There was a private email conversation I had with a friend, when I really thought that what I had written should be adapted for public use.
What of the situation of people who may agree with me about Orthodoxy and Contraception and believe that children are the crown and glory of marital relations, but while married they are childless? Let me say a few things.
First, I feel your pain, and I am praying for you, and I have held children born to childless couples. I would love to hear of a new life.
Second, if you were married before you joined the Orthodox Church, and have not requested to have your marriage crowned, ask for your marriage to be crowned. If you have received communion together after being received into the Orthodox Church, you are married in the Church, so no question of illegitimate relations. However, crowning is a blessing on marriage that you should have.
Third, Saint Anna loves you! In the story of Saints Joachim and Anna, they reached old age without having children, and Saint Joachim was not only childless but he was jeered at because, people thought, he and his wife were childless as punishment for their sins. In fact they were not being punished for their sins; they were just childless. While repenting of sin is almost always good for all of us*, in their old age God granted Saints Joachim one single child: a daughter, who bore one single grandson for them to rejoice in: the Son of God Jesus Christ.
Today the bonds of barrenness are broken,
God has heard Joachim and Anna.
He has clearly promised them that beyond hope, they would bear a divine child,
by whom the uncircumscribable One was born as a mortal Man,
Who commanded the angel to cry to her:
“Hail, O full of grace,
the Lord is with you!”
Kontakion — Tone 4
(Podoben: “You have appeared today…”)
Today the world keeps festival
at Anna’s conceiving, wrought by God;
for she bore her who inexpressibly conceived the Word of God.
Troparion — Tone 4
Divinely-wise Anna, you carried in your womb the pure Mother of God, who gave life to our Life.
Therefore, you are now carried joyfully to the inheritance of heaven,
to the abode of those who rejoice in glory,
where you seek forgiveness of sins for those who faithfully honor you, ever blessed one.
Kontakion — Tone 2
We celebrate the memory of the progenitors of Christ,
and with faith we ask their help,
that deliverance from every affliction be granted to those who cry out:
“Be with us, O God, who in Your good pleasure glorified them.”
There is a saying in some Orthodox forums, “As always, ask your priest,” and if you want to pray one or more of these hymns in your morning or evening prayers, or something else like that, ask a blessing of your priest or spiritual father, whose prayers and blessings are ever relevant.
I was at a parish where one wonderworking icon of Saint Anna was passed from one formerly childless couple to another, and I gave a well-received birthday gift, a plastic horse with wheels, to the son of one couple that had had the icon. Furthermore, this is not specific to St. Anna, but my best friend’s wife had medical treatment that in an attempt to save her life was expected to destroy her ability to bear a child. My friend saw this as a sadness, but said, “We can always adopt.” When I prayed I only asked for her life to be spared. Since then I have held a toddler and a baby they have had; God can give children even when one would medically expect treatments to cost the ability to bear a child.
Fourth, there is a miraculous vine on Mount Athos whose raisins are given, along with ascetical instructions for their use. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here. The sample letter below is not any specific required or special form; it’s just something I wrote; but I offer it for people who wouldn’t know what to say or what the address is. One possible letter is as follows:
[Your postal address, including your country]
Monks keeping St. Symeon’s Vine
Dear Monks Keeping St. Symeon’s Vine;
My wife and I have been married for [such-and-such amount of time] but have not yet been blessed with children.
We would like to have raisins from St. Symeon’s vine and ascetical instructions for their proper use.
By way of thanks, please accept the enclosed freewill offering [Note that this is not required; it’s just a nice gesture. As far as amount, maybe $20?]
[Signatures of wife and husband.]
Fifth, and on a more minor secular note, while I classify “Natural Family Planning” as contraceptive timing for people not honest about committing contraception, the principles of “Natural Family Planning” can be used to time intercourse so as to make it less likely that a child will be conceived, but they can also be useful to time intercourse to make it more likely for a child to be conceived. On that note, if you’ve prayed and you and your priest or spiritual father think this is something you want to pursue, check with a doctor. In a word, the advice is “Try to make a baby at the times of month that it would be most delightful for her, and other times as well.”
This is submitted in respect and love, and with the hope that you may welcome a little one!
* One question which some people have is, “Am I being punished for my sins?” and there is a natural human tendency to think that people deserve what good and bad things happen to them. I don’t know whether God is chastening you to bring you closer to him, and that question is above my pay grade; it’s something a clairvoyant elder might answer. Nonetheless, I would like to offer a word of advice that is in season whether or not God is trying to bring you to a better condition. (And in any case God does not want to punish sin; he wants to heal it, sometimes through hard measures when we do not mend after gentler correction.) And there is one point I would make clear: God does not punish for the sake of punishment. He disciplines, chastises, and speaks through painful circumstances when we do not obey the gentler voice of our conscience. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers in our pleasures and shouts in our pains,” and sometimes he shouts where we need the message but don’t hear a whisper. God may use childlessness to help you grow spiritually, to seek him and experience even greater blessings. Or he may not; Saints Joachim and Anna were childless so that God could do something that changed everything. I don’t know, if you are having trouble having children, whether God is speaking with a hammer to give you good, or whether you are just childless for the glory of God. But in any case God is not punishing you in the sense of gleefully saying, “You tripped up, sinner, and now I get to make you suffer.” God provides things so that you may grow close to him, and this is true whether this is God chastising you to help you reach higher ground, or God has some other reason,
Repentance is Heaven’s best-kept secret, and it is joyful and hopeful, an opportunity to be freed from spiritual dead weight and enjoy what it’s like to let go of one more thing that is a miniature Hell. All of us need repentance, and if we take one step closer to God in repentance, God steps a million miles closer to us.
So whether or not you are being disciplined for your sins, certain advice is always in season. Repent, for the Kingdom of God draws nigh, and repentance is a privilege. Make repentance part of your entreaties to God to bless you with little ones, a bit like you make prayers that God would bless you with little ones. Offer God ascesis. Offer God efforts to seek his heart. And you may find yourself blindsided by reward, and not just pregnancy. And this is not just a principle for childless couples; it is a principle for life and for all of us sinners, of whom I am chief.
I would like to close this section with a poem someone sent me when I was having a really rough time. It applies, I believe, for any situation where you have a holy desire to welcome a child, and God hasn’t answered “Yes” to yet:
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.
And I might gently suggest that God is weaving our lives for eternal glory if we will take it, and much as in the story of St. Joseph in the Bible is a tale of one difficulty after another where Joseph is thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, thrown in jail on a false accusation… and ends with all of this putting him into place to be second only to Pharoah in Egypt, reconciled with his brothers, and saving the known world.
I apologize if this is unwelcome, but in terms of our life stories that we will have all at once in eternity, there is a deep spiritual beauty in the story of a couple who wants a child pounding on Heaven’s gates in prayer, seeking God’s face, seeking purity and holiness, and maybe or maybe not finally have a child, and that beauty might have never developed if the couple had a pregnancy as soon as they really wanted one.
Fr. Seraphim of Plantina may be in the process of canonization, but I would like to make one further suggestion.
Fr. Seraphim was right to say that evolution, as it is found in the general culture, is not science but philosophy. My own experience in challenging people with anything remotely resembling intelligent design (admittedly, not of Orthodox origins), is that only biologists are socially capable of entertaining a scientific challenge to evolution. Among scientific illiterates, challenging evolution on scientific merits is not conceivable. It’s more or less blasphemy, and I can remember being in a liberal theology PhD program and finding that no other student had any real degree of scientific formation, but my having an M.S. (admittedly, in a discipline far from biology) and saying that evolution is not scientifically satisfying to me was not a conceivably legitimate thing to say.
However, I would take a look back in history at Cyril Lucaris, the subject of the biography Protestant Patriarch: The Life Of Cyril Lucaris, 1572-1638, Patriarch Of Constantinople. I have not read that biography, but I have studied his confession of faith… and as a graduate of Calvin University, I honestly find Cyril Lucaris to be more of a Calvinist than John Calvin. In regard to the what happens in the Eucharist, John Calvin actively concerns himself with the question of what St. John Chrysostom said (always in answering questions whose terms are set by the Reformation). Cyril Lucaris does not. He simply adopts John Calvin’s positions.
What was going on historically was that the Orthodox Church was being approached with an alien theology, that of Rome, and in searching for an answer to Roman overtures, turned to… the tools of Protestant polemics and apologetics, ending up further from proper Orthodoxy than Rome. And perceptive readers may have noticed that I refer to “Cyril Lucaris” but not “St. Cyril Lucaris,” because the Protestant Patriarch as he rightly was called was never canonized.
Maybe it is right to canonize Fr. Seraphim, but one of his liabilities was that he turned almost entirely to importing non-Orthodox Protestant theology, including giving a young earth virtual “Article by which the Church stands or falls” status, and the importing of Creation Science, a Protestant belief and praxis whose entirely non-Orthodox origins are documented in Evangelical Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
I have discussed some of this at length. However, here I would like to point out two things:
Fr. Seraphim of Plantina was right to observe that in broader culture, evolution is not really a scientific theory; it is philosophy, and I would more specifically state that it goes further than most philosophy. People treat scientific challenge to evolution as inconceivable blasphemy, and while people can understand, perhaps in hostility, that some people do not accept abortion and gay rights as morally legitimate, the concept of scientific dissatisfaction with evolution is inconceivable blasphemy.
While an uncreated or old universe is occasionally condemned by the Fathers alongside other of what were considered philosophical opinions, the position of drawing a line in the sand at a young earth is an entirely Protestant import to the best of my knowledge. I am not aware, nor have I heard, of any patristic document that is primarily concerned with defending a young earth of either six thousand or seven and a half thousand years. It’s a Protestant import worthy of Cyril Lucaris.
Furthermore, Creation “Science” is not science, or even dissident science. Creation “Science” is neither more nor less than a Protestant belief and praxis that was unknown among the Fathers and would only be formed by Evangelicals trying to battle evolution as science. Also, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that anything with “Science” in its name probably isn’t science.
Fr. Seraphim of Plantina was by any account a significant figure in the life of the Orthodox Church, and he is right more specifically to say that evolution isn’t culturally a scientific theory; it is deeply entrenched philosophy. However, in my opinion his response was entirely to raid the Protestant armory for Christian weapons against the attack, and in my opinion this is a move worthy of the Protestant patriarch Cyril Lucaris.
Furthermore, it has been observed that attempts to fight heresy have often resulted in heresy. Apollonaris, who has a heresy named after him (that Christ had a human body but the Word simply replaced the soul), was one of the people who struggled against Arianism, and St. Athanasius apparently welcomed him as a fellow warrior fighting against the same enemy and on the same team. (But St. Athanasius was wrong.)
If Fr. Seraphim is canonized as a saint, I would really like to see a verdict that he was right to see evolution as culturally being philosophy and not science, and that it was wrong to raid signature traits of today’s Protestant armory, somewhat like it was wrong of Cyril Lucaris to raid signature traits of his day’s Protestant armory and trying to fight heterodox teaching by fighting out of other heterodox teaching. And maybe that his attempts to fight heresy were rooted in different heresy.
Side note: Some people may ask why I have been open to intelligent design when I condemn Creation Science. I presently recognize that the more recent intelligent design was promoted as a second approach by the Protestant Discovery Institute.
The best I can say for that is that I now have a big question mark for most of intelligent design; however I have been driven away from evolution by attempts to recruit me by evolutionary apologists.
The fossil record does not show, as Darwin would have predicted, slow changes that gradually accumulated to make big differences, but long periods of stability interrupted by abrupt appearance (and perhaps disappearance) of species reflecting major changes, without preserved intermediate forms in most cases. What evolutionary recruiters have told me is that there is little incentive to change when things are steady, but a big incentive when things are chaotic. My response to that is to say that as a math major, it reads as statistical nonsense to me that a breeding population can acquire and sustain beneficial changes at any rate sufficient to meet a perhaps increased incentive to change.
Statistically speaking, any mutation in general has at least a 90% chance of being harmful, and much less than 10% chance of being beneficial. A new species forming in an eyeblink would require the uncommon event happening so rarely that you would be more likely to win the lottery every day for the entirety of a 120 year life. Or even more rare than that. New species happened far more often to make this believable as chance.
What I have been told by people trying to recruit me to evolution is that making beneficial changes is easy, and Indian prostitutes have evolved HIV resistance in one generation. (My response to that is incredulity, because this makes about as much sense to me statistically as a claim of young earth makes to a paleontologist.)
As an additional side note, I would mention something that evolutionists have never been brought up in my experience: scientific constants in physics. What I have never heard any physicist challenge is that the physical constants such as the speed of light, the charge of elementary particles, and so on, seem remarkably fine tuned just as we would need for human life to be possible. Again we are talking about winning lottery tickets numerous times in a row, in terms of statistical believability. The best response I’ve gotten is no contest to the possibility of human life being ludicrously unlikely, but no explanation either, just a random ludicrous impossibility.
O Lord, I know not what to ask of Thee. Thou alone knowest what are my true needs. Thou lovest me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I do not dare to ask either a cross or a consolation. I can only wait on Thee. My heart is open to Thee. Visit and help me, for the sake of Thy great mercy. Strike me and heal me; cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Thy holy will and Thine unsearchable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to Thee. I have no other desire than to fulfill Thy will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thou Thyself in me. Amen.
It is not particularly unusual for a teenager to lie awake in bed and wonder about the biggest questions: “Who are we?”, “Where did we come from?”, “Where will we go?”
What is unusual in my case, as I wondered and tried to answer questions like, “Is there an external world?”, “Can there be a perpetual motion machine?”—”If so, how can it get started?” “What does it mean to be ‘”Jonathan Hayward?'”, “Am I a being of the same class as those I observe about me?”, is that I was not a teenager. I was a little boy, too young to think about any of those questions in words. and so I worked out my idiosyncratic and even solipsistic metaphysics by thinking in pictures, and this is in fact my earliest memory.
People (some agree, some don’t) say that a person’s earliest memory can be illuminating, and it has been commented that this is an unusual first memory. I have read a number of people’s earliest memory stories, and not one that I have read is like this. The one that jumps to memory is a girl saying she remembered her Mom holding her and then passing her to another woman, and asking, “Who is this?” and being told, “That’s your grandmother.” An earliest memory is normally a story, not to mention simple and concrete. I was a bit of an outlier.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
I was born in 1975, a firstborn son to John and Linda Hayward, when my father was a grad student. My father studied physics, and my mother would go on to study the teaching of English to speakers of other languages. I was born almost three weeks overdue. A botch by my Mom’s obstetrician meant that at my birth both my mother and I were fighting a deadly infection. I spoke in complete sentences before my first birthday, and at the age of two fell down stairs and hit my head on a concrete basement floor. My eyes rolled back and I did not respond to stimuli. I survived, but spoke slowly, spoke very little, and stuttered. My Mom prayed over me and the stuttering was taken away. When my father had graduated and I was one, my parents moved to Macomb, Illinois, where my father taught at Illinois State University (their homepage shows a young woman wearing goggles that are simply inappropriate for the work she is doing, a common syndrome when photographers try to make a model look scientific). A major goal in their move was to be able to raise me outside of smog. When I was three, my family moved again, to the house where I have my earliest memory, and where my father began teaching at Wheaton College, where he worked until retirement. He had studied physics, but worked in computer science, and served both as a professor and a high-level in-house consultant at Wheaton. He introduced me to puzzles and questions relating to what we found most interesting in computer science (e.g. a question about the foundational ‘pigeon hole principle:’ “You are in a dark room and cannot see at all, and have a drawer full of mixed black and white socks. What is the minimum number of socks you can take to be sure you have a matched pair?”), and Unix computer games, which I dialed into by modem.
Schooling from kindergarten on
I have fond memories of Lowell Elementary School, where I entered in kindergarten, sometimes dressed up as a cowboy with chaps or in a suit, and attended until third grade, when school and my parents sensed that I would do better at a specifically gifted school, and I entered Avery Coonley School in fourth grade, where the headmaster bent a number of rules and awarded me 25% of the total financial aid awarded by the school for that year so my parents could afford to send me. I was initially placed in the less advanced of two math groups (one year ahead instead of two), and in eight grade ranked 7th nationally in the 1989 MathCounts competition, programmed a four dimensional maze, conducted an independent study of calculus, and (re)invented recursion in programming and iterated integration in calculus.
After a brief class in modern algebra for math whizzes at the the University of Chicago which I didn’t really get, I skipped a freshman year at a local school to enter the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, where I continued to get high ranks in math contests, ran a Unix server that did the work of a local and hard-to-use social network. and actively participated in discussions, and programmed a video game on my calculator. Someone commented later that this was the first video game they’d heard of where you lose points for shooting things, although I wasn’t trying to be original. (I was trying to implement a game I’d envisioned in gradeschool.) In order to justify a decision, my high school asked me to take an IQ test, and the psychologist scoring the test almost fell off her chair.
The summer after my junior year of high school I trained as an Emergency Medical Technician at College of DuPage because I was frustrated at the shallowness of what I had taken in first aid class. I was also unsatisfied with the Emergency Medical Technician training, as it seemed to me then to only teach enough medicine to package patients up and ship them to the local emergency room, but there have been a few times I’ve used my training: once two summers later, in Malaysia, where I helped provide some faint parody of suspected spinal injury management in helping a motorcycle accident victim, who had evidence of serious internal injury, get to the emergency room when he was loaded into a nearby van instead of an ambulance. I also used knowledge about heat, years after that, to get an elderly dog to stop shivering after she was taken outside for a potty break and made a lethargic beeline to the place in the yard where the wind was least bitter, and stood there, shivering, until I picked her up and carried her back inside and did what I could to raise her body temperature. (I do not think she would have survived for more than a few hours more if I had not had that prior medical knowledge.)
I mentioned that two summers later I was in Malaysia. It was wonderful and I didn’t want to leave. The rest of my family went there for a calendar year; I choosed to stay in the U.S. for my freshman year of college, but joined my family for the summer. It awakened a lifelong interest in culture and the many ways time can be experienced, but beyond that I would refer to a book on writing college admissions essays which talked about avoiding clichés that college admissions officers are tired of reading, which included pet death and The Travel Experience, which runs something like, “In my trip to _______, I met new people and new ways of doing things. _______ challenged assumptions I didn’t even know I had, and has changed me forever. [And so on and so forth about life in _______.]” Please note that this description is entirely ambiguous about what continent, island, or space station “_______” was located on. Living in Malaysia was a life-changing experience, an eye-opener, and a delight, however I try to be careful to avoid stretching social patience in talking about my cherished travel experiences. Those who have already had a travel experience know what it is like; those who haven’t don’t want to hear me gush on and on.
I entered Wheaton College as a National Merit Scholar, but ran aground on a particular community requirement which, like others before and after me, some Christians are not comfortable with. When I stopped running from my conscience, I took the unprecedented step of appealing to the Board of Trustees to give a conscientious exemption to this requirement (no lesser figure had the necessary authority), they did not pay me the courtesy of letting the item be put on the agenda for consideration (they thought the voluntary nature of Wheaton made my concerns “evaporate”). The requirement, that Wheaton students don’t drink and dance, has variously and inconsistently been defended by Wheaton leadership as “just social mores,” “like vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity,” and a strict requirement of Wheaton’s conscience. I lay on bed at night, wondering, “If this is how Christians act, do I want to be a Christian?”
I transferred to Calvin with a broken heart. I ended up being able to take all of the highest-level math classes offered at Wheaton and also at Calvin, in totall a major and a half’s worth of them. I spent a semester in Paris at the Sorbonne, where I imagined the cultures of my own fantasy world, “Espiriticthus,” a fusion of the beauty I saw in Malaysia and France. I met my first Luddite, a man who commented simply that he would look into the window to the computer lab and observe that everybody seemed to be angry as they were typing. On a larger scale, I also had a painful relationship with a girl named Rebecca. In that troubled relationship, I am not interested in stating what she did wrong. I am interested, however, in stating what I did wrong. I approached that relationship, like life itself, as a department of mathematics. Meaning, as time passed, I did not relate to Rebecca as especially human, and I did not relate to myself as especially human either. Our relationship was mercifully broken off.
