Vegetarianism and Orthodoxy

First, Orthodox know there is a standing anathema against anyone who promulgates the idea that eating meat is a sin. Some Orthodox, true, may not be aware of what is contained in the anathemas since in some Churches they are dramatically abbreviated, or omitted altogether, where formerly they were read in full on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. That’s a testament to the laziness and misguided “tolerance” of our time and of the West, which has polluted our rites since first contact. But the anathemas stand in full force and cannot be contraverted by any Orthodox person. Those who do speak against them have automatically excommunicated themselves (defrocked themselves if they are clergy), even if no one is aware of it. The anathemas are holy and cannot be contravened. Most of them are the anathemas of the most holy ecumenical councils, which are infallible, and so to speak against them is to deny the Holy Spirit, the Church herself, and to separate oneself from the entirety of the tradition, making oneself fundamentally Protestant and heterorodox. Since the first Church council, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, in which the eating of meat was upheld, this has been the way of things. And I am not planning on ceasing to be Orthodox by controverting that council and the holy anathemas.

The Annual All-Vegan Thanksgiving Potluck
Image by massdistraction via Flickr

All of that being stipulated to, I do not think it is a sin to eat meat, but I think the eating of meat is wrong. And say what you like, there’s a distinction. All Orthodox, if they are Orthodox, agree that death is wrong, that death is in fact the greatest wrong of all. It is an affront, though it is also a mercy. We also all say that there will be no more death in Heaven, that the lion will lie down with the lamb, and a child shall lead them. In short, we will all be vegetarians in paradise, as we were in the first paradise. Death will cease, because Christ has overcome it. It is not forever – or in Christian translation, “where now is thy sting?” In fact, it is every bit as much a heresy to say, as the Protestant dispensationalists do, that God will honor sacrifices again, the killing of animals as a holy act, as to say that eating meat is a sin. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes its clear that those who return to the sacrifice of animals are attempting to resacrifice Christ. There will be no death in paradise, just as it was death that ejected us from the first paradise. There will be no more covering ourselves with the skins of animals. There will be no more violence, no more tears, and no more killing of any kind or of any thing. All things, as is Orthodox understanding, will live forever – all things will be deified. To countenance the notion of death as normal, right, and good, is to deny what we Orthodox mean by salvation in the first place, namely that all that is created will be united to the Creator forever and ever and unto ages of ages.

Not so many realize that the eating of meat will cease forever as are aware that the eating of meat is currently permitted. Currently, but it will not last.

To return then to the here and now, it’s worth pointing out also that our monastics already live according to the rule of Heaven more closely than do laymen. They eat no meat, but only a bit of fish once a week, when it is not a fast, or upon Great Feasts. Holy Orthodoxy is an ascetic faith, for each and every person involved in it, even if it has become oddly popular in some circles to deny this (their error is apparent, in that they must repudiate the entire tradition and make themselves out to be wiser than Christ and the Apostles, who taught asceticism to all, and practiced it as an example with all, as well as the Fathers who stand in repudiation of such silly claims). There is a lay asceticism, evidenced among the faithful in the keeping of the calendar, and of the feasts and fasts prescribed in it. So much is this not a separate, optional appendage to the Faith – so integral is it – that St. Seraphim says, “He who does not fast does not really believe in God.” In short, you cannot be Orthodox and not be at least a lay ascetic, so that the Fathers of the Desert have practical relevance to us all. And as the angels are to the monks, so the monks are to we laymen – lights, examples, and to be imitated in some manner. We refer to the monks as our angels, in fact, which is the main reason we visit them.

Our Faith, in short, is intimately bound up with what we eat, when we eat, and why. To the uninitiated, this can be confusing. That sometimes cannot be helped. There are things worth saying to that, but they are aside from the point here. More than half of our lives, as Orthodox, we are not eating things that come from animals. And if the monks, who fast more than us, are examples of what it will be like in the Kingdom, as we begin to live in the Kingdom now, since it is upon us already, then this underscores the fact that there will be no use of animals in that way, no slaughter, and no suffering and constraint wreaked upon them by men. Someone once asked, “Why fast from dairy? Milk is there to sustain life.” Yes, of course, but not *your* life. Human milk is there to sustain your life, which is why nursing mothers and infants don’t refrain from nursing during the fast. We must guard ourselves from the silly assumptions that come from presuming Death as natural, as the Darwinian norm. Death is not natural or normal – it is alien to our physiology and psyche – we are merely infected with it. And if our ideas don’t fit with that, then they are not Orthodox ideas, not Christian ones, since they deny what all our Fathers teach us.

But I said I think it’s wrong to eat meat – not a sin, but wrong. Yes, that’s my opinion. I think that we are permitted to eat meat (not a sin), but that all killing is wrong, all Death is wrong, all dying and suffering and constraint is wrong – are in fact another way of describing Death. I don’t think it’s a sin to slaughter a cow. I think it’s wrong, though. And I think our Faith tells us quite clearly this is so, in that Christ swallowed up Death, trampling it down by his dying, and that it was in part for this purpose that he came. But that more importantly, there can be no Death in union with God who is Life. And Christ has come to us for no other reason than to unite us to God, by whose coming he united himself to all things, which likewise will be united to God, and so in union with him we are also united to each other and all things, and nothing will be lost, and all things will participate in salvation. There will exist nothing, so is our Faith, that is not being united to God. This is why even Hell, many of the fathers describe, as the agony of God saving man by making him exist forever in his uncreated Energies, while not extinguishing (killing) his individual person and will, which may oppose this. Our salvation, our perfect union with God, is not a genocide, destroying the diversity of our individualities, but a true salvation, consuming us each in order that we may each live forever.

