are made in the image of God, and made to reach unimaginable glory.
And there may be named three laws that are the Constitution of the Royal Race, three laws which are one and the same.
The first law is the Law of the Canoe, as C.S. Lewis summarized his friend Charles Williams:
It is Virgil himself who died without reaching the patria, who saw ‘Italy’ only from a wave before he was engulfed forever. It is Virgil himself who stretches out his hands among the ghosts ripae ulterioris amore, longing to pass a river that he cannot pass. This poet from whose work so many Christians have drawn spiritual nourishment was not himself a Christian—did not himself know the full meaning of his own poetry, for (in Keble’s fine words) ‘thoughts beyond their thought to those high bards were given’. This is exquisite cruelty; he made honey not for himself; he helped to save others, himself he could not save.
…The Atonement was a Substitution, just as Anselm said. But that Substitution, far from being a mere legal fiction irrelevant to the normal workings of the universe, was simply the supreme instance of a universal law. ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save’ is a definition of the Kingdom. All salvation, everywhere and at all times, in great things or in little, is vicarious. The courtesy of the Emperor has absolutely decreed that no man can paddle his own canoe and every man can paddle his fellow’s, so that the shy offering and modest acceptance of indispensable aid shall be the very form of the celestial etiquette. [emphasis original]
The second law is the Law of the Long Spoon. As one telling goes from a liberal enough source:
One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”
God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.
The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”
Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.
The man said, “I don’t understand.”
God smiled. “It is simple,” he said, “These people share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves…”
The last law is the Law of Narcissus’s Mirror. It states that the Royal Race are absolutely forbidden to stand and gaze at themselves in Narcissus’s Mirror, entranced at their own beauty, and commanded to gaze at other members of the Royal Race, entranced at their beauty.
These three laws are one and the same. One joke, about “communio” theologians who hold the Trinity to mean that God himself is a community, ran:
Q: How many communio theologians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Only one, but he thinks he is a community.
But we are not communities. We are part of a community, and the full grandeur of being a member of the Royal Race is that you are no island, but a connected and beautiful part of a continent.
And furthermore, God has ordered Heaven and Earth for the benefit of us as the Royal Race.
Though this may be more subtle in the Sexual Way than in the Hyper-Sexual Way, but the behavior enjoined on the Hyper-Sexual Way is that of a spiritual miser, who constantly thinks his Heavenly wealth is too little and he must spare no effort to get more, and no matter how much treasure in Heaven he acquires, he never rests on his laurels, but keeps on storing up more and more and more.
Men each have one interest, one real interest, and only one interest: a good answer before the Dread Judgment-Throne of Christ. This life is inestimably precious, and in treasures such as repentance, Heaven’s best-kept secret, we can only store up these treasures before this fleeting life is over. Now the Church Triumphant is no terrible place to be, but there are profound goods that are only open to us, the living, for as long as we live. And the various strange prescriptions of the Philokalia and the Orthodox Way, about believing oneself to be the worst of sinners, about giving oneself no credit for any good actions, about believing “All the world will be saved and I will be damned,” about repenting as if one will die tomorrow but treating your body as if it will last for many years, are in fact braces to support being one hoarding spiritual miser for the rest of one’s life, and crossing the finish line, in triumph, and with treasure after treasure after treasure in your hoard. It is explained that God conceals from us the day of our death, because if we knew we would not die for some decades, we would put off repentance and be incorrigible. Not that God is absolutely unwilling to reveal to people the day of their death: it is in fact considered a mark of holiness to know that, because a person is in a good enough state for the secret not to need to be hidden. But the Philokalia’s discussion, perhaps here most clearly of all, explains that things are ordered this way because God has stacked the deck, in our favor. And as regards the Sexual Way, the path is said not to be an environment for children to grow up, but an environment for parents to grow up.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, fields an objection which was apparently on people’s minds but I have not heard brought up live in my lifetime. However, the answer says everything to a world in disintegrating economy, COVID, Jihad, and more:
I’d like to deal with a difficulty some people find about the whole idea of prayer. Somebody put it to me by saying: “I can believe in God alright, but what I can’t swallow is this idea of Him listening to several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment.” And I find quite a lot of people feel that difficulty. Well, the first thing to notice is that the whole sting of it comes in the words “at the same moment.” Most of us can imagine a God attending to any number of claimants if only they come one by one and He has an endless time to do it in. So what’s really at the back of the difficulty is this idea of God having to fit too many things into one moment of time. Well that, of course, is what happens to us. Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along, and there’s room for precious little in each. That’s what Time is like. And, of course, you and I tend to take it for granted that this Time series — this arrangement of past, present and future — isn’t simply the way life comes to us but is the way all things really exist. We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from a past to a future just as we are. But many learned men don’t agree with that. I think it was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all. Later, the Philosophers took it over. And now some of the scientists are doing the same. Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life doesn’t consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He hasn’t got to listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call “ten-thirty.” Ten-thirty, and every other moment from the beginning to the end of the world, is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has infinity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames. That’s difficult, I know. Can I try to give something, not the same, but a bit like it. Suppose I’m writing a novel. I write “Mary laid down her book; next moment came a knock at the door.” For Mary, who’s got to live in the imaginary time of the story, there’s no interval between putting down the book and hearing the knock. But I, her creator, between writing the first part of that sentence and the second, may have gone out for an hour’s walk and spent the whole hour thinking about Mary. I know that’s not a perfect example, but it may just give a glimpse of what I mean. The point I want to drive home is that God has infinite attention, infinite leisure to spare for each one of us. He doesn’t have to take us in the line. You’re as much alone with Him as if you were the only thing He’d ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you’d been the only man in the world.
And God’s Providence is not just Providence in great things. It is Providence in the small. It is not just Providence in a career, or entering the Sexual Way. It is also Providence when you are stuck in traffic and the light seems never to be turning green and that still, small voice urges you to grow just a little as a person so you can be as happy in your car as in a lounge chair at home. And it is the mighty arm of Providence all the more powerfully revealed when we are persecuted, or lose money, or any number of other things. And it is a Providence that gives you the here and now, a here and now chosen for you from all eternity, and will, if you cooperate, help you appreciate the gift.
And if you are one of the many who believe that I, Porn, am the only interesting spice in a fatally dull world, I, Porn, can only say this:
Watch me when I am Transfigured.
To quote your own age’s little reflection of The Divine Comedy:
I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.
‘Off so soon?’ said a voice.
The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.
‘Yes. I’m off,’ said the Ghost. ‘Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap’ (here he indicated the Lizard) that he’d have to be quiet if he came—which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.’
‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.
‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.
‘Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.
‘Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.
‘Don’t you want him killed?’
‘You didn’t say anything about killing at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’
‘It’s the only way,’ said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’
‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here—well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’
‘May I kill it?’
‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’
‘There is no time. May I kill it?’
‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—really—don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.’
‘May I kill it?’
‘Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.’
‘The gradual process is of no use at all.’
‘Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well today. It would be most silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.’
‘There is no other day. All days are present now.’
‘Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.’
‘It is not so.’
‘Why, you’re hurting me now.’
‘I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.’
‘Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by to-night’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.’
‘This moment contains all moments.’
‘Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me in pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me—before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.’
‘I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?’
The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.
‘Be careful,’ it said. ‘He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yess. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams—all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent . . .’
‘Have your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.
‘I know it will kill me.’
‘It won’t. But supposing it did?’
‘You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’
‘Then I may?’
‘Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost; but ended, whimpering, ‘God help me. God help me.’
Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.
‘Ow! That’s done for me,’ gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.
For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialized while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man—an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that the something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.
The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed into each other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but may have only been the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seats he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I knew well what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to se them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.
An Orthodox would realize in the Burning Angel a clearest reference to the fiery Seraphim, the highest of the nine angel choirs, and the one for whom St. Seraphim of Sarov came, the most beloved Orthodox saint in centuries, the St. Seraphim whose extraordinary conversation with the pilgrim Motovilov reveals the purpose of human life.