I spent a summer as a camp counselor and entered as a graduate student at UIUC, where I managed to get a master’s in applied mathematics, with a thesis accomplishing one thing usually associated with a PhD: carving out a niche where I knew more than anyone else in the world, in this case opening a new subbranch of “point-set topology” whose implications included a straightforward but rigorous way to handle infinitesmals such as bedeviled the foundation of calculus, in an academic discipline where it was hard to find something new to prove. Nonetheless, my advisor, the department chair, told me in one prolific summer that he regarded my many emails (see a later writeup of one topic covered) as “mathematics fiction” by analogy with “science fiction,” and he did not regard my math awards as indicating in any way that I was adequate in mathematics. He and one other professor approved my thesis without reading the second half.
Entering the work world, or trying to
My first job out of college, at an anonymous company, told me when I was hired that I had gotten the highest score on one test of any applicant yet, and I had gotten a perfect score on the linear logic test, and I submitted the best code sample they’d seen (“reads like plain English”). Then things turned a little odd. I believe the reasons were complex, but they boasted about the computers they gave employees then gave me what was apparently a hand-me-down, and more seriously when, in the interview process, I asked if I would be able to program in what was then the darling language in IT, I was told I would program in a language they compared to a Formula One racecar, but once hired, I was told I would program in a language that had a terrible reputation (one computer science great said that its use “…cripples the mind. Its teaching should therefore be regarded as a criminal offense;” lesser wits had compared it with a sexually transmitted disease in that “those who have it tend not to admit it in polite company”). I complained, believing in good faith that its use would be harmful for me. In retrospect I do not believe they made an intentional bait and switch, but there was some ineptitude in advertising what they advertised I would work with and then assigning what I was assigned to work with. Also, I think that is the main area where I earned my “not a team player” badge.
I was brainsized my third day on the job (they refused to tell me why…), and I was later told that fellow alumni of the company blocked me from getting jobs at other companies.
A few months later, I developed a terrible manic episode and my life was again in danger. However, the manic episode is less significant in its aftermath, where I was prescribed a year-long drug overdose that destroyed my abilities of mathematician. I spent a year of my life at my parents’ house (where I am still), lying on my bed, staring at the light bulb, with nary a thought running through my mind beyond, “This is worse than watching television.” When I saw my psychiatrist, I would inevitably ask, “When am I going to get my abilities back?” and with an edge of anger in his voice my psychiatrist would answer, “I don’t know. You’ve had a major manic episode, and it can take a long time to recover from a manic episode.” After about a year of this, my Mom dragged me against my will to a patient advocate group meeting on Wheaton College’s campus where a fellow patient, without medical credentials that I know of, listened to my complaints, asked about my medication, and said, “That’s not an effect of your manic episode. It’s your medication.”
I have incidentally complained about the provider’s preferred counselor to work with a complaint I could have directed at the psychiatrist equally well: trying to get anything done better was “like a magic spell, where you have to say just the right words, and say them just right, or else it’s all for nothing.” (It wasn’t, for instance, enough for me to tell him, and have other medical personnel he was working with to observe, that I was throwing up half my medication most days for a year. I had to make a request in just the right words, and just the right way, for him to prescribe the other form of the same medication which had all of the benefits of what he prescribed me, and no added drawbacks, but would not induce vomiting on a frequent basis.)
The hardest intellectual achievement I had made in my life was not some discovery; it was, after spending six months away from mathematics (including my semester studying French at the Sorbonne), regaining competency. I was never in my life to regain competency in research mathematics. Computer programming came back, but with difficulty and imperfectly. Humanities work, which I had always been interested in, came back almost immediately.
Picking up the pieces
After being on a less destructive dose, I took stock and tried to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I had had some rough times outside of academia; I would later hold one post for over a year, but I was fired after I reported a senior manager for harassment. I asked my pastor, who was also a professor at Wheaton College and one of the most charismatic people around, advice on how to get an interdisciplinary humanities degree, and was strongly advised to pick a single field and get a doctorate in that specific field: “American Studies” PhD’s from a department he taught at, who had studied an interdisciplinary fusion of American literature and history, were incredibly hard to place. History departments wanted a straight history PhD; literature departments wanted a straight literature PhD. I applied to several schools, and Cambridge University accepted me.
In the time between employment and Cambridge, I had joined a group of Wheaton students and some alumni, close friends, meeting every Tuesday night at 9:58 PM for a reader’s theatre reading of classic children’s literature, and it was lore that students from that group would enter a tailspin after leaving England (and it seemed almost every member of the group found a way to England at some point). However, I thought that that simply did not apply to me. It was not exactly arrogance on my part; past experience had been that I simply did not experience culture shock on cue. I had experienced culture shock, but not when I was expected to, and when culture shock was predicted, I experienced nothing particularly like culture shock. I had, furthermore, already lived abroad, so this wouldn’t be my first time outside the U.S.
New directions at, and after, Cambridge
There was a major crescendo of trial and providence involved in my getting to England; there were several distractions, and after six months of red tape and difficulties getting student loans, they fell into place one business day before I left. My college told me not to come into residence. Additionally, I had a growing lump by my collarbone and was very sleepy very often. Cambridge had admitted me for a diploma, not yet a master’s, and after I arrived on faith and things started working out, I was diagnosed and treated for lymphoma. And despite all this, I succeeded. After further difficulties and prayer, I was admitted to the master’s program, where at the beginning of the year I said I wanted to study the holy kiss, meaning a doctrinal study of ideas, and after reclassifying my intent as a sociological study of kissing that was not particularly edifying, I was told two thirds of the way through the year that my announced thesis topic did not fit my philosophy of religion seminar, and I would therefore have to change topic completely. (There was also some hideous confusion where it took all but two weeks to meet with my professor and fix the topic for my second compulsory essay, which was a two month project.) I pulled out the stops, wrote a still not particularly edifying thesis in AI as an Arena for Magical Thinking, and succeeded at earning a master’s in theology as well, albeit with not quite high enough marks to enter a doctorate. I went home and had my tailspin.
Now there were several things that happened along the way; the biggest one being, during my time at Cambridge, my reception into the Orthodox Church. And I would like to tell a bit about one particular nuance.
There is a tradition in Orthodoxy for people of sufficient age to choose a patron saint, and take that saint’s name. It is believed that not only does the catechumen choose the saint, but that the saint chooses the disciple from Heaven. I wanted to be called “John Adam:” “John” after John the Theologian, and “Adam” as bearing Sources of the Self’s burden of pioneering a new way of life for others to follow. I knew at some level that this was wrong, and I should have recognized I was choosing those names out of pride. A significant struggle occurred when I was wrestling with my guilty conscience, and after long resistance on my part, I repented. This just happened to be when a priest was reading the names of people commemorated in prayer. The next name I heard was “Christos,” and my surrender was complete.
The name has had some salutary side benefits I did not even think of. One thing I have found is that whether clergy are quick to dress me down for taking Christ as my patron gives me a highly effective early warning system for how well we will end up getting along. (It seems to reflect whether I am judged for obvious pride in choosing One above all Saints, versus perhaps seeing no legitimate way I might have been right in that choice, but still refraining from judging.) Now at my cathedral clergy are not happy about my name, but that came later, after I kept bringing horrible things to confession. I give no complaint about them. But social response has offered me a powerful and useful social cue.
As an author, I have usually given my name as “C.J.S. Hayward”, and on Facebook, which is not terribly friendly to such use of initials written out my name as “Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward,” which I thought would condense to “CJSH” when people spoke of me. I have been told that on Facebook it has instead condensed to “CSH,” meaning “C.S. Hayward.” Did I mention that I’ve read every well-known work by C.S. Lewis and most of his obscurities, and he formed me as a writer?
I might also mention that there is more besides the number of times my life has been in danger and I’ve survived (I seem to have more than a cat’s nine lives, though I have rarely been accused of being catlike.) I’ve had an awful lot of being in the right place at the right time in ways I do not that I can rightly take credit for. For instance, I built my first website within a year or two of the web’s creation, although it would be over a year between when I first built a website and I ever used a graphical browser. I used Lynx, a command line tool that displays text alone. It is still a good way to check if a site appears pornographic before loading graphical view; not the reason why I made a nasty parody site called “Revenge of the Hydra,” optimized for Internet Explorer, which if you load it, nine popup windows appear, and for each popup window you close, two more appear. (People on the Megalist wanted to ride me out on a rail for that one.) My main site, started in the early nineties, would grow to be a fixture of the web; when Google still published its PageRanks, my website had a PageRank of 5, a respectable PageRank for a medium to large sized organization, and was the top site in its category in directory.google.com. (I’ve won dozens of math awards, and hundreds of web awards.) It’s grown since then, and in some people’s opinions, it has only gotten better. Now I have worked long and hard to make my website a good site, but there was from the beginning a great deal of being in the right time and choosing decisions that would prove helpful for reasons I could not have imagined. I also published on the web when the tried and true advice was to pursue traditional publication. Now I am a traditionally published author; I’ve published two books with Packt, and they’ve been very good to me and I would heartily recommend contacting an acquisition editor for IT professionals who want to write a book. (Note to such professionals: the pay you receive directly from an IT publisher is a social courtesy; Packt pays more than many publishers but hardly enough to live on. For an IT professional to publish a technical book should be seen as a marketing move that will qualify you as a domain expert who can charge over $100 per hour for expert work.) However, while Packt is built to give structure to unformed authors, traditional publishing tripped me up, and my traditionally published titles are far from excellent and lower in Amazon ratings than those I’ve self-published. The core reason is that I do my best work when I am writing out of my heart, but working with editorial requests for major overhaul has been necessarily out of my head; I cannot summon or control my inspiration or awen at will. Even this work, alongside works I consider some of my best, is not the work I set out to write, though that is grace.
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.
My thorn in the flesh: harassment
However, there is another shoe to drop, a scorpion in the ointment: harassment. To take one example, whenever I made a new post to my website, an acquaintance from IMSA wrote extended and intense criticism that delivered pain, took me down quite a few notches, and elevating himself even more notches socially. No matter what genre, length, or really quality I posted, he would, he would deliver trenchant criticism that covered those bases.
At one point, when I explained why his contorting and twisting of my words into an actual alleged assertion that rape is the victim’s fault, followed by his giving me the most belittling lecture in my life, I explained where rape had come close to home and I found that the most offensive thing he’d said yet. He responded with another hefty serving of criticism. I asked him not to send any further criticisms on my writing. He responded with another hefty dollop of criticism of me personally. I asked him not to send any further unsolicited criticisms on any topic. He wrote, “Ok, I will not send any unsolicited criticisms, but I will take emails from you as solicitation for response,” and responded by another king-sized industrial strength dose of brutal, judgmental criticism.
A forceful “No” cc’ed to email@example.com stopped his criticisms cold, or rather I think that the help desk explained to the great liberal what the word “No” means.
I have not heard from him since apart from one request to list him as a trusted contact on LinkedIn.
I also can’t say that I missed him.
This sort of thing has happened dozens of times, and not just with people who post a fantasy of their alter ego luring a boy into a car and being finished with him in under five minutes. For one couple of amateur psychologists, my months or years-long ongoing, repeated “No” was slapped down with an assertion that I was “sending mixed messages” each and every time, combined with moving forward with their attempts to help me with my (alleged) Asperger’s. This kind of thing is why I made a T-shirt saying:
Autism Spectrum, n. A range of medical conditions whose real or imagined presence in your life causes numerous socially inappropriate behaviors in amateur psychologists.)
As far as underlying social dynamics go, in the Bible King Saul wanted St. David dead and sent St. David on a suicide mission that would require killing two hundred Philistines. St. David succeeded in his quest. Then women were singing in the streets, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands,” which was about the worst thing they could have done for St. David’s welfare. It really would have been better for St. David’s political stock if the woman had chanted a cultural equivalent of, “David smells bad and his mother dresses him funny.”
That was the point where Saul went from wanting St. David dead to making him Public Enemy #1 and engaging in extended manhunts after his first outright attempt at direct murder failed.
My giftedness is not simply from my genes, even if my parents are both at the top of their game. It is actually common for profoundly gifted individuals to have birth trauma or early childhood brain injury; such insults to the brain usually push a person towards intellectual disability, but once in a blue moon they overclock the brain and cause an intensification of overgrowth. I’ve had both routes, and however astonishingly bright my parents are, um…
I had higher SAT scores in 7th grade than my father had as a high school senior, and when I took the Modern Languages Aptitude test, the UIUC linguist who scored it said,
…and here’s where it gets interesting. I’ve never seen someone complete this section before… Your mother scored in the mid 150’s, which is considered a very, very high score. You scored 172. I don’t know what to make of it. I’ve been scoring this test for thirty years, and I’ve never seen a score this high…
I was looking to avoid mentioning this, but my parents, especially in my childhood, surprisingly often dealt with me in anger.
In a moment of “I have no mouth and I must scream” after other unrelated situations of harassment and hostility from several other people, I gave my scream in The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab.
My quality of life improved remarkably when I learned that a “CEASE AND DESIST” letter Cc’ed to firstname.lastname@example.org or other authority figure can stop harassment cold.
Schooling: Another attempt
Returning to education, in 2005 I entered Fordham’s PhD program. What I think I’d like to say about that was that it was a golden illustration of St. John Chrysostom’s “A Treatise to Prove That Nothing Can Injure The Man Who Does Not Harm Himself.” During that time, there were occasions where my conscience was extraordinarily clear and I ignored it. Furthermore, while external things may have been inappropriate, it was my own sins that gave them real sting. That a doctor took me off a medication I needed was not my choice. That I worried to the point of uninterrupted waking nausea about whether I would be able to find employment given that my work in the business world had been clumsy and my PhD “union card” to teach in academia was jeopardized, worriedly asking, “Will there be a place for me?” was my decision. Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger quoted in the NFL said, “We suffer more in imagination than in reality,” and I suffered much more in imagination than in reality then—that was my decision, and not the decision of even the most hostile member of the university. Possibly I could have completed my degree if I had not ignored a conscience at full “jumping up and down” intensity when I didn’t see a reason for what my conscience was telling me, and possibly I am guilty for failing to accept tacitly offered help. I washed out of the program in 2007. Perhaps the other thing really worth mentioning is what I intended to be my doctoral dissertation, which I wrote up in non-scholarly prose that one Roman reader called “the most intelligent and erudite” thing he’d ever read: “Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.
The birth of a unique area of attention
Now I’d like to shift gears a little bit and talk about something else that has slowly developed over the years, incrementally and mostly imperceptibly to me.
Like others before me, I’ve bristled at the concept of “an idea whose time has come.” My main use of it, as a programmer who poked fun at tools he did not like and tools he did like, was to quote a fake advertisement for Unix’s “X Windows:” “An idea whose time has come. And gone.” When at Fordham I read Vatican II’s almost incessant anxiety to pay attention to “the signs of the times,” meaning in practice to pay attention to whatever 1960’s fads were in the Zeitgeist and take marching orders from them, I pointed out that in searching the 38 volume Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collections, I could only find three or four references to discerning the signs of the times, and never a slavish imitation of Zeitgeist; one of them simply meant being on guard against lust.
Nonetheless, there is a sense in which Zeitgeist is real. It is a well-known phenomenon among mathematicians that a major problem will remain unsolved for ages and then be independently solved at almost the same time by several researchers: hence mathematicians are advised that if they discover something major, they should write it up and publish it as soon as possible, because if they don’t, someone else will get the credit for first discovery. And this is in what is possibly the least Zeitgeist-like academic discipline.
Gandhi has been popularly misquoted as saying “First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. Then, you win!” and while researchers have traced a legitimate Gandhi quotation about how victory will develop if you apply Gandhi’s satyagraha or nonviolence in dealing with people hostile to you, this did not sound much like Gandhi to me. Nonetheless, it has some grain of truth.
When I wanted to do research on the holy kiss, at first I was bluntly ridiculed by my then current Cambridge advisor; he responded by asking cutesie questions about whether we could find reasons to only kiss the members of a congregation who were the prettiest, notwithstanding that in England there is a well-established social kiss and “Greet one another with a holy kiss” does not come across as a shorthand for all inapplicable ancient nonsense in the Bible as it might in the U.S. midwest, where hugs between friends are within standard cultural boundaries but kisses ordinarily are not.
Furthermore, when I tried to write a dissertation on it, every professor that sought to guide me took my intended doctrinal study, and reclassified it as a study of a physical detail of Biblical culture, to be studied alongside other Realia like, “When St. Paul said to put on the whole armor of God and used a Roman soldier’s weapon and armor as a basis for the analogy, what kind of physical weapon and armor would have been in his imagination?” which overlooks that the “breastplate of righteousness” and the “helmet of salvation” are the armor that God Himself wears in Isaiah. I drew a line in the sand and told my second advisor that I wanted to do a doctrinal study. He immediately pushed past that line and said, “The best way to do that is to do a cultural study, and let any doctrines arise.”
To my knowledge I am the first person who observed that the holy kiss is the only act that the entire Bible calls holy (excluding one reference to a “holy convocation” in the Old Testament where a different Hebrew word is translated “holy”), and it is called holy three or four times. This is one of the highlights that I condensed into a homily, “The Eightj Sacrament.” But then a few years later, I suddenly had people contacting me to tell me about the holy kiss, and people asked if I knew more than I had stated in the homily (yes, I did; the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collections contain something like a hundred references to a holy kiss, many of them boilerplate repetitions of “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” in festal epistles by St. John Chrysostom). Earlier I was rudely enough ridiculed by allies; then I was contacted in response to my website to inform me about the holy kiss by complete strangers.
At the moment I would downplay the importance of the holy kiss for active study. It is practiced in the Orthodox Church; I have said everything I want to say; I do not seek a kiss where none is offered. I have moved on to other concerns, one other concern as I am letting go as Fr. Seraphim of Plantina is in the process of canonization (one of my books, the one that’s gotten by far the most scathing reviews, is The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts).
I would like to say that The Best of Jonathan’s Corner is what I consider my overall best collection across my works and leave things at that, but I am rather suspecting another case of “Man proposes, God disposes.” The most important collection I leave behind (if any) may well be The Luddite’s Guide to Technology. The topic is loosely “religion and science,” but it is very different in character. “Religion and science” as I have met it, with one stellar exception, is about demonstrating the compatibility of timeless revealed truths of Christian doctrine with the present state of flux in scientific speculation. Science is, or at least was, characterized by a system of educated guesses held accountable to experiment. Orthodox gnosology (understanding of knowledge) should find this to be very, very different from how true Orthodox theology works.
With one exception, none of the Orthodox authors I hold dear know particularly much about science. The one exception is patrologist Jean-Claude Larchet, who raises some of the same concerns I do about technology, and does some of them better. Everyone else (for instance, Vladimir Lossky) shows little engagement with science that I know of. And if I may refer to the Karate Kid movie that was popular in my childhood, the sensei tells the boy, “Karate is like a road. Know karate, safe! Don’t know karate, safe! In the middle, squash like a grape.” The “religion and science” I’ve seen has a lot of “in the middle, squash like a grape,” by theologians who want to be scientific (and perhaps make what I have called the “physics envy declaration:” theologians-are-scientists-and-they-are-just-as-much-scientists-as-the-people-in-the-so-called-hard-sciences-like-physics), but who almost never bother to get letters after their name in the sciences, which are genuinely hard. My own formation, in mathematics, engineering, technology, and science, affords me the position of the blackbelt who declares, “Don’t know karate, safe!” Perhaps one blackbelt saying such things is needed!
Furthermore, my main concern from mathematics, engineering, technology, and science (all of which I was formed in, even if I’ve lost much of it) is not too much about science, but specifically about technology. I’ve experienced technology early; my life story and could largely be seen as a preparation for commenting on technology. And I have background in both studying theology academically and living it in practice.
