Getting Off the Religious Holodeck

You know, it’s pointless most of the time to explain anything to anyone, if you’re not a Protestant or Roman Catholic (other side of the same coin). The English-speaking West is a thoroughly Protestant environment. Atheists here are basically Protestant in their preconceptions. It’s nearly impossible to get past it. This is one of the reasons I think the Protestant model of evangelism is useless to sell non-Protestantism in a Protestant environment. Complete waste of time – you’re just one more voice selling a different flavor of the same thing.

Google Street View Holodeck
Image by niallkennedy via Flickr

This is not the medium for a full explication of the premises of Protestantism, shared by pagan, atheist, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant alike. The system attempts such a totality that, if you’re born into it, escaping it requires repudiating the very basis for your thought, the very means by which you ask questions in the first place. Even talking about it is largely pointless. When people repeat back to you what you’ve said, it’s not the same thing. There’s a cognitive divide that isn’t getting crossed. It’s like the Truman Show or Dark City or the holodeck on Star Trek or the Matrix; wherever you go, you don’t really get out – you’re still really very much inside the construct.

Still, this is really not here for preaching to the choir or selling to the outsider. It’s here for me. It’s my site of personal confession. It’s public for the very reason that it’s not Protestant. One of the more significant problems with Protestant epistemology is that, as a Protestant, you can pretty much think and say whatever you want, with no real reference point as a corrective except illicit social pressure. I’ve listened to ordinary Protestants pop off with some of the most blatant heresy (to any “christian” confession) and blasphemy, and not only not realize it, but the people around them aren’t equipped to respond. There’s nothing to which to appeal, because hey – it’s just whatever you came to in your own mind while reading your own book in private. The individual is first, which is evidenced by the fact that, as Protestants, you actually choose a’ church’ rather than choose to belong to the Church. The autonomy of the individual is the predicate – it is the starting point, after which everything else is merely an appendage.

When I was younger, I resorted to saying, “I know you don’t realize what you’re saying, and you have nothing outside yourself to check you, but what you’re saying is blasphemy, heresy, and is formally condemned by the one true Church and the ancient Faith. There is a standing anathema against anyone who utters or thinks such a thing. Before you offend Heaven, you might tone it down and realize that there may be a very good reason for it, even if you’re not aware of what that reason is. After all, I venture to guess you’ve only just learned this point.”

So to be public here, about the inner thoughts of my own mind, is to liberate myself from Protestantism, from the bondage of autonomy, whereby there is no anchor, no point of reference, nothing but the endless walls of my own intellect, with no escape or contact with other person. In that sense, the “freedom” and “liberty” of belief of the Protestant is exactly the same kind of prison as the presuppositions we likened to the Truman Show and the Matrix. To confess is also to expose one’s thoughts to the possibility that someone will find horrible flaw with them, and to give yourself the opportunity to be humbled, corrected, and so to be saved. Because without this, when ‘faith’ is only what happens in your own mind apart from everything, you cannot be saved.

Such faith cannot save, it can only condemn. It is faith devoid of humility and, even if it is 100% sound in all its points, is dominated and possessed by the chaos of a completely emancipated interior life – a person so unconnected from the world – from the rest of creation – that he is unconnected to God, or presumes to be since none of us ever falls completely away. In fact, it is very like how the fathers describe Hell. I shudder at that. It’s a kind of religious neurosis that, while it must feel very empowering to the person caught up in it, very like being a soldier on crusade in the army of the ‘lord’, it is really a self-imposed form of mental illness.

So anyway, the premise I am thinking about a little today is absolutism. As an example, I’d prefer to refer to all the non-religious people I meet. I think they’re the best illustration of non-religious Protestantism I can find, because they are almost universally absolutists. Let’s take the vegan and vegetarian thing. A conversation might go like this:

“So you’re a vegan?” Sometimes. “So you eat meat?” Sometimes. “So you don’t think eating meat is wrong?” I didn’t say that. “So you do think it’s wrong.” I haven’t said that, either. “You seem to be inconsistent.” No, I’m just not an absolutist. “But a think is either right or wrong, right?” <laughing> That’s what absolutism is, actually. And you know my answer. “Sometimes?” Right.