So where you really get into trouble is if you tell everyone that, in light of this, they have to be vegetarian (actually veegan). I am not saying that. You will be veegan, and so will I, in paradise. All Christians, if they are listening at all to their tradition, say that. To deny it is to be pagan. To be a Darwinist perhaps, but not a Christian. My opinion is that the evangelical “creationists” are fighting the wrong battle. The real question is whether Death is natural or not. But because they are of the Western tradition, they themselves have confused person and nature, and cannot understand the concept of natural/nature in the first place. They have no choice but to fight a losing battle, on the ground of their own enemies, because they are not beginning with the right anthropology, that of our Fathers, and cannot therefore make a meaningful case against those who share their error and have merely developed the error better and more logically. Yes, the Darwinists have a much better case than the “creationists” when the latter are offering the evangelical Protestant version. It doesn’t make them right. It just makes them more sophisticated and less confused, barely.

So while i’m not telling people they have to be veegan, I’m saying it’s not a bad idea, and that it’s not a bad idea for religious reasons. Part of the error of contemporary Western thinking, that has polluted as many pulpits and pews as it has everything else, is the notion that preferences are entirely separate from matters of Faith. What clothes we wear, what we watch on TV, what food we like, what sites we visit — all of these are supposedly one of two things — to be *dictated* by reference to proof texts (fundamentalism) or else to be emancipated from religion entirely (which makes religion a kind of ghetto that doesn’t touch the rest of life – so therefore, how can it presume to offer salvation of the whole person?). Either error is part of the same fundamental mistake. It’s a philosophical mistake, adapted from something alien to our Faith, that we won’t discuss in detail in this post – namely the confusing of distinction with opposition. Besides, there’s already really good literature on this – see God, History, and Dialectic by Dr. Joseph P. Farrell. No, it is not only appropriate to choose veeganism for reasons of faith – not only is it quite acceptable – but one can make a really good case for it. Again, I’m not saying we’re sinning by eating meat – I’m saying there’s a good case for becoming veegan for religious reasons – reasons integral to our tradition – reasons that are exactly the same as much of what we are already doing, if we keep the faith, and are the same as what we will all be doing, whether granted entrance to paradise or Hell.

In short, I’m encouraging that a lot of us consider attempting this. I’ve been attempting it for a while. Each of my family members has a sickness that causes us to need things most abundantly found in animal products. We pay such a severe price by abstaining, that we have been granted economia during fasts for some things. What is medicine cannot be forbidden but is prescribed. But we still resist – we still push back – we still fight it. So no, I’m not saying that I abstain from all animal products all the time and think everyone should follow my example. Would anyone listen if that’s what I was saying? We know that all sickness comes from Death, which comes from our sins. So we are constantly acknowledging that “I have caused this. It’s my fault. I brought this Death into the world and on myself. I am sick, because I have sinned.” This is the Orthodox way. We never think another person is sick for their sins – quite the contrary – we think another person is sick because of our own sins. So if you’re sick, I did that too. I brought all suffering and all dying to all things. I killed the universe. I am the genocidal maniac of the ages. Every time I sin. This is hard for those who haven’t thought through it, and listened to our Fathers, to swallow. It is nonetheless how we are taught to build our thinking. And so, when I have to inflict suffering and death on something, I know it is my sin that is the cause. For my sins, I eat meat. That makes some people uncomfortable – putting those words – sin and meat – in proximity. But that is why we say that eating meat is ‘permitted’. You understand, in that sense, it is much like marriage. Marriage is good, and likewise there’s an anathema against anyone who would speak against marriage, but it is ‘permitted’ you’ll recall, not ‘prescribed’ in the same way prayer is prescribed. In fact, that’s part of what’s wrong with “christian” groups that don’t have any monasticism, or have driven it into the marginalia – you go and it’s all broken up into singles groups, though they might call them something else. It’s a religious version of e-harmony out there – “Hi, welcome. The 30-somethings are meeting at 2pm. There will be wine and… wear something skimpy, but vaguely Christian.”

One of the biggest reasons I think this is more important now, that it’s important for Orthodox to consider being veegan, or vegetarian, or at least making a radical reduction in the animal products they consume, especially in my neck of the woods, where the habit is meat+starch(potatoes)+starch(bread)+starchy vegetables(green beans and corn)+starch(dessert)+2nd helping of meat (the first was already 3-4 times what most of the people in the ‘developed’ world consider necessary), is what the meat now is and where it comes from. Rest assured, the answer to those two questions is NOTHING like what they were in the first millenia of Orthodoxy. No, factory farming means your gallon of milk is full of pus from a short-lived cow that lives and dies in agony, your beef includes beef from downer and diseased cows mixed into giant vats owned by only 3-5 food conglomerates for all the ‘farms’ in the US. I could go into vast detail, but there’s no point – this information has long been widely available. It’s appalling what kind of garbage people shlepp out to their kids and families and put in their own guts, often getting religiously (and politically) ‘righteous’ about how somehow “god” is in favor of factory farming. Not the god I worship. Not at all. The god I am given to worship came to end suffering and corruption. And it’s far, far, far worse than what you see in some lightweight puff piece like “Food Inc.”. Even what happens to make dog food, even what you’re feeding Fido, if you’re buying Iams or some garbage, is so gruesome, hideous, and outright dangerous, that there’s really no excuse for equating it with slaughtering animals even 300 years ago. No, this is *not* what you see in the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. I wish it were.