We live in interesting times. There is a singularity, or rather has been but keeps growing exponentially, and this singularity may turn in to the end of the world: a strange Ragnarok where the forces of Good resound with apocalyptic triumph. And I, Porn, am part of the singularity, an important part.
Did you know that I, Porn, am not the only thing in life?
Remember: “Every man who visits a Porn site is looking for God.”
Delilah friend turned back. “Yep, dear, he does that sort of thing in practically every class.”
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:
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.
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.
I am a sinful, imperfect, and very unworthy layman of the Orthodox Church, seeking to enter monasticism to repent of my sins for the rest of my life. (However, I’ve written some pretty good stuff, and if you buy something you might help me along my way.)
What people are saying about this collection
“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.”
—Joseph Donovan, Amazon
“Each piece is a delight: partially because each ‘speaks’ using a different voice and partially 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 intellectual challenges.
Fans of C.S. Lewis and similar Christian thinkers will find The Best of Jonathan’s Corner an absolute delight.”
—Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review
“When I read C. S. Lewis, A. W. Tozer, or G. K. Chesterton, there is a deep ache for both the times and the men that made honor, wisdom, and clarity a thing of such beauty and strength. We wonder what they would say of our time, and why, with so many more people and better communication, we don’t see more of them.
Hayward is such a person of wisdom and depth. I do not say this lightly or flatteringly. He and I don’t agree on everything, but when we contrast, it will never be his side of the issue that is lacking in depth, beauty, or elegance. He’s Orthodox, yes (I’m not). But I suspect all sides will claim him as they do Lewis and Chesterton.”
—Kent Nebergall, Amazon
“The Sign of the Grail is a unique, scholarly, and thorough examination of the Grail mythos, granting it a top recommendation for academia and the non-specialist reader with an interest in these subjects. Also very highly recommended for personal, academic, and community library collections are C.J.S. Hayward’s other deftly written and original literary works, essays, and commentaries, compilations and anthologies: Yonder, Firestorm 2034, A Cord of Seven Strands, The Steel Orb, The Christmas Tales, and Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary [the other six Hayward titles then in print].”
—John Burroughs, Midwest Book Review
“Divinely inspired for our day and age’s spiritually thirsty fellows.”
—Colleen Woods, Amazon
“The work that stands out most among the creative pieces, perhaps among all of them, is that which opens the book, The Angelic Letters. I have had the pleasure of reading nearly all of Hayward’s writings, and I was delighted that he undertook to write such a work. Readers who are familiar with C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters will recognize at once that it is the very book which that author desired, but felt unable, to write in order to balance the demonic correspondence. It is a mark of Hayward’s skill, knowledge, and spiritual insight that he has successfully written something that such a theologian as Lewis did not wish to attempt. He has of course accomplished this work with God’s help, but one must realize the spiritual struggle, mental effort, careful study, and deep prayer that has gone into every piece in this anthology… This author has gathered pearls for us, and may we gladly look upon them. They hold glimmers that can reflect our lives.”
—Sydney “Nicoletta” Freedman, in the Foreword to The Best of Jonathan’s Corner.
This is the piece of which the Midwest Book Review wrote, “Each piece is a delight: partially because each ‘speaks’ using a different voice and partially 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 intellectual challenges.
In other words, it enchants as a Swiss Army Knife enchants, and individual works are as distinctive as blades on a Swiss Army Knife..
This is the flagship of my works, both in theology and writing as a whole, and there’s a lot there.
Among the critiques I’ve made, The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts has had a pretty broad and effective reach, in particular for a work that has numerous vitriolic one star reviews. This title, by contrast, contains another significant critique. The “Humane Tech” movement achieves some things, but I would recall a common misquote allegedly from Einstein: “Our problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” Humane Tech looks at how technology experts can work within today’s technical paradigms to soften some of technology’s rough spots. The Luddite’s Guide to Technology is written across ages to step much further outside the box, and the light adaptation of Plato in Plato: The Allegory of the… Flickering Screen? has been called deep, perhaps because it was a light touch to a masterpiece.