Another example – the environment: “So how come you got a smaller car?” Because want to participate as little as possible in the use of fossil fuels – for the environment, and because I don’t want to contribute to war, which it always does. “So why not stop using a car altogether?” I need it for transportation. I live where good mass transit doesn’t exist. “But isn’t it kind of hypocritical to use any at all?” Perhaps. I try to use no more than I need. “But it’s either right or wrong, right?” I don’t think it’s an absolute. I think it’s wrong to waste. I think it’s ultimately wrong to use any at all, of course, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. I do a lot of wrong things that are necessary. “I think if you believe something, you should take it all the way.” But I live in the world, not in an ideology. “That’s why I don’t believe in anything. Because you can’t live in the world and take anything all the way.”

Those are, unfortunately, the words of every totalitarian system – ‘take it all the way’. Every regime that puts the ‘unrighteous’ and ‘unbelievers’ to death, and deprives them of liberties, and still does in more than half the world (Turkey, China, etc). It’s people who traded “unbelief” for absolute faith – for a crusade. But you see how the atheist, the non-religious person, whatever, is just as absolutist as any fundamentalist anywhere? Neither party can acknowledge that we live in a world where perhaps the only possibilities are degrees of unacceptable behavior, but that doesn’t excuse us from trying to live ethically and morally. In other words, both the non-ideologue and the rabid ideologue want to win – they do not accept a world in which their ideas may be correct but they can’t always have them, can’t always have a choice between good/bad, true/untrue, right/wrong. Sometimes it’s a choice between differing things that contain both good and bad, truth and untruth. The absolutist can never accept this.

One might argue that fundamentalism is like that (which is why I think most of the techno geeks, gamers, corporate lackeys, etc. that I meet are fundamentalists, though they are not religious) – but that Protestantism as a whole deserves a better shake. One could argue that, but I don’t think the argument holds. The fundamentalism is endemic to the system precisely because Protestantism makes the individual’s autonomy the starting point. Once you’ve done that, gravitating toward absolutizing ideology is a natural outcome of absolutizing individual cognition. You get one, necessarily, because you started with the other. In effect, all such thinking is a continuum moving from all-consuming personalism to all-consuming ideology. The confusion between the one and the many, the person and the world, my mind and right and wrong, my perception and normality, subject and object, began with the initial premise. The neurosis, the anti-social psychosis, begins with a failure to distinguish between my mind and reality. There’s no recourse, no point of reference.  You are trapped in the endless twists and turns of your own cognition.

The solution? Well, I’ll tell you mine. First, of course, I don’t participate in religion that has that as its first epistemological rule – whether inherently, or whether it’s someone’s hodgepodge they’ve made out of Orthodoxy. And yes, that happens.  You get people who aren’t satisfied with the Faith without walls, but want to nail it down and turn it into a subjective belief system with the illusion of objectivity, so it becomes a sword. They can’t bear the ideas our fathers teach us, “keep your mind in hell and despair not”, say “all shall be saved and I alone shall be condemned”, and “I don’t know who the sheep are, but I am one of the goats”. They need a clear, absolute set of categories – clear compartments for what’s what – and rather than accepting the fathers’ prescription – they set about doing the opposite: “I’m right” is the starting point – or at least “I see clearly” – or at a minimum “I’m starting with no baggage or false epistemology – I’ll add you, but not start over – I don’t have to redo all the thinking about even how to think – I’m a grown up – I know how the world works – I already know God” – or whatever.  To escape the holodeck, I dump all of that and run after the fathers, though by “run” I mean that occasionally I take a mere stab at half-assed following them, and usually it’s hypocrisy, though for entirely different reasons that any of the above people would recognize. Even our sins are obscure to the heterodox.