Another dimension to profound giftedness
One reader who has studied giftedness at length commented to me that profoundly gifted individuals are often “very, very conservative, or at least populist.” I had thought earlier that my conservatism and my giftedness were two separate things. They are not, or at least there is a direct relationship.
The basic way I understand it is this. Possibly I had a contrarian spine built by requesting a conscientious exemption from Wheaton College’s requirements and leaving Wheaton College after it was not even put on the agenda. I have certainly had as much exposure to liberal recruiting, or more, than most liberals. But standard methods of recruiting gifted are less successful in dealing profoundly gifted. The university system has very effective ways of drawing in the gifted, and up to a point the more gifted someone is the better it works—but recruiting tools fall flat with some of the profoundly gifted. Much of the gifted range ends up liberal. It has been pointed out that the math department tends to be one of the most liberal, or the most liberal, department on campus, even though the author pointing this out (and I) have never experienced mathematicians trying to recruit to liberalism. I believe, apart from natural bents, that mathematics shapes the mind in a way that inclines towards liberalism. I stopped really trying to learn chess after I found myself at the Cathedral looking at my quarantine-dictated socially distanced space with regard to other parishioners in terms of what I could threaten to capture in a knight’s move. That may be superficial, and it may fade into the background with deeper study. However, mathematics does shape the character, in the direction of what Orthodox have called “hypertrophied dianoia, darkened nous,” i.e. “overgrown head and impoverished, darkened heart,” and mathematics may do this in a more concentrated form than humanities which promote the same. I certainly do not see that my successes in relating to my ex-girlfriend (there are some) were due to my bent to take a mathematician’s approach to relating.
Something that never happened in my formation in mathematics was that my advisor at Cambridge consistently tried to recruit me to Biblical Egalitarianism (he was a plenary speaker at at least one conference), for instance, by asking, “But what about Biblical Egalitarians, who believe that ‘In Christ there is no… male nor female?'” and I would dismantle the live grenade, for instance by saying that “who believe that” in English-speaking idiom means “whose non-shared distinguishing quality is that,” and second by saying that he was snuggling into the back door that “no male nor female” be cast along at least quasi-feminist lines, as opposed to recognizing that some conservatives (St. Maximus Confessor, for instance) hold that in Christ there really is no male nor female, but read it along profoundly non-feminist lines. (I think after a certain number of attempts my advisor gave up and accepted that I would not listen to reason.)
Yonder, which is a collection of works intended to answer and challenge feminism, might have been provocative when it was first published. Now there is much more than than the men’s movement, which I consider opening men to feminist-style protest. It is mainstream for women to dissociate themselves from feminism and “Like” texts that challenge it. When the U.S. Supreme Court came out in rainbow colors, I posted a response echoing First Things in the discussion at StackExchange, whose CEO is an adamant gay activist, saying, “The question is not whether gay marriage is possible in the U.S., but whether anything else is popular. It has been established that marriage has no particular roles, is dissolvable, need not be open to bearing children, and so forth. Why suddenly draw a line in the sand about marriage involving a man and a woman?” It was censored, with a comment of “Not even close!” However, in the time since then, I have seen comments not censored about the whole policy violation of turning the StackOverflow logo rainbow colors for a time and flipping it to veer in the opposite direction, and so on and so forth, was in fact not StackOverflow’s best moment.
C.S. Lewis has a tantalizingly brief remark in ?The Allegory of Love?, in reference to Spencer who alone receives almost undiluted praise in a book that is exacting of other authors, about how figures who turn out to be what some people call “ahead of their time” seem an odd throwback to the vintage past, when they first appear. Even Bach was respected in his life as a performing organist but not taken too seriously as a composer, because he composed in an area of music that had simply fallen out of fashion. I don’t want to compare myself to the famous people who populate the most obvious examples, but in regard to what Lewis said, it seems that some of my portfolio has matured.
My critiques of feminism may still not be mainstream, but they are no longer so far off the beaten path. As far as raising concerns about technology goes, we have gone past the point where one very bright friend tweeted a link to Paul Graham’sThe Acceleration of Addictiveness and commented in only three words: “SOMEBODY UNDERSTANDS ME!” For that matter, we have gotten past the point where the cover of Time Magazine presents the Facebook “Like” button as a major part of our conundrum. Things that I said that were way off the beaten path when I said them remain of particular interest, but are far less provocative to say now.
Since then, times have changed, and I am not a lone author any more. I’ve learned a good deal from patrologist Jean-Claude Larchet, and what I’ve read from him on the topic is eminently worthy of study. I asked Ancient Faith to read “Social Antibodies” Needed: A Request of Orthodox Clergy, not exactly as a candidate for their imprint to publish, but to send to other authors to answer on the record. The response I got back was not detailed, but they said that they had forwarded the questions I raised for other of their authors to answer.
Two other comments before I drop this topic.
First of all, one thing that I can agree with one devotee of Fr. Seraphim of Plantina on is a quote that Fr. Seraphim tried to tell people he was a sinner and he was put on a pedestal anyway. I’ve been wary of being on a pedestal when I realized that I already am on a pedestal; God has just shielded me from some of the downsides. Apart from harassment, I have benefitted from what appears to be “fame lite.” Possibly I may get put on a bigger pedestal, but I am neither more nor less in God’s hands if God provides that.
The second one, perhaps a tangent, is that I am not mainly writing for success in my lifetime. Certainly I am not looking for writing to be lucrative; my revenues on Amazon, possibly due to Amazon’s ongoing repositioning and reinterpretation of its contracts, has gone from about US$150-200 per month to less than US$10 per month over a time frame when more and more people have discovered my writing. I am trying to write works built to last, and I have released my books under CC0 licensing (“no rights reserved,” meaning that anybody can republish it). This is an aspect of a long haul strategy.
Now to move on.
More wonders in Heaven and earth…
I have enlisted at the Orthodox Pastoral School, about which I have only glowing things to say. After health issues compounded by provider issues, I have asked to withdraw for the rest of the semester and re-enroll next semester when I believe I have good reason to hope I will be stronger. What they say I do not know, and I am not specifically counting on the measure of grace they have already extended to me. However, one possibility that is off the agenda is that God will stop blessing me because of what they decide. I would like to continue on with them, but if God has something else in store for me, I will just try and thank them for what they have already done.
The second thing is that I have prayed for years:
Prayer from St. Symeon for a Spiritual Father
O Lord, who desirest not the death of a sinner but that he should turn and live, Thou who didst come down to earth in order to restore life to those lying dead to sin and in order to make them worthy of seeing Thee the true Light as far as that is possible to man, send me a man who knoweth Thee, so that in serving him and subjecting myself to him with all my strength, as to Thee, and in doing Thy will in his, I may please Thee the only true God, and so that even I, a sinner, may be worthy of Thy Kingdom.
I am not praying that now.
Within the past month of my writing, I sent a polite email to a nearby priest and said that I was going to ask a blessing to visit the parish, when I realized that was not then an option due to the quarantine, and then I thought of asking permission to visit him face-to-face, when I realized that would not be an option for the same reason. But, I said, I wished in gesture to visit.
He responded even more graciously, and offered spiritual direction.
I asked a blessing of my confessor, and have begun receiving spiritual direction.
I have also been seeking for years to enter a monastery. That hasn’t happened yet, but I have a live conversation with a monastery now. It apparently won’t work out for me to visit again in 2020, but I have hopes of ending 2021 as a novice, possibly a “rassophore monk,” also called a “robe-wearing novice.”
A last measure in negotiations
The next thing is that in dealing with others, especially as regards difficulties with medical providers, the last measure of resistance I have offered is to let the other party have it their way and then let them decide if they like the consequences.
Earlier I came to the practice I am seen at on double the standard limit of one medication, and they decided to let me have my eccentric ways, at least for a time. But then they decided to relentlessly pursue strict standard dosing, and after a year or two’s power struggle, I let them have their way and I was in rapidly declining health. I can still remember the sad expression on my provider’s face when she realized what situation I was in: she was not in any sense happy that it looked like I would be dead within a year, but standard dosing was simply not conceivable as something negotiable, or a decision that was less important than my life. After three hospitalizations in about two months, insurance advised me to work with a doctor rather than a nurse practitioner, and the doctor found room in her heart to let me have maximum doses of two similar medications, plus another medication that would help. I returned to the even keel I had when I entered their care.
Experience has been that sometimes the only card I can play is to submit to being keel-hauled, and when I come up torn and bleeding on the other side, the other party figures out things it had not been able to connect the dots on before.
I went through that last measure again with the department recently.
I have been on a medication whose known effects include kidney damage and eventual death to kidney failure. I have been experiencing precursors to kidney failure, although not yet real quality of life issues; however, every time previously my providers tried to soften the blow to my organs by reducing my dose of that medication by one quarter, it seemed a cure worse than the disease. Kidney failure can kill me within a decade or two; the effects I was experiencing would likely kill me within a year. Every time previously, my provider did not like what my medicine was doing, but they chose maintaining my dose above causing my death in the short term.
This time, my provider decided to wean me off the medication already, which was having destabilizing effects, and furthermore to forbid me to even take a related over-the-counter medication that is dosed much lower than the prescription analogue, and furthermore does not damage internal organs, period. And I decided to offer the last measure of resistance: to submit to being keel-hauled and follow all of her changes to the letter.
After two days of feeling worse than drunk, I felt sober for the first time in ages, and have been writing prolifically.
Before that happened, my writing experienced what I can only term a death, a religious experience I have forgotten, and a resurrection. My writing was growing scantier and worse; there was something morally corrupt. Now I am still not writing perfectly, but I feel younger. Decades younger.
I have also been involved with Toastmasters, to learn to better communicate with my neighbor. I participated, albeit didn’t rise above local level, in the 2019 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, and it is widely considered that the experience and preparation are worth it even if you do not place particularly highly, as I did not. I completed the Competent Communicator curriculum and have started on the Presentation Mastery path.
One of the things my spiritual father said in a first call or two is that we tend to think we have tried plan A (getting a doctorate in math from the University of Illinois and going from there), plan B (getting a doctorate in theology from Cambridge in theology and teaching, which would have left me saddled with over twice the major student loans I graduated with), plan C (getting a doctorate “union card” at Fordham), and are “going down the alphabet” in faint hopes…
I believe that if I had made better decisions I could have a degree from Fordham. However, I don’t believe that God has withdrawn his care. If anything, he has given me a reminder that decisions have consequences, and a powerful reminder that placing reason above my conscience is not wise. At present I do not have the brand of PhD; I do have two master’s degrees connected with Orthodox theology and technology from excellent institutions, and quite a story with them. I think I am the most blessed I have been in my life, and stand to receive greater blessings still. I would close with words offered from a friend:
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.
I haven’t been able to trace my sources at all, but I vaguely remember a book like Good to Great talking about a company like Intuit making a decision for a product like Quicken, a decision, not just to have a collection of really nice tools, but to declare war on the pencil.
The core insight behind ?Intuit? declaring war on the pencil when it made ?Quicken? was that accounting and finance types using accounting software would also use pencil and paper, and possibly a calculator. The company’s decision was to do user research, find out when and why finance users resorted to using pencil and paper, and then implement improvements to eliminate the need to resort to pencil and paper.
(?Intuit? has also been credited with a similar feat in making a lighter and cheaper version that was not just a more feature-limited version of mainstream accounting software, but would make sense to non-accountants who did not know all the technical terms as one would expect of finance and accounting professionals using the version of ?Quicken? made for accounting and finance professionals. Hence the change in terms to a dirt-simple “money in” and “money out.” This is an additional feat of user research and knowing your audience.)
I am interested in what might be called a “neo-old-fashioned mindfulness,” and an older part of this project relates to looking at your watch more than is necessary, an ancestor to “phubbing,” or snubbing someone socially by looking at your phone. I do not seek a new project, but articulate how we can continue an age-old Western pursuit of mindfulness with a few nuances updated to be mindful when using technologies not around when this aspect of manners came to be.
In a martial arts class, the teacher commented, “Set your foot down because you want to, not because you need to.” This was in reference to a swinging kick that started with picking up your leg from behind you and ended with setting it down in front. And in fact there is a difference between moving so that you have to set your foot down or else lose your balance, and moving so that you set your foot down because you choose to do so.
The difference is illuminating.
Face-threatening behavior and basically rude behavior
When I was taking Wheaton College’s “linguistics and anthropology boot camp for missionaries,” one theme that was underlined was the concept of “face-threatening behavior.” The core concept in face-threatening behavior is behavior that could cause the other party to lose face, and it is normally polite to try to soften or remove the danger of causing the other party to lose face. The next time the lecturer was asked a question by someone in the audience, he pointed out the asker’s politeness behavior: before asking the question directly, he offered some kind words to the person he was addressing. The social subtext? “I am asking you a question, but not because you’re a bad lecturer, and I don’t want to make you lose face.” In other words, politeness leads people to usually try and avoid getting egg on someone else’s face.
I remember visiting with a friend of about my age, some years back, where my friend had asked me to look at a printer. I looked at it briefly, but didn’t immediately see how to fix it. I then apologetically asked if I could call my brother, who worked at a well-treated internal help desk. The social message? “I’m doing something that is basically rude, but I don’t want to be rude to you.” And this was when I was acting entirely out of concern for my friend. I had made a first approach to a difficulty he asked me to look at, and when that didn’t resolve the issue, I made a sensible second approach. However, my behavior was an example of how to maintain politeness while doing something that is basically rude: calling and talking with someone else on my phone when I was visiting him.
On another level, I remember a post-graduation visit to a well-liked professor who, as we were talking, glanced at his clock and then apologized, saying that he looked at the clock because he was surprised it was dark so soon. This was a graceful recovery from a minor social blunder: needlessly looking at his clock, which is an example of basically rude behavior. When Madeleine l’Engle briefly states that Mr. Jenkins One “looked at his watch,” this is a social shorthand to say that Mr. Jenkins One was tired with the present social situation, was wishing it would be over and he could be doing something else, perhaps anything else, and that he wondered how long it would continue to drag on and on. And the professor I was visiting, who has a profound ability to enjoy and be present to practically anyone, made a social recovery after a behavior that carries a message of “I wish this conversation were over.”
Mindfulness and manners
Mindfulness as we use the term today derives from Buddhism, where Right Mindfulness is part of what in Buddhism is called “the Eightfold Noble Path,” and what in classic Western philosophy would be called cardinal or hinge virtues. (A “cardinal” or “hinge” virtue is not just a virtue, but a virtue that others hinge on, cardinal being Latin for “hinge,” with a cardinal virtue being a sort of gateway drug to further virtue. The “four-horsed chariot” of the cardinal virtues of classical antiquity lists courage, classically called “fortitude” or today “grit,” justice, wisdom, and moderation, to which Christian Tradition has added faith, hope, and love, and perhaps implicitly, humility.) Now Buddhism’s Eightfold Noble Path may be a different list of cardinal virtues than those in Western philosophy, and the two may or may not be two equivalent ways of cutting up the same pie. This question need not concern us here.
Different traditions have different lists of virtues, and it does not take any particularly great stretch of the imagination for a Westerner interested in virtue to recognize, for instance, India’s ahimsa, or not causing at least needless harm, as a virtue, and perhaps recognize it as a profound virtue and a cardinal virtue. It has also in my experience not been particularly difficult to get Western Christians to see mindfulness as a virtue, at least in some other tradition’s way of cutting up the pie.
However, this is not because they do not see mindfulness as an obligation. It is because they see the obligation as falling under the heading of manners rather than moral virtue.
A friend I mentioned earlier talked about how decades back, when Walkmans were eating tapes, about how his mother or grandmother had commented that people running with Walkmans on were not paying due attention to their surroundings. I’m not entirely clear how much our society’s concept of manners extends beyond treatment of other people (perhaps manners covers being gentle with your friend’s pets, or at very least leaving them alone if they’re not bothering you), but there is some sense in her remark that you owe attentiveness to your surroundings whether or not there are other people in the picture, and perhaps even that “being off in your own little world” is another name for Hell.
I am not specifically interested in establishing that mindfulness should be thought of as a department of manners, nor am I interested in establishing that mindfulness is a department of virtue. In the interest of not holding my cards too close to my vest, I think it is mostly in an area where the heart of manners meets virtue, and I am inclined to regard it, as I am interested in virtues, as a virtue. However, this is not a point I am interested in establishing. It could be argued that if you owe attentiveness, meaning mindfulness, to nearby rocks and trees as well as other people, it is a virtue rather than just manners as conventionally understood, but possibly some reader will find in this article itself solid reasons to believe mindfulness is manners first and foremost and should not in the first instance be lumped in with virtues. I am genuinely not interested in the question.
However, I will remark, as curiously interesting, that while I’ve seen attention to mindfulness blanketing the air and I have been invited to share in mindfulness exercises, not one of the mindfulness practices I have seen talks about old-fashioned manners to pay attention to others and the situation. Mindfulness is discussed as a Far Eastern virtue or discipline. I have never heard it connected to old-fashioned Western manners.
Fr. Tom Hopko’s famous (to Orthodox) 55 Maxims include:
Be always with Christ.
Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
Be polite with everyone.
Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
Do your work, then forget it.
Be awake and be attentive.
These at least overlap with mindfulness; when I spoke to one martial artist heavily influenced by Buddhism and quoted, “Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings,” he said, “That’s mindfulness!”
Fr. Tom never uses the word “mindfulness,” but he calls for politeness to “everyone” and to be attentive, and it would at least be consistent with his call for unqualified politeness to say “When you are exercising, be attentive to your surroundings rather than using the time to be off in your own little world.” And I believe there are several maxims of his that a mindfulness practitioner would rightly interpret as being mindfulness or overlapping with mindfulness. And, while Fr. Tom is Eastern Orthodox and perhaps praying for all of us from Heaven, his 55 maxims are written almost entirely on terms the West should be able to make sense of, and the incredible number of search results for “fr tom hopko 55 maxims” attest that he has written something simple that people can connect to.
Manners are much more important, and much more than arcana about which is the salad fork. “The fork goes to the left, and the knife guards the spoon,” is a particular alphabet and language in which manners are translated. It is at the exterior of manners that, under some circumstances, you could be given a bowl of water to rinse your fingers in before eating. A much deeper glimpse into manners is afforded in that a distinguished visitor to a Queen picked up his finger bowl and then drunk it, then Her Majesty picked up her finger bowl and then drunk it, and then every person seated around the table picked up their finger bowls and drunk them.
Manners, at least according to older generations and according to our conversations about manners with prior generations, has a great deal to do with paying attention to other people. It was both manners and mindfulness if Boomers and Gen X’s teachers told us not to pass notes and throw paper airplanes in class, perhaps with exceptions for e.g. the last day of school, but the fact that this may have made life easier for the teacher is incidental to teachers using humble gradeschool arithmetic classes to teach a major life lesson, and a major life lesson that is not only for dealing with authorities. I remember talking to one friend with a spine of steel about children who do not respect adults, and the biggest takeaway I took from the conversation is not that children who do not respect adults grind down adult patience. It was that children who do not respect adults can hardly benefit from adult help, and it is far easier to do something that will benefit a child who respects adults than one who is hostile and disrespectful.
In Madeleine l’Engle’s day, needless attention to a watch or clock was the go-to device to avoid practicing mindfulness for a time. It changed and told you where you are. This pint of beer that Boomers tried not to drink too many of has been replaced by a pint of rum in the smartphone, and a pint of weed in the smartwatch and its successors. Mr. Jenkins One looked at his plain old pre-digital watch, probably one without a second hand, while kids now enjoy (or are bored with) a virtual acid trip quickly surfing from one smartphone app to another.
If we care about mindfulness, an excellent starting point is to drink deeply of what we can learn about manners especially from Boomers while we still can.
My own rather counter-cultural technology choices
Some people seek great merit in being counter-culture. I do not think counter-culture is too great an index of merit, and not just because I believe some countercultures, such as the Klu Klux Klan, are evil incarnate. I have sought, even if I have so far not achieved my goal, to reach life on Orthodox turf where I will not be working out a private heresy in counterculture. None the less, I believe that many of my most helpful technology choices amount to counterculture, whether or not I have the faintest desire to be counter-cultural.