I mentioned in conversation with a previous parish priest that I would jump at an opportunity to do a homily, and when I asked for him to do a homily on something briefly touched on in previous opportunities, he invited me to give such a homily myself. I did, and it was the one time in my life that people burst out clapping after a homily. He was a great encourager, and it is my loss that he has moved to another state.
It’s not just that they’re both about a foot thick. The thickness comes from a numerous and varied set of tools: 87 implements with 141 functions for the Wenger Giant, compared with 230 separate works (as of the time of this writing) in the Kindle collection. Furthermore, if you search Amazon for my dozens of titles you will see something a bit like the many Swiss Army Knives you can search from above.
I would retain what I have written here, including a parallel Bible. However, a good friend tipped me off to FluentU (App Store, Google Play).
However, I think I’ve found a way to overclock FluentU. Once you have down the skill of pegging (see Memory and Prayer for an introduction to the skill and a tool to practice; the skill is discussed at book length in the first part of Kevin Trudeau’s Mega Ego Memory), FluentU gives the spelling and pronunciation of a Russian Word, and then deliberately slows down to visually emphasize what the word means, giving some animation to the item that is being communicated… in fact, they give enough time to peg the Russian word to what it refers to once you’re proficient at pegging. I don’t consider myself great at it, but I find that I’m retaining stuff much more quickly when I’m watching the animations that cover word content.
This post is most immediately about learning Russian for native English speakers, but most of the principles apply to learning other languages as well.
At least one webpage I’ve seen about easy, medium, and hard languages for native English speakers placed Russian squarely in the middle difficulty level for languages to learn; the major qualification for difficulty is simply a vocabulary that doesn’t overlap modern English that much; I would guesstimate that the number of Russian words a native English speaker would easily recognize amounts to less than 10% of the words one would encounter. Beyond that, the grammar is not particularly slippery, or otherwise odd; the alphabet has strong and recognizable similarities to our own (compare CJK ideograms or even trying to see where one letter ends and another begins in Arabic for the un-initiated). It’s actually a lot nicer an alphabet to outsiders than the English use of our alphabet is. Learning Russian is moderately difficult, but it’s doable, and this page is here because I want to share what gleanings I’ve learned in my studies, and make things easier.
A preliminary note: the Russian alphabet
The first point I’m mentioning is the alphabet. In a word, it’s not a hard alphabet to learn; it’s just unfamiliar and takes practice. I learned it on an iPhone app named “Learn to read Russian in three hours.” Good old fashioned flashcards should work just as well, or for that matter having the alphabet below handy for cross-reference in reading. (Or a memory technique discussed below.) Also, don’t feel the need to make every sound. The Russian R sound is trilled; I’ve tried at length to learn a trilled R and don’t know how to make it. The H sound is a grated H, the kind that makes you sound like you are clearing your throat because you have a bad chest cold. I can sometimes make it, but I’ve heard native Russian speakers pronounce it as an English K, or an English H, so apparently both work. There is also a sound that sounds like an “sh” followed immediately by a “ch”; I’m working on this and sometimes succeeding at making it one sound without a break between the “sh” and “ch” sounds. Don’t sweat it overall; in most languages people will have some tolerance for imprecise sounds: if your worst liability is an inauthentic R or H sound, you’re doing well!
A first language-learning workhorse: A parallel Bible
I will try to cover a few primary techniques, but the main workhorse I’ve found, after a lot of other things, is reading a parallel Russian-English Bible. I found, to my irritation, that all the Russian-English Bibles I could track down on Amazon were made by the Russian Bible Society, which is a Protestant organization that omits certain books of the Old Testament that are present both in the Russian and English translations. (The Reformers at least included those books in an appendix!) The modern Russian translation you will be wanting is the Synodal Version (RUSV), which was translated into Russian by Orthodox Christians rather than Protestants. I wanted a nice leatherbound edition; there is also a nice but cheaper option (the only one really cheaper one I could find was a paperback edition).
