Archimandrite Zacharias: An Appreciation

Books

An appreciation

I'd like to offer a few words about the books of Archimandrite Zacharias, disciple of St. Sophrony, disciple of St. Silouan, and I would like to tell you about my favorite of his leitmotifs, but there is something more basic I would like to appreciate first.

C.S. Lewis said in his writing that reading George MacDonald's Phantastes had baptized his imagination. Archimandrite Zacharias's books do not aim at imaginative fantasy, or imaginative nonfiction for that matter, but they have helped me to want better and want Orthodox monasticism. They baptized my personal hopes and desires, so to speak.

I have identified with, and wanted to be like, various characters in literature: Charles Wallace Murry and Blajeny in Madeleine l'Engle's A Wind in the Door, Merlin in C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength and in Steven Lawhead's Merlin, and others. I have taken seriously what St. Ignatius's The Arena says that Met. KALLISTOS is so quick to offer embarrassed apologies for: the fact that people, having read a novel, want their life to be like their life in the novel.

I have also had such identification with saints in the Orthodox Church: St. Philaret the Merciful, for instance, and it has been said that when Orthodox faithful take interest in a saint, that saint has taken interest in that faithful. But even beyond St. Philaret, Archimandrite has helped me understand more completely what a monk is (though I may never fully know this side of Heaven), and desire a monk's ascetical feat: identifying with, and representing, "all Adam," the entire human race, before God. The priest (whether married or monastic) has a job of representing God to his flock and his flock to God; in Orthodoxy most monks are not also priests, but there is something equally significant in identifying with, and representing, all Adam before God. All sins are cosmic sins like those of Adam, but if a monk repents, that repentance is of cosmic significance, and monastic and non-monastic saints' repentance sustains the world.

One leitmotif

One leitmotif of Archimandrite Zacharias is that of the "inverted pyramid." Men are arranged into upper and lower classes, and those in power lord it over those without power. Christ represents an inverted pyramid, where he is at the very bottom before the entire weight of the pyramid above him, and above him various ranks of angels sustain Creation, and above them all are the human race.

One specific and practical feature of the inverted pyramid is that if we seek to go down, Satan cannot go with us. Satan wished a throne above God's, and he can go with us whenever we desire more status, more prestige, more human honor. He can go with us if we desire to go above others. But he cannot go with us if we seek to go down, serve others, and serve more like the Servant of all Servants who went even to the depths of Hell to save us.

There is much in these books that is presently over my head, and I want to reread all of Archimandrite Zacharias's books sometime. However, the idea of Christ at the very nadir of the inverted pyramid, and that Satan can never go with us if we go down, is a treasure and a word that has stuck with me. I suffer, like many, from wishing more honor, and not always out of pride. Human honor can serve instrumental purposes that do not amount to pride. But if we seek to go down, if I seek to go down, it is beyond the devil's power to accompany us. He can accompany us well enough when we want honor, but not when we seek to empty ourselves in a participation of Christ's own self-emptying and descending to the depths of Hell to save all Adam.

This is a couple of paragraph's work taken from many profitable volumes of reading, and it cannot but fall short of a worthy account of Archimandrite Zacharias's offering. However, I cannot but thank Archimandrite Zacharias for mediating to me a word that the devil cannot go with us if we go down, and more than that, to baptizing my desires and helping me want to be a monk as much as I have wanted to be like any character in literature.

Thank you, Archimandrite Zacharias.

Calm

I was given a ride recently for a hospital visit over an hour away. I thanked the friend and postulant (beginner at an Orthodox monastery). He commented that he liked being with me, because I was very calm and calming to be around. That was exquisite politeness, but it was not flattery. Another postulant, my godson, commented that he liked being around me because he hoped some of my calm would rub off. The thought occurred to me that I might write down some of what I have learned about keeping one's calm, and send a link to both postulants. As I told them, some of my calm is hard-won, and I wanted to talk about what to do that might win it.

I do not believe the Law of Attraction as formulated in new age to be desirable, but there is a Little Law of Attraction that is worth its proverbial weight in gold. The Little Law of Attraction is that if you think thoughts of peace, you will get more and bigger thoughts of peace, and if you think thoughts of anger, you will get more and bigger thoughts of anger, and conflict with it. If we keep our mind on our circumstances, we will be dragged into a Hell on earth. If we focus on the Lord, we will have peace and a Heaven on earth. Thus I would summarize the better parts of Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives by Elder Thaddeus, which also says that we have an incredibly beautiful sensitivity to the thoughts of others, and pick up on what they are feeling. This is part of why my deep calm was calming to the others. Furthermore, even if we do not realize it, we have a choice whether to be dominated by the anger of others. My understanding, not having read the book, is that this is the same freedom discussed in Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and the latter may be a better starting point. We may not recognize our freedom here, and it comes in a brief window, but we have a choice. Addicts are told, "You have more power than you think," and the power can be exercised in this short window.

That choice is in continuity with nipsis or the spiritual watchfulness of the Philokalia, which on this point I would summarize as follows. If there is a spark that can become a flame in your house, you can put it out before it becomes a proper flame. If it does become a proper flame, you can put it out before it spreads with a fire extinguisher, but this is worse than just putting out the spark. If it becomes a flame that is too big to put out with a fire extinguisher, and spreads through your house, if you leave with your life you can call the fire department and you may have the flame put out then, and get insurance to help, but it is better to put it out with a fire extinguisher than wait until it is too big for a fire extinguisher. There are several ways to escape with your life, but the earlier in the process you stop it, the better, and the least harm it will cause you. If you put out what is still just a spark when it is still just a spark, the entire remainder of the damaging process of a house fire is avoided.

For an Arthurian image, be like the Fisher-King, in a boat on the waters, watching with a spear to stab fish in the water. And there is something further I would like to point out: the Fisher-King is wounded through the thighs, meaning he is wounded between the thighs, and of a damaged virility.

The biggest attack on manhood in the recent past is porn. Porn is, to quote Proverbs, "in the beginning as sweet as honey, and in the end bitter as gall and sharp as a double-edged sword." Lust is the disenchantment of the entire universe, which disenchants everything else, and then disenchants itself. The only goal of lust is more lust, and porn is nothing more than an advertisement for more porn. Furthermore, what men do after looking at porn is an ultimate exploitation of the model, using her unhappy performance just as a tool to spark... if you have this struggle, and most men today do, think about what is really going on. And lust is cruel; it generates anger whenever it is not getting a "fix", and it is a great enemy to inner peace.

I mention this point, which may seem none of my business, because really the whole Sermon on the Mount relates to calm. Lust and porn are an enemy to calm, and worth getting free of. The Sermon on the Mount does not just help us reach calm when it touches on stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger's "We suffer more in imagination than in reality," and says not to borrow trouble from tomorrow because "each day has enough trouble as its own." Trying to solve the rest of your life's problems on a day's resources is a gateway to something truly hellish, and worry does nothing but hurt us: "Do you think you can add a single hour to your life by worrying? You might as well try to worry your way into being a foot taller!"

Another point in the Sermon on the Mount has to do with love for enemies. Love for enemies was something I knew to be important growing up, but I did not really know how. My struggles with remembering wrongs others had done against me (a sin by the way—and nothing merry!), became markedly better when I was able to thank God for them. St. Silouan and the writing of St. Silouan's disciple St. Sophrony and St. Sophrony's disciple Archimandrite Zacharias were tremendously helpful in helping me let go of an onerous burden of remembering all the bad things that had happened to me. They also underscore something important: how much you love your enemies is a litmus test for how far you love God, so love for enemies is not just one issue among others. We should not be angry to those who wrong us, but love and pity them for bringing occasion for our suffering. Innocent suffering is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and the Sermon on the Plain bids you leap for joy when you are badly treated because of Christ. However, the principle applies to undeserved suffering.

There was a student who worked in my department's office, who talked about having butterflies in her stomach about a shortly upcoming dance performance. I gave permission to offer a word of advice, and I asked her, "Is there a person, or a place, or a memory that is pleasant to think about to you?" She said that yes, there was such a thing. I said that she had practiced and the only thing remaining was to do the performance, and I told her, "I want you to think about that until the performance." Counting your blessings, and being grateful for all that God and other people have given you, is a recipe for joy, and it was more in reach than my telling her not to worry: yes, that is what I wanted, but on her resources, how? If some of what I said above is too much for you now, it may be an easier task to be mindful of your blessings. It has been said that in prayer we should not have very good thoughts but no thoughts, but that's a more advanced lesson. Even if St. Silouan and his spiritual progeny have something better, developing gratitude is a recipe for joy, and it is something else that we can do to try to push out remembrance of wrongs others have done against us.

When I was studying theology and things were getting rough, there was a period of about two or three weeks when I was stressed to the point of uninterrupted waking nausea. Part of it was triggered by a questionable decision a doctor made with my medication, but the heart of my worry was, "Will there be a place for me?" And there has been a place: I was at my parents' house, and then now at this monastery where I am trying to grow up. I am retired on disability. Now the question may come of, "But inflation is taking off," to which I would say, "The Bible never says, 'Lack of money is the root of all evil.'" Most of the original recipients of the Sermon on the Mount was addressed to the poor and downtrodden in what would today be considered a third world economy. As the cliché goes, "I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I know Who brings tomorrow." Possibly changes in the economy will result in, or rather trigger my death, but I have never in my life gone to bed knowing that I would wake up the following morning. I do not see my death as really negotiable, unless I live to Christ's return, and I would recall a joke where a husband and wife came to Heaven and the husband told his wife, "We could have been here several years earlier if you hadn't cooked such healthy food!" Death is not to be feared, just death outside of repentance, death outside of obedience to the Lord, and the Lord can see that there is a place to me even if I die tomorrow.

There is an old Protestant hymn that says,

Keep your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of this world will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

My abbot underscores a short maxim of "Never react. Never resent. Keep inner peace." The intent of this posting is not to offer something better, but to offer an aid how. And if you want low-hanging fruit, try to let go of worry and trying to solve tomorrow's problems on today's resources, and start trying to push such thoughts out of your heart by giving them competition in terms of active remembrance of every good blessing God has given you in your entire life. And maybe read e.g. God the Spiritual Father or better the whole collection in Happiness in an Age of Crisis, which includes God the Spiritual Father and several other relevant pieces.

Much Love,
Br. Christos

Reflectons on my Life and That Hideous Strength

Old Testament

One of my friends said, "Star Wars is my life," and talked about having his father be the best pilot in the galaxy.

I have some real resonance for C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength. I have come to an odd and eclectic family, a "St. Anne's Company", headed by a Ransom (more than a philologist, His Eminence Metropolitan JONAH).

Where is Merlin? That could be me, and let me explain.

There are three or four characters in literature I was strongly drawn to before becoming Orthodox: Charles Wallace of Madeleine l'Engle, A Wind in the Door, and later Blajeny from the same book; then Michael Valentine Smith of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. And there was something toxic in my identification with each.

I asked one brilliant friend if he knew of any good treatments of gifted children in literature besides A Wind in the Door, and he mentioned Stephen Lawhead's Merlin, and partway through reading it I went from wishing for such spectacular manifestations of awen to "We both belong to the same college!"

A standard distinction between flat and rounded characters in literature is that a rounded character believably surprises the reader. In C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Merlin comes awfully close to delivering nothing but believable surprises, and he is riveting. He is described, not as a figure from the ?5th? century, but as "the last survival in the ?5th? century of something much older", and while you could then "still do some things innocently, you couldn't do it safely."

Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and somewhere in there a sorceror's bargain slips in. "Give me your soul, and I will give you power," but under the circumstances it is not you who have the power. Count distracted parenting, where moms glued to mobile devices are pushing strollers in front of cars. My magnum opus is The Luddite's Guide to Technology, in which, instead of Merlin being told "You can't do that today," I am saying "You can't do that today."

And as far as believable surprises, one of my monastic brotherhood asked, with a warm smile, "Are you from another planet?" He sung a tune, and I said something about newer music. He said it was from ZZ Top in the 70's, and I said that I meant as the centuries go by.

More is perhaps to be said, but I wish to move on.

Here, I have been blessed to read Archimandrite Zacharias (Zachariou), and it talks about the cosmic nature of monastic repentance. He describes giant saints who have extended the life of the world. While this monastery may not have any epic saints or any saints at all, if the world does not end it will be due to the repentance of those today, and the college of Orthodox monasticism may do the job of little St. Anne's overcoming the hideous strength of Lewis's "N.I.C.E." And I am glad to be approaching membership in that team.

New Testament

The analogy could be pushed still further (see the Christmas homily in The Sign of the Grail about how the figure of Merlin, deepened and enriched, becomes an image of Christ, but I do not wish to do so. In things that are truly great, a man may be asked to give up even the motives that led him into seeking something truly great.

I have learned instead a better understanding of what a monk is. A monk identifies with all Adam, and repents for all Adam, and this is a cosmic act, even as each sin is a cosmic act that repeats Adam's sin. The priest is responsible for representing God to his flock and his flock to God, while the monk is a representative of the human race.

The beloved St. Seraphim of Sarov echoed St. Isaac the Syrian: "Make peace with yourself and Heaven and earth will make peace with you." "Save yourself and ten thousand around you will be saved." And this is not primarily through the unlawful, to a monk, means of human struggling, but with a wholehearted flight to God.

The flipside of needing to sacrifice even the motives that led me to monasticism is that monasticism holds treasures I had not even guessed at before approaching monasticism, and a coincidence of similarity to being in a C.S. Lewis novel is an utter consolation prize to the feast I have been invited to and participate, if in the smallest way, to saving the world.

This much is written with heavy use of the discursive reason as applied to divine topics, and true monasticism has the heart hold all things and discursive reason be a sun next to the moon of the heart or spiritual eye. And even this description is dust and ashes next to the realities tasted in monasticism, and many which I am far from tasting even yet.

This "New Testament" is an "Old Testament" next to the realities of the spiritual struggle, the spiritual path, in monasticism.

True "Woke" Is Repentance

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

Am I woke?

I am trying to redefine and challenge what the waking up in "woke" means.

First of all, am I woke? What are some experiences from my own life? Let me mention a few:


  1. Terminations. I have never submitted an accommodation for disability without being terminated, always within a month, and always, always allegedly "for cause."

    I've been fired a dozen times, and gave up on talking to HR because they never get it. At one point, when my boss demonstrably lied to me in a meeting for the purpose of scaring me silly, I complained to HR and they thought I was complaining because as a consultant I didn't have job security, and HR simply couldn't wrap their heads around any other complaint. I was completely and utterly unable to get the point across that my boss was meeting with me to lie to intimidate me bigtime.

  2. Fr. Seraphim of Platina's devoted crowd. Fr. Seraphim of Platina is the only Orthodox "saint-figure" I have ever been urged to venerate on grounds of his giftedness. I unwisely enough answered, "If you are going to venerate Fr. Seraphim because he was gifted, you should venerate me more because I am more gifted [insert here a list of achievements], and [the point I was trying to make] if you're not going to venerate me more because I am more gifted, neither should you be telling me to venerate Fr. Seraphim because he is gifted.

    That was answered by the worst harassment in my life, and the only time I've actually thought my body was shutting down because the degree of hate expressed to me. I wrote a book, The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts. I do not want to ask you to read the book if you don't want to, but please read the one star reviews. They are more alarming than the positive reviews!

    Incidentally, I've noticed on Amazon that kind reviews to my work appear, and vanish without a trace. This is ongoing. I've been contacted by strangers with reviews that were censored ("An Intellectual Genius rooted in reality."). I have awfully few posted reviews for someone who has had so many Kindle book giveaways and giving away so many review copies. Very few of the reviews stay around.

  3. Square peg, round hole effects at Fordham. You can read a sanitized version of my official writeup after Fordham said I washed out. It's posted as Profoundly Gifted and Orthodox at Fordham. I have said bitterly enough that they suffer from delusions of adequacy, and were incompetent enough in their treatment of me that at a couple of points my life was in question.

    I might comment briefly that the internal-use term in the profoundly gifted community as I have engaged it is not normally "profoundly gifted," but "severely gifted." That has begun to appear in the psychological literature as well.

  4. C&D letters to try to end harassment. I have had to send several "CEASE AND DESIST" letters after an ongoing and repeated "NO!" was simply being trampled on.


Now let me raise a question:

Am I woke?

I've had enough things happen to me, but let me explain why I have severe reservations about the concept of being woke.

Emotional Intelligence

I was big into Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ for a time at least, and the text has some particularly interesting things to say about the psychology of bullies.

What it says is that bullies do not feel entitled and above everyone else, free to issue aggression. They by contrast see themselves as persecuted victims. They believe everything is deliberately hostile to them. Other kids don't bump into them because kids that age have their bodies changing and are sometimes clumsy. It is intentional aggression, and it is therefore, to a bully, self-defense in a hostile situation to try to strike back hard enough against yet another kid who bumps into them and nothing seems to work.

The "un-bullying" of bullies is essentially to explain that not everybody is out to get them, that kids are clumsy at a certain age, and what seem microaggressions are really just random and meaningless. There is nothing intelligent, coordinated, or hostile most of the time when kids just bump into kids.

What Goleman did not say was an interesting implication. Consciousness raising is the opposite project; it is a teaching that bumps in the hallway are part of a coordinated attack. They only seem to be random. And the way one would go about making a bully is consciousness raising, or today telling someone to wake up and become woke.

One book I have wanted to write for years but haven't had click is The History of my Misfortunes, named after Abelard's The History of my Misfortunes, an unwittingly transparent work of a medieval autism diagnosis candidate who was full of himself, offended all sorts of people in all sorts of ways, betrayed people who had put him in a position of trust, alienated his allies, and presents himself as the perfect innocent victim. The spin I was going to mention was to talk about various ways I have created trouble for myself, all the things that are not anybody else's fault but my own. And really the only reason I have not moved forward with this is that it could be TMI. It was in the same spirit that I wrote:

A Professional Courtesy to a Fellow Poet (View original poem)

Out of the pitch black of my sin and vice,
Chosen only of my own free will,
I thank the God beyond all knowing
For my yet still fighting soul.

In the cunning net of His Providence,
I have spurned kindnesses for my good,
Gifts I have fought as chance left me,
Bloodied, but more deeply bowed:

Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?
It hurteth thee to kick against the goads.

Beyond this life of pleasure and pain,
Lie the Gates of Heaven and Hell,
Battered I still make my choice,
Seeking neither to bolt nor bar,
From inside, the gates of Hell.

Narrow is the path and strait the gate:
The entrance to Glory beyond,
All trials and tests named in the scroll,
Thy Grace my wounds have bound with salve.

I thank the ranks of men made gods,
Who cheer me on to join their choir,
Thou blessest me beyond any fate,
That I could ever know to ask.

Thy Glory is to transfigure me,
To Live, Thou Thyself:
I am the Master of my Fate!Z
I am the Captain of my Soul!

(I also know what that means!)

A few details I could share: I was not happy with my circumstances because I wanted to be somewhere like Narnia and be a king instead of being right where I am. That is an extended unhappiness I have no one to thank but myself. Other things as well, that caused considerable unhappiness for a considerable time, boiled down to nothing but my own sin.

And now I've used a dirty word, one that isn't very popular today.