When I was in high school, and for far longer, I made it a matter of pride not to wear a watch. It helped me evade, for a certain age, the tyranny of the clock. Since then I have worked professionally where late is unacceptable, and I’ve been bitten by the personal information management and logistics bug; I have my own system for keeping track of calendar appointment, tasks, etc., so at a glance I can see a month or more of scheduled events and when they are scheduled for. And now I own an Apple Watch.
Any freedom I have from compulsively checking phone, email, or watch is a freedom on the other side of needing to deal with logistics.
But a funny thing happened along the way.
I’ve almost exclusively used the solar watch face because, while it may be beautiful, it is less distracting than the face of my industrial strength Pathfinder watch, which changes every second and shows patterns in the numbers (to a mathematician, 11:23:58 looks familiar). I have it set to a smaller analog clock face display within the solar face because from childhood I’ve found analog clocks harder to read than digital. (If analog clocks were easier for me, I would have the digital display, and if I had the option to turn off the inset clock besides the outer solar display, I would turn it off.)
Taking a cue from Humane Tech, I have dug around in “Accessibility” settings and set the watch face to grayscale. It’s beautiful, and the analog clock face’s second hand, brown on blue when seen in color, blends in remarkably well. I have to strain to see it the one time I genuinely want to watch a second hand’s sweep. I also found, under “Display and Brightness,” how to turn off one of the key reasons I purchased an Apple Watch 5: its “Always on” display. It now takes just a little more work to check my watch, supplemented by wearing an oversized fleece whose sleeves tend to cover my watch face.
I’ve also turned on the hourly chime, also an accessibility feature. This reminds me to check the clock once an hour, and relieves me of having to constantly check. If I need to check email once an hour (my preference is to check it once a day), I don’t need to check either my watch or my email compulsively; my watch will remind me on the hour.
Furthermore, I set alarms for when I need to do something. Besides appointments and things like taking medication, I have followed a practice recommended by sleep advocates and set an alarm for when I should go to bed and not when I should get up.
I would briefly pause and acknowledge one objection to the technique above, which is that doing things according to a preset timer and quite possibly stopping when you have momentum going is not as good as working on tasks for as long as they naturally take. For those no ancient or modern watch is needed. However, while I believe working on something for however long it takes to unfold naturally is often better than working for a fixed length of time set without knowledge of how things will unfold, I believe that use of intelligently set alarms is better than clock-watching. (One further aspect of intelligent use of alarms is to have two alarms for something: one five or ten minutes before, meaning when you look at your watch because of the “early warning” alarm, it’s time to start wrapping up; and one at the exact time, meaning it’s time to stop.)
I have almost completely unplugged logistic need to check my watch unprovoked, and I may have the most unobtrusive, if still most expensive, watch I’ve owned. Every non-Apple watch I’ve owned had a digital display, and most recent ones have been gadgety (I have owned three Pathfinders). However, the gadgetry is almost always there if I summon it, and I can take shortcuts by twiddling with complications.
The Apple Watch is designed and marketed as the next level of integrating digital and everyday life, and in my opinion that is not a wise thing to be wishing for at all.
However, it is also powerful enough that judicious choices mean it can be tamed into unobtrusiveness further than any previous watch I’ve owned.
I’m glad for my Apple Watch. For as long as I’ve owned a timepiece, my Apple Watch is the biggest friend of mindfulness to grace my wrist yet.
A few closing words
I would recall a few words from Seeing Through Native Eyes. The main speaker recounted a visit to Kalihari bushmen, who retain hunter-gatherer life unhindered today, and an elder asked him in reference to a device, “Is that a timepiece?”
He said, “Yes.”
The elder said, “Then I don’t like it.”
He said, “Why not?”
The elder said, “Every time you look at it, the next thing you do is rude.”
If you want mindfulness, cultivate an inexhaustible interest in manners.
(Note: Some of this is old and some of this is new. I’m not seeking to be original.)
Trust technology about as far as you can throw it, and remember that you can’t throw software or the web.
When facing a situation, ask, “What would a Boomer do?”
If your priest is willing, ask for pastoral guidance in slowly but steadily withdrawing from technologies that hurt you. (Don’t try to leap over buildings in one bound. Take one step at a time, and one day at a time.)
Practice the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, generosity, church attendance, the sacraments, silence, etc.
Use older technologies.
Fast from technologies some of the time, especially on fasting days.
Use your phone only for logistics, never for games, entertainment, or killing time. (You cannot kill time without injuring eternity.)
Unplug your intravenous drip of noise, little by little. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it’s worth it.
Choose face-to-face meetings over Zoom meetings if you have a choice, and Zoom over any instant messaging.
Consider screen time, and multitasking, to be a drain on the mindfulness we are seeking from the East because we have rejected it in the West.
Turn off all phone notifications you have a live option to do.
Look at your phone when it rings or buzzes. Do not check your phone unprovoked every five minutes to see if you missed a text.
When you are reading on the web, don’t just scan the page. Read it, like a paper book, slowly.
When you type, type full words, not txtisms.
Don’t trade your adequate, existing, working gadgets for the latest and hottest gadget.
Set a fixed bedtime, and then lights out is lights out.
Keep and charge your phone in some room that is away from your bedroom.
If you use porn, stop. If you find yourself unable to stop, bring it to confession, and seriously consider XXXchurch.com.
Do not store up treasures on earth, but own and use technology only so far as it advances the Kingdom of Heaven.
Live by a Silicon Rule of, “What technologies do Silicon Valley technology executives choose for their children?” Steve Jobs, for instance, gave his kids walls of paper books and animated discussion, and so far as I am aware no iPads.
Shop in real, local stores, even a local Wal-Mart, rather than making Amazon your first port of call.
Hang the fashions. Buy only what you need.
When you want to go shopping like some feel-good sacrament, do not buy it. You may buy it after you’ve let go of coveting after it and probably let go of buying it at all, and not before.
Limit your consumption of TED talks, and recognize them along psychology as something of a secular religion. (But if you need help, get help, without fear or shame.)
Write snailmail letters, preferably with your own handwriting.
Recognize that from the Devil’s perspective, Internet is for porn—and he may have helped inspire, guide, and shape its development.
Expect Amazon and Google Books to delist priceless treasures. (This is already happening.)
Cultivate the virtues.
Cultivate social skills, especially for face-to-face.
If your conscience and applicable law permit, maybe consider owning and learning to use a gun. It’s safer for everyone to have most criminals and some law-abiding citizens be armed than only have criminals be armed.
Seek theosis in the acquisition of the Spirit.
When shopping, use a debit card before a credit card, and use cash before either if you have a choice. Giving away paper bills and wondering what to do with change is a partial deterrent to buying things you do not need.
Never form an identity around the brands you patronize, and do not adopt a personal brand.
If you have the luxury, check email once per day. If your job or obligations do not permit a literal once per day checking of email, check it as often as you must. (If that is once per hour, don’t keep checking your watch, but set an hourly alarm bell to remind you.)
Limit new technological intrusions into your life.
Drop it and pay attention to the person you’re with.
Keep good posture and take steps to avoid the diseases of civilization. Some approaches that have been taken to all be important include using Paleo diet (with fasts, eating vegetables in lieu of grain and saving bread for ceremonial purposes) and exercise, have a balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, get real sleep, have engaging activities, and have social interactions.
Do not be surprised if you live to see the Antichrist rise to power, and recognize that we are already in an apocalyptic singularity.
Learn survival skills.
Recognize that it will be easier to get the people out of the cyber-quarantine than to get the cyber-quarantine, our new home, out of the people.
Keep a reasonable amount of cash available, at home or in a money belt.
I’m a bit unsure of how to introduce this, but I had a rough time at a university. (An appeal document was sent as follows, after I had raised questions about some things being sexually inappropriate.) One friend said a few things, including that she got a sense from what she was reading that these were “not very moral people” I was dealing with.
The specific university was one that has been treated as alarming by Orthodox. This offers perhaps a slightly fuller picture of what being Orthodox at Fordham is like and a life lesson learned in the process. If you are Orthodox and considering attending Fordham, please review this before you make any final decisions.
For what it’s worth…
1. First experience of Fordham’s care
My first experience at Fordham was arriving late at night at the address I had been given as Fordham graduate student housing, and finding a high-rise apartment building with no obvious affiliation to Fordham, with a security guard who did not expect me and did not know of a connection to Fordham, and a room number that was in a notation that the security guard did not recognize as referring to Keith Plaza. I was allowed in, and began exploring, laden with two suitcases and a laptop. I eventually found the RA’s apartment door, but no one answered my knock. The reason? After I had confirmed I was coming, she sent another e-mail asking for another confirmation shortly before I left, and because I didn’t provide a second, additional confirmation that I was still coming, she had gone to Brooklyn. It was approximately three hours before I connected with Residential Life staff; the delay included an hour’s wait after I told Residential Life that I was outside my RA’s apartment and specifically asked if I should go to outside my apartment, but was told to stay where I was. Then Residential Life went to my apartment instead of my RA’s apartment, where I told them I was, and gave up on looking for me. My phone almost ran out of power with the number of calls I made before the Residential Life staff found me and took me to a place on campus so I could get some sleep before GSA orientation. (They took me to campus as they did not have any access to my room keys: the RA in Brooklyn was the only person who could let me in.)
I believe it fortunate that I did not fall victim to crime under these conditions. Someone who was alone, white, with heavy luggage, and in general not fitting in may be very unsafe in the Bronx, and I could have taken a false step, or had my phone run out of battery power before the repeated calls I needed to get the help I needed from Residential Life.
This occurred late summer, 2005.
2. A cold room
When there was a fire in my floor in Keith Plaza, in the summer after a heat wave, I was not able to access my room. Fordham did provide me a room, but and the thermostat was set to below forty degrees; the room felt like a refrigerator, and even when I turned the air conditioning off and found that the heat was not available, Fordham gave me a light blanket not meant to provide warmth and could not find a warmer blanket. The staff knew that my room was cold, and I asked, but they provided me with nothing much better. I spent a very cold night, when my body was used to heat, and in my best judgment after training as an EMT, I was in real danger of hypothermia: being lightly clad, with no more clothing available, under a light blanket, with no heavier blanket available, in a room initially below forty degrees, can be dangerous.
This occurred summer, 2006.
3. Professor A_____.
I found the response when I tried to befriend A____ quite traumatic.
During our interactions, it seemed to me that from the first piece of work I showed him, my Cambridge master’s thesis, he dismissed my work without any recognition of merit. As a gesture of friendship, I e-mailed him asking for his comments on a draft of a homily I was preparing. The homily drew on his teaching (3/14/06).
His 3/16/06 reply, after what seemed a nicer beginning, ended: “…If you send emails like this to other teachers or other figures, they probably find it rather rude.”
During the semester, I e-mailed him requesting accommodation for a disability (4/26/06).
After that point, he pulled me aside after class, and did not give me an answer to that question. He did, however, require me to change topic drastically enough that I had to start over on my paper. This was 4/27/06, one week from the paper due date, and my entire class grade was based on that paper.
After I had completed all the classes and turned in my paper, I thought that the class was over. However, a Sunday soon after (5/14/06), A____ approached me after church, and began to question me about every single other grade I had received and how I was doing in every class for which I had not yet received a grade.
This was before he turned in my grade for his class, and he assigned about as low a grade, I believe, as would not look conspicuous on my transcript.
I e-mailed B_____ after this and asked to have A____ leave me alone (which he has almost done). Before A_____, I had never asked an administrator to help me with any difficulties with a teacher.
This occurred during Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.
3.1. No redress with acting chair B____.
I sent multiple e-mails to acting chair B____, including my full logs. So far as I could tell, no redress was given, and the later surprises from A____ occurred after I had been telling B____ of difficulties.
This occurred during and after Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.
3.2. No redress with Dean C____.
After my communication with B____ failed to resolve things, I tried to inform C____ that there was a real problem.
The one response I received was a note from her secretary telling me to go to my department chair.
This occurred during and after Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.
4. Professor D____
There were several kinds of difficulties I had with D____.
4.1. Finding reason to criticize
During the course of feminist theology, she assigned primary sources. Of these primary sources, many made claims about how history should be approached; none of them drew on or footnoted postmodern philosophy of history so far as I know, and she did not discuss postmodern philosophy of history in the course of the class. However, after the fact, she sharply criticized my final paper for making its claims about how history should be approached without engaging the current scholarly discussion of philosophy of history, in the evaluation given with my grade on the paper. I find this sort of surprise characteristic of an ongoing stream of surprises I had in dealing with her, and that made it difficult for me to identify a way to work that she would honor with a high grade.
This occurred during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, although the trend of surprises I had difficulty reasoning with occurred during Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
4.2. Possible constraints to academic freedom.
She emphasized that I needed to have “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” and I expended a great deal of effort later on trying to give a polite reading that focused on common ground no matter how hostile the source she assigned was to my religious persuasion.
At first, I set out to debunk sources I didn’t like; later on, I was trying not only to respond politely but to focus on the areas of the sources she assigned that I could best appreciate. However, only once during the entire second course did she credit me with “a sympathetic reading of primary sources;” otherwise, I was penalized, even though for almost all of the later assignments where I seemed to be penalized for not having “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” I was trying to find what common ground I could, and be as positive as I could. Her parameters for “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” more specifically sources which diverged from my religious beliefs at a very deep level, left me with no way that I could identify to be faithful to my religious tradition and at the same time give the kind of agreement with much of a source’s substance, that she seemed to mean by “a sympathetic reading of primary sources.”
In discussion of preparation for comprehensive exams, she gave directive instruction for the “method question.” For this question, a student is to be graded not on the content of the position taken in response to the question, but on the quality of reflection on theological method in analysis of how that answer was reached. She specifically directed me to be getting my bearings for thinking about this position from the set texts I was to be able to use in my answer, which seemed to have little in common with my tradition. (This was in response to a draft reflection I had sent her that drew on resources within my religions tradition).
I am not sure how thoroughly my academic freedom was respected. There were definitely points where her clarifications of “a sympathetic reading of primary sources” called for me to incorporate contrary ideas in a way that I do not know how to reconcile with my religious tradition.
This occurred to some degree during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, but mainly Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
4.3. Improving work and getting lower grades.
D____ consistently made criticisms that required more fundamental changes, and more work to meet, than any other professor I had at Fordham. However, while I could improve my work in the area criticized to the point that a criticism was not repeated, what I could not do was improve my work in that area and get a higher grade. My work had improved by the second class I took with her so that many criticisms were not repeated, but my grades for the later, improved pieces were consistently lower than the grade based on my work before the improvements were made.
This occurred both during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, and Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
4.4. Saying “vagina.”
D____ said “vagina” quite a lot. Her use of the word was both more frequent and more forceful than I have heard in other classes (health class and biology included), and from time to time she gave a slow and emphatic list of genitalia. (It was one of her more common ways of answering my suggestion that masculinity and femininity may be seen as spiritual qualities.)
This occurred primarily during Feminist Theology, Spring 06.
4.5. Assigned texts and sexual boundaries.
D____ periodically assigned texts which did not seem to be written with consideration for some male readers’ sexual boundaries: Luce Irigaray, for instance, or Tracy Pinchman asking the reader to be sympathetic to adults playing with children’s genitals.
This occurred during both Feminist Theology, Spring 06, and Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
4.6. Treatment of profound giftedness.
When I was doing a paper on profound giftedness, I was attempting in part to document that the profoundly gifted can have a rough life, and that there are some difficult things people don’t realize about the experience. She told me at first that it was an inappropriate topic, because “giftedness is privilege” (she heavily emphasized, in the reading, groups of people that have difficult lives, and seemed offended by the suggestion that a particular degree of giftedness could have difficulties appropriate for discussion—N.B. some of them were like the difficulties I attempt to document here). She was not open to me saying certain things even if I could document them very well; much of my revision was not to improve the paper in the usual sense but to kowtow in areas where she did not approve of the substance of what I was saying, told me it was inappropriate, etc.
This occurred during Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
5. Grade appeal of Theological Anthropology.
After my second class with D____, I asked her for a review of her grade. She refused. I contacted department chair E____, making an appeal based on my turning in improved work from my previous semester with her on the weekly assignments but receiving lower grades.
This occurred after Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
5.1. Not addressing the concern of improved work receiving lower grades.
E____’s response said that the weekly paper seemed to correlate with the grades. His response in no sense addressed my claim that I had improved my work and gotten lower grades for the improved work.
This occurred after Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.
5.2. A characteristic pattern.
This interaction seemed to be characteristic of a pattern: I have not yet been able to obtain redress for any grievance with any professor within the university. The university has been able to provide assistance when I have had difficulties for which no university faculty member was at fault, but not when I am having difficulties with someone within the university.
6. Referral to counselor F____.
When I visited Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services, I was told I needed counseling, and referred to the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, who assigned me to “one of our best therapists,” F____.
This occurred during Spring 06 and lasted into the summer.
6.1. Treatment of religious attitudes and practices.
F____ initially seemed to be hard to try to understand my religious beliefs, but after a certain point she told me that a religious belief was “centuries behind the times” (I had made it clear that this belief was at the heart of a well-received homily I preached, and considered normal in my community), and seemed to be trying hard to argue me out of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices, which she seemed to be holding to be guilty until proven innocent of being psychiatric symptoms (a concern she raised in so many words).
The longer therapy went on, the more of my religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices seemed to be under attack in her telling me I needed to adopt her vision of “progress.”
This occurred during Spring 06 and lasted into the summer.
6.2. Unwanted, unwelcome, and unsolicited sexual directive guidance.
As part of what seemed to be a major effort to argue me out of various psychopathologies, F____ told me that I should “use pornography and masturbate,” and in the last sessions, made me particularly uncomfortable by saying over and over again at every session after she began, “You need to be naughty.”
This occurred during the summer of 06.
Fordham had been told, and the Fordham counselor told me, that ICP would go as low as $18 for Fordham students. They in fact charged me $55 for each weekly visit, and when I asked for a fee reductions or other ways of reducing a financial burden that was difficult for me, no reduction of fees or frequency of visit was given.
This occurred during the Spring and summer of 06.
7. Referral to psychiatrist G____.
ICP referred me to G____. During the second semester in particular, I was concerned with my low energy levels and getting more energy so my work would not be hindered.
Because my then current medications were known to cause fatigue, I asked if there were alternatives that would cause less fatigue, but I tried to be very, very clear that I was concerned about side effects. I explained my concern and explicitly asked what side effects were anticipated, and when he said a rash was possible, I asked what percent of the patients experienced it.
He had what he thought might be a gentler alternative to two medications that were probably fatiguing me, and he said he wanted to try switching to one and then the other. But then without explaining why, he switched one medication and simply took me off another medication that I need: he told me I didn’t need it.
I went from where I was, to feeling a lot of stress, to experiencing stress to the point of unrelenting nausea and repeated diarrhea, whether or not I was dealing with external stressors worth mentioning. At the end, I was trying to find some food that I could get down, and was barely eating—a couple of hundred calories a day because I couldn’t really eat—and barely sleeping.
When I suspected that the medication change could be having adverse effects, I switched back to the prior medication regimen, and noticed a marked decrease of stress within days, and was able to eat and sleep at more usual levels.
The period over which this happened was the late part of my second semester at Fordham and the beginning of the summer. I was trying hard to get off academic probation, but I completed all three of my papers under stress to the point of nausea. One professor, unaware of my medical issue, gave feedback on my final paper and said that one part, treating Cyril Lucaris (he picked out the part written before the medication change) was “full and coherent,” while the treatment of other figures (dealt with in the part of my paper written under stress to the point of nausea) struck him “as impressionistic and poorly organized.” I received independent feedback from another person, before I switched back my medication, confirming that I “indeed seemed less coherent lately in your e-mails.”
This occurred during the Spring and summer of 06.