Without going into all the details of the horror, abject torture inflicted on animals in factory farming, or the filth, disease, and corruption polluting the ordinary animal products at the grocer (and even a lot of the fake organics like Horizon products), I’ll say that of course we’re permitted to eat those things. But are we permitted to *do* those things? I don’t think so. And I think any “christianity” that can only focus on what’s under the cellophane, and doesn’t have a morality of where it comes from, is false religion. In short, if our ‘faith’ can’t stand the light of reality, it’s not the Faith of our Fathers in the first place. The Saints stood up against cruelty to animals. They stood up against polluted things. It is only popular now to obey the ongoing, comprehensive campaign by the food industry, to keep our perception of food completely separate from its origins, to keep our minds on the fake images on our butter boxes and grocery store posters of idyllic farms from centuries ago, peaceful cows standing in actual grass – it’s only through lies, and our participation in them, that we can dismiss the source of our food as a non-issue, and therefore a religiously suspect one. No, ignorance, dishonesty, pretense must not be the basis of faith. When someone says that “god ordains all leaders, so we should support all leaders” in some fundamentalist environment somewhere, that god is a fake god, a fabricated factory god when what it’s propping up is the tobacco industry, or the war engine embedded in the energy, munitions, and aerospace industries, or the kind of things you don’t know about for very intentional reasons in the food industry. Such a god is worthy of villification and ridicule. Such a god does not exist, except as the collective ideology of people who are likewise cogs in the very system they’re actually worshipping – and that’s what it is – worship of political, industrial, economic, and social structures that pretend to be god, but are actually idols built in the image of the masters to whom you and I are slaves. They are Pharoah’s gods. And we the Israelites are burning sacrifices on their altars, and are enthralled by the magic of their priests, and we are now one people with their people.

I’m working out this veegan, vegetarian thing. It’s sort of like Walmart. It’s been six months since I set foot in a Walmart. A lot of people are much farther along than I am. It was three months before that. I’m going for forever, of course. Is it a sin to shop at Walmart? Not in an absolute way. It might be. It might be a sin for you – it’s not possible for me to know what you know, what you’re trading for what, what your motives are, what delusions and pretences you’ve made for yourself. I only know the ones I have to overcome. In the same way, I don’t look down on you for eating animal products, though I do look down on a lot of what’s going onto that table, or from cardboard box to mouth without ever seeing a table. I’m appalled at things I’ve eaten, too. My plan is to keep learning to build sufficient protein into our diet (people in the US consume 300% of what people in Europe do in protein – so on the whole, our notions of what’s healthy are stupid – but my family has special protein needs, as yours may, so that’s an added challenge). I’ve learned a lot from the veegans. I’ve learned to make a lot of things that wow! – just taste far better than their carnivore equivalents – are healthier – and create a better, more sustainable physiological response. There’s a lot one can learn. And by leaving off of having animal products in every meal (if we’re Orthodox, we should be learning this stuff anyway – we fast from animal products half the year, so if we’re keeping the faith, we’re doing this for months at a time already), you end up freeing up funds for a couple of things – for the poor, which is part of what the Fathers teach we are fasting for – so that we can save money to give to the poor, so they can eat – make no mistake, *we* are their sustenance – that is why we are here, according to the Fathers – but there’s also the benefit that when eating, we can more readily afford to choose real food. Hamburger does’t cost $1.99/lb. That’s factory farmed garbage. Real meat, ethically and cleanly created, costs more than that. Eating less garbage, fake-food means you get to afford more real food.

Dumping instant products makes a huge turn in this, too. 90% of what you see in any supermarket isn’t food at all. All those packet meals, box meals, etc. They’re full of chemistry set ingredients I used to make stink bombs and flash powder from as a kid. More than half of them have some form of MSG in them, even if it’s called something else, and that’s the cocaine of food – it’s a neurological drug that makes you think something tastes good, even if it actually tastes like wood chips. It’s addictive, destructive, and it makes you stupid over time. Yep – eat it for life, and you’re a gump compared to most people who don’t. Take out all the fake food, all the aluminum-infused noodles, chlorine bathed meat, guts and chemical garbage, and wash that sticky pesticide surfactant (you have to use an oil cutter like dish soap) off the cucumbers and other vegetables, and you’re left with food that would fit quite comfortably in one of those corner lube oil stations. The rest was poison anyway. And wow, the money you save! It’s shocking. It really is.