I would like to pause briefly and say that after extended practice jobhunting,* and talking with jobseekers of different demographics, have instilled in me a strong conviction that the hiring process is biased against applicants who have a pulse.

* Not only have I been fired over a dozen times, but it is very stressful when a boss, who think your request for accommodation reflects a poor work ethic, is a boss trying to fabricate a paper trail of failures to claim for-cause termination.

I would like to get on to adapt St. John Chrysostom said, The Treatise to Prove that No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself. (I say "adapt" because the standard translation uses complex Victorian English and I want something easier to read. (It is also available as an audiobook.) Without further ado,

The Treatise to Prove That No One Can Harm the Person Who Does Not Damage Himself

I understand very well that to people who don't get it, this treatise will appear strange and full of paradox. But they are people who don't get it. They are greedy of things you can get now. They are nailed to this world. They are slaves to physical pleasure. They do not and perhaps cannot grasp spiritual ideas. And no wonder that they will laugh me to scorn. No wonder that they will condemn me for saying ludicrous things from the very outset of this work. Therefore, I will not stop the present work. I will instead proceed with a great deal of effort, to prove just what I am seeking to prove.

If those who care about the topic will be kind enough not to make clamor and a disturbance, but hear me to the end, I am positive they will take my side. They will condemn themselves, and realize they were wrong. They will take back, and apologize, and beg pardon for their mistaken opinion. They will express great gratitude to me, like patients do to doctors who have cured them.

So do not tell me of your current opinion, but hear me out, and then you will be able to make a fair judgment. Then you will not be stopped by your ignorance from recognizing the truth. Even judges in secular causes do not record their decision after the first lawyer spews a river of words, but even if the first lawyer is totally convincing, the judges reserve an unprejudiced consideration for the second. In fact the good thing about judges is they try as accurately as they can to understand what each side claims, and then announce their own judgment.

Now in place of a first lawyer we have a common human assumption. This assumption has taken deep root in people's minds, and says the following things about the world:

All things have been turned upside down. The human race is full of great confusion. There are many people who are wronged, insulted, victims of violence and loss. The weak are harmed by the strong, and the poor by the rich. As it is simply impossible to count the waves of the sea, it is simply impossible to count how very many people who are the victims of scheming, damage, and suffering. Neither the correction of law, nor fear of being sued, nor anything else can stop this maddening disorder. The evil increases everyday, and the groans, and complaints, and the crying of the people who suffer is universal. Furthermore, the judges who are appointed to straighten out such evils, make it worse themselves, and worsen the disorder. Many of the people who don't get it, who are despicable, blame the Providence of God when they see the peaceful people frequently seized, oppressed, and tortured. The audacious and violent nobodies get rich, and gain authority, and become a force to reckon with, and inflict countless troubles upon the more reasonable people. This goes on in town and country, and in the desert, on sea and land.

What we need to discuss has to come in direct opposition to what has been claimed, saying something which is new, and just as I said is contrary to popular opinion, but useful and true. It is profitable to those who will listen to it and be persuaded. What I am trying to do is to prove (please, no commotions) that no one who is wronged is wronged by someone else, but any real damage is self-inflicted.

But to make my point more clearly, let us all ask what injustice is. Also, we should ask what human goodness is, and what it is which ruins it. Even further, we should ask what it is to seems to ruin human goodness but really does not.

For instance (because I need to make my point by analogy) each thing is vulnerable to the one evil which ruins it. Iron is vulnerable to rust, wool is vulnerable to moths, and flocks of sheep are vulnerable to wolves. The goodness of wine is harmed when it ferments and turns sour. The goodness of honey is harmed when it loses its natural sweetness, and becomes some sort of bitter juice. Ears of grain are ruined by mildew and drought. Leaves, and branches of vines are ruined by the troublesome plague of grasshopperrs, other trees by the caterpillar, and mindless things by disease of various kinds. But to shorten the list and not go forever by going through all possible examples, our own flesh is subjected to fevers, and wounds, and a whole bunch of other bad things.

Therefore, since each one of these things is vulnerable to the thing that ruins its goodness, let us now consider what it is which damages the human race. Let us consider what it is that ruins the goodness of a person. Most people think that there are many things things which have this effect. So I need to expose wrong opinions on the subject, and after refuting them, go on to show what really does ruin our goodness. Even more, I want to demonstrate clearly that no one could inflict this injury or bring this ruin upon our goodness. Some say it is poverty, others diseases of the body, others loss of property, others slander, others death. They are perpetually dismayed and lament these things. When they are commiserating with the people who suffer and cry tears, they explain to one another, "What a terrible thing happened to such and such people! They have been deprived of all their fortune at one blow." Again, someone will say about another, "such and such person has been attacked by severe illness and the doctors don't think he will live." Some bewail and cry out about prisoners, some of whom have been expelled from their country and exiled to another land. Others bewail those who have been deprived of their freedom. Others cry over those who have been seized and taken captive by enemies. Others lament people who have been drowned, or burned to death, or buried by a collapsing house, but no one mourns those who are living in wickedness. On the contrary, what is worse than all these wailings, they often congratulate them, a practice which causes all kinds of problems. Come then (only, as I asked you, do not make a commotion), let me prove that none of the things which have been mentioned harm the man who lives in a sober manner, nor can ruin his goodness.

For tell me if a man has lost his all at the hands of slanderers or of robbers, or been stripped of his property by evil servants, what harm has the loss done to the person's goodness?

But if it makes sense let me instead point out in the first place what is the goodness of a human being. Let me start by dealing with a separate case to make it easier to understand and plain to most readers.

What then makes a horse good? Is it to have a bridle studded with gold and belts to match? Is it silk to fasten the saddle? Is it many-colored, gold-plated clothing? Is it to have reins and bit studded with jewels? Is it gold woven into its hair?

Or is it to have swift and strong legs? Is it to move evenly? Is it to have hooves that are suitable to a well-bred horse? Is it to have a fitting courage for long journeys and warfare? Is it to be calm in the battlefield? Is it to save its rider in the event of defeat? Is it not clear that these are the things that make up the goodness of the horse, not the others?

Again, what should you say makes donkeys and mules good? Is it not the power of carrying burdens contentedly? Is it not the power to easily make journeys? Is it not to have hooves like rock? Shall we say that expensive external adornments give anything to their very own goodness? By no means. And what kind of vine would we admire? One which has many beautiful leaves and branches, or some that has a lot of fruit? Or what do we say makes an olive tree good? Is it to have big branches, and luxurious leaves, or to exhibit a lot of its own fruit dispersed over all parts of the tree?

Well then, let us act in the same way in the case of people too: let us determine what makes a human being good, and let us pay attention to what alone is damage which destroys that goodness. What then makes a man good? Not wealth so that you should fear being poor. Not physical health so that you should fear sickness. Not people's opinion of you, so that you should be alarmed at a bad reputation. Not freedom that you should avoid serving others. Not even life for its own sake, so that you should find death terrible. Instead of any of these, what matters is that you should hold fast to the truth, and behave rightly in life. Not even the Devil himself will be able to rob a person of these if the person who possesses them will guard them with necessarily care: and that most malicious and ferocious demon knows this well.

In the Bible, the Slanderer was allowed to accuse Job of loving God only because God made him rich, and when he was given permission, to destroy all his wealth at once. When Job still clung to righteousness, the Slanderer changed his tune and said that Job loved God only because he was healthy, and was given permission to destroy his health. Job had no idea what is going on, but clung to what is good and made the Devil look like a sleeping fool.

This is why the Devil robbed Job of his wealth. It wasn't to make him poor, but force him to blaspheme in anger. The Devil tortured his body, not because he wanted to make Job sick, but to topple the goodness of his soul. But when he had done all of these things, and let me elaborate:

  • When the Slanderer turned Job from a rich man into a poor one, which we consider the worst calamity—
  • When he destroyed every single one of his children—
  • When he had ripped into his whole body more cruelly than executioners do in a public execution, because their nails do not tear into the sides of people who fall into their hands as badly as one who is being eaten alive by worms—
  • When he got a terrible reputation, for Job's "friends" who were present with him said "You haven't gotten the punishment your sins deserve",—
  • When he had not merely expelled from city and home to another city, but had actually made a pile of shit serve as his home and city—

After all this, the Devil not only did Job no damage but rendered him more glorious than the schemes he plotted against him. And he not only failed to rob him of any of his true possessions although he had robbed him of so many things, he even increased the wealth of his goodness. For after all these things he was more solidly placed because he had struggled in a more severe battle.

Now if he who went through such horrible sufferings, and not by the hand of human opponents but by the hand of the Devil who is more wicked than all men—if Job sustained no injury, which of these persons who say "Such and such a person harmed and damaged me," will have any defense to make in the future? For if the Devil,

  • Who has so much great malice, after having set all his plans on motion—
  • Who attacked him with all his weapons—
  • Who poured out all external evils that can happen to a human being—
  • Who to the greatest possible extent to the family and body of that righteous man—

...never did him any injury, but as I was saying put Job in a position of even greater spiritual profit.

How shall people be able to accuse such and such a person alleging that they have suffered damage at their hands, and not at their own hands?

What then? Someone will ask, "Didn't he inflict injury on Adam, and topple his goodness, and cast him out of Paradise?" No: the Devil did not make him do it, but the cause was the lazy apathy, and lack of balance and vigilance of the one who was injured. The Devil applied such a multitude of powerful plans and yet could not subdue Job. So how could he, by weaker methods, have conquered Adam, if Adam had not betrayed himself through his own lazy apathy?

What then? Hasn't the one been damaged who has been exposed to slander, and suffered confiscation of everything he owns, and has been deprived of everything else, and is thrown out of his heritage, and struggles with extreme poverty? No! He has not been damaged, but has even profited, if he be sober.

For, tell me, what harm did this do to the Apostles? Weren't they always struggling with hunger and thirst and lack of decent clothing? And this was the very reason why they were so famous, and distinguished, and earned for themselves much help from God.

Lazarus was a beggar at the gate of a rich man, and longed to have the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, and did not get even that—until he died and was brought to Paradise. Again what harm was done to Lazarus by his sickness, and sores, and poverty, and lack of protectors? Weren't they the reasons why garlands of victory were more abundantly woven for him?

Or consider Joseph, who was the victim of attempted murder, who was sold into slavery, then after resisting many attempts at seduction was falsely accused of not only attempted seduction but attempted rape, out of complete butthurt after he spurned every single advance she made! And he was thrown in prison, and by God's providence he rose to authority and kept many people from starving to death? What harm was done to him by his being falsely accused? This happened both in his own land and in the land of strangers where he was falsely accused of rape. Or what harm did slavery or exile do to him? Is it not specifically because of these things that we regard him with admiration and astonishment? And why do I even mention exile to a foreign land, and poverty, and false accusation, and slavery? For what harm did death itself inflict on Abel, although it was a violent and premature death because his brother envied that Abel's sacrifices to God were accepted and the brother's sacrifices were not, a murder inflicted by his brother's hand? Is this not the reason why Abel's praises are sung around the world? Don't you see how the explanation has demonstrated even more than it promised? For not only has it pointed out that no one is injured by anybody, but also that those who handle the difficulties wisely themselves benefit all the more from such attacks.

What is the purpose then, people will ask, of jail and punishments? What is the purpose of Hell? What is the purpose of such great threats, if no one either harms or causes others harms?

What is it that you are saying? Why do you confuse the argument. For I did not say that no one harms, but that no one is harmed. And how is it possible, you will say, for no one to be harmed when many are committing harm? In the way I indicated just now. For Joseph's brothers did indeed harm him, yet he himself was not harmed: and Cain laid a trap for Abel, yet Abel himself was not trapped. Joseph's brothers, and Cain, only harmed themselves.

This is the reason why there are penalties and punishments. For God does not abolish penalties because of the goodness of those who suffer; but he orders punishments because of the wicked. For they who are treated badly become more illustrious because of the plans schemed against them, this is not the intention of those who scheme the plans, but the courage of those who are their victims. Therefore for the victims the rewards of clinging to the Truth and righteous life are made ready and prepared, but for those who maltreat them, the penalties of wickedness.

Have you had your money taken away? Read the word, "I came naked out of my mother's womb, and I shall return naked. And add to this the Apostle's saying, "for we brought nothing into this world; it is certain we can carry nothing out." Do people speak evil about you, and have some loaded you with endless slander? Remember that passage where it is said "Woe unto you when all shall speak well of you" and "rejoice ye and leap for joy when they shall say evil about you." Have you been brought to the land of exile? Consider that you do not have a homeland here, but if you will be wise you are well advised to regard the whole world as a foreign country. Or have you come down with a dire illness? Quote the apostolic saying, "The more our outward person decays, so much the more is the inward person renewed every day." Has anyone suffered a violent death? Consider the death of John the Baptist, his head cut off in prison, carried in a plate, which the king paid as the reward of his whorish niece's dancing. Consider the reward which comes through these things: for all these sufferings when they are justly inflicted by anyone on another person, wipe away sins and work righteousness. So there is a great advantage for people who bear such things bravely.

When then neither loss of money, nor slander, nor being yelled at, nor diseases, nor tortures, nor anything that seems fundamentally beyond them all, namely death—when none of those things harm the people who suffer them, but instead profits them all the more, from where can you prove that anyone is harmed when nothing of these things can harm that one? For I will try to prove the reverse, demonstrating that the people who are most harmed and damaged, and suffer the worst evils, are the persons who do these things. For what could be more miserable than the condition of Cain, who murdered his own brother? What is more pitiable than Philip's wife who beheaded John the Baptist? Or Joseph's brothers who sold him into slavery and delivered him into exile? Or the Devil who tortured Job with such great calamities? For he will pay no small penalty for this assault as well as his other sins.

Don't you see how the argument has proven even more than was offered, showing that those who are insulted not only suffer no harm from the assaults, but that the whole mischief backfires on those who plan them? For since neither wealth nor freedom, nor life in our native land, nor the other things I have mentioned, but only good actions by the soul, constitute the goodness of a person, naturally when the harm is directed against these false goods, human goodness itself is not harmed in any way.

What then? Supposing someone does harm the moral condition of the soul? Even then if someone suffers damage, the damage does not come from anyone else but comes from inside, and to the person from himself. "How so," do you say? When anyone having been beaten by someone else, or deprived of his property, or gone through some other terrible attack, speaks blasphemously, he is certainly harmed by it, and very great harm, but it does not come from the person who inflicted the attack, but from his own pettiness of soul. For what I said before I will now repeat, no man if he be infinitely wicked could attack any one more wickedly or more bitterly than that revengeful demon who is implacably hostile to us, the Devil. But yet this cruel demon had no power to topple or overthrow those who lived before the Law, and before the time of grace. This is the power of nobility of soul. And what shall I say of Paul? Didn't he go through so many calamities that even listing them is no easy task? He was:

  • Put in prison—
  • Loaded with chains—
  • Dragged here and there—
  • Tortured by his countrymen—
  • Pelted with stones—
  • Wounded on the back not only with whips, but also with rods—
  • Immersed in the sea—
  • Attacked by robbers—
  • Met with strife by his own countrymen—
  • A victim of countless schemes and plots—
  • Struggling with hunger and lack of clothing—
  • Undergoing other frequent and lasting misfortunes and afflictions—

And why do I need to mention the majority of them? He was dying every day. Yet, though he was victim of so many of so terrible sufferings, not only did he not utter any blasphemous word, but rejoiced over these things and gloried in them. One place he says, "I rejoice in my sufferings," and even more "not only this, but we also glory in afflictions." If he rejoiced and gloried when suffering great troubles, what excuse will you have, and what defense will you make, if you blaspheme God when you do not undergo the smallest fraction of them?

"But I am harmed in other ways," you may say, "and even if I do not blaspheme, yet when I am robbed of my money I am prevented from giving to beggars." This is a mere pretext and pretentiousness. For if that upsets you, be sure that poverty is no bar to generosity. For even if you are infinitely poor, you are not poorer than the woman who possessed only a handful of grain, and the one who only had two cents. Each of these, having spent all their wealth on those who were in need, were a matter of such great admiration. Such great poverty was no hindrance to such great and loving kindness, but the gift spent from the two cents was so abundant and generous as to leave the rich completely in the dust, even though they strove zealously to give more money than all the others. Therefore even here you are not harmed but rather benefited. Your small contribution receives a more glorious reward than people who dropped large sums.

But since, if I were to keep on saying these things forever, pleasure-seekers who love to grovel in worldly wealth, and revel in what we have now, would not readily endure leaving the fading flowers (for such are the pleasant things of this life) or letting go of its shadows: but better people cling to both the one and the other, while the more pathetic and low cling more strongly to the first than the second. So let us strip off the pleasant and showy masks which hide the low and ugly face of these things, and let us show how deformed the whore is. For that is the nature of this kind of life which is devoted to luxury, wealth, and power. It is foul and ugly, and full of much abomination, disagreeable and burdensome, and charged with bitterness. For this is the particular feature in this life which deprives those who are captivated by it from every excuse, that though it is everything they hope for, it is filled with:

  • Much trouble and bitterness—
  • Too many evils to count—
  • Dangers—
  • Bloodshed—
  • Spiritual crags and precipices—
  • Murders—
  • Fears and tremblings—
  • Envy and badwill,
  • Hostile scheming,
  • Ongoing anxiety and worry.

It derives no profit, and produces no fruit, from these great evils—except for, perhaps, punishment and revenge, and unending torment.

But although this is its character it seems to most people an object of ambition, and eager contention, which is a sign of the folly of those who are captivated by it, not of the blessedness of the thing itself.

Little children are indeed eager and excited about toys, and cannot take notice of the things that are worthy of full-grown adults. There is an excuse for them because they are too young to expect maturity: but the others simply have no defense, because, although of full adult age, they are childish in behavior and more foolish than children in how they live.

Now tell me why is wealth an object of ambition? Here is extreme irony. For you need to start from this point, because to most people who have this terrible malady think it is more precious than health and life, and public fame and good opinion, and household, and friends, and relatives and everything else. More than this, the flame has ascended to the clouds themselves: and this fierce heat has taken possession of land and sea. Nor is there anyone to put out this fire: but all people are busy stirring it up, both those whom it has already caught, and those who have not been caught, so that they may be captured. And you may see everyone, husband and wife, household slave and freeman, rich and poor, each as far as they can carrying loads which supply much fuel to this fire, both during the day and also the night. They do not have loads of wood or sticks (for it is not that kind of fire), but loads of souls and bodies, of evils and sins. For such is the stuff that lights this kind of fire.

For people who have lots of money do not ever stop feeding this monstrous passion, even if they own the whole world. The poor, worse, try to even get ahead of them. A kind of incurable craze and unstoppable frenzy and unhealable disease possesses everyone's souls. And this desire has conquered every other desire and thrust it away, expelling it from the soul. Neither friends nor relatives are considered: and why do I speak of friends and relatives? Not even wife and children are regarded, and what can be more precious to a man than these?