8. Professor H____.
H____, my professor for one class, mentioned that Wittgenstein put an ‘M’ in his journal every day he masturbated. I’ve lost count of how many times he mentioned this, as it became a running gag. He also used the word “tit,” always with verbal force; he introduced another philosopher as owing a considerable debt to Martin Heidegger by saying the new figure “sucked at Heidegger’s tits,” and references to an infant’s life included asking us to imagine an infant having an inner dialogue of “This must be… a tit! and this must be… Mom!” He also talked about a couple that “liked to lick each other;” lewd references to licking became another running gag, and late in the course he said that he was attracted to all kinds of people, but not to children and not to animals, although, he said, there was one dog that “liked to lick me.”
One specific running gag particularly bothered me. Fr. Klein complemented one of the male students in the class on his shirt, then a few minutes later quizzically said, “I’m sorry; I’m not supposed to do that. It’s considered sexual harassment,” before saying that he had a priest’s habit of absentmindedly complimenting women on their glasses. He never complimented a female on her clothing that I remember, but he delivered compliments to men on their shirts like the other running gags, and I got more compliments on my clothing than others, as well as the most involved such compliment: “I like the green in your ring; it really color-coordinates with your shirt.”
I say, with reservations, that the class was an introduction to queer culture. The other LBGTQ people I know have sometimes asked me to understand them but have never made me uncomfortable; he seemed willing to repeatedly introduce queer concerns in a way that could make some uncomfortable; hence a story of an old Cardinal talking about the adoration of Christ in the Eucharist, and rhetorically asking what Christ is saying in the Eucharist, and answering that Christ was saying (here Fr. Klein’s voice slowed and became even raspier, sounding almost like a gasp), “Eaaaat mmeeee!” For those who missed the painfully obvious point of the raspy “Eat me,” he drove home that in gay culture, “Eat me!” is an extremely erotic thing to say.
The readings included a discussion of how close to erotic, or perhaps erotically tinged, St. Anselm of Canterbury’s friendship was with his monk friends, and an essay mentioning “the solar anus” and criticizing other scholarship for treating the erotic but still not being sexy enough.
As with feminist theology, I believe my grade might have been higher if I were not sexually uncomfortable.
This occurred during Philosophy and Contemporary Theology, Spring 07.
9. Disability concerns.
I have more than one disability which affects my energy level and the number of waking hours I have available for work. This made things particularly difficult for the first semester, when my doctor needed to make sure I could tolerate a lower dose of my medication before going to a therapeutic dose.
9.1. No disability referral from B____.
After my first semester, I told B____ that I had several significant difficulties: when I wrote her and said there was “a monkey on my back,” she said, “You had a tiger on your back!”
She tried to support me, but she never did one thing a department chair might have done, refer me the Office of Disability Services when I asked her about talking with my professors about my difficulties. She also said she would speak with my professors second semester and ask for an extension, but when I later asked her, she could not recall if she had asked more than one professor to give me an extension.
This occurred during and after Spring 06.
9.2. A blunt refusal of accommodation.
Second semester of my first year, I told all three of my professors that I was dealing with difficulties, and did not immediately make any requests for accommodation.
At the end of the semester, I asked for extensions, and was surprised at how bluntly one of the professors declined to provide any accommodation.
This occurred during Spring 06.
9.3. No adjustment to major portion of workload.
The Office of Disability Services, when I registered, offered limited accommodations: I could turn in semester assignments late, but they found no appropriate adjustment for weekly assignments, and when they asked for me about a reduced courseload, Associate Dean I____ said that was not possible.
I was left, given a disability combination that has me needing to sleep around 40 more hours per week and therefore having one workweek less time per week to do my work, with no accommodation to the brunt of a full load of weekly assignments.
This occurred Fall 06.
10. Medical expenses.
My conditions make for ongoing medical expenses, and with Fordham’s graduate student plan, Administrative Concepts Incorporated, I’ve had more trouble getting payment than any other plan in my life. Before Fordham, I had never maxed out prescription drug benefits on any plan; at Fordham, I maxed out those benefits in months. I did what I could to take care of expenses, but the medical expenses kept me strapped enough for cash that I had to choose between paying for medical needs and buying books.
This was an issue for the entirety of my time at Fordham.
11. Fatigue after a dubiously treated ear infection.
I came into the health center shortly after Martin Luther King day during my last semester, having what I suspected was an ear infection. The nurse said she would treat it with both oral and topical antibiotics, but ended up only giving me an oral antibiotic.
That ear infection became a major problem: it lasted for over a month, and took four visits to a specialist otolaryngolist and something like three or four courses of antibiotics to treat; the otolaryngolist used topical antibiotics as being “6000 times stronger” than oral antibiotics like I had been given.
That infection had me more fatigued than I had been in a long time, and I still have doubts about how well I had recovered by my end of semester duties after spending much of the remaining semester trying to catch up.
12. My experience.
I entered Fordham as a survivor of religious harassment, sexual harassment from men, and sexual abuse from a woman that caused pain I don’t know how to put into words. This has not been at all easy for me to write.
My experience has been traumatic. It has been traumatic in more ways than one. The long times I tried to reach out to A____—I wanted so much to befriend him—and the retaliation I met for my gestures of friendship, were infuriating. So were several other things where I felt like I was getting pushed down again and again. I’m really not sure how to describe how traumatized I was, or either the fears or the continued frustrations. I can certainly say that if I had the choice of repeating my experiences at Fordham over the past two years and repeating my chemotherapy and radiotherapy when I had cancer, I would repeat my cancer treatment, hands down.
I have been under duress every semester I’ve been at Fordham. Despite several things which I believe have impaired my study, I’ve still managed a rising cumulative GPA, reaching 3.4 by last semester, and with my last semester non-cumulative GPA reaching 3.5.
I am profoundly gifted. To those not familiar with the psychology, it means, for instance, that I ranked 7th nationally in a math contest, or that I’ve read the Bible in a total of seven ancient / medieval / modern languages, or that I am deeper an author than C.S. Lewis, or, as one psychologist debriefed me, “The average Harvard PhD has never met someone as talented as you,” or that I am “smarter than most geniuses” or whatever. There are people who would give me heavy odds of being the most talented student in school history for Fordham, kind of like The Immortal Bard. That I was allowed to wash out, even after appeal, is simply ridiculous.
However, I only mention this in passing, because I want to get on to something more important.
What is truly sad
I would ask you to stop and “listen” very, very closely to this point:
As far as I am concerned, there is one, and only one, thing that is sad about this story.
I insist that in my side of the story there is one, and only one, thing that is sad.
It’s not that I am not normally called “Dr. Hayward.” I’m called “Christos,” eh? That’s kind of bigger, even if it is only a name.
It is not either, more seriously, that in my opinion Fordham’s negligence could have killed me. Possibly I am right, but I survived. And if Fordham really had killed me, God would have had every ability to allow me to pass away, in C.S. Lewis’s phrase, “between Aslan’s paws.” As it is, I have been given something Orthodox positively crave: more time to repent.
If it is not a matter of my life, neither is it my career. While technically one can teach on an advanced degree, including a master’s, I’ve never succeeded landing such a job, and informally speaking a PhD is a “union card” and American universities as a whole expect a PhD. I’ve been told that if I want to teach at an Orthodox seminary, a good step is to get a degree from an Orthodox seminary, and I am studying at my Archdiocese’s pastoral school, where the faculty love the students tremendously and I have the upsides of academic study without the downsides. It might have been God protecting me from a career fighting academic bullies just a wee bit intimidated at my intelligence. (Did I mention that the seminary leadership has extended a lot of grace to me, including full tuition?)
Meanwhile, whether I have appreciated it or not, God has been moving forward with me. I am an author, and while Amazon is paying me less than 10% of what they used to, the single most lasting work I have hoped to leave behind is a collection of edifying books, and my expenses are met for now (I’m retired on disability). As far as writing goes, I have had a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time, and built a website to showcase and share my works that started before I ever heard of Netscape.I also have a bookshelf on Amazon, and I don’t believe Amazon is being cheaper with me than with anyone else. I also have (mostly) what I have called “fame lite.” I Am Spock talks about the real and profound cost of playing a celebrity character on TV. I’ve had a hieromonk tell me that other people have told him he should read me. So my writing enjoys some success, and I’ve invented things by computer: Grandfather Clock with Westminster Chime and a Soothing Tick-Tock—Steampunk Style which will sound like a grandfather clock if you keep it open in a browser window on a laptop or desktop.
Then what do I consider sad for me in all this: only one thing. I attended Fordham through spring 2007.It took me through Wednesday, November 24 2020 for me to forgive.
I have written earlier, decades earlier, about an idea for a film. It would start in standard action-adventure movie format, have the hero try to sneak in quietly and rescue a good guy, Plan A fails and all Hell breaks loose, and one of the villain’s henchmen comes out after the good guys get into a helicopter, and the hero makes one parting shot into the villain’s knee with a hollow-nosed .45.
Then the pace shifts to that of a European art film and follows the henchman for the remaining forty years of his life, as he remains crippled, and far worse than this, is crippled by a grudge that never lets go of desiring vengeance.
I wrote it, but I never imagined I would be writing of myself.
As far as what is really my due in a career as a scholar, I would like to pat myself on the back in quoting Stranger in a Strange Land:
“Ben does not speak for me. I am not interested in this lad’s so-called rights. His claim to Mars is lawyer’s hogwash: as a lawyer myself I need not respect it. As for the wealth that is supposed to be his, the situation results from other people’s passions and our odd tribal customs; he has earned none of it. He would be lucky if they bilked him out of it—but I would not scan a newspaper to find out. If Ben expected me to fight for Smith’s ‘rights’ you have come to the wrong house.”
And indeed, a judge might offer me a tissue but would unlikely conclude that Fordham has done me legal wrong. Which it hasn’t. My present regret is not that I am not long a professor; it is that I am not long a monk, or perhaps my own impatient chafing of the proto-monastic obedience of “Stay at home for a while.”
Why am I telling all this if I have forgiven?
Fordham has made a big deal about its embrace to Orthodox. It’s not as big a deal as it makes about its cura personalis that cares for every aspect of the person, but it’s still a big deal, and Fordham seems to find it natural to expect that Orthodox will agree with “The Church must breathe with both lungs” along the same lines as Roman ecumenism. I do not remember ever meeting acknowledgment that some Orthodox consider ecumenism the ecclesiological heresy of our day, or wrong on a lesser scale. At Fordham, ecumenism reigns.
Also, at Fordham, the gender rainbow (or whatever it is called this month) reigns, and a Fordham that sees Orthodox as simply being Catholics (and on a liberal understanding o “Catholic”), is not in particular a Fordham well-poised to understand why it is problematic to Orthodoxy to strongarm an Orthodox seminary into accepting a hieromonk who married another man. (It’s perhaps more important that the seminary in question needs to stop sucking Fordham’s dick, but that is another conversation.) It is true that the “Orthodox” Students Studies Center received something like a million dollar grant to study Orthodoxy and “sexuality,” but Fordham does not grasp or does not accept some very basic rules about what is allowed to Orthodox.
I write to offer a third, if perhaps lesser, piece of the puzzle. Fordham makes no end of a big deal about its cura personalis. They also try, in their best Roman ecumenism, to roll out the red carpet to Orthodox whose schismatic status is gently overlooked. And, in my opinion, Fordham has a heart of ice. I do not say that my experience will be every Orthodox student’s experience, but I do say, “Know what you’re getting into” at least, and possibly “Get your bishop’s blessing.”
C.J.S. Hayward, perhaps more honored by a Fordham washout than a Fordham PhD
Epilogue on Roman Ecumenism
Rome continues to make a big deal out of restoring full communion with the Orthodox Church.
It took me longer to forgive the many Roman authorities I wrote who did not even respond to my cry for help, with the exception of one priest and journalist who said it is futile for an outsider to interfere, and whose journal has not yet reviewed any of the books I submitted.
To my parents John and Linda— I owe you more than words can say.
The state of psychology
Martin Seligman, a giant in the psychological community, kicked off a major TED talk by talking about how a TV station wanted a sound bite from him, and it should be one word. He said, “Good.” Then they decided that as the president of the American Psychological Association he was a figure of such stature that they would let him have two words, and he said, “Not good.” Finally, they decided he was of such stature that he would be allowed three words, and his three words were, “Not good enough.”
What he was getting at was essentially as follows: clinical psychology had a goal which was remarkably well accomplished: the complete classification of behavioral health conditions, along with effective psychiatric treatment and psychotherapy. He didn’t really underscore the magnitude and implications of this goal; apart from the fact that public figures know they at least need to act humble publicly, sometimes greatness brings real humility and he was trying to lead people to see there was more to ask for than just getting someone to feel OK, and he did not suggest that clinical psychology is the kind of tool that lets people of all kinds to thrive in every way. He called for a positive psychology to help people thrive, have fulfilling and delightful living, and enable high talent not to go to waste. And the point that I know him for is his calling for positive psychology.
What is systematic theology? What is mystical theology? What is positive theology?
One distinction between Eastern Orthodoxy and Rome is that in Rome, all theology is systematic theology, and in Orthodoxy, all theology is mystical theology. This much is true to point out, however it invites confusion.
Thomas Aquinas, were he alive today, couldn’t cut it for “publish or perish” academia. He is revered as one of the greatest giants in history, but he would not obviously be welcome as an academic today. While there are many ideas in his Summa Theologiae, few or any have the faintest claim to originality. Some people, including me, don’t think that a single original idea is to be found. Others think that there are a few, very few: I have not read anyone attribute even a dozen original ideas in his quite enormous work. But what he did provide was a system: an organized set of cubbyholes with a place for everything and everything in its place. And the claim that all Roman theology is systematic theology means that everything fits somewhere in the system, whether Thomas Aquinas’s or something else.
The claim that all theology in Orthodoxy is mystical theology is a different sort of claim. It says that all true theology meets a particular criterion, like saying that all true fire brings heat. It is not a claim that everything fits under some kind of classification scheme. Systematic theology as such is not allowed, and trying to endow the Orthodox Church with its first systematic theology is a way to ask the Church heirarchy for a heresy trial. “Mystical” in mystical theology means theology that is practiced, experienced, and lived. The claim to “study” a martial art can involve reading, especially at the higher levels, but if you are going to study karate, you go to a dojo and start engaging in its practices. In that sense, while books may have some place in martial arts mastery, but “studying” ninjutsu is not something you do by burying your nose in books. It is a live practice.
All theology is positive theology, and my assertion is like saying that all theology is mystical theology, and not that all theology is part of systematic theology.
As to the relationship between positive psychology and positive theology, I honestly hope for an interesting conversation with some of the positive psychology community. I do not assert that positive theology contains positive psychology as we know it, or that positive psychology contains positive theology. I do, however, wish to suggest that something interesting and real is reflected in the claim that all theology is positive theology.
A wonderful old world
I wish to make one point of departure clear in the interest of framing what I am attempting.
There is a certain sense that this work could be seen as novel; for all I know it may be the first work discussing all Orthodox theology as being positive theology, but I follow Chesterton’s footsteps here (or rather fall short of them). I am not seeking to invent a positive theology. I am in fact attempting no novelty of any sort other than a new articulation of timeless truths that are relevant to the conversation. And I am seeking to offer something better than something wonderful I invented. I want to talk about wondrous things that I believe God invented, as old as the hills.
A deliberately jarring example
What is positive in the psychology of the Orthodox Church? To get off to a good start, I would like to say “repentance from sins.” And one of my articles unfolds in Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret.
The Philokalia says that men hold on to sin because they think it adorns them. Repentance is terrifying. It is an unconditional surrender. But once you have made that surrender, you receive a reward. You realize that you needed that sin like you need a hole in the head—and you are free of a trap. It is something like a spiritual chiropractic massage, that you walk away from in joy with a straighter spine. And in my own experience, I’m not sure I am ever as joyful as when I am repenting. And the effect is cumulative; repentance represents a rising spiritual standard of living. Repentance is like obediently showing up for your funeral, and then you get there and you have shown up for your resurrection.
Monasticism, which I discuss in A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop, represents a position of supreme privilege within the Orthodox Church. Now I love my Archbishop dearly and wouldn’t want to take him down one whit, but part of the point of the piece is that if you are given a choice between being the greatest bishop in the world and being an ordinary monk, “ordinary monk” is hands down the better choice to choose. The overriding concern in that environment is the spiritual, human profit of its members. Poverty, obedience, and chastity are all conditions to one of two routes to salvation, and however wonderful marriage may be, monasticism is even better. And as well as other terms, monasticism is spoken of as “repentance.” To live in a monastery is to work at a place that is minting spiritual money and giving all members as copious pay as possible.
The Utopia that is nowhere absent
Robert Goudzward, in Aid for the Overdeveloped West, talked about Old Testament law as representing a paradise, and part of the picture is that it represented a paradise in which it was hard to get rich. A sage in the Bible asks, “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” and there is a sense that having more and more money is not good for us as humans.
This world was created to be a paradise. The Old Covenant represented a paradise. The New Covenant represents a paradise. Marriage represents a paradise. Monasticism represents a paradise.
We were made for human flourishing, and part of what the Church attempts is to provide for each person to flourish as that person should flourish. Abbots (and everyone else) are not to colonize and clone; the authority is profound, but it is a profound authority in restoring a damaged icon—and helping the icon look like itself, not like something it isn’t. If you read the saints’ lives over time, all the saints represent Christ, but there is incredible diversity among how the saints represent Christ.
What does God ask from us?
If we look at the question of what God commands and what he requests, there is fundamental confusion in thinking God is asking us to fill his needs. God in Heaven is perfect, and has no conceivable needs except in the person of our neighbor. God makes demands of us, not to fill his needs like an incompetent therapist, but to give us what is best. St. Maximus the Confessor divides three classes of obedience: slaves, who obey out of fear, mercenaries, who obey to obtain benefits, and sons, who obey out of love. Now all obedience is in at least some sense obedience and sometimes obedience out of fear is just what the doctor ordered, but if you obey as a slave you can be saved, if you obey as a mercenary you do better, and if you obey as a son even better than that. However, none of this is a setup to fill God’s needs. The point is not that it is best for God if we obey out of love; the point is that it is best for us if we obey out of love.
A better kind of affirmation
This may come across very strangely to a psychologist who endorses affirmations, but the two main affirmations in Orthodoxy are “Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am first,” and “All the world will be saved, and I will be damned.”
Part of this stems from beliefs that I will explain but I do not ask you to subscribe to. Religion has enough of a reputation for focusing on the afterlife that it is provocative for a social gospel poster to say, “We believe in life before death.” This life is of cardinal and incomparable significance; it is a life in which inch by inch we decide whether we will embrace Heaven or Hell when our live ends and no further repentance is available. But it has also been said that birth and death are an inch apart whilst the ticker tape goes on forever, and reform is only possible before we die. What the “affirmations” (of a sort) that I have mentioned do is prepare people like plaintiffs to press forth for maximum awards in their favor. The statements are for our good, and they help before death. Furthermore, it is believed that God doesn’t do everything in our good works for us, but he allows a genuine cooperation of combined powers where we do part of it. We are told, though, that we are not to take credit for one single achievement in our life, but give all the merit to God… but come Judgment Day, all good deeds we have done our part to are reckoned as if we did them entirely ourselves and without any help from God. I do not ask you to believe this or think it makes sense, but I suggests it is a part of a picture where an overriding concern is God blessing us as much as we will accept.
Dr. Seligman’s lecture linked at the beginning of this article talked about how French vanilla ice cream tastes exquisite for the first bite, but by the time you get to the fifth or sixth bite, the flavor is gone. In the first candidate for the good life, people habituate quickly.
I have slightly opposite news about Orthodox affirmations: when you make them central to your life, the sting crumbles. Furthermore, if you see yourself as the worst sinner in a parish, or a monastery, or all prehistory and prehistory, that’s the time that real growth and even real joy appear. Orthodoxy’s affirmations unlock the door to repentance, and there is no end of treasure to be mined from that vein.
Stoicism and virtue
I’ve seen TED talks about how stoicism is being taken as some sort of ultimate power tool, and secret weapon, within the professional NFL community.