I think the content of this post will be unpopular among Orthodox, for the same reasons advocating vegetarianism is unpopular among most people. Only the nutjobs mind if you personally are a vegetarian. You might get some wannabe Klansman upset that way, but not anyone with a brain. But the moment you begin suggesting a change of lifestyle, your popularity drops. I think the most powerful reason is this – faith is infested with religion. And religion is full of impulses, ideologies, politics, and various forms of bigotry and idolatry. I live in a part of the country that, with a lot of other parts of the country, consistently votes to bomb villages, torture people, deprive the poor, minimize education, abuse foreigners (whom Christ calls “strangers” and says are, like the poor, himself in disguise), and generally make mega-corporate illusions the predicate of public thought (because ‘capitalism’ is “god’s” will). Yep, some of you call those “red states” – which is fun for me, because it just rankles them to no end when you tell them there’s a ‘red scare’ and they are it. Anyway, it’s also interesting to look at the parallels of all those violent, angry tendencies with the eating habits that prevail. Tons and tons of meat. More meat at one sitting than a lot of us will eat in a day of feasting. It’s interesting, because one of the reasons we fast from animal products is that we say they incite the passions, and our goal is to overcome the passions, so that food will not possess us and drive us to sin. In other words, we link eating animal products directly to violence, anger, and the other passions that position people against other people, against God, and against all of creation. I find it compelling that the incredible volume of animal products consumed in these regions seems to correspond with the incredible antipathy these regions demonstrate for almost every living thing. And they’re often verrrrry religious about it, too, which is also interesting. They’re the first ones to get the pitchforks, sing hymns as the bombers fly off on another run, to chase off the strangers (just look at the recent draconian anti-immigration laws and where they are most prevalent), to deprive the poor and fund conglomerates. It’s amazing that this is going unnoticed, but I think it’s a demonstrable phenomenon, and I think it has significant religious implications that we’d be fools to ignore.

That last, in and of itself, is not a case for reducing meat intake. It’s an observation coupled with a speculation, offering possible support for an opinion. The best supporting evidence it could garner would be how vehement the reaction when someone suggests they significantly reduce their intake of animal products. Does it tick them off? Are they outraged? Do they want to see you ‘hanged’ in some way? If so, they really are lending some credence to this speculation. Maybe, actually, the best case for eating less animal products, or stopping altogether if we can, and for choosing only humanely created ones, is what the alternative does to us as a people, and perhaps as individuals. Personally, I’m not putting garbage in my family’s body, if I can help it. But on the other ethical and moral and religious considerations, I think there’s a really strong case for rethinking what has become, in some cases, a blanket chill upon the discussion of the role of food, especially killed and carcass food, and all animal food, in our salvation. If, as we Orthodox assert, all things are for our salvation – in other words, no area of life is separated from theosis, then it bears consideration – and I don’t mean pronouncement. Pronouncement is not for thinking – it’s for ending destruction – as often said, we make pronouncements only when absolutely necessary to stop heresy from spreading. I’m talking instead about going beyond pronouncement, without ignoring it, and thinking about how we might live in a world that has converted living creatures into machines and is largely indifferent to the results and religious implications in general and for each of us personally.

My Wife the Saint

I’ve taken a little flack for attributing saintly qualities, on intimate occasions, to my wife. But I still hold to it. The thing is, it’s easy to look at someone and see their faults. But I don’t think we’re supposed to be thinking less of someone because of their weaknesses, but rather we are to think more of them because of the strength of their repentance.

St Anastasia
Image by jimforest via Flickr

What I see is my wife remembering her dependence on God, refraining from attack at some cost to herself, when others try to injure her, and asking for others’ wellbeing. I also see all the weaknesses that married people see in each other, and no one outside of that marriage can really understand, though looking in they may think they do. But what is that the fathers have taught us? To see our own failings, not those of others. To say “it is my fault” when there is antagonism, or any time we think we see a frailty – to say “It’s me. I made her stumble”. To count others more worthy than oneself. Isn’t this the struggle most especially pursued in the form of marriage.

I think two things about marriage, more than I think much of anything about it:

1. It’s not the same as a committed “relationship”. You can’t toss in your experience in relationships with that of a marriage. I once thought I could, but marriage, religious marriage, is a form of martyrdom, which is why the crowns are worn during the betrothal. It is not comparable to ‘living together’, ‘dating’, or being in a LTR (long term relationship). A lot of people shacking up may not want to hear that. I really don’t care. It’s so.

2. No marriage is like any other marriage in the things that count. Just like no martyrdom is the same as any other. There’s no guidebook to marriage, seven principles of marriage, or handy dandy handbook to marriage. Which is, again, one of the reasons you don’t get to understand it by merely living together in a committed relationship. To reduce it to sharing a dwelling or to commitment is to fail to understand it altogether, and this is one reason there’s so much advice out there, and most of it is garbage. Marriage understood as a religious mysterium, is beyond reduction to a set of propositions. The way of a particular man with a particular woman is unknowable, incomparable, and without reference in the way of another man with another woman, at its core. Sure, we can get some advice, take a lesson or two, but that’s not really the same thing.  So when people try to say “this is how a marriage is supposed to work”, I just automatically change the intellectual channel. Once the starting place is that marriage is a generic relationship consisting of propositions for success, like building a business plan, I know it’s not my marriage we’re talking about. What you’re left with, in that whole millieu, is marriage products. Something marriage-ish. A heat and eat marriage formula with a full serving of vegetables in every glass. Yeah, right. I’m sure there are many books that married couples have found helpful, but they’re helpful only when they are interpreted, evaluated, and applied within the context of something utterly unique. Which is why some book or seminar or whatever might be excellent for you and crap for us. You just don’t have a point of comparison for our marriage, neither does that author or speaker, and nor does anyone else. And we don’t have a point of reference for your marriage, either. The deep things, the things that truly matter, which we say is salvation by marriage, marriage as a vehicle of union with God, can only be understood on a personal level and from within.