But all things are dashed to the ground and trampled, when this savage and inhuman tyrant has laid hold of the souls of all those she keeps captive. For as an inhuman master, and harsh tyrant, and savage barbarian, and public and expensive whore she debases and exhausts and punishes those who have chosen to be her slaves with innumerable dangers and torments. Yet although she is terrible and harsh, and fierce and cruel, and has the face of a barbarian, or rather of a wild beast, fiercer than a wolf or a lion, she seems to those she has enslaved to be gentle and lovable, and sweeter than honey. And although she forges swords and weapons against them every day, and digs pits and leads them to precipices and crags and makes endless traps for them, yet she is supposed to make these things objects of ambition to those whom she has enslaved, and those who want to be enslaved. And just as a pig delights and revels in wallowing in the ditch and mire, and beetles love to always be crawling over shit, even so they who are captivated by the love of money are more miserable than these creatures.

For the abomination is greater in this case, and the mire more offensive: for they who are addicted to this passion imagine that much pleasure is derived from it. This does not arise from its nature, but the human understanding which is afflicted with such a foul and irrational taste. And this taste is worse in their case than in that of animals: for as with the mud and the shit the pleasure is not caused by them, but in the irrational nature of the creatures who plunge into it. So consider it to be in the case of us human beings.

And how might we cure those who want such a thing? It would be possible if they would open their ears to us, and unfold their heart, and receive our words. For it is impossible to turn irrational animals away from their unclean habit, for they do not have human intelligence. But this, the noblest of all tribes, honored with reason and speech, I mean human nature, might be quickly and easily be released from the mire and the stench, and the hill of shit and its abomination. If we chose to. For why, O person, do you think wealth is worth such diligent pursuit? Is it because of the pleasure which obviously comes from food? Or because of the honor and company of those who attend on you, because of your wealth? Is it because you can defend yourself from those who bother you, and have everyone be afraid of you? For you cannot name any other reasons, save pleasure and flattery, and fear, and the power of taking revenge; for wealth does not ordinarily make anyone wiser, or more self-controlled, or more gentle, or more intelligent, or kind, or benevolent, or superior to anger or gluttony or pleasure: it does not train anyone to be moderate, or teach him how to be humble, nor introduce any other element of goodness in the soul to become deep-rooted. Neither could you explain which of these things makes it deserving of such seeking and such desire. For wealth is not only ignorant of how to plant and cultivate any good thing, but even if it finds a bunch of them it messes them up. Some of them it even uproots and introduces their opposites: taking excessive liberties, ill-timed wrath, unrighteous anger, pride, arrogance, and foolishness.

But let me not speak of these; for they who have been seized by this malady simply will not listen to talk about what makes people good and what makes people bad. They are entirely abandoned to pleasure and therefore remain its slaves. So let us not consider these points any further, and let us bring forward the others which remain. Let's see whether wealth has any pleasure, or any honor: it looks to me like quite the opposite!

And first of all, please, let us consider the meals of rich and poor, and ask the guests which they are who enjoy the purest and most genuine pleasure. Is it they who:

  • Recline for a full day on couches—
  • Join breakfast and dinner together—
  • Distend their stomach—
  • Blunt their senses—
  • Sink the vessel by an excessive cargo of food—
  • Waterlog the ship—
  • Drench it as in some shipwreck of the body—
  • Devise fetters, and manacles, and gags—
  • Bind their whole body with the band of drunkenness and excess more grievous than an iron chain—
  • Enjoy no sound pure sleep undisturbed by frightful dreams—
  • Are more miserable than madmen and introduce a kind of self-imposed demon into the soul and display themselves as a laughing stock to the gaze of their servants—
  • Or rather to the kinder sort among them as a tragic spectacle worthy of tears—
  • Cannot recognize any of those who are present—
  • Are incapable of speaking or hearing but have to be carried away from their couches to their bed—

—Or—

Is it they who:

  • Are sober and vigilant—
  • Limit their eating to what they truly need—
  • Sail with a favorable breeze—
  • Find hunger and thirst the best relish in their food and drink?

For nothing so helps the enjoyment and health as to be hungry and thirsty when one comes to the table, and to think that simply necessary food is enough, nor imposing a load upon the body too great for its strength.

But if you disbelieve my statement, study the physical condition and the soul of each class. Aren't the vigorous bodies those who live moderately? (Please don't tell me of the rare case that some may be weak from some other circumstance, but get your bearings from what is constantly going on.) I ask, are they not vigorous, and their senses clear, easily working as they should? While the bodies of others are flaccid and softer than wax, and have a many terrible things happen to them? For they soon have:

  • Gout—
  • Untimely palsy—
  • Premature old age—
  • Headache—
  • Farting—
  • Weak digestion—
  • Loss of appetite—
  • Constant need for medical attention—
  • Perpetual dosing—
  • Daily worries—

Are these things pleasurable? Tell me! Who of those that know what pleasure really is would say so? For pleasure is produced when desire leads the way, and fulfillment follows: now if there is fulfillment, but desire is nowhere to be found, the conditions of pleasure fail and vanish. This is why invalids, although the most charming food is set before them, eat it with a feeling of disgust and a sense of oppression: because there is no desire which gives a keen relish to the enjoyment of even the most charming food.

For it is not the nature of the food, or of the drink, but the appetite of the eaters, which is capable of producing the desire, and capable of causing pleasure. That is also why a certain wise man who had an accurate knowledge of all that related to pleasure, and understood how to moralize about these things, said, "The foul soul mocks at honeycombs." This shows that the conditions of pleasure are not in the nature of the meal, but in the disposition of the people eating it. That is also why the prophet, in recounting the wonders in Egypt and in the desert, mention this in connection with the others, "God satisfied them with honey out of the rock." Yet it doesn't appear anywhere that honey actually sprang forth for them out of the rock. So what does the expression mean?

Because the people who were exhausted by enormous amounts of work and long travel, and who were extremely thirsty, rushed to the cool spring, their craving to drink something served as an incentive. The writer who wanted to describe the pleasure they received from those fountains called the water "honey," not meaning that the water was converted into honey, but that the pleasure received from the water rivaled the sweetness of honey, because those who drank it rushed to it in their eagerness to have something to quench their thirst.

Since these things are this way and no one, however stupid, can deny it: Is it not perfectly obvious that pure, undiluted, and lively pleasure is to be found at the tables of the poor? While at the tables of the rich there is discomfort, and disgust and defilement? As that wise man has said, "Even sweet things seem to be repulsive."

But riches, some will say, procure honor for those who possess them, and enable them to take vengeance on their enemies with ease. And is this a reason, please, why riches seem to you desirable and worth chasing after: that they nourish the most dangerous passion in our nature, leading anger into action, swelling the empty bubbles of ambition, and stimulating and urging people to be arrogant? Why, these are just the very reasons we out to resolutely turn our backs on riches, because they introduce certain fierce and dangerous wild beasts into our heart, depriving us of the real honor we might receive from all. Worse, they introduce deluded men something else which is the opposite of this, only painted over with a whore's colors, and persuading them to fancy it is the same, when by nature it is not so, but only seems like it to the eye. For as the beauty of whores, made up as it is of dyes and pigments, has no real beauty, but makes a foul and ugly face appear fair and beautiful to those who are deluded by it, when it is not so in reality. In the same way riches force flattery to look like honor.

For I beg you not to consider the praises which are openly bestowed through fear and fasting: for those are only makeup and paints; but let us unfold the conscience of each of those who flatter you in this fashion. Inside it you will see too many accusers to count speaking against you, and loathing and despising you worse than your bitterest adversaries and foes. And even if a change of circumstances should occur which would remove and expose this mask which fear has manufactured, just like the sun when it shines a hotter ray than usual discloses the real faces of those women I mentioned, then all will change. You will see clearly that all through the former time you were held in the greatest contempt by those who fawned on you, and you fancied you were enjoying honor from those who thoroughly hated you, and in their heart poured infinite abuse on you, and longed to see all sorts of terrible things happen to you. For there is nothing like goodness to produce honor: honor neither forced nor feigned, nor hidden under a mask of deceit, but real and genuine, and able to stand the test of hard times.

But do you want to take vengeance on those who bother you? This is, as I was saying just now, the very reason why we should specifically avoid wealth. For it prepares you to thrust the sword against yourself, and renders you answerable Ed to heavier charges at the Crack of Doom, and makes your punishment intolerable.

For revenge is so great an evil that it actually revokes the mercy of God, and cancels the forgiveness of countless sins which have already been bestowed. Christ told a story of a man who owed billions and billions of dollars, and his master forgave them, and then took another man and said "Pay back what you owe!" over a debt of a few thousands of dollars. For he who received forgiveness of the debt of billions of dollars, and after having received so great a benefit by merely for asking it, then made a demand of several thousand dollars from his fellow servant owed to himself. In his harshness to his fellow servant he etched his own condemnation in stone. For this reason and no other he was delivered over to the torturers, and tormented with a torture rack, and required to pay back the billions of dollars. The unmerciful servant was not allowed any excuse or defense to his benefit, but suffered the most extreme penalty, being commanded to repay the whole debt which the loving kindness of God had formerly let go.

Is this then the reason, pray, why you so earnestly pursue money, because it so easily you into this kind of son? No, truly, that is why you should abhor it as an enemy and an adversary teeming with countless murders. But poverty, some will say, disposes people to be uncontent and often also to utter profane words, and give themselves to despicable actions. It is not poverty which does this, but littleness of soul: for Lazarus was poor—very poor—and besides poverty he suffered from illness, a more bitter trial than any form of poverty, and one which makes poverty a harsher blow. And in addition to illness he had a total lack of protectors, and difficulty in finding anyone to supply his needs, which increased the bitterness of his poverty and illness. For both of these are painful in themselves, but when there is no one to minister to the sufferer's needs:

  • The suffering becomes greater—
  • The flame more painful—
  • The distress more bitter—
  • The tempest fiercer—
  • The billows stronger—
  • The furnace hotter—

And if you examine the case thoroughly there was yet a fourth trial besides there—the unconcern and luxury of the rich man who lived nearby. And if you would find a fifth thing, serving as fuel to the flame, you will see quite clearly that he was afflited by by it.

For not only was that man rich man living luxuriously, but two and three times, or really several times a day he saw the poor man. For he had been laid at the rich man's gate, being a grievous spectacle of pitiable distress, and the mere sight of him was enough to soften even a heart of stone. Yet even this did not draw that unmerciful man to help this case of poverty: but he had:

  • His luxurious table spread—
  • Goblets wreathed with flowers—
  • Pure wine plentifully poured forth—
  • Grand armies of cooks, and groupies, and flatterers from early dawn—
  • And troops of singers, cupbearers, and jesters—

And he spent all his time in devising every species of dissipation, and drunkenness, and overeating, and in reveling in fine clothing and feasting and many other things.

But although he saw that poor man every day distressed by grievous hunger and the worst illness, and the pain of his many thoughts, and by being destitute, and the ills which result from these things, he never even gave him a thought. Yet the groupies and the flatterers were pampered even beyond their needs. But the poor man, and he so very poor, and surrounded by so many miseries, was not even fed with the crumbs which fell from that table, although he wanted them very much. And yet none of these things injuharmedred him, he did not vent a single bitter word, nor did he utter a profane speech. But like a piece of gold which shines all the more brilliantly when it is purified by overpowering heat, even so Lazarus, although afflicted with all these sufferings, was superior to all of them, and to the agitation which they often produce.

For if generally speaking poor people, when they see rich people, are consumed with envy and racked by malicious ill-will, and deem life not worth living. This is true even when poorer people are well supplied with necessary food, and have persons to serve their needs; what would the condition of this poor man have been had he not been very wise and noble-hearted, as:

  • He was not only poorer than any other poor men—
  • Not only poor but also ill—
  • Without anyone to protect or cheer him—
  • Lay in the midst of the city as if it were a desolate, faroff desert—
  • Wasted away with bitter hunger—
  • Saw all good things being poured upon the rich man as out of a fountain—
  • Did not have the benefit of any human consolation, but—
  • Lay exposed as a perpetual meal for the tongues of verminous street dogs, for he was so weakened and broken down in body that he could not drive them away—

Don't you see that he who does not harm himself suffers no evil? For I will again take up the same argument.

For what harm was done to this hero by his bodily illness? Or the absence of protectors? Or by the coming of verminous dogs? Or the evil nearness of the rich man? Or by the great luxury, haughtiness and arrogance of the latter?

Did it sap him for the contest on behalf of goodness? Did it ruin his strong character? Nowhere was he harmed at all, but that multitude of sufferings, and the cruelty of the rich man, rather increased his strength. More than this, it became the pledge for him of infinite crowns of victory, a means of adding to his rewards, an increase of his repayment, and a promise of more good things in the world to come. For he was crowned not merely on account of his poverty, or his hunger or of his sores, or the verminous dogs licking them. But because, having such a neighbor as the rich man, and being seen by him every day, and was forever overlooked, Lazarus endured this trial bravely and with much inner strength, a trial which added no small flame but in fact a very strong one to the fire of poverty, and illness and lowliness.

And, tell me, what was the case of the blessed Paul? For there is nothing to stop me from mentioning him again. Didn't he experience innumerable storms of trial? And in what respect was he damaged by them? Wasn't he crowned with all the more victory as a result:

  • Because he suffered hunger—
  • Because he was consumed with cold and lack of clothing—
  • Because he was often tortured—
  • Because people threw stones at him—
  • Because he was cast into the sea—

But then some say he was Paul, and called by Christ. Yet Judas was also one of the twelve, and he too was called of Christ, but neither his being one of the twelve nor his call profited him, because he did not have a mind disposed to goodness. But Paul although struggling with hunger, and at a loss to get necessary food, and daily undergoing such great sufferings, pursued with great zeal the road which leads to Heaven. While Judas, although:

  • He had been called before him—
  • Enjoyed the same advantages as he did—
  • Was initiated into the highest form of Christian life—
  • Partook of the holy table and that most awesome of sacred feasts—
  • Received such grace as to be able to raise the dead, and cleanse the lepers, and cast out devils—
  • Often heard discussion concerning poverty—
  • Spent so long a time in the company of Christ Himself—
  • Was entrusted with money for the poor, so that his passion might be soothed by it (for he was a thief)—

Even then Judas did not become any better, although he had been favored with such great kindness. For since Christ knew he was greedy, and destined to eternally perish on account of his love of money, Christ not only did not demand punishment of him for this at that time. But with a view to softening Judas's passion he was entrusted with the money for the poor, that having some means of appeasing his greed he might be saved from falling into that appalling gulf of sin. The thought was to check a greater evil beforehand by a lesser one.

Thus in no case will any one be able to harm someone who does not harm himself: but if a person is not willing to be reasonable, and aid himself from his own resources, no one will ever be able to bring him profit. Therefore also that wonderful history of the Holy Scriptures has portrayed the lives of men of old time, extending the narrative from Adam to the coming of Christ, as if in some great, large, and broad picture. And it shows to you both those who are defeated, and who are crowned with victory in the contest, so that it may instruct you by means of examples that no one will be able to harm one who does not suffer any self-inflicted wound, even if all the world were to kindle a fierce war against him. For it is not:

  • Stressful circumstances—
  • Variations of seasons—
  • Attacks from men in power—
  • Schemes attacking you like snowstorms—
  • Nor a whole bunch of terrible calamities—
  • Nor an unbounded collection of all the ills to which mankind is subject—

—which can disturb even slightly the person who is brave, and temperate, and watchful. By contrast, the lazy and low person who are themselves their own betrayer cannot be made better, even with the aid of innumerable helps.

This at least was made manifest to us by the parable in the Sermon on the Mount of the two people, one of whom built a house on the rock, the other on sand. Not that we are to think of sand and rock, or of a building of stone, and a roof, or of rivers, and rain, and wild winds, beating against the buildings, but we are to extract goodness and evil as the meaning of these things, and to perceive from them that no one harms a person who does not suffer self-inflicted wounds.

Therefore neither the rain although driven furiously along, nor the streams vehemently dashing against the house, nor the wild winds beating against it with a mighty rush, shook the one house in any degree: but the house remained undisturbed and unmoved. By this understand that no trial can agitate the person who does not betray himself. But the house of the other person was easily swept away, not on account of the force of the trials (for in that case the other would have experienced the same fate), but because of his own foolishness. For it did not fall because the wind blew on it, but because it was built upon the sand, in other words on laziness and sin. For before the storm beat against it, it was weak and ready to fall. For buildings of that kind, even if no one puts any pressure on them, fall to pieces by themselves, and the foundation sinks and gives way in every direction. And just as cobwebs fall apart, although no real weight is placed on them, but hardened steel remains even when it is struck: likewise, those who do not harm themselves become stronger, even if they receive innumerable blows. But they who betray themselves, even if there is no one to disturb them, fall by themselves, and collapse and perish. For that is how even Judas perished, not only not having been attacked by any trial of this kind, but actually having enjoyed the benefit of quite a lot of help.

Would you like me to illustrate this argument in the case of whole nations? What great forethought was bestowed on the Jewish nation! Was not the whole visible Creation arranged with a view to their service? Was not a new and groundbreaking method of life introduced among them? For they did not have to send things down to a market, and so they had the benefit of things which are sold for money without paying any price for them. Neither did they:

  • Cut furroughs nor drag a plow—
  • Nor harrow the ground—
  • Nor cast in seed—
  • Nor did they have any need of rain, and wind, and annual seasons, nor sunshine, nor phases of the moon, nor climate, nor anything of that kind—
  • They prepared no threshing floor—
  • They threshed no grain—
  • They used no winnowing fan for separating the grain from the chaff,
  • They turned no millstone—
  • They built no oven—
  • They brought neither wood nor fire into the house—
  • They handled no spade—
  • They sharpened no sickle—
  • They required no other art, I mean of weaving or building or supplying shoes—

...but the Word of God was everything to them. And they had a table prepared off hand, free from all toil and labor. For this was the nature of the manna: it was new and fresh, nowhere costing them any trouble, nor straining them by labor.

And their clothes, and shoes, and even their physical frame forgot their natural weakness. The clothes and shoes did not wear out in the course of so many years, nor did their feet swell although they made such long marches.

Of doctors, and medicine, and all other concern about that kind of art, there was no mention at all among them. So completely banished was weakness of every kind: for it is said "He brought them out with silver and gold; and there was not one feeble person among their tribes." But like men who had left this world, and were conveyed to another and better one, even so they ate and drank, neither did the sun's ray hurt their heads when it grew hot; for the cloud parted them from the fiery beam, hovering all around them, and serving like a portable shelter for the whole population. Neither at night did they need a torch to disperse the darkness, but they had the pillar of fire, a source of unspeakable light, supplying two needs, one by its shining, the other by directing the course of their journey. For it was not only a bright light, but also guided that countless host along the wilderness with more certainty than any human guide. And they journeyed not only upon land but also upon sea as if it had been dry land. They made an audacious experiment upon the laws of nature by treading on that angry sea, marching through it as if it had been the hard and resisting surface of a rock. Indeed when they placed their feet upon it the element became like solid earth, and gently sloping plains and fields. But when it received their enemies it behaved like a sea, and to the Israelites indeed it served as a chariot, but to their enemies it became a deathtrap. It brought the Israelites across with ease, but drowned their pursuers with great violence. The chaotic flood of water displayed the good order and obedience which marks reasonable and highly intelligent people, fulfilling the part at one time of a guardian, at another an executioner, and exhibiting these opposites together on one day. What shall one say of the rocks which poured forth streams of waters? What of the clouds of birds which covered the whole face of the earth by the number of their carcasses? What of the wonders in Egypt? What of the marvels in the wilderness? What of the triumphs and bloodless victories? For they subdued those who opposed them like people keeping a holiday rather than making war. And they vanquished their own masters without the use of weapons. They overcame those who fought with them after they had left Egypt, with singing and music. What they did was a festival rather than a military campaign, a religious ceremony rather than a battle.