No matter how much you may want to learn Russian, please start forays into the Synodal Version slowly, and ramp up slowly. As Orthodox mystagogy would have it, you don’t begin exercise by running a marathon. What I would recommend instead is reading the Gospel of John the Theologian, and start with the prologue.
The basic initial technique is to look at the Russian side for a single verse like John 1:1, and then see if you can make connections to the English side. And if you don’t on the first try, that’s fine. But try again an hour later. If you’re comfortable with a verse, move on to the next one. Before long you may be able to read a different verse each hour, and continue with hourly study. If you are comfortable trying to read one verse at a time, try reading two verses, and maybe not all the time. When you are genuinely comfortable reading two verses, move on to three. It is possible this way to get up to maybe a chapter: “Little and often fills the purse.”
But by all means, no marathons, nor stretching yourself as hard as you can for a short while. One detail about lawn care is that the kind of sprinklers that are great for children to play in should only be used for that purpose as they are terrible at watering lawns. What happens to a lawn used by the sprinklers is that the stream of water is shot high up into the air, and with the same force slams down into the ground. If you slam water onto parched ground, it isn’t absorbed; it can’t be. What each droplet of a fist does, instead of being absorbed, is hammer the ground into a beaten shield that repels further droplets. And you end up with a deceptive situation where there is water streaming in rivulets over the surface of the wet-looking soil, but an inch down the soil remains as parched as before it was watered. This is something you don’t want to do in educational situations, including learning a language. Little and often fills the purse.
One specific note to people who are in fact looking to learn classical Hebrew and/or Koine Greek: you can fairly easily find a good intralinear Bible, and to some people this looks like practically all language learning solved at once. However, I would pass on a caution: unless you have already learned multiple languages and already have that discipline, it’s not perfect and you can easily create a habit of your eyes jumping to the intralinear English words and not really spending that much time, or making much progress, with Hebrew or Greek itself. However, one bit of discipline that I am using now is as follows. Use a specially cut rubber jar opener to only let you see the partial or complete line in the ancient language, and don’t unveil to yourself the English term until you have stopped to ponder the ancient language’s term and tried to figure it out without (intralinear) help.
In earlier versions of this page, I recommended using index cards to hide and show things in a way that would be optimal. After working with them, I found that unless you have the luxury of a page that is completely level, they slide around the page whether you want it or not. That problem was solved by making a cover out of a carefully cut rubber jar opener, which I obtained at a local grocery store.
Good Cook rubber jar openers include a circular jar opener, and a larger squarish jar opener. Either of them could be cut to be useful; I used the more square model but if I made too bad a mistake cutting it I could have used the other one. The unopened package looks like so:
I made a first cut; mine was too deep and I cut a slight distance off the top. The point of the cut at the top is to be placed on top of a page, at the line of text you are working on, and to reveal a line of text, up to a point, and conceal what hasn’t been revealed further.
The full vertical height is too much; go to the bottom of the page on at least some intralinear Bibles and the rubber will fall over the bottom of the page. It was cut to height that was much less but still appropriate:
Note that at the top the top borders are closer.
Here are three examples of reading a line of the text. In all cases, the point is to place the whole Hebrew line in view, while hiding the intralinear English translation until the Hebrew has been given primary attention:
These specific images are adapted to Hebrew, as a language that reads right to left. If you want to work with an interlinear Greek New Testament you can use the same covering in almost the same way; you’ll just pull the cover left to right, after first flipping the cover horizontally so it conceals what is to the right instead of what is to the left.
I am here mentioning something that has served me powerfully in the past, and works with multiple languages, but may not be as much needed in our setting.
The Elements of New Testament Greek, the Greek textbook I was taught from, told you what you needed to learn in vocabulary, etc. Greek to Me does one better by providing a practical means to learn the vocabulary above rote memorization; it applies the classical memory technique in the first half of Kevin Trudeau’s Mega Memory (I have a much shorter page and training tool online in Memory and Prayer), and it has been a tremendous accelerator in offering a five-times-faster alternative to looking things up in an old-fashioned print XYZ-English dictionary.