In the same way, we assert that my salvation is not your salvation. In fact, we are so unique that even our sins have never been committed by anyone else, ever. My pride is not your pride. This disturbs those who offer salvation products, salvation heat and eat formulas, and salvation plans, packages, and programs, which are somehow usually intricately connect with either fundraising or private affiliation. Not that I think salvation is possible apart from the Church – to assert that is heresy. But salvation is also ultimately unique – as ultimately unique as each person is. And salvation as the only reason for marriage (it is the only reason), indicates that marriage is also ultimately unique. Or another way of putting it: just as our anthropology insists that all persons are ultimately unique, so our mysteriology must assert that each union of unique persons must likewise be unique. As we are uniquely saved individually, so we are uniquely saved corporately.

Based on these two points, I really don’t take into account other people’s evaluations of my spouse and utilize them as part of my understanding of her. There’s no need. They don’t see when and how she prays. I do. They don’t see how she handles problems that are discussed in the vault of our intimacy. I do. They see only the outcomes of those things, the actions viewed from an external vantage point. A place of more limited understanding. And besides, why take into account the thoughts of someone about your own spouse who isn’t doing what you are supposed to be doing – seeing only their own faults, not hers, seeing only their own weaknesses, and taking hers upon themselves.  Judgment is hypocrisy. And judgement for judgment is ultimate hypocrisy. It is better not to listen. Hear only the inner voice saying “I am at fault. Not the other person. By that person’s prayers save me.”

So what’s the point? Well, just this. The Faith teaches us to prefer one another to ourselves. To deem the other superior. And this doesn’t work if it’s just lip service or illusion. The only road to this is either to understand and acknowledge for real the depth of one’s own sin, or to see the piety at work in the other person, God’s grace abiding on them and in them, as surely it does. Or both. And whether then you are in the inner chamber of confession or the inner chamber of marriage, others cannot quite see what you see.  They may see something similar for similar reasons, indeed – they may deem the other person to be indeed holy – but we only need to concern ourselves with our own vision. The alternative is blindness.

I guess what I’m saying is that in my marriage, I find it beneficial to see my wife’s example, in many ways, and to have it as a point of reference in my own unworthiness. And while I don’t presume to offer anyone marital advice, in which I’m not really a believer, I like the advice of the fathers for all of us, that we venerate one another as the icons of Christ. I find it useful in my marriage. If you find it applicable or useful in yours, kudos. It’s just what I’m thinking about. And I think if my wife were not Orthodox, I would find it just as helpful to see when she is merciful, or just, or peaceable, and recognize this also as impossible except for the uncreated Grace of God sustaining her life as it does all of us. To me, my wife is a Saint, and as we are taught to say of all men, I say of her “by her prayers save me”. What other attitude is right for a married man to have? So naysay all anyone wants, it can only come from outside of a context where it has little relevance. My wife is my icon, and the failings are mine.

The Rules of Religious Blogging

The rules of religious blogging aren’t that different than the rules of blogging in general. So many religious bloggers made their first foray into the medium with religion, and it’s an explosive topic, so it bears some discussion for the layman. The biggest problem is that so many people attribute to their religious views a totality, a monolithic, comprehensive absolutism – quite simply put, a “rightness” – that, in the area of religion, they feel free to ignore the rules of blogging altogether. The results can be disastrous personally, as the blogger falls quickly into pride, defensiveness, and begins to make war on anyone who disagrees. Again, quite simply, the worst tendencies of religious absolutism come out for all to see, leaving the blogger in a seige position, with a taking on all enemies mentality, boxing in all directions, and inviting likewise the audience to participate in the personal moral failures of the blogger – closemindedness, inability to hear, the loss of gentleness and peace, the devolution of spirited debate into personal attacks and enjoyment of other people’s downfall, or plotting enjoyment of their potential defeat. In short, the blogger becomes a monster, the blog a monstrosity, and all we who participate become little monsters hanging on to the mother beast. Gone is any real possibility, though we might kid ourselves, that we will learn something. We become Rush Limbaugh-like, firing missiles from our armored booths, with no felt accountability for where they land.