For all these wonders took place not only for the purpose of supplying their needs, but also so that the people might preserve more accurately the teaching which Moses taught about the knowledge of God. Voices proclaiming the presence of their master were uttered on all sides of them. For the sea loudly declared this, by becoming a road for them to march upon, and then turning into sea again. The waters of the Nile uttered this voice when they were converted into the nature of blood. The frogs, and the great army of locusts, and the caterpillar and blight declared the same thing to all the people. The miracles in the desert, the manna, the pillar of fire, the cloud, the quails, and all the other incidents served them as a book, and writing which could never be erased, echoing daily in their memory and resounding in their mind. Nonetheless:

  • After such great and remarkable Providence—
  • After all those unspeakable benefits—
  • After such mighty miracles—
  • After care indescribable—
  • After continual teaching—
  • After instruction by means of speech—
  • After admonition by means of deeds—
  • After glorious victories—
  • After extraordinary triumphs—
  • After abundant supply of food—
  • After the plentiful production of water—
  • After the ineffable glory with which they were clothed in the eyes of the human race—

Being ungrateful and senseless, they worshiped a calf, and paid reverence to the head of a bull, even when the memorials of God's benefits in Egypt were fresh in their minds, and they were still in actual enjoyment of many more.

But the Ninevites, although a barbarian and foreign people who had never participated in any of these benefits, small or great, saw neither words, nor wonders, nor works when they saw a man who had been saved from shipwreck, who had never associated with them before, but appeared then for the first time. He entered their city and said "Three more days and Nineveh will be overthrown," and the Ninevites were so converted and reformed by the mere sound of these words, and putting away their former wickedness, advanced in the direction of goodness by the path of repentance, that they caused the sentence of God to be revoked, and stopped the threatened disturbance of their city, and averted the Heaven-sent wrath, and were delivered from every kind of evil. "For," we read, "God saw that every man turned from his evil way, and was converted to the Lord." I ask how they were turned. Although their wickedness was great, their sins unspeakable, their moral sores difficult to heal, which the prophet plainly showed to say "their wickedness rose even unto the Heavens:" indicating by that distance just how wicked they were... nevertheless such great sin which was piled up to such a height as to reach even to the Heavens... they abolished, removed out of sight, and put away all of this in a brief moment of time through a few words what they heard from one man's mouth and he an unknown shipwrecked foreigner. And they had the happiness of hearing the declaration "God saw that every one turned from his evil way, and He repented of the evil which God said He would do to them." Do you see how he who is moderate and watchful not only suffers no harm from the hands of people, but even turns back wrath sent from Heaven? But despite this the person who betrays himself and harms himself by what he does, even if countless benefits were received, does not receive much of an advantage. So, at least, the Jews did not benefit from those great miracles, nor were the Ninevites harmed by having no share in them. However, seeing that they were inwardly well-disposed, having laid hold of a slender chance they became better, barbarians and foreigners as they may have been, ignorant of all divine revelation and dwelling some distance from Palestine.

Again, was the goodness of the "three children" corrupted by the troubles they faced? While they were still young, mere youths of really a child's age, did they not undergo the terrible affliction of captivity? Did they not have to make a long journey from home, and when they arrived in the foreign land were they not cut off from the Jewish homeland, from home and Temple, and alter and sacrifices, and offerings and drinking offerings, and even singing Psalms? For not only were they cut off from their home, but as a consequence they were furthermore cut off from much of the worship they knew. Had they not been given into the hands of men, wolves rather than humans? And, most painful disaster of all, when they had been banished to so distant and barbarous a country, and suffering captivity, weren't they without Jewish teachers, without prophets, without a ruler? "For," it is written, "there is no ruler, nor prophet, nor governor, nor place fore offering before Thee and finding mercy." Worse than this, they were thrown into the pagans' royal palace, as upon some cliff and mountaintop, and a sea full of rocks and reefs, being compelled to sail over that angry sea without a captain or signal or crew or sails. They were cooped up in the royal court as in a hostile prison. For so far as they knew spiritual wisdom, and were superior to worldly things, they counted their journey there as their trouble getting worse. For if they had been outside the court, and living in a private house they would have had more independence. However, having cast into that prison (for they deemed the external splendor of the palace no better than a prison, no safer than a place of slippery rocks) they were immediately subjected to something cruel, and worse than embarrassment. For the king commanded them to receive food from his own table, a decadent, idol-stained, defiled table, something which was absolutely forbidden to Jews, and seemed more terrible than death. They were lonely men hemmed in like lambs among so many wolves. And they were forced to choose between being consumed by famine, or rather led off to execution, and tasting defiled and unclean foods that were forbidden to Jews. What then did these youths do, forlorn as they were, captives, strangers, and slaves of those who commanded these things? They did not consider that this dilemma or the absolute power of the ruler to justify their giving in; but they tried every plan and method to enable them to avoid sin, although they were abandoned on every side. For they could not influence people by money. How should they, being captives? Nor by friendship and social influence: how should they, being strangers? Nor could they get the better of them than any exercise of power: how was it possible to slaves like them? Nor could they win by force of numbers: how could they, being only three strong? Therefore they approached the eunuch who possessed the necessary authority, and persuaded him by their arguments. For when they saw him fearful and trembling, and in agony and alarmed for his own safety, and the fear of death that agitated his soul was intolerable: "for I fear," said he, "my lord the king, lest he should see your faces sadder than the other children like you and so you shall endanger my head before the king" having released him from this fear the three children persuaded him to grant them the favor. And given that they brought to the work all the strength which they had, God also henceforth contributed His strength to it. For it was not God's doing alone that they achieved those things for the sake of which they were to receive a reward, but the beginning and starting point was from their own initiative. Having manifested that to be noble and brave, they won for themselves the help of God, and so accomplished their aim.

Do you not then see that if a person does not injure himself, no one else will be able to harm him? Consider the following: They were,

  • Scarcely older than children—
  • Captivity and destitution—
  • Exile into a foreign land—
  • Great fear of death attacking the eunuch's mind—
  • Poverty—
  • Being so few in numbers—
  • Living surrounded by barbarians—
  • Having enemies for masters—
  • Surrender into the hands of the king himself—
  • Seperated from all their relatives—
  • Removal from priests and prophets—
  • Removal from all others who cared for them—
  • Being completely cut off from drink offerings and sacrifices—
  • Loss of the Temple and Psalmody—

And yet none of things harmed them: but they had more public fame than when they had all these things in their native land.

And after they had accomplished this first and had placed the glorious crown of victory on their heads, and had kept the Jewish Law even in a foreign land, and trampled underfoot the tyrant's command, and overcame the fear of the avenger, and yet receiving no harm from anywhere, as if they had been quietly living at home and enjoying the benefit of all benefits of Jewish society which I mentioned... after they had so fearlessly accomplished their work, they were again summoned to other contests.

And again they were the same men; and they were subjected to a more severe trial than the earlier one, and a furnace was lit, and they were confronted by the barbarian army in company of the king. The whole Persian force was set in motion and everything was devised which would tend to deceive or confront them: different kinds of music, and various forms of punishment, and threats, and what they saw was alarming on every side, and the words they heard were more alarming than what they saw... nevertheless, as they did not betray themselves, but made the most of their own strength, they never sustained any kind of damage. They even won for themselves more glorious crowns of victory than before. For Nebuchednesor tied them up and threw them into the furnace, but he failed to burn them, but instead helped them, and made them more illustrious. And although they were:

  • Deprived of Temple (for I will repeat my former remarks)—
  • Deprived of altar—
  • Deprived of homeland—
  • Deprived of priests and prophets—
  • Although they were in a foreign and barbarous country—
  • In the very midst of the furnace—
  • Surrounded by all that mighty warhost—
  • With the king himself who had done all this looking at them—

They set up a glorious trophy. They won a notable victory. And they had sung that admirable and extraordinary hymn which from that day to today has been sung throughout the world and will continue to be sung for future generations:

"Blessed art Thou, O Lord, God of our fathers,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever;
And blessed is Thy glorious, holy Name
and to be highly praised and highly exalted for ever;
Blessed art Thou in the Temple of Thy holy glory
and to be extolled and highly glorified for ever.
Blessed art Thou, Who sittest upon cherubim and lookest upon the deeps,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever.
Blessed art Thou upon the Throne of Thy Kingdom
and to be extolled and highly exalted for ever.
Blessed art Thou in the firmament of Heaven
and to be sung and glorified for ever.

"Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, you Heavens,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all waters above the heaven,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all powers,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, sun and moon,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, stars of Heaven,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all rain and dew,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all winds,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, fire and heat,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, dews and snows,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, nights and days,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, light and darkness,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, ice and cold,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, frosts and snows,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, lightnings and clouds,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Let the earth bless the Lord;
Let it sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, mountains and hills,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all things that grow on the earth,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, you springs,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, seas and rivers,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, you whales and all creatures that move in the waters,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all birds of the air,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all beasts and cattle,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, you sons of men,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, O Israel,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, you priests of the Lord,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, you servants of the Lord,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the righteous,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, you who are holy and humble in heart,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
Bless the Lord, Hanani′ah, Azari′ah, and Mish′ael,
Sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever.
For He has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the hand of death,
And delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace;
From the midst of the fire He has delivered us.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
For His mercy endures for ever.
Bless Him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods,
Sing praise to Him and give thanks to Him,
For His mercy endures for ever."

So when a person does not harm himself, he cannot possibly be hurt by another. I will not cease constantly harping on this saying. For if captivity, and slavery, and loneliness and loss of country and all kindred and death, and a great warhost and a savage tyrant could not do any damage to the innate goodness of the three children, even though they were captives, slaves, and aliens in a foreign land. To the contrary, the enemy's assault became to them instead the occasion of greater winning. What shall be able to harm the reasonable and moderate person? There is nothing, even if the whole world would be up in arms against him. "But," someone may say, "in their case God stood beside them, and plucked them out of the flame." Certainly He did: and if you will play your part to the best of your power, the help which God provides will definitely follow you.

Nevertheless the reason why I admire those youths and I call them blessed, and admirable, is not because they trampled on the flame and vanquished the power of the fire. It is because they were tied up with ropes and thrown into the furnace, and delivered to the fire for the sake of living the Truth. For this is what constituted the completeness of their triumph, and the wreath of victory was placed on their heads as soon as they were thrown into the furnace, and not a moment later. It was before the events occurred which were woven to them, when they spoke with much boldness and candid freedom of speech to the king when they were brought into his presence. "We have no need to answer thee concerning this thing. For our God in Heaven Whom we serve is able to rescue us out of the burning fiery furnace: and He will deliver us out of thy hands, O king. But even if He cannot, let it be known to you O King, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

After they spoke these words I proclaimed them conquerors. After these words, having grasped the prize of victory, they went on to claim the glorious crown of martyrdom, by following up the confession they made in words with the confession they made through their deeds. But when they had been thrown into the furnace, the fire had respect for their bodies. The fire took off the ropes they were tied up in, and allowed them to go down into it without fear, and forgot its natural force, so that the furnace of fire became a fountain of cool water. This marvel was the effect of God's grace and the divine wonder-working power. Yet the heroes themselves even before these things took place, as soon as they set foot in the flames, had erected their trophy. They had won their victory. They had put on their crowns. They had been proclaimed conquerors both in Heaven and on earth. So far as they were concerned, there was nothing more to ask for their splendor.

What then would you have to say to these things? Have you been driven into exile, and expelled from your country? So were they. Have you suffered captivity, and become the slave of barbarian masters? Well! You will find that this also happened to these men. But you have no one present there to put order to your life nor advise and instruct you? Well! These men lacked such attention too. Or have you been tied up, burned, and killed? For you cannot tell me of anything more painful than these things. But look at this! These men who went through them all, were made more glorious by each one of them, yes, much more glorious. More than this, they increased the store of their treasures in Heaven.

And the Jews indeed who had:

  • Both Temple and altar—
  • Ark and cherubim—Mercy-seat—
  • Veil and an infinite multitude of priests—
  • Daily services—
  • Morning and evening sacrifices—
  • Continually heard the voices of the prophets, both living and dead, sounding in their ears—
  • Carried about with them the memory of the wonders which were done in Egypt, and in the wilderness, and all the rest—
  • Turning the story of these things over in their hands—
  • Had them inscribed on their doorposts and enjoyed the benefit of much supernatural power and every other kind of help—

—were yet in no way profited, but rather harmed:

  • Having set up idols in the Temple itself—
  • And having sacrificed their sons and daughters under trees—
  • In almost every part of the country in Palestine having offered these forbidden and condemned sacrifices—
  • perpetrated countless other deeds that were still more monstrous—

But these three men, although in the midst of a barbarous and hostile land, living in a tyrant's house deprived of all that care I have been talking about, led away to execution, and subjected to burning, not only suffered no harm there from anyone small or great, but became all the more famous.

Knowing then these things, and collecting other instances like this from the inspired divine Scriptures (for it is possible to find many such examples with various other persons) we declare that neither a difficulty arising from seasons or events, nor compulsion and force, nor the arbitrary authority of rulers provide enough of an excuse for us when we sin. I will now close my discourse by repeating what I said at the beginning, that if anyone be harmed and damaged he certainly suffers this as entirely self-inflicted damage, not at the hands of others even if there may be innumerably many people harming and attacking him. If you does not suffer this at your own hands, not even all the creations which inhabit the whole earth and sea if they combined to attack you would be able to hurt you if you are vigilant and sober in the Lord.

Let us then, I plead to you, be sober and vigilant at all times. Let us endure all painful things bravely so that we may obtain those everlasting and pure blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power, now and ever throughout all ages.

Amen!

How does this relate to Fr. Seraphim's militant following?

How does this relate to Fr. Seraphim's militant following, such as I wrote about in The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts? I pity them, and pray, "Holy Father Seraphim, pray for your followers, that they may not suffer harm on my account," and I consider them to be benefactors.

(Perhaps unwilling and unwitting benefactors, but benefactors nonetheless.)

In Profoundly Gifted Survival Guide, I wrote:

I wrote in another blog post that I believed I had experienced what I would call "fame lite." Leonard Nimoy, in I Am Spock talks about how Hollywood has teachers for all kinds of skills they would need to portray that skill in movies: musical instruments, riding a horse, and so on and so forth. However, there was something that no teachers were to be found in Hollywood: dealing with fame. Nimoy learned, for instance, how to enter a restaurant through the kitchen because there would be a public commotion if Spock walked in through the front door. And on that count, I do not obviously suffer the consequences of real fame. I’ve been asked for my autograph, once. I’ve had someone call out publicly, before I entered Orthodoxy, “That’s Jonathan Hayward!”, once. I have repeatedly had pleasant meetings with people who know me through my website. And since then, the only new tarnish to my claim of undeserved “fame lite” is in recent years when a job opportunity was really a cloak for attempted seduction. If that was because of my website or reputation; I am not sure it was.

Fr. Seraphim's militant followers have kept an eagle eye to ensure that positive reviews don't stay up on Amazon too long, if they have any excuse to have it taken down. Consequently, if you look at my author page on Amazon, you will see what looks to me like the customer review title of an author who's written a lot of mediocrities. Editorial reviews help sales, but Amazon customers are used to buying things that have four and a half stars to five stars and usually hundreds, if not thousands, of customer reviews.

My magnum opus is The Luddite's Guide to Technology, and at the time of this writing, has two and a half stars and four customer ratings. There is no hint in this, to the Amazon customer, that the title merits study.

So why do I say that Seraphinians are my benefactors? C.S. Lewis wrote wonderful books and definitely did not just have "fame lite"; he had "full-blooded fame" and spent much of his later life in essentially pastoral correspondence with his readers. It would be quite wrong on my part to think myself entitled to write what may be good books but be too good to spend lots of time answering heartfelt correspondence from my readers. But I seem shielded from a benefit I would be immature to seek.

Furthermore, I am well-known with a good reputation, at least among conservative converts to Orthodoxy. I was informed a couple of years ago that in Facebook conversation, my name, listed as "Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward," had condensed to "CSH," in other words, "C.S. Hayward." That would also be bad enough for me to seek, but I have it. And I have just a pleasant degree of experience of meeting people and finding that they already know and like me, through my website.

People who are enough in the know, know that a pedestal can be a heavy cross to bear. Fr. Seraphim himself tried to avoid being put on a pedestal, but it happened to him anyway. At present I am on a pedestal but one that could be much larger and worse than it actually is, and part of my smaller and less burdensome pedestal is due to the hate of Fr. Seraphim's followers.

Furthermore, it is well-known in Orthodoxy that if you have a spiritual director and are obedient, part of what is done for you is that your spiritual director and not you will answer for your sins. What is less well-known is that if someone really maltreats you, they will answer for your sins like a spiritual director was. And this is something I wish were not so, and reason to pity Fr. Seraphim's followers, however hostile. When I die I want my sins to fall on Christ, and maybe my spiritual director. But they may fall on people who are already poor spiritually.

Being woke, as it is commonly understood, means being sensitized to notice subtle terms of political terms of disenfranchisement. In this and other cases I do not wish to explore, the term "subtle" simply does not apply. But I do not need to perhaps look cues for other even more subtle ways haters try to sabotage and oppress me. There is still plenty that is un-subtle!

...and true awakening

People today are big on being woke, of waking up and smelling the shit. And so it is in Orthodoxy too. But the real waking up smelling the shit is not the shit of political disenfranchisement, but the shit of our own sin. Pure and simple.

Furthermore, the Orthodox understanding of repentance is to wake up from your slumber, and arise from your sleep. Repentance is unconditional surrender, but it is also waking up from sleep par excellence.

I have spent much of my life unhappy, and been slow to wake up. For all my privilege, I was an escapist. I wanted to leave the world, wanted to have something from another world, such desires as power Within the Steel Orb. I found the here and now to almost always be desolate.

At one point a priest mentioned me that monks in the desert were always warned of the temptation to escape the world. And I repented, let go of having something sexy or enticing or otherwise an exception to this desolate world, and when I wrote a blank check to God and most bleakly accepted that my place was in this desolate world, my eyes were opened and I saw, as for the very first time, that the here and now I was in were not desolate, but beautiful. And that marked a beginning of being glad to be alive.
And in the wake of this, I wrote "Paradise:"

Paradise

O Lord,
Have I not seen,
How thou hast placed me in Paradise?

And how have I said,
That a first monastic command,
Is, "Go home and spend another year with your family?"
While I have spent a few?
The obedience is not limited,
By a count of years,
But by obedience,
This being a first obedience.

Gifts I have fought as chance left me,
Bloodied, but more deeply bowed:

Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?
It hurteth thee to kick against the goads.

I stand, or sit,
Not scholar, nor user experience professional,
Making use of a life of leisure,
Learning leisure well, to lord it over leisure,
Once I made a vow before a wonder-working icon in Brooklyn,
That I might receive a doctorate,
Earned or honorary,
And since then have prayed that my vow not be granted,
An honorary doctorate not to receive,
Because I do not want it enough to even travel,
To give the icon a kiss of veneration!