The reason I consider this to be optional now is that there is a faster alternative to avoid repeatedly looking up a term in a thick paper dictionary. You can go to translate.google.com, set it to translate from Russian to English, and spell things phonetically, or set your computer to let you type in Russian, and maybe buy keyboard stickers (or just post-it notes) putting Russian letters on top of your keys. There are two major Russian keyboard layouts both of which should be supported; there is one that is the standard layout (stickers are available), and one that is roughly phonetic for English speakers (I couldn’t find any stickers). If you are going to Russia, you will want the Russian standard keyboard layout; if you are not intending to go to Russia, you will probably find the phonetic layout to feel easier and more natural.
That stated, the memory technique has its uses, especially in getting a new alphabet down. It acts as scaffolding; you first remember XYZ through a vivid mental image from what is called “pegging”, and then with repeated use the provisional mental image fades out of significance and you more quickly remember the word itself.
I will briefly comment that some people develop a strong initial impression that the memory technique is too much work for what it tries to do. I personally have found it not to live up to its hype, but I don’t know anyone who has become proficient and still retains the initial bad impression. I would place it as one tool among others, and less decisive given today’s technology offerings than it has been for me in the past.
A quieter memory technique
The business world has come to recognize that multitasking is not a good thing, and divided attention is needlessly diluted attention. (The Orthodox Church has known this for much longer.)
There is a less striking memory technique of, when you discover or rediscover something or come across something worth keeping, stopping and pausing for a moment to simply give it your full attention. No mental images needed: just the studious slow, focused, and present attention Orthodoxy gives to anything worth keeping. This memory tool is something that combines well with many other techniques and resources.
Language classes aren’t available to all of us; but they can provide another tool. I wanted to take a course in conversational Russian, but it didn’t work out.
There are multiple computer training systems; Rosetta Stone is far from the only option. I don’t have informed opinion about all of them, but DuoLinguo comes highly recommended, and I respect it myself.
I have had difficulty locating edifying Russian-language film or video with English subtitles. However, if you do find something, it can be worth its weight in gold to try to make connections between the Russian you hear and the English you read. However, please note that there is not a complete correspondence between speech in the video and subtitles in another language. (You can have a few people talking but only the essential part is relayed in subtitle.)
Two gems I am aware of are Ostrov and The Tale of Peter and Fevronia.
Conversations with native speakers (if available)
Having a conversation, on a very basic level, can be helpful.
One note from Wheaton’s Institute for Cross-Cultural Training: in dealing with a native speaker, you may be working and working and working on improving your language, and it remains just as hard to talk to that person.
There is a reason for this, and it is really OK. Some people who are sensitive to others’ imperfect language abilities simplify what they say to match the proficiency of the person they are speaking with. This may mean that when you start they speak very simply, but they simplify less and less when they see you become more proficient. You are making progress talking with that person; it just doesn’t feel like it.
Reading books in Russian
This is not a first step in working on a foreign language, but when you are able it is tremendously valuable to read books in that language. What may come to mind first are the proverbial nineteenth-century Russian novels, but beside them there is a vast collection of spiritual literature available in Russian. When you are ready to read books in Russian, reading books really pays off.
Listening to liturgical music
This also can be invaluable.
Different techniques work best for different people; what works best for one person may not be best for another.
This point is worth experimenting on, and it is worth being in some sense watchful by paying attention for what works and what doesn’t.
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51:1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness:
according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
51:2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions:
and my sin is ever before me.
51:4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight:
that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity;
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
51:6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts:
and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
51:8 Make me to hear joy and gladness;
that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
51:9 Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all mine iniquities.
51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me.
51:11 Cast me not away from thy presence;
and take not thy holy spirit from me.
51:12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
and uphold me with thy free spirit.
51:13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;
and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
51:14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation:
and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
51:15 O Lord, open thou my lips;
and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
51:16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it:
thou delightest not in burnt offering.
51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
51:18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion:
build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
51:19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering:
then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.