The other thing I do is I confess. I confess with my priest. I also confess here. I confess more than my sins – I confess my mind – God preserve it. And in doing so, I think God permits me to hold on to a little sanity, to have a little peace, to retain a little objectivity. The objectivity I find in the fathers is not the objectivity of being sure I’m right in my thinking –  no – they warn repeatedly against that. As Christ did, “beware thinking you stand, so you don’t fall”. They warn against prelest, a sin that’s actually sold on cassettes over the airwaves, and not just in the Protestant religious sector, but also in the Protestantized realms of politics, social issues, etc. We all want so much to be right. No, the objectivity the fathers offer is in recognizing ones own sins, and remembering them. The freedom from illusion is in not thinking that I stand, but knowing that I am fallen. The fathers speak of “removing from the mind all false images” that pretend to be God, all images of the self as righteous, all images that sustain the delusion that righteousness and insight dwell in me.

This is why we pray with ikons, so that we do not fall into idolatry – the most grievous form of which is substituting my own mind for God, and my self-love for my real self-image. “Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.” Why? Because there is objectivity. There the mind is free of sickness and death. Hell is love. Hell is God’s grace attempting to save the mind bent against it. Hell is the salvific and uncreated energies of God against the rebellious delusions of the autonomous soul. Hell is the antidote to my Protestantism, my first premise that tells me that I see, that I know, that I am right in my basic evaluation of the first things of the world into which I have awakened. Hell is, contrary to the heterodox doctrines to the contrary, the creation of a God who only creates for salvation. All acts of creation are acts of redemption. Anything else is heresy. Don’t be deceived. It is not a just, angry blood deity that we seek to appease, but a relentless, all-consuming fire of love in the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, in a way, this entire blog is my manifesto as someone who is trying to be saved but is caught in a Protestant culture that makes it impossible. As the scriptures say, “confess your sins to one another,” it is a form of the antidote. “Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.” I am confessing everything, because I don’t own that there is righteousness in any of it. I am exposing my soul to the world because, by doing so, I cannot be held in the prison of autonomy – which is absolutism. Instead, I am freed to be naked before God, because I am naked in my own mind. I break this rule, which is why I’m still here, breaking out of the breaking of it, again and again. Maranatha. Quickly.

This is one of the reasons the blog is anonymous. People influenced by Protestantism often think that by revealing your identity, you’re revealing everything. Not so. By making that the point, you’re retreating into autonomy even more, you’re signing the ideas so to speak – you’re associating them with who you are. No, the goal is to distinguish between what you think and who you are. The most naked person is often the one in the mask of anonymity. The person clothed with the name, the brand placed on one’s ideas, one’s salvation, must struggle to be loose of the interior walls of autonomous perception. To strip down to anonymity (did you know that all our monks divest themselves of their family names, and receive a new Christian name?) – to strip down is to open the walls of the soul to the world, to the possibility of hearing, to the possibility of seeing. And by confessing, again and again, one’s failure, one’s unworthiness, it may be that God will grant a little light. He is the freer of prisons, along with all the Saints, by whose prayers and yours save me.

PS. I’m not talking about ‘accountability’. That’s the lingo of control. Accountability  is there. It’s just not something I need to show an audience. But that said, there are a lot of people who are “accountable”, and the emissions of their minds, mouths, and pens are often abominable, and they are even rewarded for it. One wishes they would seek nakedness as much as accountability, neither one substituting for the other – because, obviously, they have heard their own words and thought it wise to believe them and spread them to others, but precisely because of their accountability, they are also somewhat immunized from correction by the rest of us, to whom they are not actually directly accountable. Accountability without nakedness lends a kind of artificial “authority” to ideas that are sometimes the tortured effect of an inescapable religious holodeck in the mind. Lord have mercy.

1 thought on “Getting Off the Religious Holodeck”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top