An Invitation to the Game is an icon,
Of children in a proletariat of excessive leisure,
Excessive leisure being a training ground,
Before a new life in a new world begins.

God the Spiritual Father looks after,
Each person he has made,
As a spiritual father looks after each disciple,
God looketh after each,
In the situations he placed each:

Life’s Tapestry

Behind those golden clouds up there
the Great One sews a priceless embroidery
and since down below we walk
we see, my child, the reverse view.
And consequently it is natural for the mind to see mistakes
there where one must give thanks and glorify.

Wait as a Christian for that day to come
where your soul a-wing will rip through the air
and you shall see the embroidery of God
from the good side
and then… everything will seem to you to be a system and order.

What have I to add,
To words such as these?
This time is a time of purification and training,
And as in times past,
In an instant, I may be taken to a monastery,
As I was taken to study theology,
Six months' work to obtain student loans,
Falling into place one business day before leaving.
Thou teachest me,
And I know thou art willing to save:
Whether or not my plans are the best.
Whether I ever reach monasticism,
Thou art potent to save.
I might need to seek monasticism:
God can save me with or without.

So I learn patience,
Fly through FluentU and learn Russian,
And here I sit,
In a place thou hast opened my eyes to see as Paradise,
And with lovely food pantries,
And visits to pets at a lovely cat shelter,
And thou ever ministerest to me.

Though thousands around me be addicted to television,
And ten thousands can't stop checking their cell phones,
Thou hast delivered me,
And taught me to lord it over technologies,
Perchance a prophet in the way,
To the technology user who still suffers,
To those who remain entangled in the Web.

Thou hast delivered me from mortal danger:
Perhaps thou givest me more time to repent.
Or perhaps thou givest merely,
More time to repent.
Glory to God for all things!

Thou givest me simple pleasures,
Who knew tidying up a besmudged keyboard could be fun?
Whither I go, thou art with me;
Thou preparest a table before family and friends.

"World" refers not to God's creation,
But to our collections of passions,
Seeing through a glass, darkly,
What bathes in the light of Heaven:
Hell is a state of mind,
But Heaven is reality itself.

I am perhaps not worthy of praise,
To say such things in middle-class comfort.
I seek monasticism, to be a novice,
Which is meant to be exile,
Yet an abbot's work,
Is to help me reach freedom from my passions,
And what true joy I have in luxury,
Only know further in monastic exile.
Years I have waited:
Now I am willing to wait years more.
Only if I may pursue repentance,
On such terms as it is offered me.
Glory to God who has allowed me such luxury!
Glory to God who has allowed me such honors!
Glory to God who has shown me that these avail nothing,
And seek the true fame,
Fame before God himself!

Be thou glorified, O God, in me,
Though I know nothing,
Though I am nothing,
Be none the less glorified in me.
The Infinite can do the Infinite in the finite:
Be thou therefore glorified and praised in me,
Though I am nothing before thee,
Yet thou grantest me breath and life,
Joy,
And ever offerest me salvation.

Glory be to God on high!
Glory be to God for Paradise!
Which Paradise is in all things!
Glory to God for all things!

Amen.

In The Paradise War, one of the characters says, "You aren't happy unless you're miserable!" And strange as it may sound, I am never so happy as when I discover a repentance.

The Philokalia says that people hold on to sin because they [wrongly] think it adorns them. And the pattern for repentance is often the same. There is some struggle, something I think I desparately need that conscience or authorities tell me I need to let go of, and when I let it go and let go of all it represents for me, bleakly certain that some shining part of me will be lost and gone forever, I repent, then realize I was holding on to a piece of Hell, and am blindsided by a reward I would not have thought to seek. Repentance is bliss, as is well powers a passage in C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce:

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 see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.

The Orthodox Church understands repentance to be a fundamental spiritual awakening, far more profound than getting bit by a political bug.

Repentance is not just True Awakening. It is also Heaven's best-kept secret.

Curiouser and curiouser

Furthermore, as far as awakening goes, it is the dogmatic theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church that it was always Plan A for our race to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was initially forbidden, but the ban was only temporary, until Adam and Life could grow strong enough to eat such foods. The reason Adam and Eve fell after eating the fruit was not that they ate something that they were not meant to eat; it is because they went behind God's back and were like an infant trying to eat solid food when it needs breast milk.

Among the seasons of the Orthodox Church, Lent is the central season, a season of the repentance that brings Heaven here now, and builds up into the season of the Resurrection, a season of Heaven on earth, and then after a season where the Risen Christ helped his disciples on to more solid food, ascension where Christ rose to Heaven and brought the Church with him. Then comes Pentecost, which is my chief interest here, and not only because it marks the beginning of the Orthodox Church's road through time and history.

When Christ was teaching the disciples, he was always bringing them to higher things. With years of face-to-face discipling, they didn't get it. When Christ rose, they didn't get it. When he spent forty days trying to introduce more solid food, they didn't get it. When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, they got it.

Pentecost marks the season of awakening par excellence. It was at Pentecost that the disciples maturely ate and received of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and went from cowering behind locked doors to going fearlessly to proclaim good news throughout the known world. One of them was threatened by authorities with crucifixion; he answered, "If I feared the Cross, I would not be preaching it." Another who had denied his master three times before he "got it," when he was sentenced to death by crucifixion, said that he was not worthy to die like his Lord, and asked instead to be subjected to upside-down crucifixion—the one form of torture and execution worse than his Lord's. Almost all of them died martyrs; they had something fundamentally beyond anything the world knew. Such things as Basil's response to threats come to mind:

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? 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.”

And we, too, are to maturely eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

"Want to try some Snow Crash?"

Neal Stevenson in Snow Crash introduces a concept of Snow Crash that is not a narcotic, but is often laced with narcotics. Well into the book we learn that Snow Crash, the mysterious phenomenon, is a bigger, better, and geekier version of the Japanese animation technique that was banned when it caused mass epileptic seizures in its audience.

A political bug that is laced with a feeling of having made a spiritual breakthrough, that perhaps you are awake and the whole world is asleep, is false treasure. Such memes deprived of the breakthrough sensation, not laced with a narcotic, would not go very far. Laced with a sense of delightful spiritual awakening, political bugs bite people and get them to go places wisdom would not go.

It has been observed that gifted people are often very liberal, but profoundly gifted people are often very, very conservative, or at very least populist. Part of the taste that is exhilarating to most of the gifted population has a taste more like flat beer to the profoundly gifted.

If you would like to know if you’re having a real spiritual breakthrough, one question I would ask is, “What sin are you repenting of, recoiling from it in horror and tremendously glad to be clean?” If there is no clear answer to this question, the yellow metallic shine is fool’s gold.

Conclusion

Do you desire to be woke? Awaken!

You desire a good thing...

...but there is a lot of fool’s gold to be had...

...and the real gold takes some digging.

Some have cynically said, "Truth is a commodity that, however scarce, has always had a supply far in excess of the demand." I don’t know whether that is true, but I have outlined what "True Woke" really means.

It is well worth pursuing.

Would you seek it?

A Visit from the Buddha

I have been wary of Western Buddhism as a sort of neo-Deism: a religious faith, if it may be called that ("Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt."--G.K. Chesterton: Chesterton could also have said, "Buddhism is not a Creed. It is a Dao."), where in its native element the ethical heavy lifting is done primarily by what a Western scholar might call a system of virtues, and there are fewer inviolable rules, while the Western self-identified Buddhist picks up on the fewer inviolable rules but does not do heavy lifting by its Path of eight cardinal interlocking virtues.

Nonetheless, a visit to Buddhism can be helpful in another aspect. Buddhism is arguably a stronger grade of skepticism than is prominent in the West ("Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt."--G.K. Chesterton), but when the Buddha's followers asked him if there were gods, he said that there probably were, but the question was irrelevant, because any [good] deity would have already blessed us to the maximum extent possible.

My first response, on hearing that answer repeated decades ago, was, "Well, that rules out the Christian God very quickly." My thought there was that the great skeptic's answer did not entertain a correlation between being blessed by Deity and one's relationship with Deity. The Christian God, said in the Sermon on the Mount to make his sun shine on good men and evil men alike, has something beyond desire to bless us to the maximum extent possible, but for how well the blessing works for us, it matters whether we cooperate with the blessing or resist it. The Great Physician wants to give us the supreme Medicine, but it matters a great deal for us whether we take the Medicine as directed or throw the Medicine on the ground and spit on it. A Russian philosopher has been asked that perennial question, "Could God make a stone He could not move?" and answered, "Yes; that stone is man."

None the less, I have been having a struggle with something I should know better than, thirsting for worldly honors. Or, to be more precise, a mad thirst for more earthly honors when I have had enough honor that I should know that worldly honors do not satisfy or make lastingly happy. One thought that was in my conscience was, "What would St. John Chrysostom say?" And without thinking of exact words, I knew what kind of response he would give: a good dose of clear thinking that would paint black as black and white as white. I thought of gratitude for what I have been given--and a next life in which God offers honors such as eye has not seen and ear has not heard. I did not think of it at the time, but also relevant is a post I wrote when I tried and failed to locate a copy of St. John's "A Comparison Between the Monk and the King:" A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop. Or, as the Holy Cross Hermitage's ever-kind guestmaster condensed the entire topic, "Bishops want to be novices!" Wherefore, being a novice myself, I should recognize the privileged position I already hold, and be grateful for the crown assigned to my role as a novice, rather than hanker after the half-eggcupfull of external glory that is assigned to bishops but is withheld from novices. (I also did not think of being one of half a dozen at a monastery which has the artisan's attention of an esteemed bishop. Perhaps it is glorious to give communion, such as my Aboot gives, but the glory is dwarfed by the glory of receiving communion, a glory shared between Abbot and novice alike. (And by the way, my Abbot is a high rank of bishop, but he usually doesn't wear the crowns he is entitled to wear. He seems to leave wearing crowns to the novices.)

I fought against this mad thirst for a while and was losing despite my best efforts, perhaps a cue to the wise that what I was fighting was not some confused logic but a temptation and a sin to be repented of, and found a familiar enough foul stench in that my thoughts of being happy through external honors was not making me happy, but sad.

And when I had struggled enough, salvation came. It came not from recognizing the particular privilege of a novice, in learning the freedom that is in obedience to an Abbot, and of being entrusted a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light when more privileged roles bear a heavier cross. Salvation came, this time, in a visit from the Buddha, so to speak. And this even apart from what the Buddha had to say about desire.

I would not retract any of my earlier thoughts about "Well, that rules out the Christian God," but casts a particular light on the Providence of God, but this visit from the Buddha showed that there is something of the Providence in the idea that deity, if such exists, will already have blessed us to the maximum extent possible. C.S. Lewis said, "We want God to change our circumstances. God wants our circumstances to change us." And furthermore this combines in an odd way with the Christian God whose Grace can bring Heaven everywhere, but we can if we want veto enjoying Grace and instead experience it as Hell. The point of this visit from Buddhism is not really a point about the Grace available in my own particular circumstances, but about all circumstances in general, or rather a point about every particular circumstance. Until we have grown enough, and perhaps even then, the demons tempt us to ungratitude towards circumstances in which God has already blessed to the maximum effect possible, save our accepting and realizing His Providence as the Maximum Providence of God the Spiritual Father, of a God who cares for each of us more than an a mortal spiritual father takes care for his charges, of a God who however much our Plan A fails, and then Plan B, and Plan C, and so on down the alphabet, remains a God who is always dealing with us on Plan A. It can be easier to see this Providence years after the fact, to realize what painful circumstances gave you and what God saved you from by taking away what you wanted to pray for. And with effort, God can help us realize his Plan A for us where we are here and now. But the temptation is just that: a temptation, a hook of Hell designed to take away as much as possible our happiness in circumstances in which God has blessed us to the maximum extent possible save possibly our consent, and is building here on earth the foundation and substance of an eternal glory.

Dumber and Dumberer

And really, what had brought on this temptation, or rather immediately triggered it in my immaturity, was one of the magazines freely given our Abbot, a magazine offering trite coverage of an English Princess, who said, "Someday I will be Queen," "is 7 but thinks she is 17," and "speaks four languages," "is at the head of her class," and something about being a style icon. I would briefly comment on what I was coveting in her royal privilege:

"Someday I will be Queen!"

Before and also now, I consider bare membership among the faithful of the Orthodox Church to outclass primacy in the Church of England.

And I am trying to cooperate with God in reaching Heaven, in glory so great that we are advised not to think too much of our glorified state. And, further, I recall St. Rostislav: "I have heard of how Constantine, great among kings, appeared to a certain Elder and said, 'If I had known what glory the monks receive in heaven... I would have taken off my crown and royal purple, and replaced them with the monastic garb'."

One person at the Mars Society talked about asking people, "Who was the Queen of Spain in 1492?" The answer comes quick as a shot: "Isabella." Then the next question is posed, "Who was the Queen of France?" And to that I will add that armchair historian as I am, I do not know who was King of England in the days of C.S. Lewis.

Is 7 but thinks she's 17:

I'm also too big for my britches.

Speaks four languages:

I have read the Bible in seven languages, admittedly not at the age of seven, but at the age of three I was a solipsist philosopher.

Is at the head of her class:

One psychologist drew a sharp point of, "The average Harvard PhD has never met someone as talented as you," and I have been in the dubious honor of being so far ahead of what professors were used to that their social skills started to melt away.

Something about being a style icon.

I'm not sure that ever, in my entire life, have other people looked at what I was wearing to take cues for style. People have borrowed a T-shirt for me as an emblem of bad dressing.

But I somehow seem to end up going ahead of the Zeitgeist, whether or not I have the faintest desire to do so.

The overall predicament I was in reminds me when I was traveling through a hardware store coveting ordinary Swiss Army Knives while looking for an impossible-to-find wiresaw a friend wanted:

When I had a SwissChamp XLT on my belt:

Conclusion

God has already blessed us to the maximum extent possible apart from the question of whether we choose to relate to that blessing as a blessing or a curse. In one sense, God has already blessed us as Buddha said. But we are the stone God cannot bless if we interpret His Providence as a curse.

There was something profoundly stupid in my coveting earthly honors, and that something would have remained stupid even without the irony, like the pears passage of the Blessed Augustine, of owning pears better than anything he coveted enough to steal.

In Exotic Golden Ages and Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a Passion, I wrote:

Adam reigned as an immortal king and lord over the whole world. He had a wife like nothing else in all Creation, paradise for a home, and harmony with nature such as we could not dream of. And, he was like a little boy with a whole room full of toys who is miserable because he wants another toy and his parents said "No." And lest we look down on Adam, we should remember that I am Adam, and you are Adam.

And the content of such temptations is stupid: stupidity and something that backfires if we entertain them even just a little... but there is something to be said for temptations in God's Plan A.

Everything that God allows in our lives is either a blessing from God or a temptation which He has allowed for our strengthening.

God allowed me a miserable few hours coveting privilege that I might be strengthened, and even if things would have been much easier if I had not entertained the desire, he allowed me the temptation for my strengthening and harvested my sin that I might strike at the sin all the louder.

A Note on Reading St. John Chrysostom

There's advice I've given to a few people, and I'd like to post it here.

The "Chrysostom" in "St. John Chrysostom" is Greek for "Golden-Mouth," and St. John indeed did have a golden mouth. St. John Chrysostom is a great preacher for a good dose of clear thinking about life's struggles, and I encourage readers to read The Complete Works of St. John Chrysostom (cross-linked to the Bible).

Only there is one clarification I would give.

St. John represents a prolific writer, with his writing filling half a dozen volumes in the standard collection.

Don't weary yourself by trying to read him cover to cover.

Instead, just wait until you are "hungry," spiritually, then read St John Chrysostom only until you are "full," and set the collection down. Digest the material, and then wait until you are "hungry" again to pick him up. And then read more, but again only until you are "full." And let the cycle repeat.

And one other note: biased translators chose the least attractive work he wrote, and put it in the beginning. I would suggest opening with another work altogether: A Treatise to Prove that No One Can Harm the Man who Does Not Injure Himself.

Enjoy!

(You may get a good many years out of reading St. John Chrysostom...)

The Post-Scientific Theory of Post-Darwinian Post-Evolution

A disturbance followed when it was noticed that [scientists] had left the whole of evolutionary theory outside in the unscientific badlands as well. But special arrangements were made to pull it in without compromising the principle.

-Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation

Anybody here from the English department? The English department is a special place. If you want to find a Marxist, don't go to the political science department. Nary a Marxist will you find there. Go to the English department. If you want to find a Freudian, don't go to the psychology department. Nary a Freudian will you find there. Go to the English department. If you want to find a Darwinist, don't go to the biology department. Nary a Darwinist will you find there. Go to the English department. The English department is a living graveyard of all the dead and discredited ideologies that have been cast off by other departments.

-Yours Truly, Firestorm 2034

It may raise eyebrows to say that Darwin's theory of evolution is no longer live in the academy, but I assert that the claim is straightforwardly true. Or to be precise, evolution may be believed by some people whose commitment to the theory greatly exceeds their scientific competency, but no biologist I can ever recall speaking with believes in evolution.

If we look at the term 'evolve' or 'evolution', as in "The idea slowly evolved in her head," Darwin's theory of evolution is a proper theory of evolution, saying that life forms are constantly morphing into something different, so one would expect a fossil record of slow changes that accumulate over time, somewhat like the size and shape of a human being evolves from a ball-like fertilized age to a person who has come into proper adulthood. And that is why Darwin's biggest opponents in his day were paleontologists, because paleontologists said that the fossil record as it was known then didn't show much recorded evolution. And Darwin said, "Give it some time until we know the fossil record better," and that might have been the right decision at the time. However, we've had over a century of additional research into the fossil record, and the "hostile record" as I called it has only become more hostile to being accounted for as a result of evolution.

Biologists I have asked have said, "We've progressed," and what they mean by that is that they have recognized and acknowledged that what has happened is not evolution in any straightforward sense of the term, but that the fossil record reflects long periods of very little change worthy of the name, interrupted by brief periods of rapid change without preserved intermediate forms. The technical term for this is "punctuated equilibrium," informally abbreviated to "punk eek." As my biology teacher at IMSA said, "Evolution is like baseball. It has long periods of boredom interrupted by brief periods of intense excitement."

I do not deny that what biologists teach is much closer to the fossil record than Darwin, but the surviving reference to "neo-Darwinian evolution" is a retaining of terms whose meaning has been rejected. No biologist I have ever known has said that "evolution" has kept her maiden name, but "neo-Darwinian evolution" is not a theory of evolution in any sense of the term. It might, I admit for the sake of argument, be true, but what it is not is a theory of evolution. And that takes it further from Darwinian evolution than any of the other theories of evolution that competed with Darwinian evolution in Darwin’s day.

I might briefly state that "Darwinian" or "neo-Darwinian" as an adjective for a theory of punctuated equilibrium labelled as evolution comes from roots where there were multiple theories of evolution in some competition. As a child in school taught out of the prestigious BSCS Blue, one other theory of evolution given in the text's "history of science" treatment, included theories like Lamarckian evolution, which states that if an organism does a lot of something, it will get better at it, and that these changes are inherited by offsprint where the Darwinian claim is due to genetics and an environment that filters for what works over what doesn't work. And today's "neo-Darwinian" theory of "evolution" is closer on this score to Darwin's framing of evolution than any of its nineteenth-century competitors I am aware of. But "neo-Darwinian evolution" is not just post-Darwinian; I argue above that it is post-evolution.