Part of my thought was, “Duh!” and with it a thought that it is a mischaracterization of philosophy to assume it’s just something for odd and eccentric people, including yours truly, who have their noses in books. Stoicism is legitimately a power tool, but it is one of many power tools that have garnished quite a following and have been as powerful to their practitioners might have been.
I have said elsewhere, “Orthodoxy is pagan. Neo-paganism isn’t,” and The Philokalia preserves the very best of pagan philosophy with its profound endowment of virtues. N.B. the same word in Greek means “virtue” and “excellence,” and if you want to help people thrive and develop giftedness, the four-horsed chariot of courage, justice, wisdom, and moderation has really quite a lot to go for it, and all the more if these are perfected by the virtues of faith, hope, and love. All of these are called “cardinal” or “hinge” virtues, meaning that not only are they good, but they are positive “gateway drugs” to other and perhaps even greater virtue.
And I would like to say one thing that the authors of The Philokalia simply can’t much of ever stop talking about. This does not seem an view of yourself that you would want to have, but I’ve had some pretty arrogant and abrasive people try pretty hard to teach me about humility. But I will say this: humility is the Philosopher’s Stone and maybe the Elixir of Life. It opens your eyes to beauty pride may not see, and I need humility in my daily living more than I need air. I’m not going to try to further argue for an unattractive virtue, but I will say that it looks tiny and constricted from the outside, and vast and spacious from the inside. And for another Chesterton name drop: “It takes humility to enjoy anything—even pride.”
If we are going to look at world traditions, the Greek term for virtue, arete also meant excellence, and arete (I both mean ‘virtue’ and ‘excellence’) represents a tradition well worth heeding. Bits and pieces have been picked up on TED talks; Stoicism is a power tool among the professional American football community, and another TED talk talks about how “grit” (also known as fortitude or courage) makes a big difference in success. But the tradition of virtue itself, and virtue philosophy, is worth attention.
I haven’t read the title, but I have read Fr. Richard John Neuhaus talk about his title The Naked Public Square, in which he argues essentially that a religiously neutral public square is an impossibility, and the attempt to produce a naked public square will, perhaps, result in a statist religion.
If serious inner work without the resources of religious tradition is a possibility, I haven’t seen it. Present psychotherapy has changed much faster than core humans have changed, and uses yoga practices from Hinduism, mindfulness of a sort (whether a traditional Buddhist would recognize Western exhiliration at mindfulness as Right Mindfulness I do not know), and a couple of other usual suspects like guided imagery (alleged to be known from Graeco-Roman times and known to some traditional medicines, although the pedigree seems to be copied and pasted across websites).
In my Asian philosophy class, I was able to sympathize with some element of almost everything that was presented. In terms of Hindu claims that inside each of us is a drop of God, I could sympathize, believing we are made in the image of God. But the one point I recoiled from is Buddhism’s anatta, or an-atman: the claim that we, and everything that “exists”, are an empty illusion. Or as Chesterton put it: “Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt.”
Right Mindfulness, in its context in the Buddhist Eightfold Noble Path, is a cardinal virtue, and I count that as a positive. However, I do not see the need for the West to turn to India as a maternal breast. It is a microaggression that treats Orthodox Christianity as bankrupt of resources. I also don’t like being advised to practice yoga. I am already participating in a yoga, or a spiritual path: that of Orthodox Christianity, and it is a complete tradition.
My point, however, is not to attack the medicinal use of Indian tradition (whether or not Indians would recognize their land’s spiritualities), but to say that value-free counseling is something I have never seen, and while it may be politically correct to foist Indian spirituality but not Orthodox Christian, I wish to offer a word on my drawing on my religious tradition. Whether you accept it is not up to me, but Orthodoxy is a therapeutic tradition. And the claim has been explicitly made, in a book called Orthodox Psychotherapy, that if Orthodox spiritual direction were to appear new on the scene today, it might well not be classified as “religion,” but as “therapeutic science.”
I have not been directly involved with that therapeutic science. I’ve tried to reach monasticism, and am still trying, and therapeutic science is included in monasticism. So I cannot directly speak from experience about its fruit. But other things—virtue, repentance from sin and the like, I can directly attest to as positive theology.
A few more words about humility
Humility seems at the start something you’d rather have other people have than have it yourself. It looks small on the outside, but inside it is vaster than the Heavens, and it is one of two virtues that the virtue-sensitized Fathers of the Philokalia simply cannot ever stop talking about.
Perhaps what I can say is this. I don’t know positive psychology well, but one of the first lessons, and one of the biggest, is to learn and express gratitude. And what I would say as someone who believes in gratitude is this: what gratitude is to positive health, humility is more.
Let me ask a question: which would you rather spend time with: someone horrible and despicable, or someone wonderful and great? The latter, of course. How it relates to humility is this: if you are in pride, you see and experience others as horrible and despicable, while if you are in humility, you see others as wonderful and great. Church Fathers talk about seeing other men as “God after God.” That is a recipe for a life of delight.
Eyes to see
There is more to be said; I am quite fond of St. John Chrysostom’s A Treatise to Prove that Nothing Can Injure the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself. In connection with this, there are constant liturgical references to “the feeble audacity of the demons.” The devils are real, but they are on a leash, and we are called to trample them. It has been said that everything which happens has been allowed either as a blessing from God, or as a temptation. (In Orthodoxy, “temptation” means both a provocation enticing to sin, and a situation that is a trial). As has been said, the faithful cannot be saved without temptations, and the temptations that pass are provided by God so we can earn a crown and trampling them. St. John here frames things in a very helpful way.
Here I am starting to blend into something other than positive theology, and making assertions about positive theology and how they have similar effects to positive psychology. But really, all is ordained for us by a good God, a point for which I would refer you to God the Spiritual Father. There is profound providence, and profound possibility for profit, if only we have eyes to see it and be grateful for a God who has ordained Heaven and Earth for the maximum possible benefit for each of us. Does this strain credibility? Yes, but I believe it, and I believe it makes a world of difference.
Thomas Dixon on secularism and psychology
The article form of my advisor’s thesis offered a case study for an understanding of se cularity, and his case study was in psychology. He talked about how an older religious concept of passions was replaced by what was at first a paper-thin concept of emotions which you were just something you felt at the moment, then how the concept of emotions filled out and became emotions that could be about something, and then they filled out further and you could have an emotional dimension to a habit. The secular concept remains alienated from its religious roots, but the common Alcoholics Anonymous concept of being an alcoholic has almost completely filled out what was in the older concept of a passion.
I’m not completely sure secularism is possible; it returns to Hinduism, at least for yoga, and Buddhism, at least for Right Mindfulness, as maternal breasts, and Hinduisim has something there as Buddhism does not. Chesterton comes again to mind: “The problem with someone who doesn’t believe in God is not that he believes nothing; it’s that he believes anything!” I believe the Orthodox Church’s bosom offers a deeper nourishment. I’m not sure I have much to back this claim other than by the extent by which this article does (or does not) make sense, or whether it is more desirable to pursue one virtue (giving that virtues are stinkin’ awesome things to have), or pursue a panoply of virtues. But I would hope that the reader would by now be able to make sense of my assertion that all Orthodox theology is positive psychology, even if the claim is more superficial than the assertion that all Orthodox theology is mystical theology.
For further reading without a moment’s thought to positive psychology as such, see The Consolation of Theology, a work of Orthodox theology, and one steeped in virtue philosophy.
Environmentalist, n. One devoted to a particular political agenda, regardless of its impact on the environment.
A recent project at Argonne National Laboratory was working on a new generation of nuclear reactor which would be in many ways a dream come true. Its design would be such that meltdown would be physically impossible. It could run on nuclear waste from other plants, not only generating power but reducing them to material which would become harmless in a matter of roughly a century, rather than millions of years. It could run on nuclear warheads, thus not only providing a safe and permanent manner to dispose of some of the most appalling and destructive devices ever created, but so doing in a manner which would provide useful energy to hospitals and families; a beautiful picture of what it means to beat swords into ploughshares.
However, it is still nuclear, and, in the eyes of environmentalism, all nuclear power is evil and must be stopped at any cost. This project was, most definitely, stopped at any cost. It was terminated at great monetary cost; it was nearing completion, and, now that it was ready to be tested on different materials, those materials must be disposed of, at a cost of ninety-four million dollars more than it would have cost to complete. It was terminated at great environmental cost; those materials are dangerous nuclear wastes, and, though they were going to be made harmless, they must now be disposed of in established manners; that is to say, function as the nuclear waste that environmentalists so adamantly oppose. However, they stopped something bearing the dirty ‘n’ word, so environmentalists are now happy.
It is at least fortunate that environmentalists do not yet have the means to extinguish the sun.
Historically, there have been many transitions of technology. Before he came along, people were happy with the solutions they had for indoor lighting, and those solutions exist: when I grew up we had an oil lantern and various candles, which were trotted out for power outages and candlelight dinners, and I use candles in my prayers today. However, you could brightly illuminate indoor spaces with Edison’s light bulbs, and precious few people reach for candles and lanterns when they want illumination. The Amish might, for all I know, because of carefully thought out convictions. However, when the question of illuminating a building or a room comes up, people naturally reach for electric lighting, just like horses exist (and I would love to have a horse), but when the question comes of getting from one point to another, they reach for an automobile of some description, whether gas, hybrid, or electric. I’d personally love to have both a horse and a recumbent trike, and there are bicycle-friendly cities where people have made another carefully-thought-out decision, but for practical purposes I may have a say in which type of car I drive; I don’t have a say in which of these are live options for my living situation. The invisible hand of the free market has removed candles oil-burning lighting and horse riding from mainstream use.
Having Big Brother legislate a technology transition from incandescent bulbs to good LED lighting would have been bizarre enough, but the move that was actually made, at first, was at any cost to the health of the environment. I have gently twisted a CFL to unscrew it and broken it; my understanding is that there are techhical implications which make it not a live option to make a durable plastic shell for the mercury payload, but people can and do mass produce thin tempered glass sheets that will substantially protect cell phones from some pretty impressive blows. Making CFL’s that require more than being treated as if they are made of glass (something adults have learned in dealing with incandescent bulbs) is asking for environmental degradation that dwarfs the higher power consumption of an incandescent heat bulb.
Now the first white LED’s I know of were what is called “lunar white”, which looked white but (speaking as someone who used a lunar white LED flashlight to pick out clothes from a close closet) everything was a shade of grey and it was a wild guess whether a shirt and a pair of pants had matching color. Something of this has been explicitly acknowledged in LED lighting advertising that they show colors truly, and the problem has been overcome. And it is part of the normal flow for people to note that good LED bulbs don’t need to be treated like they are made of glass (or at least I have never broken one), cost pennies on the dollar for your electric bill, apparently last for ages (or at least I’ve never replaced an LED that died), don’t make a well-lit summer room even hotter, can be truthfully advertised as much more attractive for environmental concerns, and so on and so forth, and the forces of the free market would make incandescent heat bulbs go the way of the oil lantern and the horse without the faintest government intervention.
But what is odd, and really historically out of place, was that Big Brother decided he needed to power the change. It would have been a strange thing for the dead hand of government intervention to specify a move from incandescent bulbs to mature LED technology, but the exact inept move enforced was from incandescent bulbs, which contain no toxins to speak of, to a mercury delivery system that seems not to be intended for members of the general public to be able to handle without breakage. And again, I’ve broken a CFL by a gentle if firm twist that would have been entirely appropriate for a made-of-glass incandescent bulb.
What’s true for the goose is true for the gander
We have not directly have laws in force that require us to use any technology, and people off the grid are welcome to stay off the grid. However, the quarantine has created social conditions so that now some technologies are socially mandated. No one is holding a gun to our heads and demanding we use Zoom—but the government is holding a gun to our heads and forbidding us most normal social interactions.
What can we do?
There are several things to do, and I would point out the top 10:
Please note that I am not jockeying for book sales, and if you don’t want to buy a copy on Amazon, email me and I will send you a free copy. Most of it was worked out before the present cyberquarantine, but the issues have long roots, and a book on how to be responsible with beer and wine has everything to do if water and juice are restricted but 151 proof rum is now placed before us and available for free.
Do what you can within the rules to live as human.
It has been said in reference to fair trade that international laws are not biased against poor countries, but for the rich. Fair trade serves as a witness that it is possible to support dignified and human life if a conscious effort to that is done.
The rules are not specifically prohibitions on all human contact; they just load the dice so a Toastmasters Zoom meeting is much more in reach than a face-to-face meeting, and it must be admitted that doing some things virtually has its convenience. However, it is still possible to have human meetings. It is still possible, if socially awkward, to have a conversation with a friend across six feet’s distance. It is possible to eat at picnic tables six feet apart. Things like this are not impossible; they just take an extra bit of reaching when virtual interaction is in much easier reach.
Limit your use of counterfeit social interactions, or at least try to consume them in balance.
I have written in The Luddite’s Guide to Technology about the goal of a tofu virtual chicken in every pot. I mentioned research that cultures that have absorbed tofu use and are not harmed by it consume only fermented soy, in limited quantities, and never as a substitute for meat.
Social media (meaning anti-social media) are fake tofu. FecesBook keeps you plugged in and glued on, but it causes depression. The people who enjoy it most dip in and out quickly; prolonged use is asking for real depression.
If you are feeling lonely, seek out a face-to-face conversation with a friend. Maybe a conversation at six feet distance while wearing a mask, but don’t just reach for FecesBook when you feel lonely and want to feel better.
Make counter-cultural technology decisions.
I agreed with Jean-Claude Larchet’s The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul before I read it, but reading Larchet raised the bar higher. I didn’t watch TV or movies if there was a polite way to avoid it, and I still don’t. What’s different is that instead of checking my email every hour (and watching my clock), I now check my email once in the morning and other times as needed on a case-by-case basis. I also don’t compulsively check my phone. My life is only the richer for this, and I have unplugged a drain on the human soul.
I put on a gaiter mask just around my neck in the morning, pull it up to cover my mouth and nose when a mask is called for, and can breathe without feeling hot. It’s a bit of a mask lite, but all the orthochristian.com articles about COVID being a big deal were by older men. I entertain some skepticism for a situation where e.g. a motorcycle fatality is classified as a COVID death because doctors know what side their bread is buttered on.
A gaiter mask removes a strong disincentive to social interactions of the normal face-to-face type.
Consider getting a pet.
Some people are not animal people, and I am not personally in a position to responsibly own a pet. However, a friendly, good-natured cat or dog makes wonderful companionship without a quarantine, and possibly makes essential companionship with a quarantine. And if you like animals but can’t own one now, do spend some time with the pets of any friend you visit.
We vote our fears. And a very good thing that we do, according to the formidable Dennis Prager. In his newsletter, he lists the major interest groups of the two major parties and then suggests that we ask ourselves: “If all the listed Republican groups had their way, what would happen to America? If all the listed Democratic groups had their way, what would happen to America?” Mr. Prager asked himself and concluded that, while he supports almost none of the organizations on the Republican list, he fears them less than the groups on the Democratic list, and so he “nearly always” votes Republican. Here are his lists. Republican: National Rifle Association, Christian Coalition and Religious Right, Big Business, Black Conservatives (e.g., Clarence Thomas), Pro-Life Organizations, Conservative Justices, Tobacco Companies. Democrats: American Civil Liberties Union, Hollywood, Teachers’ Unions, Black Leaders (e.g., Jesse Jackson), Feminist Organizations, Liberal Justices, Trial Lawyers, Alcohol Companies.
The comment is dated by more than twenty years; the lack of mention of the gender rainbow alone says that the ink is far from being wet. But I would mention something to those who do vote your fears:
The quarantine will be bad under Trump and worse under Biden. That it will go badly under Trump hardly needs saying, but under Biden we are talking drones to enforce the wearing of masks, and who knows what else after federal drones have their “killer app” role of enforcing mask use. Please, have the courage to vote your fears.
In Robert Heinlein’s sex-crazed, anti-Christian Stranger in a Strange Land, the grandfather-figure asks the heroine if she knows the Bible, and when she says “not much,” he says, “It merits study, it provides helpful advice for most emergencies.” And really, it does. “Do not worry about tomorrow; each day has enough trouble of its own” is very, very practical advice. If you haven’t availed yourself of this kind of resource, visit an Orthodox Church that is open (some are). If you have, dig deeper.
And in any case, give thanks in any and every circumstance, and be mindful of what you have to be grateful for.
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In The Divine Names I have shown the sense in which God is described as good, existent, life, wisdom, power, and whatever other things pertain to the conceptual names for God. In my Symbolic Theology I have discussed analogies of God drawn from what we perceive. I have spoken of the images we have of him, of the forms, figures, and instruments proper to him, of the places in which he lives and the ornaments which he wears. I have spoken of his anger, grief, and rage, of how he is said to be drunk and hungover, of his oaths and curses, of his sleeping and waking, and indeed of all those images we have of him, images shaped by the workings of the representations of God. And I feel sure that you have noticed how these latter come much more abundantly than what went before, since The Theological Representations and a discussion of the names appropriate to God are inevitably briefer than what can be said in The Symbolic Theology. The fact is that the more we take flight upward, the more find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing. In the earlier books my argument this downward path from the most exalted to the humblest categories, taking in on this downward path an ever-increasing number of ideas which multiplied what is below up to the transcendent, and the more it climbs, the more language falters, and when it has passed up and beyond the ascent, it will turn silent completely, since it will finally be at one with him who is indescribable.
Now you may wonder why it is that, after starting out from the highest category when our method involves assertions, we begin now from the lowest category involves a denial. The reason is this. When we assert what is beyond every assertion, we must then proceed from what is most akin to it, and as we do so we make the affirmation on which everything else depends. But when we deny that which is beyond every denial, we have to start by denying those qualities which differ most from the goal we hope to attain. Is it not closer to truth to say that God is life and goodness rather than that he is air or stone? Is it not more accurate to deny that drunkenness and rage can be attributed to him than to deny that we can apply to him the terms of speech and thought?
So this is what we say. The Cause of all is above all and is not inexistent, lifeless, speechless, mindless. It is not a material body, and hence has neither shape nor form, quality, quantity, or weight. It is not in any place and can be neither seen nor touched. It is neither perceived nor is it perceptible. It suffers neither disorder nor disturbance and is overwhelmed by no earthly passion. It is not powerless and subject to the disturbances caused by sense perception. It endures no deprivation of light. It passes through no change, decay, division, loss, no ebb and flow, nothing of which the senses may be aware. None of this can either be identified with it nor attributed.
Again, as we climb higher we say this. It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is it speech per se, understanding per se. It cannot be spoken of and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It is not immovable, moving, or at rest. It has no power, it is not power, nor is it light. It does not live nor is it light. It does not live nor is it life. It is not a substance, nor is it eternity or time. It cannot be grasped by the understanding since it is neither knowledge nor truth. It is not kingship. It is not wisdom. It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is it a spirit, in the sense in which we understand the term. It is not sonship or fatherhood and it is nothing known to us or any other being. Existing beings do not know it as it actually is and it does not know them as they are. There is no speaking of it, nor name or knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth—it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation, it is also beyond every denial.
Prof. Sarovsky slowly and reverently closed the book.
“St. Dionysius says elsewhere that God is known by every name and no name, and that everything that is is a name of God. And in fact in discussing symbols which have some truth but are necessarily inadequate to reality, crude symbols are to be preferred to those which appear elevated, since even their ‘crassness’ is a ‘goad’ spurring us to reach higher.”
“So now I’d like to have an exercise. Could somebody please name something at random, and I can tell how it tells the glory of God?”
A young man from the back called out, “Porn.”
Prof. Sarovsky said, “Ha ha, hysterical. Could I have another suggestion?”
Another young man called out, “Porn.”
Prof. Sarovsky said, “I’m serious. Porn, when you start using it, seems to be a unique spice. But the more you use it, the more it actually drains spice from everything else, and eventually drains itself, and when pornography can only go so far, you find yourself not only jailed but charged with rape. Lustfulness is in the beginning as sweet as honey and in the end as bitter as gall and as sharp as a double-edged sword. And much as I disagree with feminists on important points, I agree with a feminist dictionary: ‘Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice.’ Could I have a serious suggestion?”