Prophet Amos, old Russian Orthodox icon
Image via Wikipedia

You might find this intro surprising, coming from me. But I’m not talking about breaking the rules of blogging, merely about ignoring them. It’s one thing to proceed with ignorance and inexperience and end up slamming your first car into a wall. We’d like to avoid that. It’s another thing if you wreck cars for a living as a stuntman, crash test dummy, or safety tester. If you know what you’re doing, are breaking the rules intentionally for a reason, and understand the consequences for you and for others, then maybe it’s appropriate. Maybe. It depends on your purpose and the purpose of your blog and what kind of interaction you want with visitors. I know mine, know what I’m doing and why, and while that doesn’t exempt me from the need to monitor myself, listen to feedback, and possibly adjust, it also means that if I’m breaking the very rules I’m discussing, it may not be hypocrisy at all – it may be quite intentional. My father used to quote Oscar Wilde, “a gentleman never offends anyone unintentionally”. That shouldn’t be an excuse for being intentionally brutal – it doesn’t make it all right – but we must at once be willing to take all offenses we give on ourselves, saying with our fathers, “it is all my fault”, and yet leave the other person their own will, which we cannot presume to own or control. Sometimes what is being offended is pride, or presumption, or arrogance, or unbelief, or some such thing. We must avoid making excuses, tread carefully lest we assume for ourselves the deluded role of ‘hammer of God’ – avoiding hubris, and yet also sometimes be willing to risk pain in order to remove something awful, like a surgeon at work on a tumor. And in that, it’s so easy to become self-righteous and blind.

So anyway, I’m not meaning this to be a comprehensive list of rules. There are plenty of lists out there, if you want to google the rules of blogging. But here are a couple that may be useful:

* Whenever possible, avoid telling a person he’s wrong. Instead, acknowledge right intent, right direction, right in some point, but merely operating with wrong information or incomplete analysis in another area. I’m constantly re-learning this one. It’s something I pull from business blogging, and it’s just as appropriate in a religious setting.

* Always leave something on the table. Don’t attempt to “decimate” someone you’ve decided is an intellectual opponent. If you do, you’re delighting too much in another’s downfall, which is forbidden, is it not? Do you think David mocked Goliath as he slung the stone? We are not that kind of people, if we pretend to be whatever is meant by “christian”. The wrath of God is upon us at such moments. There is always a bigger giant. If you can’t find *any* point of agreement with the other person, let them know that that’s where you’re struggling, and leave it at that. As John Duns Scotus said, ‘unless we can find some single point on which we really and unreservedly agree, we can’t really have a conversation’. That happens to me a lot, because you and I don’t mean the same thing by “christian” or “god” or “Jesus”. There’s always someone assuming for you that you’re in agreement, and who will fight to insist that you agree when you know that you do not. I always end it by saying, “the god that you believe in, I think is fictional, imaginary, and doesn’t exist, so saying we both worship the same God is like saying that you think you’re hearing fairies and I think you’re hearing your own mind – that’s not what “same” really means”. But it’s not really our place to have ecumenical(ist) dialogues and come to ‘agreement’ as we cook our own religious meth, so to speak. Protestants create their religion. The rest of us cannot engage in that kind of thing without ceasing to be what we are. It’s apostasy of attitude and activity that we must avoid, besides mysteriological apostasy.

* Acknowledge the other person’s intellectual and vocational liberty. You can’t be Orthodox without believing in this freedom. Maybe Calvinists have another take and end up struggling with this. You hear fundamentalists say all the time, “the devil is whispering in your ear” or some such thing. It’s really inappropriate for us to make such a judgment. Our fathers warn stringently against that presumption. I find I’m saying, “I understand that a lot of people live that way, think that way, make that choice. It’s not the way I live, think, or not what I’ve decided.” Sometimes the best way to acknowledge liberty is to pair it with your own. The danger for religious bloggers, and those who drop in for a visit, is the same danger you get in religious forums (an infernal venue that I don’t want here) – that is, deciding that there’s only one possible correct answer, and that you’ve got a handle on it such that nothing else need be listened to. It’s the most dangerous to you when you ‘know’ you’re right. The moment you stop challenging your own ‘beliefs’, then you’re not actually thinking anymore, your intellect isn’t actually free, but instead you’re a creature of ‘beliefs’. One of my religious duties is to remove from my mind all ‘beliefs’. I often say that I don’t believe in God, because I don’t have any beliefs. That’s more an intention than a reality. I know if I dig enough, I’ll find beliefs I haven’t eradicated yet. A belief is something you’ve insulated from consideration, scrutiny, from thought – it’s fixed, it cannot any more be considered. You can’t really respond to a belief. The person has chosen to separate themselves from reality, in actual principle, and to decide that nothing can impact their understanding. They are immune even from the God they presume to worship. They aren’t followers of God, but followers of their own mind. It’s the ultimate atheism, the best demonstration of autonomy from the Creator, the height of pride and also, tragically, the best evidence of terrible loneliness, fear – the very seige mentality we’re saying religious bloggers need to avoid. The best thing you can do for them and for you is to keep responding with, “yes, I acknowledge that’s one way of thinking. it’s not mine, or everyone’s, but it’s one way.” Then, unless you’re a hypocrite, you tell yourself the same thing about *your* beliefs, until they start listening again, and you are free of their power. Nothing destroys faith like belief.

* Make friends of your enemies, where possible. The notion that someone is your ‘enemy’ is suspect in the first place, because you’ve reduced the other person to a concept, which is the first stage in villifying them. You’re not really listening, anymore, just fighting. So if it’s possible, read what they write elsewhere, offer respect, agreement where possible, interest – don’t let it all become teeth and claws. Sure, some people are enemies of God, enemies of the truth, etc. But be careful about painting with that brush. Because, again, it reduces the person down to what the person is saying or doing, and that’s heresy if you’re Orthodox, the height of evil, and the reason we stopped regarding the Roman Bishop and his “christians” as Orthodox in the first place, because they did that theological to the Holy Trinity, in the form of the filioque, making heresy into blasphemy. How can you then presume to do it? Might as well join the other camp at that point, because whatever you’re saying to them, you’ve fallen into their primary error, what St. Photius spoke of as ‘the sum of all heresies’, “all the rash impudence that the West has to say”. Be careful, because once you do that, you pave the way for cyber-crusades, internet inquisitions, and blogger burnings at the cyber-stake.