Having fired that salvo, I would like to move on, not too much to look at how Darwinism came heavily mixed up with racism and racist eugenics (whose Margaret Sanger said, "Colored people are like human weeds" and spoke at KKK rallies--there is every consistency between Darwinism and an attitude of merciless hostility to other races), but to look at how scientific this post-scientific theory is. And here I am not interested in the special arragements that were made to include evolution in science without compromise of principle.

Philosopher of science Karl Popper said, in essence, that to be a scientific theory, you have to have some skin in the game. Various camps like Marxism could explain all sorts of things; Karl Popper articulated a criterion of "falsifiability" that said that a real scientific theory can't explain some experimental outcomes. The more striking and unexpected an experimental outcome a theory predicts, and turns out right where the incumbent is wrong, the better it augurs for the theory.

Karl Popper made a case study of Marxism, and said that it was originally a falsifiable scientific theory because it made certain predictions. When those predictions turned out very wrong, they modified the theory so nothing really could prove it wrong, and in Popper's estimation, they saved it by making it no longer a scientific theory.

(Have you read my Theory of Evolution Tries to be More Like Superstring Theory, Dismantles own falsifiability? It is noised in some quarters that Karl Popper picked on the academic powerhouse of Marxism because if he were to launch such an attack on "evolution" as science, he would have been called a Creationist and so picking on the powerhouse of Marxism was deemed the less encumbered approach.)

A mathematician's objection

Here I am not relying on my graduate education so much as my undergraduate degree in math with two overkill probability/statistics classes, and I am relying less on my bachelor's than the math contests I participated in, and often placed, and a little less on all those math contests than a lower level math class where the teacher told us that we should make a rough gauge idea of what a result should be in using a calculator, because it is easy enough to mistype and get a very wrong answer. So if I was going to divide seven by twelve, I should know that six is half of twelve and so the result should be a bit more than one half. If I accidentally hit "*" instead of "/" and get an answer of eighty-four, I should recognize a wildly inaccurate result when I see it, and try again, this time more carefully.

This was not welcome advice, but I see it’s wisdom today, and it informs my incredulity in conversations with people trying to convince me of "evolution."

The basic assertion I have so far been given, for why punk eek changes so little for long periods of time and then abruptly produced new life forms, is that when things are stable, things are working and there is little incentive to change, while when things are chaotic, the incentive is much greater. What is left completely unaddressed is the statistical ability of a breeding population to acquire and retain beneficial genetic changes so as to meet the higher incentive to change.

There was one discussion with fellow IMSA alumni in relation to evolution I asked, "Suppose that I claim the ability to guess lottery numbers, and I am right once. How odd. Suppose I succeed in a second or a third time. And on another note, suppose for the sake of argument that we can rule out fraud. If we suppose that I can only guess one lottery number per minute, that I can only guess lottery numbers for forty hours per week, and that I will die of old age at seventy if nothing else gets me first. Is there any number of successful guesses I could make before you would believe I can guess lottery numbers?" The answer I got was "...No more than a dozen!"

We were discussing the Cambrian explosion, when several new creatures appeared that were so different that they each belonged to their own phylum. I said a lot of weird things occurred over time, and I was willing for the sake of argument to admit optimally convenient mutagen exposure, so we would never really run out of mutations. Speaking conservatively, I posited that a random mutation would have a 90% chance of being harmful and a 10% chance of being beneficial (a microbiology grad student said he would place the chances of harm as much greater--and incidentally, he was the one partner in the discussion who answered with a non-commital "You seem well-read" instead of shockedly shutting me down altogether), and I would posit for one organism, again speaking conservatively, estimate a thousand beneficial mutations necessary to produce a viable organism of a new species (how a breeding pool could acquire and sustain such beneficial changes was left unaddressed). The figure would be inestimable higher to get a new phylum). On that count, we are talking the odds of one viable creature of a new species as being similar to the odds of winning a lottery over one hundred times in a row. The answer to that line of argument received an interlocutor's response of, "There are some things we may never know."

(Also, some people cried "Foul!" about fraud being ruled out. But in the analogy, fraud would correspond to an intelligence manipulating creatures that did not arise by intelligent design to appear to have arisen by intelligent design. This may not be the Christian God, but nobody in the discussion was entertaining a belief that an intelligence manipulated available evidence to give a false impression that evolution occurred.)

I was originally drawn in to the Intelligent Design movement by reading its texts (see The Evolution of a Perspective on Creation and Origins). Since then, I have accepted that those texts were from the Disco Toot concocting a neo-Creation “Science” that would attract academics... but, though this leaves me as a churchman without a church, evolutionists' efforts to draw me in have driven me away and brought loud warning bells to my horse sense about statistics. Tuskless elephants, like Darwin’s pepper moth example, are not about the generation of new species but a shift in the proportion of two already existing phenotypes. Worse, I have been told, as an example of why beneficial genetic change is easy, I have been told that Indian prostitutes have developed HIV resistance in a single generation.

Generating helpful new genetic change is not statistically easy. Generating helpful new genetic change is statistically hard. And since I read Intelligent Design founding texts, no attempt to convince me that helpful genetic change is easily acquired have done anything but sound like loud warning bells to my horse sense about how statistics work.

And this is a second objection to calling punk eek "science." The discipline of biology may be on the whole less mathematical than the other hard sciences of physics and chemistry. Pure math is what is called "data free," while physics for instance has various constants which are not negotiable in their theories (for instance, a gravitational constant of -9.8 meters per second squared). Biology is more data-rich than either of the other two: the sheer amount of anatomy of various organisms that a biology grad student is expected to know alone dwarfs the level of data in chemistry or physics, and this is without looking at other areas such as biochemical mechanisms that a biologist needs to be conversant in. I do not count it as a strike against biology that it is the furthest of the three from being data-free, but in physics or chemistry as hard sciences make sense mathematically and statistically, and it is a liability of "evolution" if accepting it includes swallowing a pill of statistical hogwash.

I would like to pause to give a couple of humanistic notes.

First, one grad school roommate from Czechoslovakia (not specifically a biologist) commented that Darwin’s singular place among English-speaking biologists may partly be a local loyalty to an English-speaking scientist. He, in the land of Gregor Mendel, said that he had been taught Mendelian genetics as the central biological theory. If I had read "Evolution is the one theory in biology without which nothing else makes sense," some form of genetics is also a theory without which nothing else makes sense. And for that matter, genetics is a theory without which "evolution" does not make sense, but "evolution" is not a theory without which genetics does not make sense. I’m not sure Gregor Mendel's signal contribution of dominant and recessive genes is that central, but genetics such as Mendel studied is the foundation variations of evolution are built on.

I would also be remiss not to mention C.S. Lewis's objection to evolution, an objection that it disturbed and alarmed him how difficult it was to make people see. On purely philosophical grounds, (naturalist) "evolution" could not possibly be true. It explains why we could have brains good enough to find food, procreate, and avoid being hunted to extinction. It does not, in any sense, explain why we could have brains good enough to posit a true theory of evolution. It is a straightforward implication of "evolution" that romantic love is a biochemical reaction that could not rise to the dignity of error; but by the same stroke all explanation (including "evolution") is a biochemical reaction that could not rise to the dignity of error. We need to have some sort of impressive "special flower" status to formulate a true theory of evolution that denies us "special flower" status.

It has been suggested in response or anticipation to such objection that natural selection may favor finding beliefs that are true, but the objection seems to me ill-considered. Over 99% of people who have ever lived have never seen a written word. Darwin's theory of evolution and its successors have not been available to anyone to believe except within the last two hundred years, and when it has been available it has been believed (or just available) to a minority of the whole world population. The subspecies of modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, with our genus Homo around for maybe a few million. Timewise, evolution and successors have been available for less than one tenth of one percent of the time our subspecies has been around. Over 99% of people who have ever lived have believed that what we now call nature is spiritual in some wise. Post-Darwinian post-evolution is a mind-bogglingly parochial belief to our species as a whole. If natural selection selects for finding true beliefs, it has only hit its mark in a very parochial conditions; over 99.9% of people who have ever lived have had our naturally selected brains perform the way natural selection calls for.

One of the critiques lobbied by naturalists and evolutionists about some Christian theories is the "God of the gaps" objection. The objection asserts that unfalsifiable religious explanation is lodged in the gaps that modern science has not been able to cover yet. All things considered, present theories of "evolution" are now an "evolution of the gaps," where life forms evolve in the gaps of our knowledge of the fossil record, and if over a century of progressive increase in knowledge of the fossil record has smaller gaps between periods of equilibrium, unfalsifiable evolution is just asserted to have taken place in those much smaller and rarer gaps. This does not make evolution wrong on philosophical grounds per se; but like Marxism it has been defended on grounds that render it unfalsifiable, which amounts to abdicating from the throne of science. It is not grounds to deny that evolution might be true, but it is grounds to deny that evolution might remain a scientific theory.

Conclusion

Fr. Seraphim of Platina may have erred by importing Protestant doctrine on origins. He did not err in this: in today’s Western culture, the theory of "evolution" is not doing the work of science. It is doing the work of naturalist philosophy, and should be recognized as such.

I would suggest that at least for Orthodox, the discussion would be advanced just a little by stopping using the term "evolution" when in university biology departments all theories of evolution, and all serious openness to believe in evolution, have been dead so long they no longer even smell bad.

We’ve curated fruit flies for hundreds of thousands of generations and, while we can induce a mutation that causes antennae to grow from their eyes, but we have not yet bred a new species. The only species I know that is newer than Darwin’s theory is a radiotolerans or radiation-tolerant bacterium that evolved at Chernobyl after the meltdown. And, for reasons I won’t discuss here, that is the kind of exception that proves a general rule.

It might be productive to change vocabulary to more precise, and speak not of “evolution,” but of a post-scientific theory of post-Darwinian post-evolution.

I invite you to use the newer, up-to-date term. Enjoy!

Ignorance

I've been thinking after reading a tweet that quoted a French educational minister who had announced that French schoolchildren would be taught Latin and Greek starting in 5th and 6th grade. He was asked whether students would also be taught "PHP, JavaScript, Python." He was rather confused by the question, and the interlocutor asked, "Will they be taught to code?" and he answered, "No, they will not be taught to code."

The tweet treated the French leader as so obviously out of touch with reality that further comment was not even offered. But I'd like to talk a bit about my own education to say why there was a problem, not with the French leader, but the twit.

I have had about as much education in mathematics and STEM as there is to be had, though I did not end up with a PhD, and about as much education in academic theology as there is to be had, thought I did not end up with a PhD there either, and read Latin and Greek at a significant level, and for that matter spent a semester at the Sorbonne (I am the local francophone at my monastery). And I believe studying Latin and Greek is relevant, or at least reading classics in translation (I have read little beyond the Bible in Latin or Greek). And I believe a knowledge of the world's classics, such as one can find in the Norton Anthology of World Literature (beginnings to 1650, 1650 to present).

My six best works, or at least those that have most met with profound reader approval, are those in C.J.S. Hayward in Under 99 Pages:

And just for the record, I have not read Plato in Greek nor St. Boethius in Latin, and I am on the whole not a literary Weird Al Yankovic; it's just that my best works seem to go further when I am leaning on a past giant. Also, for what it's worth, I have worked in PHP, JavaScript, and Python, the last of which is my favorite (computer) language.

My first and less serious objection to the perspective in the tweet has to do with how I talked my way out of candidacy for a dream job. My interviewer said I would have my complete choice of languages and platform, and the core of the job and its description was to program a payment gateway that would take about a million people's membership fees. I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain one Information Technology manager's published opinion that ten years prior, IT work was "build, build, build", but then, even then, it was "Partner before buy; buy before build." And it wouldn't just be faster and cheaper to zero in on a good, vetted, mature open source project that could handle the collection of annual membership fees; it would have been hands down more secure. For me to give my interviewer what he thought he wanted would have been to put both of us in a situation where a routine programming error could jeopardize a million people's finances, and I would have had no other programmer in the organization to ask to review my code. A business analyst would not have boiled down "collect membership fees" to "write a program from scratch to collect membership fees;" a more obvious interpretation of the situation would have been to "identify and acquire a secure software solution appropriate to collecting membership fees." By that time, the wheel had already been reinvented many different ways, and so had the internal combustion engine. And I do not say that Python etc. skills are irrelevant; when I had trouble with WordPress I circumvented the issue by implementing a simple content management system in Python, and that has generated a site that I'm building. But the number of people who really need to know these languages is small and shrinking. I think Python is a particularly good choice for people interested in recreational and hobbyist programming, but I do not think it is beneficial across the board to expand primary education to cover the five R's of Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Ruby on Rails.

But here is my more serious concern. My prior spiritual director, before this monastery, looked at what I talked about and had written and said that my primary contribution seemed to be talking about Orthodoxy and technology. And that is work where a deep and sensitive understanding of METS issues is essential, but the heavy lifting is all done on humanities's power. And in terms of the liberal arts ideal, and educating an informed public, Latin and Greek in middle school makes sense. It sounds like an informed opinion, and not only makes classics more available to the general public, but provide an environment where French intellectual giants will grow up with the languages of most of the heavy lifting in humanities in the history of Western culture. Proficiencies in classical languages will also age and mature well compared to computer languages in particular. Someone who learned to read classics in Latin and Greek twenty years ago will have much profitable reading available today; but someone who had learned C, C++ and Java ten years ago, and has not kept up with the risings and fallings of programming languages, will be considered a dinosaur today. Classics age better than fashion.

"Conversation is like texting for adults"

There is a sort of chauvinism I have encountered, not least in my advisor saying, "Do you make allowances for greater ignorance in the past?" to which I coolly answered, "I do not make allowances for greater ignorance in the past. Allowances for different ignorance in the past are more negotiable." I refrained from saying that I make allowances for greater ignorance in the present. But I get ahead of myself.

Today's youth are not even learning face-to-face social skills, and still we have a chauvinism that we assume the competencies of our predecessors without needing to acquire these competencies as our predecessors have. Thomas Kuhn's post-truth account of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, says that after a heavily political revolution has occurred, history is rewritten so as to provide an additive picture where the history of related developments adds increases of knowledge when the change is not additive, but ecological. I have studied, though I find it very hard to put into words, what was lost in the founding of Western science. (The best indication I can easily give is to look at what C.S. Lewis says about science/magic in the final third of The Abolition of Man, and dig deeper in Mary Midgley's Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning, and perhaps my "Physics", which may or may not help.) But there is some real merit in what a friend wrote:

Learning with your whole body

I'm assuming that most of you have been to college. Even if you haven't, you've been learning for 12 years in an institution that has taught you that learning is done with the brain, that it comes from words written on screens or paper, and that the way you show what you've learned is to write intelligent words on screens or paper.

Here is the first thing I need you to understand: out here in the garden, you do not learn with your brain. You learn with your hands and with your eyes and with your whole body. Your brain is involved, sure. But don't let it take over. Don't separate "learning" and "working." Every moment you're in this teaching garden, and even a lot of the time you're working in other parts of the farm, if you pay attention you can be learning constantly.

School teaches us to think of learning as information. It's such a mistake! Yes, there is information that will help you learn to garden, and I'll teach you some of it—but if you don't learn it with your body, it won't be much use to you.

You're going to need educated eyes—you're going to need the ability to look at a plant and know if it's thriving, to look at a little seedling and be able to see in your mind how big it'll be so you can give it enough space, to look at a patch of weeds and have a sense of how much bigger it'll be next week if you don't kill it now. (The most advanced skill, which I'm still learning, is looking at a row of green beans and estimating—from how thick the blossoms & small beans on it are—how much it's going to produce over the next couple weeks.) You need educated hands—you need to be able to feel, when you're swinging a hoe, whether you're really biting into the roots of the weeds, and you need hands that know how to weed fast and effectively, and how to use a pitchfork, etc, etc. And you need instincts, too—when you've just transplanted a plant, you need to have the instinct to check on it till it's established, same as people have the instinct to check on a baby.

And you learn all that by experience. Writing it down won't help. Doing it while being aware of it is what helps. Be in the moment, don't be thinking of something else while you work. (Well, maybe when you're weeding strawberries!) Get your hands in the dirt and feel it, compare it with how it felt last week, watch and observe the plants as they grow—and watch the weeds as they die! Watch how much quicker they die on a sunny or a windy day, watch how they re-root themselves even from a lying-down position if it's too wet. At some point it all comes together and you start to develop a sort of instinctive understanding of the garden as a natural system. I've been doing this for five years now—I knew next to nothing about gardening before that—and I have a sense now of how all the pieces work together, not in theory but what's happening in real time in my own garden, and it's such a pleasure. It has been such a pleasure to go from someone who learned things only with her brain, to someone with hands and eyes that understand my garden.

I know some of what I'm saying you may already know, but I still think it's worth saying at the start here. I've just seen so often how hard it is to get rid of the idea that reality is in our heads or on paper and start focusing on the reality that's under our feet—to stop going on what you think is supposed to happen instead of looking at what really happens. I know it took me a lot longer than it should have. I still remember my breakthrough moment. I was using the push-cultivator—which I'll teach you how to use—and it was a new tool for us at that point so I didn't know its capabilites. The thing is that when the weeds get to a certain height, the push-cultivator doesn't kill them anymore—you have to use a hoe. But I would push the cultivator on down the row and it would kill a few weeds and knock down the rest and cover them with dirt so the row looked clean, and I never noticed that their roots were still in the soil, and in my head I would make a little check mark—well that row's done. The next week, we'd be looking through the garden to see what needed doing, and there would be a bunch of weeds in that row again, and I'd go, "Wow! They came back fast!" and cultivate again. I still remember the day the little lightbulb came on in my head and I realized I'd never killed those weeds at all. I felt so dumb. That was the day I learned to look at what I was doing. Not just at what I thought I was doing.

And that's a lot of what is involved in learning a skill—not just knowing "how" but involving your hands and eyes and brain all together in the process, so that you can feel how the motion is working and you can see whether it's working—and you remember to double-check the next day whether it worked!

Okay, I have one more story. This one taught me so much. We had a temporary volunteer in the garden for three days. He was this guy who, if you told him how to do something, would look annoyed as if you were patronizing him or something. Because, you know, everybody knows how to hoe, right? Well, I got embarrassed by him being offended and figured he was right, maybe it was rude to try and tell someone how to do such simple stuff. I was a beginner too, at the time. Erin told us to hoe a certain section, and we did it. And we did it backwards. We started at the back of the section and walked backwards to the front as we hoed, so that all the plants we hoed up ended up in a pile in the next bit we had to hoe, covering the weeds there. The result was that at the end of our work all you could see was a pile of dead plants, so it looked great, it looked done. And the next day when those dead plants had dried up and withered away, what you could see was a section that looked like someone had hit it a few times here and there with a hoe—at least half of the weeds were still alive and kicking. The next day Erin took me aside and showed me how to hoe for real: you move forward, and you hoe up every inch of the soil, whether you see a plant there or not. And I've never felt embarrassed to teach anyone to hoe since then. It's a skill.