A couple of cellphones started playing, “Internet is for porn.”
Prof. Sarovsky called on the class’s most vocal feminist. “Delilah! Would you pick a topic?”
Delilah grinned wickedly and said, “I’m with the boys on this one. Porn.”
Prof. Sarovsky paused briefly and says, “Very well, then, porn it is. The famous essay ‘I, Pencil‘ takes the humble pencil up and just starts to dig and dig at the economic family tree of just what resources and endeavors make up the humble lead pencil. So it talks about logging, and all the work in transporting the wood, and the mining involved in the graphite, and the exquisite resources that go just to make the blue strip on the metal band, and so on and so forth, and the ‘rubber’ eraser and whatnot. The conclusion is that millions of dollars’ resources (he does not calculate a figure) went into making a humble wooden pencil, and he pushes further: only God knows how to make a pencil. And if only God knows how to make a pencil, a fortiori only God knows how to make a porn site…
“And, I suppose, a pencil must be a phallic symbol.”
Then he paused, and said, “Just kidding!”
The room was silent.
Prof. Sarovsky bowed deeply and grinned: “I’ll see you and raise you.”
And this is what he said.
I, Porn, want to tell you about myself. There are options that eclipse me, but I can make my point more strongly if I speak for myself, Porn, who represent myriads of wonders.
Nor do I suggest that the straight-laced print off a Porn image and frame and hang it on the wall. Though if they understood my lineage, the question would then become whether they were worthy to do so.
I have a magnificent and vaster lineage than “I, Pencil” begins to draw out. A brilliance in economics, the author simply underscores a great interdependent web of economic resources in the humble pencil’s family tree. Equipment, mining, logging, transportation: the economic underpinnings of a humble pencil amount to millions of dollars, and the details mentioned only scratch the surface even of the economics involved.
I have a vaster lineage, including such things as war in Heaven. Now the war in Heaven is over, and was over when the Archangel Michael only said his name, which in the Hebrew tongue says, “Who is like God?” and with that, the devils were cast down, sore losers afflicting the Royal Race one and all. And even then, it was only angelic spirits that could come anywhere close to their war against God. Even then, they are limited. They are on a leash. Perhaps someday I will tell you of why you are summoned to a holy and blinding arrogance towards that whole camp.
What is the Royal Race? I get ahead of myself.
I, Porn, don’t merely share a universe with the divine virtues. In my production there is the cutting off of self-will, long suffering, and as little lust as might be found in a monastery. Dostoevsky offers the image of the chaste harlot; I can add only that if Christ were walking today, Porn models would be among the first he would associate with.
The core impulse I, Porn, draw on, is good. It is a testament to the human spirit that nine months after a natural disaster, there is a wave of babies born. The core impulse is the impulse for the preservation of the species, the possibility by which a community of mortals has itself no automatic end.
It is closer to my point to say that God is not just good and divine; he has created a world that in every way reflects his grandeur. There are no small parts: only actors who are not really small. Every superstring vibration in the cosmos is grander and vaster than all the pagan gods of all worlds put together.
Or as G.K. Chesterton said, “Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pocket. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.”
It is still closer to my majesty to observe Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who suffered in the Gulag that Hitler sent observers for inspiration for Nazi concentration camps, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, not between political parties either — but right through every heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an unuprooted small corner of evil.”
The Heavens declare the glory of God—and so do I, Porn.
Perhaps the most beautiful doctrine in Origen that Orthodox must condemn is the final and ultimate salvation of all Creation: that the Devil himself will be a last prodigal son returning to home in Heaven. But the Orthodox teaching is more beautiful: a teaching that every spiritual being, every man, every fallen or unfallen angel, is given an eternal choice between Heaven and Hell and not one of these will God rape, however much he desires their salvation. To quote The Dark Tower: “A man can’t be taken to hell, or sent to hell: you can only get there on your own steam.” God has made a rock he could not could move, and that rock is man and angel.
The rising crescendo that practically seals C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” is:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
Which brings us to the messy circumstances of your lives.
George Bernard Shaw said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” We can see it, perhaps in a fantasy setting, in a passage from C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has Lucy tiptoe to a room with a spellbook and see a singular spell:
Then she came to a page which was such a blaze of pictures that one hardly noticed the writing. Hardly—but she did notice the first words. They were, An infallible spell to make beautiful she that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals. Lucy peered at the pictures with her face close to the page, and though they had seemed crowded and muddlesome before, she found she could now see them quite clearly. The first was a picture of a girl standing at a reading-desk reading in a huge book. And the girl was dressed up exactly like Lucy. In the next picture Lucy (for the girl in her picture was Lucy herself) was standing up with her mouth open and a rather terrible expression on her face, chanting or reciting something. In the third picture the beauty beyond the lot of mortals had come to her. It was strange, considering how small the pictures had looked at first, that the Lucy in the picture now seemed quite as big as the real Lucy; and they looked into each other’s eyes and the real Lucy was dazzled by the beauty of the other Lucy; though she could still se a sort of likeness to herself in that beautiful face. And now the pictures came crowding on her thick and fast. She saw herself throned on high at a great tournament in Calormen and all the Kings of the world fought because of her beauty. After that it turned from tournaments to real wars, and all Narnia and Archenland, Telmar and Calormen, Galma and Terebithinia, were laid waste with the fury of the kings and dukes and great lords who fought for her favor. Then it changed and Lucy, still beautiful beyond the lot of mortals, was back in England. And Susan (who had always been the beauty of the family) came home from America. The Susan in the picture looked exactly like the real Susan only plainer and with a nasty expression. And Susan was was jealous of the dazzling beauty of Lucy, but that didn’t matter a bit because no one cared anything about Susan now.
The temptation, patterned after real temptation of the real world, is to want a horror. It is because Lucy is bewitched that she even wants what the spell promises. The destruction of kingdoms when lords vie for her beauty? Women may want to feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, but the count in stacking dead bodies like cordwood is no true metric for beauty. As a faithfully portrayed temptation by C.S. Lewis, what is being desired is not something Heavenly. It is a vision of Hell, pure and simple. While in the grips of temptation, she could not be happy without casting that spell until she let go of it from a strong warning from Aslan. But even if she succeeded, she would be even more unhappy. Her success would rival world wars or nuclear wars in its destruction of beautiful worlds, and if it didn’t bring her death, she would live on in a wrecked world, knowing for the rest of her life that it was her petty self-absorption that obliterated the majesty of worlds.
Even if we scale from back from undisguised fantasy, we can look at what is a practical possibility for some people in the real world. Cameron Russell’s Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe me, I’m a model. The TED talk eloquently explains that being a supermodel is not all sunshine and not the solution to all life’s problems. For that matter it isn’t even the solution to body image problems, and the final point she shares is that as a model she has to be more, not less, insecure about her body, no matter how lovely she may appear to others. It turns out that supermodels are intimidated by… other supermodels. Being a model is not a way to be exempt from body image struggles.
And this is in no way a solely a phenomenon about body image. There is one man where professional opinion is that he is smarter than most genuises, and that the average Harvard PhD has never met someone so talented. And his work history, given that he’s tried to give his best? Here’s something really odd. One job assistant said, “You don’t want your boss figuring out you’re smarter than him.” When he hands in his first piece of work, only some bosses respond kindly to work that is beyond the boss’s wildest dreams. Most of them find themselves in unfamiliar social territory, and strike out or retaliate. He’s been terminated a dozen times and is now retired on disability, the best financial arrangement he has had yet. It may be true, up to a point, that there’s something likable about being smart. That doesn’t mean in any sense that the smarter you get, the more people like you, or that your life is easy.
There is a portal that far excels entering another world, entering Narnia, Hogwarts, or Middle Earth. And this portal is much harder to see or look for than Narnia. It is entering the here and now you have been placing.
Spiritual masters have said to want what you have, not what you don’t have, and want things to be for you just the way they are. Now there is such a thing as legitimately seeking to solve, lessen, or improve a problem, and wishing you had a better-paying job, a car, or a nicer house. Wishing never runs out, and if you get the Apple Watch you want, wishing will just wish for newer or different things. Buy something you don’t need but will make you enchanted for a month. I dare you.
Oh, and by the way, I, Porn, know all about wishing. I know everything about it, and I know everything it can’t do.
When you let go of escape, soon you may let go of relating the here and now as the sort of thing one should flee, and some thick, sticky grey film will slowly melt away from your eyes and they will open on beauty all around you, and you will have crossed a threshold no fantasy portal even comes close. And you will have every treasure that you have. And perhaps, in and through ancient religion or postmodern positive psychology, cultivate a deep and abiding gratefulness for all the blessings you have.
In the Way of Things, there are two basic options one can pursue. One is the Sexual Way, and the other is the Hyper-Sexual Way. Let me explain.
Study after study has been launched to investigate which group of mavericks has the best sex, and they have been repeatedly been dismayed to find that the overlooked Sexual Way has the most pleasure. The overlooked Sexual Way is that of a contest of love, for life, between one lord and one wife, chaste before the wedding and faithful after, grateful for children, and knowing that the best sex ever is when you are trying to make a baby. After the first year or two some outward signs get quiet and subdued, but the marriage succeeds because the honeymoon has failed. It deepens year after year and decade after a decade, and a widowed senior can say, “You don’t know what love is when you’re a kid.” And here, like no other place, beauty is forged in the eye of the beholder. Here, unlike fashion magazines, sweaty fitness regimens, and dieting, and weighing, and accursed “bodysculpting,” a woman can and should be made to feel like she is the most beautiful woman in the world, to a husband to whom she really is the most beautiful woman in the world, as naturally as the Church on Sunday. As Homer and Marge humbly and quietly sing to each other, “You are so beautiful to me!”
If the sexual impulse is spent wisely in the Sexual Way, it is invested at exorbitant interest on the Hyper-Sexual Way. Wonder what all that curious monastic modesty about? It compounds an essential sexual condition, by which a monastic, man or woman, becomes a transgendered god and his sexual desire is entirely fixed on God. Does this seem strange? Let us listen to St. Herman of Alaska:
Further on Yanovsky writes, “Once the Elder was invited aboard a frigate which came from Saint Petersburg. The Captain of the frigate was a highly educated man, who had been sent to America by order of the Emperor to make an inspection of all the colonies. There were more than twenty-five officers with the Captain, and they also were educated men. In the company of this group sat a monk of a hermitage, small in stature and wearing very old clothes. All these educated conversationalists were placed in such a position by his wise talks that they did not know how to answer him. The Captain himself used to say, ‘We were lost for an answer before him.’
“Father Herman gave them all one general question: ‘Gentlemen, What do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness?’ Various answers were offered … Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain; and so forth in the same vein. ‘It is not true,’ Father Herman said to them concerning this, ‘that all your various wishes can bring us to one conclusion—that each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love?’ They all answered, ‘Yes, that is so!’ He then continued, ‘Would you not say, Is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, and that which by preference is most worthy of love, the Very Lord, our Jesus Christ, who created us, adorned us with such ideals, gave life to all, sustains everything, nurtures and loves all, who is Himself Love and most beautiful of all men? Should we not then love God above every thing, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out?’
“All said, ‘Why, yes! That’s self-evident!’ Then the Elder asked, ‘But do you love God?’ They all answered, ‘Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God?’ ‘And I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, I cannot say that I love Him completely,’ Father Herman protested to them. He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. ‘If we love someone,’ he said, ‘we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?’ They had to admit that they had not! ‘For our own good, and for our own fortune,’ concluded the Elder, ‘let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!’ Without any doubt this conversation was imprinted in the hearts of the listeners for the rest of their lives.’
Fr. Herman had something better than pixels on a screen. Much better.
Perhaps the most controversial argument in the history of philosophy is by Anselm of Canterbury, who said, “If God exists, nothing greater than him could exist. Now God either exists in reality and also in our minds, or only as a concept in our minds. But to exist in reality as well as our minds is greater than to exist only in our minds. Therefore, God must have the higher excellence of existing in reality as well as our minds.”
I am not specifically interested in bringing agreement or disagreement to this argument. First, most people first meeting this argument feel that something has been slipped past them, but they can’t put a finger on where the error is. However, I did not exactly include this argument to discuss what it asserts, but what it assumes: if God is greater than anything else that can be thought, then we have something that pierces deeply into the Christian God.
The joke is told that four rabbis would get together to discuss Torah, and one specific rabbi was the odd man out, every single time. And they said, “Three against one.” Finally, the exasperated odd rabbi out knelt down, prayed, “Gd, I’ve worked very hard, and they never listen. Please send them a sign that I’m right.” It was a warm day out, but a sudden chilly wind blew by, and some clouds appeared in the sky. The other three rabbis said, “That’s odd, but it’s still three against one.” Then the rabbi knelt down, prayed, “Please make a clearer sign,” and the wind grew more bitter and it began sleeting. The rabbi said, “Well?” The other rabbis said, “This is quite a coincidence, but it’s still three against one.” Then before the rabbi could begin to pray, bolts of lightning splintered a nearby tree, there was an earthquake, the earth opened, and a deep voice thundered, “HE’S RIGHT!” The rabbi said, “Well?” Quick as a flash, another rabbi said, “Well? It’s still three against two!”
The humor element in this element extends beyond, “If God has spoken, the discussion is over.” The humor element hinges on the fact that counting does not go from “one, two, three, four” to “one, two, three, four, Five”: there is infinite confusion in adding one God to four men. As written in Doxology:
Thou who art One,
Eternally beyond time,
So wholly One,
That thou mayest be called infinite,
Timeless beyond time thou art,
The One who is greater than infinity art thou.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
The Three who are One,
No more bound by numbers than by word,
And yet the Son is called Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ,
Divine ordering Reason,
Eternal Light and Cosmic Word,
Way pre-eminent of all things,
Beyond all, and infinitesimally close,
Thou transcendest transcendence itself,
The Creator entered into his Creation,
Sharing with us humble glory,
Lowered by love,
Raised to the highest,
The Suffering Servant known,
The King of Glory,
Wert thou a lesser god,
Numerically one as a creature is one,
Only one by an accident,
Then thou couldst not deify thine own creation,
Whilst remaining the only one god.
But thou art beyond all thought,
All word, all being,
We may say that thou existest,
But then we must say,
Thou art, I am not.
And if we say that we exist,
It is inadequate to say that thou existest,
For thou art the source of all being,
And beyond our being;
Thou art the source of all mind, wisdom, and reason,
Yet it is a fundamental error to imagine thee,
To think and reason in the mode of mankind.
Thou art not one god because there happeneth not more,
Thou art The One God because there mighteth not be another beside thee.
Thus thou spakest to Moses,
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Which is to say,
Thou shalt admit no other gods to my presence.
And there can be no other god beside thee,
So deep and full is this truth,
That thy Trinity mighteth take naught from thine Oneness,
Nor could it be another alongside thy divine Oneness,
If this God became man,
That man become god.
The Trinity does not represent a weaker or less consistent monotheism than Islam. The Trinity represents a stronger and more consistent monotheism than Islam, and that is why it can afford things that are unthinkable to a Muslim.
A Hindu once asked a Christian, “I can accept the truth of the incarnation, but why only one?” And in that conversation, where the Christian defended only one incarnation, both were wrong. Or rather, the Christian was wrong; the Hindu was merely mistaken.
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to BECOME him forever.
One theology professor tried to explain to a Muslim that the Trinity is how Christians get to the absolute Oneness of God. The men who first articulated the doctrine looked with some horror on the concept of using the word “Trinity” as a handle for the doctrine.
Regarding the Hindu mentioned, I would say that there have been many, many true incarnations of God, and they still continue. Now the Hindu concept of an Avatar can be what Christianity rejected as docetistic, with Christ not recognized to have real flesh. However, what I would rather have been said is this: No one besides Christ enters the world with part or all of God as part of them. However, the reason for the coming of the Son of God is to destroy the devil’s work. An ancient hymn states, “Trying to be god, Adam failed to be God. Christ became man, to make Adam god.” And the vast company of Saints that God keeps on giving are in fact the gift of a company of Avatars; we just have a different understanding of how one reaches a very similar goal.
The Philokalia says, “Blessed is the monk who regards each man as God after God.”
St. John Chrysostom comments on the Scripture: “We beheld,” he says, “His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father.”
Having declared that we were made “sons of God,” and having shown in what manner5 namely, by the “Word” having been “made Flesh,” he again mentions another advantage which we gain from this same circumstance. What is it? “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father”; which we could not have beheld, had it not been shown to us, by means of a body like to our own. For if the men of old time could not even bear to look upon the glorified countenance of Moses, who partook of the same nature with us, if that just man needed a veil which might shade over the purity7 of his glory, and show to them have face of their prophet mild and gentle; how could we creatures of clay and earth have endured the unveiled Godhead, which is unapproachable even by the powers above? Wherefore He tabernacled among us, that we might be able with much fearlessness to approach Him, speak to, and converse with Him.
But what means “the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father”? Since many of the Prophets too were glorified, as this Moses himself, Elijah, and Elisha, the one encircled by the fiery chariot (2 Kings vi. 17), the other taken up by it; and after them, Daniel and the Three Children, and the many others who showed forth wonders; and angels who have appeared among men, and partly disclosed to beholders the flashing light of their proper nature; and since not angels only, but even the Cherubim were seen by the Prophet in great glory, and the Seraphim also: the Evangelist leading us away from all these, and removing our thoughts from created things, and from the brightness of our fellow-servants, sets us at the very summit of good. For, “not of prophet,” says he, “nor angel, nor archangel, nor of the higher power, nor of any other created nature,” if other there be, but of the Master Himself, the King Himself, the true Only-Begotten Son Himself, of the Very Lord of all, did we “behold the glory.”
For the expression “as,” does not in this place belong to similarity or comparison, but to confirmation and unquestionable definition; as though he said, “We beheld glory, such as it was becoming, and likely that He should possess, who is the Only-Begotten and true Son of God, the King of all.” The habit (of so speaking) is general, for I shall not refuse to strengthen my argument even from common custom, since it is not now my object to speak with any reference to beauty of words, or elegance of composition, but only for your advantage; and therefore there is nothing to prevent my establishing my argument by the instance of a common practice. What then is the habit of most persons? Often when any have seen a king richly decked, and glittering on all sides with precious stones, and are afterwards describing to others the beauty, the ornaments, the splendor, they enumerate as much as they can, the glowing tint of the purple robe, the size of the jewels, the whiteness of the mules, the gold about the yoke, the soft and shining couch. But when after enumerating these things, and other things besides these, they cannot, say what they will, give a full idea of the splendor, they immediately bring in: “But why say much about it; once for all, he was like a king;” not desiring by the expression “like,” to show that he, of whom they say this, resembles a king, but that he is a real king. Just so now the Evangelist has put the word As, desiring to represent the transcendent nature and incomparable excellence of His glory.
Elsewhere we are asked to consider what things would be like if a King were to take up residence in one of the houses of a city. Would not the entire city, and each house in it, be forever honored? And the Son of God is now one of our homeboys. He ascended into Heaven and brought us with him, enthroned in Heaven with him.
We are the Royal Race. We are made in the image of God, and made to reach unimaginable glory.
And there may be named three laws that are the Constitution of the Royal Race, three laws which are one and the same.
The first law is the Law of the Canoe, as C.S. Lewis summarized his friend Charles Williams:
It is Virgil himself who died without reaching the patria, who saw ‘Italy’ only from a wave before he was engulfed forever. It is Virgil himself who stretches out his hands among the ghosts ripae ulterioris amore, longing to pass a river that he cannot pass. This poet from whose work so many Christians have drawn spiritual nourishment was not himself a Christian—did not himself know the full meaning of his own poetry, for (in Keble’s fine words) ‘thoughts beyond their thought to those high bards were given’. This is exquisite cruelty; he made honey not for himself; he helped to save others, himself he could not save.