* Know when to cut it off. There are times when it’s clear that all the other person is not interested in doing anything except fighting. At that point, give them the last word if you want, or if their last word is to kick over something that needs to be repaired, then you take the last word, and then cut them off. I don’t mean cut off anyone who disagrees with you and annoys you personally, or people you like, by not “getting it” or by asking uncomfortable questions. I know a couple of bloggers who do that, and most of us don’t have a lot of respect for them. One of them gives a couple of warnings that if you keep asking the same question in a different way, or keep bringing up an issue that the blogger thinks has already been answered adequately, you’re going to get banned. I don’t read that blog anymore, because I can’t respect the venue or the blog manager. True, I didn’t agree with the people who were getting banned, and I thought the person doing the banning had more or less correct ideas, but it’s not a real discussion if you always hand the game to your own team. That’s religion. That’s belief. It’s the equivalent, in a blog, of what belief is doing in the mind. It’s the antithesis of faith. So why bother? Another blogger I’ve spent some time observing, only posts comments that ask questions he likes or that won’t embarrass him, and he uses the approval/disapproval system to control the conversation, so that he always comes out right. Wow. That’s even worse, and almost no one I know respects him, or what he’s doing. A colleague called it a monoblog. 🙂 That’s fine, if it’s going to be that, but then turn off comments rather than make it a sham.

* Have a mission statement. A lot of people don’t get blogging for the same reason they don’t get Twitter. They’re newbies who don’t have the background a lot of us do in virtual communities and online venues. If they just came onto the scene about the time AOL opened it’s doors to the web, they’re newbies. And you’re going to get people who think your web real estate is one thing when it’s another. If it’s a forum, treat it like a forum – don’t censor. If it’s a monoblog, then turn off comments. If you’re primarily promoting yourself and sharing information, then make that clear. Whatever you’re doing, even if someone is an ass, you have to give them a pass if you don’t tell them what defines the turf. This blog, for instance, is neither a forum nor a monoblog. It’s a site of personal confession. I’m open to some feedback, some discussion, some comments, but I’m not interested in cooking our own meth. The people you’ll see me chase off, eventually, if they don’t get it after a while, are the Protestant types who want to ‘dialogue’ and create our own religious viewpoints, as though that’s a legitimate activity. I’m Orthodox. That’s not what Orthodox people do. You can find ones who will. They’re Protestants dressed up in Orthodox clothes. It wouldn’t be a site of personal confession if I was here throwing Holy Orthodoxy over my shoulder, would it? The other behavior I don’t spend a lot of time with (in other words, I usually say “look, I’m not interested in this”) comes from visitors who drop in, fire off a “corrective” based on reading a single post (yeah, you can track how many posts they’ve read, and how long they spent on each page, etc), and aren’t really listening to or looking at what you’re doing or why. They’re taking some statement as a disconnected proposition, the way Protestants do ‘bible verses’ and responding to that. In short, they’re not talking about what I’m saying, they’re focuses only on what I said. They’re not paying attention to what I’ve said, but only to what’s happening in their own mind. I don’t really have a lot of time for that, and I tend to want to toss it in one response. So I reduce it to logic, show the fallacies, and move on. Usually is quite effective. Doesn’t mean I need only flowery love sonnets for what I’m writing – those don’t do much for me, either – I’m not a sage – I’m just a sinner who is thinking out loud, trying to be saved and, as I’ve said elsewhere, wanting to avoid having only the walls of my own mind to respond, for reasons I needn’t repeat in this post. Anyway, somewhere, you need to make it clear what the hell you’re doing, so that there’s some point of reference. In the old days, people used an F.A.Q.

* Above all, don’t go nuclear. I’m not talking about your personal feelings, or about getting too upset. I mean don’t arm your online country with weapons of mass destruction in the first place. Once you escalate to the point that you’re your own nation, you’re not a “christian” anymore – if you ever were in the first place. Nationalism and christianity are incompatible, no matter what your flag waving pastor tells you. Nationalism is heresy to all faiths, because it’s an attack on faith itself. And I’m not only talking about the nationalism that things “charity starts at home” or “American and Israel are special nations” (neo-gnostic nonsense). In principle, we’re talking about any time you carve out an area and say, ‘outsiders will have to give account of their religious background, their legal identity, their statement of faith, etc.’ and ‘if you commit treason, sedition, or even questional activities, you will be stigmatized, ostracized, and eventually ejected, or else bombed by a religious dogpile of “loving” violence’. Loving violence – that’s nuclear. You know, I’ve had people slap my face, punch me, or threaten to hurt me or worse, because their religious group had gone nuclear. To the point that even the ‘leaders’ (cult leaders) sanctioned it. When a religion goes nuclear, I don’t care if it’s Brother Billy and First Baptist, your Victory Fundagelical Megachurch, or the coffee hour folks at your local parish, you’re a cult and your leaders, if they are involved, are cult leaders. When you do that with online religious communities, you’re either acting illicitly *against* your religion (Orthodox people would say acting apart from the Bishop) or your religion isn’t worth blogging about in the first place, because it’s just an argument by force. And that goes whether people set out on online smear campaigns, villify you in one of those “let’s all gang up on one person (and scare any sympathizers into silence)” free for alls, or what have you. It’s all illicit violence. If you’ve gone nuclear, and you have enough humanity left to realize it, do the one needful thing – kill the damned beast, so it doesn’t grow any more. Close down the blog, shut off the forum, end the meetings and the e-mails, or what have you, and go and spend the next months in penance and begging forgiveness. You have killed. Even if you didn’t actually draw blood. You have murdered with your mind, and you are an apostate to your Faith and to all faith of any kind. Repent, and bend your swords into plowshares.