It's a huge mistake to think of any part of farming as unskilled labor. A skilled worker can weed about five times as fast as a beginner—if not more. Farming is skilled, complicated, grounded work that involves your hands and your eyes and your brain and your whole body—and at some point you may find it starts to involve your heart. You're learning something this year that you can be proud of.

(Heather Munn)

In other conversation, she said that people seem to assume that low-prestige work doesn't require skill. And this is, if you will, one case of our chauvinism in assuming we have the knowledge of prior ages without any attempt to learn it, because we're making progress or whatever.

Before zeroing in on one case study, let me underscore one quote by General Omar Bradley that I will also quote below:

We have too many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.

Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

A Deliberate and Studied Ignorance

I would like to quote

Cover for Knights and Ladies, Women and Men

A first clue to something big, tucked into a choice of children's books

I was once part of a group dedicated to reading children's stories (primarily fantasy) aloud. At one point the group decided to read Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons. I had a visceral reaction to the book as something warped, but when I tried to explain it to the group by saying that it was like the Un-man in Perelandra, I was met with severe resistance from two men in the group. Despite this, and after lengthy further discussions, I was able to persuade them that the analogy was at least the best I could manage in a tight time slot.

I was puzzled at some mysterious slippage that had intelligent Christians who appreciated good literature magnetized by works that were, well... warped. And that mysterious slippage seemed to keep cropping up at other times and circumstances.

Why the big deal? I will get to the Un-man's message in a moment, but for now let me say that little girls are sexist way too romantic. And this being sexist way too romantic motivates girls to want fairy tales, to want some knight in shining armor or some prince to sweep her off her feet. And seeing how this sexist deeply romantic desire cannot easily be ground out of them, feminists have written their own fairy tales, but...

To speak from my own experience, I never realized how straight traditional fairy tales were until I met feminist fairy tales. And by 'straight' I am not exactly meaning the opposite of queer (though that is close at hand), but the opposite of twisted and warped, like Do You Want to Date My Avatar? (I never knew how witchcraft could be considered unnatural vice until I read the witches' apologetic in Terry Pratchett's incredibly warped The Wee Free Men.) There is something warped in these tales that is not covered by saying that Dealing with Dragons has a heroine who delights only in what is forbidden, rejects marriage for the company of dragons, and ridicules every time its pariahs say something just isn't done. Seeing as how rooting out from the desire for fairy tales from little girls and little kids in general, authors have presented warped anti-fairy tales.

Ella Enchanted makes it plain: for a girl or woman to be under obedience is an unmixed curse. There is no place for "love, honor, and obey."

The commercials for Tangled leave some doubt about whether the heroine sings a Snow White-style "Some day my prince will come."

The Un-man's own tales

Perelandra has a protagonist who visits Venus or Perelandra, where an unfallen Eve is joined first by him and then by the antagonist, called the Un-man because he moves from prelest or spiritual illusion to calling demons or the Devil into himself and then letting his body be used as a demonic puppet.

How does the Un-man try to tempt this story's Eve?

[The Lady said:] "I will think more of this. I will get the King to make me older about it."

[The Un-man answered:] "How greatly I desire to meet this King of yours! But in the matter of Stories he may be no older than you himself."

"That saying of yours is like a tree with no fruit. The King is always older than I, and about all things."...

[The Lady said,] "What are [women on earth] like?"

[The Un-man answered,] "They are of great spirit. They always reach out their hands for the new and unexpected good, and see that it is good long before the men understand it. Their minds run ahead of what Maleldil has told them. They do not need to wait for Him to tell them what is good, but know it for themselves as He does..."

...The Lady seemed to be saying very little. [The Un-man]'s voice was speaking gently and continuously. It was not talking about the Fixed Land nor even about Maleldil. It appeared to be telling, with extreme beauty and pathos, a number of stories, and at first Ransom could not perceive any connecting link between them. They wre all about women, but women who had apparently lived at different periods of the world's history and in quiet differences. From the Lady's replies it appeared that the stories contained much that she did not understand; but oddly enough the Un-man did not mind. If the questions aroused by any one story proved at all difficult to answer, the speaker simply dropped that story and instantly began another. The heroines of the stories seemed all to have suffered a great deal—they had been oppressed by their fathers, cast off by husbands, deserted by lovers. Their children had risen up against them and society had driven them out. But the stories all ended, in a sense, hapily: sometimes with honours and praises to a heroine still living, more often by tardy acknowledgment and unavailing tears after her death. As the endless speech proceeded, the Lady's questions grew always fewer...

The expression on [the Lady's] face, revealed in the sudden light, was one that [Ransom] had not seen there before. Her eyes were not fixed on the narrator; as far as that went, her thoughts might have been a thousand miles away. Her lips were shut and a little pursed. Her eyebrows were slightly raised. He had not yet seen her look so like a woman of our own race; and yet her expression was one he had not very often met on earth—except, as he realized with a shock, on the stage. "Like a tragedy queen" was the disgusting comparison that arose in his mind. Of course it was a gross exaggeration. It was an insult for which he could not forgive himself. And yet... and yet... the tableau revealed by the lightning had photographed itself on his brain. Do what he would, he found it impossible not to think of that new look in her face. A very good tragedy queen, no doubt, very nobly played by an actress who was a good woman in real life...

A moment later [the Un-man] was explaining that men like Ransom in his own world—men of that intensely male and backward-looking type who always shrank away from the new good—had continuously laboured to keep women down to mere childbearing and to ignore the high destiny for which Maleldil had actually created her...

The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy's true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Lady is complementarian to the point where one wonders if the label 'complementarian' is sufficient, and the demon or Devil using the Un-man's body is doing his treacherous worst to convert her to feminism. Hooper says he is trying to make her fall by transgressing one commandment, and that is true, but the entire substance of the attack to make her fall is by seducing her to feminism.

A strange silence in the criticism

Walter Hooper's C.S. Lewis: Companion and Guide treats this dialogue in detail but without the faintest passing reference to feminism, men and women, sex roles, or anything else in that nexus. It does, however, treat the next and final book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, and defend Lewis from "anti-feminism" in a character who was a woman trying to do a dissertation on Milton: Lewis, it is revealed, had originally intended her to be doing a dissertation on biochemistry, but found that he was not in a position to make that part of the story compelling, and so set a character whose interests more closely paralleled his own. So the issue of feminism was on his radar, possibly looming large. But, and this is a common thread with other examples, he exhibits a mysterious slippage. His account gets too many things right to be dismissed on the ground that he doesn't know how to read such literature, but it also leaves too much out, mysteriously, to conclude that he gave anything like such a scholar's disinterested best in explaining the text. (It is my own opinion that Hooper in fact does know how to read; he just mysteriously sets this ability aside when Lewis counters feminism.) And this slippage keeps happening in other places and context, always mysterious on the hypothesis that the errors are just errors of disinterested, honest scholarship.

Jerry Root, in his own treatment in C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme, treats subjectivism as spiritual poison and problem of evil Lewis attacks in his different works: Root argues it to be the prime unifying theme in Lewis). But with slight irony, Root seems to turn subjectivistic, or at least disturbing, precisely where his book touches gender roles and egalitarianism. In his comments on The Great Divorce's greatest saint-figure, a woman, Susan Smith, is slighted: among other remarks, he quotes someone as saying that women in C.S. Lewis's stories are "he neglects any intellectual virtue in his female characters," and this is particularly applied to Sarah Smith. When he defends Lewis, after a fashion, Root volunteers, "a book written in the 1940s will lack some accommodations to the culture of the twenty-first century." But this section is among the gooiest logic in Root's entire text, speaking with a quasi-psychoanalytic Freudian or Jungian outlook of "a kind of fertile mother-image and nature-goddess," that is without other parallel and certainly does not infect the discussion of Lewis's parents, who well enough loom large at points, but not in any psychoanalytic fashion. Root's entire treatment at this point has an "I can't put my finger on it, but—" resemblance to feminists disarming and neutralizing any claim that the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary could in any way, shape, or form contribute to the well-standing of women: one author, pointing out the difficulty of a woman today being both a virgin and a mother, used that as a pretext to entirely dismiss the idea that She could be a model for woman or a token of woman's good estate, thus throwing out the baby, the bathwater, and indeed the tub. The Mother of God is She who answered, Be it unto me according to thy word, an answer that may be echoed whether or not one is a virgin, a mother, or for that matter a woman.

The critique Root repeats, on reflection, may meet an Orthodox response of "Huh?", or more devastatingly, "Yes, but what's your point?", not because Lewis portrays a saint as "no model of intellectual virtue," but because Orthodox sainthood is not a matter of intellectual virtue. Among its rich collection of many saints there are very few models of intellectual virtue, admittedly mostly men, and usually having received their formation outside the Orthodox Church: St. John Chrysostom was called "Chrysostom" or "Golden-Mouth" because of his formation and mastery of pagan rhetoric. But intellectual virtue as a whole is not a central force in the saints, and Bertrand Russell's observation that in the Gospels not one word is put in praise of intelligence might be accepted, not as a weakness of the Gospel, but as a clarification of what is and is not central to Christian faith. And in terms of what is truly important, we would do well to recall the story of St. Zosima and St. Mary of Egypt. If Lewis's image of sainthood is a woman who is not an academic, this is not an embarrassment to explain away, but a finger on the pulse of what does and does not matter for sainthood.

Root mentions the Un-man briefly, and gives heavy attention to the man who would become the Un-man as he appears in the prior book in the trilogy, but does not reference or suggest a connection between the Un-man and feminism. Root became an egalitarian, and shifts in his book from speaking of "men" to saying "humankind". And this is far from one scholar's idiosyncracy; a look at the World Evangelical Alliance's online bookstore as I was involved with it showed this mysterious slippage not as something you find a little here, a little there, but as endemic and without any effective opposition.

Un-man's tales for Grown-Ups

During my time as webmaster to the World Evangelical Alliance, the one truly depressing part of my work was getting the bookstore online. Something like eighty to ninety percent of the work was titles like Women as Risk-Takers for God which were Un-man's tales for adults. I was depressed that the World Evangelical Alliance didn't seem to have anything else to say on its bookshelves: not only was there a dearth of complementarian "opposing views" works like Man and Woman in Christ, but there was a dearth of anything besides Un-man's tales. The same mysterious phenomenon was not limited to a ragtag group of friends, or individual scholars; it was dominant at the highest level in one of the most important parachurch organizations around, and not one that, like Christians for Biblical Equality, had a charter of egalitarian or feminist concerns and priorities.

Conclusion

G.K. Chesterton said, "Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed." That might hold for Chesterton's day, and classics like Grimm and MacDonald today, but today's fairy tales, or rather Un-man's tales, do not tell children the dragons can be killed. Children already know that deep down inside. They tell children dragons can be befriended and that dragons may make excellent company. For another title of the myriad represented by Dealing with Dragons, look at the tale of cross-cultural friendship one may look for in The Dragon and the George. When first published, Dealing with Dragons might have been provocative. Now Tangled is not. And reading Perelandra leaves one with an uncomfortable sense that C.S. Lewis apparently plagiarized, in the Un-man's tales, works written decades after his death.

This issue is substantial, and Lewis's sensitivity to it is almost prophetic: sensibilities may have changed, but only in the direction of our needing to hear the warning more. And it is one Christians seem to be blind to: complementarianism seems less wrong than petty, making a mountain out of a molehill. But the core issue is already a mountain, not a molehill.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Aim for something better than Un-man's Tales.

What is this mysterious slippage?

One of the two men who shut me down completely when I compared Dealing with Dragons with Un-man's tales, told me when I spoke with him a reason why my comparison was out of bounds: it provoked "a strong emotional reaction" to compare the book the group had chosen to Un-man's tales, and so I was making a problematic comparison. With his efforts to waft away and disable my reaction, I zeroed back in on the center: first, that the style of telling the tales was exactly the same between the Un-man and Patricia Wrede, and second, the content of the tales was exactly the same. But let me take a step further back.

That man was my best friend, and there was one time where he went away for a weekend and had a conversation with me the like of which I have not seen before or since. He gave extremely forceful and heavily loaded language indicating that "there is no... male nor female" mean as much as possible (he did not honestly admit that included was that "no male nor female" mean as much as possible what a feminist would want it to mean), and the question remains of what to do with passages that "appear to say" (always, and with another friend who found her way into the gender rainbow, heavy verbal stress on "appear" for any inconvenient passage) something contrary, and tried to neutralize the claim that the husband is the head of his wife by saying that in Greek the term "head" need not mean "boss" but can also mean "source," as in that "the head of a stream is where the stream came from (he never explained why the assertion that "head" means "source" diminished the authority of a husband).

I took a bit before responding, "That's loaded language!," followed by suggesting that he might repeat what he said with the language loaded in the opposite direction.

That conversation, with a man whose character was gentleness, honesty, and truth, left me mystified: why is it that feminism is always advanced by slimy language? This might be a worst example in my life (at least apart from the text I analyzed in my diploma thesis, Craig Keener's Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Woman's Ministry in the Letters of Paul), but it is far from an only example in my life, and since I started paying attention to the matter I have never noticed an attempt to advance feminism that was not slippery in rhetoric. The jarring blow helped me move from sitting on the fence between egalitarianism and complementarianism (and not considering the question important), to the belief that feminism is bankrupt enough that it cannot convincingly be advanced through clean methods of persuasion. My question was initially one of rhetoric alone, but my concern grew to encompass a movement that needs to use such language to recruit, and needed to use such language when feminism was widely held to be the moral high ground over complementarianism, and there was an incredible hegemony to the belief that if you want to advance the good of woman, you do so by promoting feminism. This was years and almost decades before I would quip, "He for She. Because feminism knows it is sinking."

My advisor on that dissertation, incidentally, has been a plenary speaker at a Christians for Biblical Equality ("well, I suppose one in three is not bad") conference. And he did not hinder me from a conservative thesis; Cambridge professors do not normally take out their differences on students. But he did try to recruit me. One example was, "And what about Biblical Egalitarians, who believe 'In Christ, there is no male nor female'?"

I responded by dismantling the missile: I first commented that in English language idiom, talking about the group who does such-and-such idiomatically means that the unshared, distinguishing feature of that group is such-and-such, and his assertion communicates that feminists and Biblical Egalitarians believe that "In Christ, there is no male nor female" and their opponents do not, where one conservative response might be, "The same God inspired passages feminists like and passages they don't like, and if your interpretation needs to neutralize one to make room for the other, your interpretation is broken." I do not ever recall a conservative rejection or attack on "In Christ there is no male nor female," because complementarians also believe, really and truly, that "In Christ there is no male nor female" is as much part of divine revelation as passages feminists attack.

Then I drew attention to a hidden payload: "In Christ there is no male nor female" was assumed to mean as much as possible what a feminist would want it to mean, an identical legal franchise extended to both male and female. If it is hard to see anything else, I would add a passing reference to St. Maximus the Confessor, who said that in hesychasm monks know what temptation is coming by what image they see: if a man's face who had wronged us appeared imagination, there was a temptation to anger coming, and if a woman's face appeared, a temptation to lust was coming, and in Christ there is no male nor female, meaning neither anger nor lust. Now I don't believe this is a complete interpretation; if it is truth, it has the truth of a layer, and there are other things on other levels that "In Christ there is no male nor female" should mean. But I reference St. Maximus the Confessor to give an example of what besides a feminist goal of equal legal-style franchise "In Christ there is no male nor female" could mean.

And this happened easily a couple of dozen times: he asked, regarding inclusive language in translation, if I thought Greek or English language conventions should be followed in Bible translations, and I said, "You're begging the question!" because he used "English language conventions" to automatically mean belabored inclusive language instead of naturally inclusive language, when the very point under consideration was whether a New Testament written in naturally inclusive language should be most faithfully translated by exchanging the naturally inclusive Greek for belabored inclusive English. At some point, after a great deal of this, he got discouraged and tried to recruit me less often.

I would suggest that feminism represents a deliberate and chosen ignorance that needs to reach out and dupe others. The verse in Genesis that declares the image of God also says what may more picturesquely be stated as, "Prong and tunnel He created them." And feminism is devoted to annihilating what in society that works out, just as its rhetoric is post-truth, the rhetoric of the assassin's guide to making foul rhetoric.

The most politically incorrect passage in Scripture: Romans 1

For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and venerated and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Some people have said this reads as a description of today, and I used to agree with that.* I quote the passage because it is explicitly an assessment of a deliberate and chosen ignorance.

* What's the asterisk for? Simply put, we've managed to go farther. What used to be called LBG has now become "the alphabet people," because they keep adding letters in a brainstorm of sexualities (or numbers, as in 2-S). (As a techie, I think /L.*/ is appropriate for LGBTQ+, and which people are actively working on expanding to LGBTQP+.)

Furthermore, there was a moralist injunction regarding SecondLife, saying, "Fornicate using your OWN genitals!" The technological nexus we live in has had a breach with natural living. Our ancestors devised one kind of artificial environment to be in, namely indoors most of the time, and we've taken artificiality to a next level unimaginable in St. Paul's day. Committing sexual vice in person, which is all the Apostle imagined, suggests face-to-face social skills. "Chang[ing] the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things," has been superceded for changing the glory of God for monsters that don't exist except as created by man: Pokemon is "in" as I write. Pokemon trainers do things St. Paul never imagined. Again, let me quote General Omar Bradley about one single dimension of our chosen ignorance, and that before technology that must be taken for granted today:

We have too many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.

Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

You can read my work Origins Questions if you like. I have raised concerns loud and long about The Seraphinians who have imported Protestant beliefs and practice into Orthodoxy by their young earth "Creation 'Science'". But there are serious humanist objections to the theory of evolution as well, and I have written about the theory of evolution from a humanist's eye.

Much as C.S. Lewis points out in The Abolition of Man that the popular impression that magic was the old medieval thing and science was the new thing that swept it away, when in fact there was very little magic in the Middle Ages and science was born around the high noon of magic, Darwinism arose in the same nexus as eugenics and respectable racism which treated it as a problem to show human compassion to other races. Though I don't think this is what St. Paul had in mind, we have traded in human life in the image of God to human life in the image of mere animals, and lost a sense of special obligation to other people. Some people admit of finally getting that the Creation account in Genesis 1 means that all of us are family, a very different picture from the idea that the races can and should be in ruthless and violent competition. Darwin and Galton were cousins, and the former created a theory of evolution very different from what scientists call "evolution" today, while Galton used his concept of IQ to push eugenics.

The ignorance we have today is a hydra. We have phones to turn our brains into tapioca, and in the case of The Damned Backswing, we are using Zoom to connect to people all over the world, people which we could only once in a blue moon meet with face to face. In recent history, Google scanned books and made them available, and has now confiscated access to priceless classics. Today Zoom makes things easy in terms of connecting with others, but that can be whisked away too. And at some point we will stop meeting our neighbors face-to-face, even worse than the present conditions that have led a religious leader to tell America "You can put a man on the moon but you do not meet your neighbors face-to-face." And the time will come when people stop meeting together.

Then the end will come.

What to Own for Happiness (and what not)

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

People have said that money cannot buy happiness, and I would give a caveat to that.

Years back, I mused that only up to a certain point can money buy more necessities; it can only buy luxuries. Beyond another point, money cannot buy more luxuries; it can only buy status symbols. Beyond another point, money cannot buy additional status symbols; it can only bring power.