…The Atonement was a Substitution, just as Anselm said. But that Substitution, far from being a mere legal fiction irrelevant to the normal workings of the universe, was simply the supreme instance of a universal law. ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save’ is a definition of the Kingdom. All salvation, everywhere and at all times, in great things or in little, is vicarious. The courtesy of the Emperor has absolutely decreed that no man can paddle his own canoe and every man can paddle his fellow’s, so that the shy offering and modest acceptance of indispensable aid shall be the very form of the celestial etiquette. [emphasis original]
The second law is the Law of the Long Spoon. As one telling goes from a liberal enough source:
One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”
God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.
The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”
Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.
The man said, “I don’t understand.”
God smiled. “It is simple,” he said, “These people share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves…”
The last law is the Law of Narcissus’s Mirror. It states that the Royal Race are absolutely forbidden to stand and gaze at themselves in Narcissus’s Mirror, entranced at their own beauty, and commanded to gaze at other members of the Royal Race, entranced at their beauty.
These three laws are one and the same. One joke, about “communio” theologians who hold the Trinity to mean that God himself is a community, ran:
Q: How many communio theologians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Only one, but he thinks he is a community.
But we are not communities. We are part of a community, and the full grandeur of being a member of the Royal Race is that you are no island, but a connected and beautiful part of a continent.
And furthermore, God has ordered Heaven and Earth for the benefit of us as the Royal Race.
Though this may be more subtle in the Sexual Way than in the Hyper-Sexual Way, but the behavior enjoined on the Hyper-Sexual Way is that of a spiritual miser, who constantly thinks his Heavenly wealth is too little and he must spare no effort to get more, and no matter how much treasure in Heaven he acquires, he never rests on his laurels, but keeps on storing up more and more and more.
Men each have one interest, one real interest, and only one interest: a good answer before the Dread Judgment-Throne of Christ. This life is inestimably precious, and in treasures such as repentance, Heaven’s best-kept secret, we can only store up these treasures before this fleeting life is over. Now the Church Triumphant is no terrible place to be, but there are profound goods that are only open to us, the living, for as long as we live. And the various strange prescriptions of the Philokalia and the Orthodox Way, about believing oneself to be the worst of sinners, about giving oneself no credit for any good actions, about believing “All the world will be saved and I will be damned,” about repenting as if one will die tomorrow but treating your body as if it will last for many years, are in fact braces to support being one hoarding spiritual miser for the rest of one’s life, and crossing the finish line, in triumph, and with treasure after treasure after treasure in your hoard. It is explained that God conceals from us the day of our death, because if we knew we would not die for some decades, we would put off repentance and be incorrigible. Not that God is absolutely unwilling to reveal to people the day of their death: it is in fact considered a mark of holiness to know that, because a person is in a good enough state for the secret not to need to be hidden. But the Philokalia’s discussion, perhaps here most clearly of all, explains that things are ordered this way because God has stacked the deck, in our favor. And as regards the Sexual Way, the path is said not to be an environment for children to grow up, but an environment for parents to grow up.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, fields an objection which was apparently on people’s minds but I have not heard brought up live in my lifetime. However, the answer says everything to a world in disintegrating economy, COVID, Jihad, and more:
I’d like to deal with a difficulty some people find about the whole idea of prayer. Somebody put it to me by saying: “I can believe in God alright, but what I can’t swallow is this idea of Him listening to several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment.” And I find quite a lot of people feel that difficulty. Well, the first thing to notice is that the whole sting of it comes in the words “at the same moment.” Most of us can imagine a God attending to any number of claimants if only they come one by one and He has an endless time to do it in. So what’s really at the back of the difficulty is this idea of God having to fit too many things into one moment of time. Well that, of course, is what happens to us. Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along, and there’s room for precious little in each. That’s what Time is like. And, of course, you and I tend to take it for granted that this Time series — this arrangement of past, present and future — isn’t simply the way life comes to us but is the way all things really exist. We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from a past to a future just as we are. But many learned men don’t agree with that. I think it was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all. Later, the Philosophers took it over. And now some of the scientists are doing the same. Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life doesn’t consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He hasn’t got to listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call “ten-thirty.” Ten-thirty, and every other moment from the beginning to the end of the world, is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has infinity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames. That’s difficult, I know. Can I try to give something, not the same, but a bit like it. Suppose I’m writing a novel. I write “Mary laid down her book; next moment came a knock at the door.” For Mary, who’s got to live in the imaginary time of the story, there’s no interval between putting down the book and hearing the knock. But I, her creator, between writing the first part of that sentence and the second, may have gone out for an hour’s walk and spent the whole hour thinking about Mary. I know that’s not a perfect example, but it may just give a glimpse of what I mean. The point I want to drive home is that God has infinite attention, infinite leisure to spare for each one of us. He doesn’t have to take us in the line. You’re as much alone with Him as if you were the only thing He’d ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you’d been the only man in the world.
And God’s Providence is not just Providence in great things. It is Providence in the small. It is not just Providence in a career, or entering the Sexual Way. It is also Providence when you are stuck in traffic and the light seems never to be turning green and that still, small voice urges you to grow just a little as a person so you can be as happy in your car as in a lounge chair at home. And it is the mighty arm of Providence all the more powerfully revealed when we are persecuted, or lose money, or any number of other things. And it is a Providence that gives you the here and now, a here and now chosen for you from all eternity, and will, if you cooperate, help you appreciate the gift.
And if you are one of the many who believe that I, Porn, am the only interesting spice in a fatally dull world, I, Porn, can only say this:
Watch me when I am Transfigured.
To quote your own age’s little reflection of The Divine Comedy:
I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.
‘Off so soon?’ said a voice.
The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.
‘Yes. I’m off,’ said the Ghost. ‘Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap’ (here he indicated the Lizard) that he’d have to be quiet if he came—which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.’
‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.
‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.
‘Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.
‘Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.
‘Don’t you want him killed?’
‘You didn’t say anything about killing at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’
‘It’s the only way,’ said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’
‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here—well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’
‘May I kill it?’
‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’
‘There is no time. May I kill it?’
‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—really—don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.’
‘May I kill it?’
‘Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.’
‘The gradual process is of no use at all.’
‘Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well today. It would be most silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.’
‘There is no other day. All days are present now.’
‘Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.’
‘It is not so.’
‘Why, you’re hurting me now.’
‘I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.’
‘Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by to-night’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.’
‘This moment contains all moments.’
‘Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me in pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me—before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.’
‘I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?’
The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.
‘Be careful,’ it said. ‘He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yess. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams—all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent . . .’
‘Have your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.
‘I know it will kill me.’
‘It won’t. But supposing it did?’
‘You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’
‘Then I may?’
‘Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost; but ended, whimpering, ‘God help me. God help me.’
Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.
‘Ow! That’s done for me,’ gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.
For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialized while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man—an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that the something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.
The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed into each other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but may have only been the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seats he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I knew well what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to se them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.
An Orthodox would realize in the Burning Angel a clearest reference to the fiery Seraphim, the highest of the nine angel choirs, and the one for whom St. Seraphim of Sarov came, the most beloved Orthodox saint in centuries, the St. Seraphim whose extraordinary conversation with the pilgrim Motovilov reveals the purpose of human life.
We live in interesting times. There is a singularity, or rather has been but keeps growing exponentially, and this singularity may turn in to the end of the world: a strange Ragnarok where the forces of Good resound with apocalyptic triumph. And I, Porn, am part of the singularity, an important part.
Did you know that I, Porn, am not the only thing in life?
Remember: “Every man who visits a Porn site is looking for God.”
Delilah friend turned back. “Yep, dear, he does that sort of thing in practically every class.”
As a graduate student in math at UIUC, I had full teaching responsibilities for a general education class second semester. I tried in good faith to make as much of a mathematical paradise as I could, and it failed as a communication failure because of my lack of empathy.
What was essentially going on in the class, without my realizing it in such terms, was that I was that I was trying to break the mind of “MSM” (the math department acronym for “mindless symbol manipulation”), somewhat like a Zen master trying to break the mind of reason with koans such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Now I had some interest in Zen, and asked my advisor about creating a Zen mathematics, but I did not consciously connect my teaching of the class with Zen. In retrospect, I wish I had. I don’t think that I was wrongly acting out of what I had read in Zen koans but I do think I was drawn to Zen because I thought in something of the same way. Orthodox Zen might deny that I was in any sense acting in Zen, and would presumably be right if they made that assertion, but my #1 priority in what I did was to break the mind of “mindless symbol manipulation.”
What I failed to understand was how different people think, and how differently I thought. Some of what I did might have been appropriate in another class, but this was not a weedout class or a class for math majors. I did keep my supervisor in the department informed of what I was doing and kept on the same page as him, but I didn’t understand that “mindless symbol manipulation,” which was present in the department’s assigned text I was working from, is perfectly appropriate to many people to have as their take-away from a math class, especially a general education class for non-majors. Possibly the way I taught it would have been entirely appropriate for a weedout class, but I was not teaching at the class’s freshman level.
I’m wary of comparing myself to a Zen master because in many circles I moved in, Zen was respected and comparing yourself to a Zen master is a way of saying, “I’m really something!” But here I really was acting like a Zen master in a way that was not helpful. Possibly this was a Zen made dumber or an ersatz Zen, but the ways in which I was like a Zen master made my teaching worse.
I would comment incidentally that I have had contact with Zen classic texts but not the living and dynamic tradition. I do not consider myself “enlightened” as a Zen practitioner would use the term, but the Zen pedagogy works for teaching Zen. I do not know how that tradition works in its live and dynamic form, but the tradition is transmitted successfully from generation to generation, from successful masters to successful novices (and yes, I know that a Zen practitioner would say that people get enlightenment from themselves, and perhaps that the goal of a master is to create conditions where novices will realize enlightenment for themselves).
Whether my failure in Zen-like teaching was a failure in being like Zen, I don’t know. I don’t know that Zen pedagogy has only a semester to enlighten pupils, or who are taking one class as part of a liberal arts educational package deal. But in any case, the extent to which my de facto pedagogy had common ground with Zen was a sincere communication failure that I was out of place TA’ing a math class at an American university.
A more recent communication failure: Almost all communication with Roman ecumenists
To Catholics who insist that we share a common faith, I wish to ask a question that may sound flippant or even abrasive. A common faith? Really? Are you ready to de-canonize Thomas Aquinas and repudiate his scholasticism?
This question has been met with far more fury than Romans have given anything else I ever said. But I wish to ask a specific followup question:
Do you think I asked that question because I really thought that Rome would answer by abolishing Thomism?
My false hope was that at least some Romans would answer that Ok, some Orthodox have reasons to spurn our ecumenical advances because we do not believe the same in all Orthodox essentials.
Orthodox has essentials that are not known to many Romans, and one of them is that systematic theology is heresy, including all Thomism and all Scholastic theology.
If Thomism is structural to Rome (and I have read Thomas Aquinas at length and studied him as a graduate student), and is simply off-limits to Orthodox, this is an Orthodox essential that Rome will not share.
Some of the flames have said it is asking too much to ask Rome to part with Thomas. But I am not seriously asking that Rome change the place of Thomism. I am asking that Rome respect a difference, and one that is essential to Orthodoxy.
Am I seriously suggesting that Rome de-canonize Thomas Aquinas? Not exactly. I am trying to point out what level of repentance and recantation would be called for in order that full communion would be appropriate. I am not seriously asking that Rome de-canonize Thomas Aquinas. I am suggesting, though, that Rome begin to recognize that nastier and deeper cuts than this would be needed for full communion between Rome and Orthodoxy. And I know that it is not pleasant to think of rejoining the Orthodox Church as (shudder) a reconciled heretic. I know it’s not pleasant. I am, by the grace of God, a reconciled heretic myself, and I recanted Western heresy myself. It’s a humbling position, and if it’s too big a step for you to take, it is something to at least recognize that it’s a big step to take, and one that Rome has not yet taken.
I spelled out the point. I did not think it realistic to ask Rome to get rid of Thomas Aquinas. I asked for recognition of differences. And not one Roman reader has read the text enough as intended to at least recognize an attempt to bring recognition for difference.
Rome is sincere in saying that Orthodox and Roman have a common faith and agreement on all essentials, but they are Rome’s essentials!
If I may make a half-risqué point, one of the major realizations tucked into C.S. Lewis’s “mere Christianity,” one of the realizations that the prophet of “mere Christianity” realized is that what is essential differs between camps and confessions.
Evangelicals who claim agreement with Rome on all essentials commonly differ from “the Reformers” by holding to something key Reformers reject, namely the teaching that St. Joseph the Betrothed and the Mother of God had an ordinary, physical marriage, and those called Christ’s brothers and sisters by the Gospel are Jesus’s half-brothers and their natural children after the flesh. But they are being entirely sincere in saying they agree with you in all essentials, because this point is a very minor point to those who believe it. And that is what you do to Orthodox when you claim to agree on all essentials.
Some have said, “Diplomacy is the art of politely letting the other party have it your way,” and without dissimulation this is part of what others have done. Rome has decided that it’s OK to say the Creed with or without the Filioque clause; I have only read one Roman ecumenist call on fellow Romans to drop the Filioque as a needless antagonism towards Orthodox. But, however much you consider it appropriate to ask Orthodox to follow suit and agree that it’s OK to say the Creed with or without the Filioque clause, this would represent a profound shift to Orthodox. The Roman expectation that “agree to disagree” postures by Rome should have Orthodox rightly be asking small changes in practice may fit Roman conceptions of fairness, but the difference you are accepting Orthodoxy to accept is profound, kind of like the Protestant “You do it your way and I do it my way” about St. Joseph and the Mother of God is asking you to accept a profound difference. A response of “You have no idea what Thomas means to us” is assuming I was trying to ask a reasonable asking price for reconciliation—and not realizing that I do understand something of his importance in Rome, and was trying to articulate a difference.
I’m deliberately not covering other areas of difference because that one is enough and I want to slightly reduce the chafing this causes a Roman reader.
But let’s look at something more closely.
The ten thousand dollar question
Did this communication really fail?
Did it fail by being too Zen-like, or perhaps too much like Zen made dumber?
One classic koan says something like,
A master asked a novice why he was meditating.
The novice said, “I am meditating so I will be enlightened.”
The master started to polish a tile.
The novice asked, “What are you doing?”
The master said, “I am polishing this tile to make it a mirror.”
The novice said, “You can’t make a tile into a mirror by polishing it!”
The master said, “And neither can you make a mind enlightened by meditation.”
As in other koans that drew me, the master earned his pay by delivering what classical hackers call a “clue-by-four.” The master delivered a jolt, or more loosely a spark that could light a fire.
In writing this I have decided to try to work out a warning label for this and “The Church Must Breathe with Both Lungs” Is Rome’s “Amos and Andy” Show, essentially saying that these pieces remain posted because of what Orthodox readers may take from it, and I don’t think they are beneficial to Romans to read. But if I was not right to post these articles publicly, I believe the first article was entirely appropriate for the audience it was first written for.
There was one Roman priest-monk who had corresponded with me a bit, and he offered to give me an ecumenical article that he explicitly told me was written in a way that was “sensitive to Orthodox concerns.”
I was puzzled, but a bit wary, but tried to be open to it. I remain at a loss for what he meant by “sensitive to Orthodox concerns.” But it there were two salient features that stood out:
It presented Orthodoxy and Rome as identical in all essentials.
It did not, anywhere, ever, acknowledge even the existence of Orthodox concerns about union with Rome without necessary and essential requisites to any appropriate restoration of communion.
And in that context, I was right to write a strongly worded clue-by-four.
He responded with the longest intense flame and ad hominem against me personally and against Orthodoxy that I’ve read. And he was sharply surprised when I asked him not to trouble me further.
Really, “but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” and “Noblesse oblige.“
If he is going to be a Roman hieromonk speaking with a lay Orthodox author who has not identified as ecumenist, he should not expect an Orthodox lay author to agree that Rome and Orthodoxy are the same in all essentials. If he in fact does spout a piece that he labels as sensitive to Orthodox concerns and completely fails to acknowledge any Orthodox perception that Orthodoxy and Rome differ in things Orthodoxy considers essential, he should not be surprised to receive a strongly worded clarification in response.
And on that point the clue-by-four did something. It jolted enough life into him that he did not begin to defend his position that there are no essential-to-Orthodoxy differences between Orthodoxy and Rome. And he called me one of the “hardliners” that ecumenist Orthodox had warned him about in explaining Orthodoxy’s true baseline, or at least what they presented as Orthodoxy’s true baseline.
It is the opinion of some that ecumenism is the ecclesiological heresy of our day. It is true enough that I don’t really know what the #2 contender is for being the ecclesiological heresy of our day. (Perhaps jumping from one non-canonical right-wing jurisdiction to another in the hope of finding at last a sanctuary from ecumenism?)
Furthermore, it is not just an opinion among laity that ecumenism is flawed. A local council in my jurisdiction said the following,
Those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ’s Church is divided into so-called “branches” which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all “branches” or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united to one body; and those who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!
Please don’t read this as “This is what’s wrong with Protestant ecumenism, but ecumenism between historic Churches as defined by Rome is squeaky-clean A-OK!”
My remark of “A common faith? Really? In that case, are you willing to decanonize Thomas Aquinas and repudiate his scholasticism?” is a koan, perhaps an ersatz koan.
It was meant to give a shock of reality to Rome’s “Amos and Andy” show.
Whether I was justified publicly posting the post I wrote for that correspondent is debatable. However, it is the case that Rome has it stuck in their heads that Orthodox believe the same in all essentials, and everything save Orthodox recognition of the same is already in place for Orthodoxy to restore communion with Rome. And it really would be nice if Romans could acknowledge that there are unreconciled differences, such as whether Thomas Aquinas is a doctor whose teaching is strustural, or whether (as one subdeacon I know preferred to call him) Thomas Aquinas is a “joker” who should not be followed in theology.
I would delicately suggest that at least before ecumenism was a driving force, Rome and Protestantism alike had their “friend or foe” system sensitized by the controversies manifest in the Reformation, and Rome’s understanding of essentials is entirely along these lines. So Rome has a checklist of, “Do you believe in Sola Scriptura or do you believe in the authority of Tradition as well as Scripture alone?”, “Do you believe that the Holy Mysteries are really and fully the body and blood of Christ?” and so on, and see that Orthodoxy answers all of these questions the same as Rome does, but these are not all the questions Orthodoxy considers important. The Orthodox categorical rejection of all systematic theology, including the system formulated in Thomas Aquinas’s systematic theology, and less (or more) dramatically that the Orthodox Church does not feel entitled to change her philosophy and branding someone as (for instance) an Aristotelian is already more than halfway to “A hit, a very palpable hit!” (I might delicately point out that Rome’s questions as described above do sometimes miss features of Orthodoxy. Orthodox believe the Holy Mysteries are fully the body and blood of Christ, as Rome believed before Aristotle was “the Philosopher,” but the Thomistic, Aristotelian formulation of transsubstantiation is off-limits and may be seen as paradoxically paving the way for the Reformers to carry Aristotelianism’s materialist dimension to its deeper end.)
Whether my communication was right or justified in seeking a “clue-by-four” may or may not be justified, and certainly if it was inappropriate to write, it was even more inappropriate to post publicly instead of taking a flamewar to email. However, I have not merely encountered a situation or belief that Rome is right and Orthodoxy is wrong about whether full justification exists for Orthodox to reciprocate Roman ecumenism. Rome may on some level recognize that Orthodox do no not return Roman advances, but since I have joined the Orthodox Church in 2003, I absolutely never recall a Roman acknowledging that Orthodox believe there are points essential to Orthodoxy that would justify refraining from restoring communion. What I have seen, for instance, is a website saying that Orthodox acknowledges that Rome has valid orders and valid sacraments, but just doesn’t care about reunion. This didn’t even say that Orthodox agree with Roman doctrine and all Roman essentials.
And if I’m not sure my posts should be available to Romans, I categorically believe they should be available to Orthodox who have been told by Roman ecumenists that Orthodoxy and Rome are identical in the only essentials that matter.