And to that I would add a Canadian roommate's comment, made in the 90's, that a middle class American has basically all the creature comfort there is to be had.

But there is a caveat. A good pair of walking or running shoes, or better barefoot shoes, may not buy especially more comfort for your feet, but it can make more attainable the goal of walking or running and the health benefits that that brings. And really, as the video I quote below says, if the health benefits of exercise could be put into a pill, that would be the most important wonder drug in history. Shoes will not make you happy if you just buy them and don't exercise, but they can put regular exercise in better reach, and a solid exercise regimen can make you happier.

It is in this spirit that I would like to look at things that can make you happy. Getting more luxuries on Amazon brings only a fleeting pleasure, but some of the right purchases used rightly can help you to greater happiness.

So here are a few things that, used rightly, might contribute to happiness.

(One important caveat: with a few exceptions, like Infowars Turboforce energy drinks, the benefits do not turn on a dime. You're more likely to feel noticeably better after a month of using EMF protective clothing and good nutritional supplements than in the next day or two. Give these things some time.)

A rugged outdoors computer

I spent more money buying a maxed-out GetAC x500 computer than I did on my car, as a computer that would let me work outside when weather permits and is built to last—for ages.

If you spend a fair amount of time on a laptop or desktop computer, it is a great advantage to have a computer with a sunlight-readable display. Macs usually have a brighter display than normal PC's, but rugged PC's are brighter than either. Rugged laptops are available on Amazon (you might consider a GetAC V110 or , and they can be built to last as a longer-term investment.

(If you just use mobile devices and don't really use a PC, then this item is optional.)

A stand desk, if you work from a desk

Standing with good posture is better for most people than sitting.

Lambs EMF protective clothing

We are surrounded by much higher doses of ambient wifi, radio, 3G, 4G, and 5G electromagnetic fields (EMF), and this can be a drain on your mood where you don't even recognize what is happening.

There is a lot of EMF protective clothing on Amazon, but this is an area where brands can vary in value significantly, and you can't easily tell good protective clothing from bad. I wear a long sleeve T-shirt (a regular T-shirt would also work), to protect organs in my torso, and a beanie to protect my brain.

There are many cheaper options on Amazon, not to mention more options. If you explore Amazon, just scroll on past things like a lead apron for dental X-rays to see the real options for protecting your head and torso.

A blocbag used like a sleeping bag, with an EMF protective T-shirt pulled over my head

While this does not offer absolute protection, it provides some opportunity to recharge.

One possible caveat: Throwing protective clothing through the wringer by putting it through the regular wash can slowly degrade its protective value. I don't wash protective clothes if I can't smell anything in the armpits, and when I do wash it, I rinse it with cold water, dry what I can with a towel, and hang it to air dry.

Infowars supplements

Vitamins, minerals, and other supplements can vary greatly in effectiveness and bio-availability, and the difference between a really good brand and a common brand is substantial.

I personally use Infowars multivitamin, vitamin C with zinc, an eyedropper's worth of iodine, and Turboforce.

At least one sun lamp

Indoors lighting is usually much dimmer than outdoors; it's enough to see but not enough to thrive. Seeing bright lights during the day can help naturally, and sunlight is on the shortlist in the video above about things that prevent diseases of civilization.

A light alarm

When I am woken up by the sound of a regular alarm clock, I don't feel very awake. There is something to be said for getting enough sleep, but I have found that I feel significantly more awake when I am woken by a simulated sunrise than just sound.

Amber goggles (or red goggles, for a stronger effect)

Conversely to sun lamps and light alarms, among other healthy sleep habits, a pair of blue-blocking amber goggles can block stimulating blue light, ideally worn one to two hours before bedtime.

A red flashlight for nighttime trips to the bathroom

If you need to get up in the night to use the bathroom, it's a lot easier to get to sleep if you go only by the light of a red flashlight and do not turn on overhead lights. Red and amber goggles still let in much too much stimulating light, and can make it harder, and take longer, to fall asleep. Using a red flashlight and no overhead lights is a good way to avoid being woken up so much it's hard to fall asleep.

Rob Wolf, The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet

It is my considered judgment that the more I learn about how foods are produced, the more I think most of what is sold in the grocery stores needs a materials safety data sheet. Something of that wakeup call is found in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and Diet Dictocrats, but the latter just looks at best solutions under conditions of civilization. The Paleo Solution looks at what humans have been optimized for hundreds of thousands of years longer than the paleontological eyeblink civilization has existed for.

One friend explained to me that Cheerio's, which are sold under claims like "I'm eating Cheerios to be alive longer for my loved ones," are harvested by poisoning the plants with herbicides so it will be easier to get the oats off. Quaker Oats are also really bad news.

One tip for people who are on a limited budget: Balanced consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is important and something that we as a society do really badly. Usually meat, for instance, is heavily skewed towards omega-6. Canned wild caught fish (such as tuna and sardines) offers cheap omega-3 acids for people whose budget won't allow regular consumption of grass-fed, organic beef.

Orthodox fasting is done in agreement with your priest or spiritual father, but I might point out that fasting does not automatically mean grains and pasta; it is possible to keep a strict fast by eating Paleo vegetables.

A weighted blanket

Having a little weight resting on you promotes good sleep. I personally find a ten pound blanket better than others calculated for my weight; the general rule of thumb in choosing a weighted blanket is to pick a blanket about a tenth of your weight, and possibly throw in an extra pound or two. (This guideline is used for children as well as adults.)

Barefoot shoes (some good brands include Vivo Barefoot, FeelGrounds, Wildling, and Ashina Shoes)

Shoes with a raised heel are to some extent working with the body and train runners and walkers to lead with a heel strike that isn't how our feet are designed to work. Barefoot shoes work with the body rather than against it, and over time they wear increasingly well.

PEMF (Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field) generators

This is a big-ticket item and it's worth it, if it is a live option for you. Space programs realized how vital the pulsed energy of the earth's electromagnetic field is; miss it for one day and you will have no immune system ever after. Some people began to wonder, if an artificial PEMF generator is vital in space, whether such a thing might be helpful on earth.

And it is helpful. It is powerfully anti-inflammatory (diseases of civilization are powered by inflammation), and can be very regenerative. Check out the PEMF Supply homepage for more info.

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns (CD)

A good counselor can be very, very good and a bad counselor can be very, very bad; counseling can be a powerful resource, and Orthodox spiritual direction or pastoral counseling can be even better. I've known a couple of Orthodox mental health professionals, and they hold high regard for e.g. the "three column technique" laid out in Feeling Good.

This title can be helpful whether or not your own needs would benefit from counseling.

My own titles Happiness in an Age of Crisis, maybe The Luddite's Guide to Technology, and possibly The Good Parts if you're hungry for more

I've written a lot that relates to happy living in our present times, and Happiness in an Age of Crisis is shorter than the other work and covers essential things to understand happiness. The Luddite's Guide to Technology is a longer and fuller collection that looks more broadly about what is good for human persons and what particular engagement with technologies are helpful. More is often less here, and these books have something to say to human flourishing.

If your phone is running your life, read these. One admittedly drastic tip for getting a little bit of control over your phone usage is to keep your phone turned off, and then turn it on when you have a specific purpose to use it for, then turn it off. The added inconvenience is powerful.

Orthodox classics

The Bible (I recommend the Orthodox Study Bible, perhaps paired with the Classic Orthodox Bible which sounds more like a Bible) says quite a lot about how we are made to function, and I am excited that the Philokalia is widely read not only by monastics but not the lay faithful. (The fifth volume is one that I have so far not had pastoral encouragement to read; the link is to the other four volumes.)

These are used best under the guiding hand of an Orthodox priest.

The things you give away

The story is told of someone who had a lot of books, and asked, "Will I have my books in Heaven?"

The answer came, "Some of them."

"Which ones?"

"The ones you gave away."

There is a parable in the Philokalia which states that people come and lodge for the night in an inn; some sleep on beds and some sleep on the floor, but all alike leave with only the possessions they brought in. The intended meaning is that on earth some people live in luxury, some not, but you can't take it with you, and you will leave with only your actions to your credit.

One priest commented that he had never seen a trailer attached to a hearse; the footwear I wear will be of no further use to me when I die, even if I am buried with footwear on, but the boots sent to Ukraine will be helpful.

And this isn't just a point about the next life; it is a point about this life, too, and we profit more when we are generous: it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Generosity is a characteristic of a happy and joyful spirit; it is an abundance to be had even if one possesses little; it is a cause and effect of good spiritual health. And what we can buy that will make ourselves happier is dwarfed by what we can buy that will make others happier.

Things not to own

In Bridge to Terebithia, one of the ways that the author marks Lesley as rich and privileged is that her family Does Not Own a Television.

I have listed above possessions that I believe to be conducive to happiness, and there are others. I haven't explicitly talked about owning older technologies, such as paper books. But a great amount of the stuff that we accumulate isn't really helpful.

Phones can be useful, but they open a door to some things that are really not savory—and I do not just mean porn. There are many G-rated uses for a phone that are a distraction and orient us away from joy. My own recommendations for cellphone use are to use it in a way that is purely instrumental; the only game I play is chess, which I want to learn how to properly play. There is also something to be said for not owning the newest and hottest doodad. I have an iPhone 8 which I purchased, used, and which I have taken steps to protect for the longer term (i.e. a screen cover and a shock-absorbing case), and which I would not trade for an iPhone 13 Pro Max (or whatever is the hottest new doodad when you are reading this). I believe my phone supplies enough EMF radiation; I do not hold it to my head much, and I do not really want to hold a 5G EMF radiation source to my head at all. (Older phones are already plenty radioactive enough to cause brain cancer in kids who always have a phone at their ear—and always on the same side they held the phone to.)

I do not know anyone who is happy to have a house that's brimming with stuff. It takes discipline, perhaps, not to buy things that will only bring satisfaction for a moment, and not buy things on impulse. But it's better, and less acquisitive purchasing decisions make for less cluttered houses. There is, in purchasing, something akin to the Weight Watchers maxim: "A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips."

General Omar Bradley, upon seeing atomic weapons, said, "We have grasped the mystery of the atom and we have rejected the Sermon on the Mount." Now we have grasped the mystery of a worldwide communication network that sports 5G radiation and continues to grow, and still rejected the Sermon on the Mount.

But Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount still apply:

"A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

And if that was true of the more natural forms of wealth available in ancient times, how much more is it relevant with today's technological smorgasbord in reach?

Escape

Cover for Orthodox Theology and Technology: A Profoundly Gifted Autobiography

I want to write today something to do with happiness, something that is interwoven with my whole life story.

"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."

"It isn't Narnia, you know," added Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"

"Are—are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.

"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

These words, from the end of a book by C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia were for me a big spiritual turnoff for as long as I can remember. (They went over my head when my father read The Chronicles of Narnia to my brother and me as little boys.)

When I read those words, they could not but grate because I wanted to continue to live vicariously in Narnia, not our world which seemed so drab and dull, and I was more interested in Aslan than a real Christ. And here I wish to touch on something.

The term "occult" has a few senses and meanings; it can mean supernatural power not given by God; or it can mean something that may or may not be supernatural but is very obscure and known to few. One classic study of occult memory techniques in Renaissance times is occult in both senses. By contrast, a familiarity with the story of the twelve paladins as heroic literature may or may not be occult in its supernatural dimension but is occult in the sense of being obscure. Today, Harry Potter and the X-Men may glorify an imaginary occult world but they are not occult in the sense of being obscure by the standards of pop culture: both of them are backed by tremendous marketing muscle to be a global financial powerhouse, and one need not try to delve into obscure matters to start becoming interested in either.

At that point I remember being puzzled by a counselor showing something almost like a patriotism towards one of the colleges in Harry Potter; in one sense it may seem harmless enough but I would expect a psychologist to know enough about happiness not to build a proper patriotism for something not literally available. I remember in reading "How to Be a Hacker" that talked about "hackers" (software experts who are usually not focused on breaking computer security) as being "neophiles", meaning people who, like the "Athenians and strangers" of the Bible in Acts 17:21, "...spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing." And though technologies change and develop and there is little end to which changes of some sort are available, one of the big things I read on reading propaganda for HTML5 is that the axe ground against its predecessor XHTML spoke of an appetite for change in excess of the admittedly significant technical changes HTML5 heralded. The amount of bad smell attributed to XHTML was reminiscent of New Age people grinding an axe against Newton, or perhaps today Einstein, as a primary authority figure. My involvement in physics, for instance, never really turned up figures grinding an axe against past paradigms by physicists. Newtonian physics may be considered to have been surpassed, but I was taught Newtonian physics before relativity, and engineers (and for that matter some physicists) routinely stick with Newtonian physics in a large number of cases where the discrepancy between Newtonian and relativistic physics (or quantum mechanics, or superstring theory) is dwarfed by much larger imprecision in other matters. And being a neophile is a downwind attribute of finding that things one already has are just boring and really not being happy with life as it is. I would expect a psychologist to know, not so much that enough involvement in literal occult activities is a recipe to lose your mind, but that placing what is rightly called patriotism in a mere fantasy setting is a recipe to find what one can literally have, to be quite dull in comparison. Perhaps a degree of curiosity towards new things is helpful in rapidly changing times, but boredom with tried and true technology is not an attribute of happiness, and patriotism for Hogwarts represents a problem in the first world that is not, as the idiom goes, a "first world problem." A true first world problem is something minor that is blown out of proportion. A spiritual condition that can let you be in circumstances coveted worldwide and not appreciate it is a matter of grave concern. In a world where many are hungry, many lack clothing or shelter, where many lack a safe place to stay, many people wish for a lot that comes easily in the USA, and is taken for granted when one pines for Harry Potter and Hogwarts. A true "first world problem" is something like having a cracked phone screen or having to use cheaper and rougher toilet paper, for the lack of graver and more pressing concerns. Being an American white middle class professional is something that is coveted around the world. (Being an American white middle class professional who thinks her lot is dull, and pines for a bit of spice in patriotism for Hogwarts, is a significant missed spiritual opportunity.)

I harp on escapism because even though I have resisted some of its manifestations, it is something I know well, and it is not innocent or harmless. I imitated the staring in one place that opened a portal to a magical world in The Last of the Really Great Whang-Doodles; in a French language novel by a friend, there was no question about whether escape was to be found, only of how it might be ferreted out. There is also in fiction the possibility of intense concentration or some other intense psychological state breaking through; though it is not exactly a delivery of escape by which the curse is broken at the end of Ella Enchanted, the ace card that trumps magic nothing else could ever break illustrates another portal by which escape is provided in literature. In my own experience, reading or dipping into games can be a way to imbibe tainted spiritual realities as well.

My own attempted interest in Arthurian legends (in The Sign of the Grail, I omitted entirely one part of the rhythm of Arthurians where two knights hacked each other to death's door and were both well a few weeks later (contrast history where a sword duel was usually eventually fatal to both duelists), is relatively unique in that I don't see the fountainhead as being Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur, but studied the medieval flourishing that escaped Celtic folklore into mainstream European popularity in the 12th century "Brut", and was finally transformed into a 1000 page synopsis by Mallory as the end of a flourish. (And I tried hard to convince myself that reading an arbitrarily long sample of Arthurian legend is fascinating. Most of the time I was fighting uphill to convince myself that what I was reading was interesting, when I knew it was deadly dull.)

These Arthurian legends, told and retold and formed and reformed from about the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, concern a time frame of allegedly the sixth century. The times in which the stories were told were separated from the time they occurred in by about as many centuries as the reteller's timeframe is distant to us historically, before history and period awareness were really discovered in Western culture.

For just a slice of what changed between the sixth century and the centuries of these retellings, such things as knights who fought on horseback and jousts simply were not available in sixth century England. Historically knights were mounted shock troops who fought from on horseback, and that depends on the stirrup, a technology not available in sixth century England. Without stirrups, horses can be useful but they can only take you to a battle scene faster where you can fight on foot. A knight riding on horseback in a battle, or in a joust, simply was not available in the sixth century any more in the sixth century any more than people in the twelfth through fifteenth centuries would have been able to coordinate their combat by using modern radios, walkie-talkies, and cellphones in a world where news really couldn't travel faster than people.

They are the medieval equivalent of our fantasy TV shows having Robin Hood's merry band go through a haunted house, and have Maid Marian confronted with a magical apparition the other side of a mirror and saying, "I am having... a biochemical... reaction!" or otherwise show scriptwriters who know how fantasy storytelling works today, but do not share Lewis's and Tolkinn's writing of medieval fantasy out of a profound knowledge of medieval literature and history. And in the days when these Arthurian legends were rampant, it really is not academic peskiness to suggest that chivalry was the real religion of the nobles, or to observe that Western Europeans traveling to the Byzantine empire participated in the dangerous sport of jousting that was practiced one place and the other sometime around the thirteenth century. "People now don't really love," to quote a repeated didactic comment about courtly love by a troubador, are the kind of signal that tells the historian that the milieu of medieval mania for Arthurian legend embodies courtly love as never before.

(And something of the same sensitivity gives me hope when Orthodox say that too little of the greatness of ancient monasticism is alive now, because it may signal a flourishing quite independent of our needing to re-create the conditions of the Egyptian deserts met by the followers of St. Anthony the Great. The Philokalia is very widely read among the faithful today, and that in and of itself is exciting.)


My mother showed consternation in relating a report that children surveyed would "rather be rich and unhappy than be poor and happy," but the consternation played out in circumstances in my life. Many people today would rather be escapist and ungrateful and unhappy with the here and now than be happy and grateful with the here and now.

I had the privilege of studying at the University of Cambridge in England, and in a very real sense that was an escape into a golden other world for me. A real Narnia to me, if you will. And it did not make me happy; I very much preferred being in Europe when the opportunity was open even if I was unhappy there. It was not until after I had returned to the U.S. that I learned how to be happy in the here and now. Years after that I traveled to Mount Athos, and I was expecting to feel better, but I was just happy, if the word "just" is appropriately used in such a case. The voyage was one of tremendous blessing to me, but I did not feel better for a transition to the Holy Mountain's medieval settings.

When I was at Cambridge I was received into the Orthodox Church, and I bristled when I read Vladyka KALLISTOS's comment in The Orthodox Church that Orthodoxy "is not something Oriental or exotic," because that is precisely what I wanted Orthodoxy to be for me. I also bristled when the priest who received me said, "Orthodoxy is slog!" Now, years and a decade later, I find that Orthodoxy transforms slog.

My "escape from escape" essentially unfolded as follows. When I had been leaning enough on, for instance, subtle mind tricks, one priest commented to me that monks in the desert were perennially warned about escape, with pastoral advice of praying through the temptation until it was gone. And I finally came to a point where I bleakly let go of escape, when all of my desire on one level was to escape the bleak here and now, and in an instant my eyes were opened and I no longer found the here and now to be bleak. Nowadays, the temptation comes back from time to time and I need to keep on intensely praying through the temptation the Fathers called "the demon of noonday," but even if the activity of prayer is initially bleaker, I know where victory comes from. When I pray through the temptation, sooner or later it leaves, and I find that the here and now bears some of the marks of Paradise.

"The road less traveled" is today the embrace of the here and now instead of trying to find happiness via escapism, and leaving the broad highway of escapism for the narrow and straight road less traveled, by all means, makes all the difference.