And remember, don’t get some monster dressed up as a Saint in your head. Martin Luther burned the town of Muenster, and all the men, women, children, elderly, and infirm within it. If you’re thinking, “Martin Luther would do this!” then you might as well put in Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, or Hitler. The religious thing is just window dressing.

* Show it to your Bishop. Or if you’re not Orthodox, then take it to your leader. Make sure they know it exists and where to find it. I’m not necessarily telling you that you can’t speak freely. I’m saying that it’s good to make what you say, where possible, available to your Bishop, so you can get guidance and help with any serious problems you might have, or if you really need someone to rescue you from the monster you’ve become. Sometimes, speaking into the hollow of an oak is necessary. I get it. But that’s not what turns you into a monster, usually. Avoid monstrosity – show the Bishop. That’s what he’s there for.

That’s it. The list could go on and on. I figure these are enough. I mean, if you’ve got these down, hell, you’re better off that in most religious venues, aren’t you? And if you can’t do these things, for goodness sake, it’s not for you to run, launch, or participate in an online venue. Get out of it. No one is appointed to the inquisition. If you’re going to stay in, try slapping something on your sidebar that says, “Be gentle, be kind, be peaceable. Be willing to say that you’re wrong. Be willing to acknowledge the other guy is right. If you can’t do these things, go play golf until you can. It’ll still be here tomorrow.” Here, I use remembrance of the times and seasons. Again, I’ll violate these rules sometimes. Sometimes unintentionally, in which case I’ve got work to do. Sometimes, on purpose, but usually more for dramatic effect. I swear up a storm some days, because I’d rather be genuine than religious and, again, this blog really serves a purpose to which that’s appropriate. But in the comments section, I sometimes do all right, sometimes not. That’s where I try to follow the rules as best I can.

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.

Shut your pie hole and help Haiti!

As I listen to people calling in to radio shows, I think, you know, the level of duplicity among right-wing (fascist), Republican (corporate), evangelical (made-up religion), “christians” whenever there’s brutality or disaster elsewhere in the world, is obscene. If it was England, there wouldn’t be a debate. When it’s black people with dreadlocks, we ask all these questions about “whether it’s our responsibility”. One gets a little tired of inbred, toothless, backwoods-drawl “believers” and their nouveau riche suburban counterparts expressing their pride and anger about doing the very thing Christ asked of us – help those who are poor or in distress: “If you see your brother in need and withhold the world’s goods from him, how does the love of God abide in you?”

Image by Nite_Owl via Flickr

These folks aren’t Christians – the Christian is the pagan, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or whatever that pulls someone from the rubble, bandages his wounds, carries him to the hospital, and puts down his own money to feed and care for him (by their prayers save me). The Christian is the Samaritan, the heretic, the alien, the foreigner, the false religious person, not the Judeo-Christian who sits at home bitching about the cost. I wouldn’t want to be standing in the congregation of those whose verbal ejaculations are a mockery of the gospels, because one day the floor is going to fall in, the grave open up, and the Devil take them all.

If you were singing songs of triumph when we bombed villages in Serbia and shot children in Fallujah, but saying “Yeah, it’s not our job to save the Tutsis from massacre by the Hutu in Rwanda – that’s another part of the world, not our business” – then besides being a hypocrite to reason, and an obvious liar therefore, you’ve hardly got a claim to being Christian. You may be Republican. You may be “conservative”. You may “believe in the Bible”. You may “have a personal savior”. But whoever it is, it’s not the historic Christ of the gospels. It’s not Jesus Christ. It’s a figment of your imagination. A fictious person to whom you’ve merely attributed your own attributes, carving out an idol of God in your own image, rather than leaving behind the world you love, as did the Holy Apostles, and following Christ. Christ is helping those in Haiti. You’re just bitching that other people are casting out demons and healing the sick in his name. You fundamentally don’t get it, and your fundamentalism has clouded your judgment.

Almost every religious person I know has let his politics pollute his faith. Among some of my people, it has been the obscenity of rhetorically beating up Muslims (funny, they weren’t bold enough to talk smack before 9/11 – what, did their faith change with the times? – is it “post-9/11 religion”?). They’ve become tools of Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s bandwagon. They’re not autonomous, which is the kingdom of which Christ spoke, “my power is not of this world”, but appendages of the political and social machine. It’s not everyone, of course. But religion sets up camp in faith all the time, busily appointing itself like storefront preachers, to the “ministry” of translating the premises of the world into the lingo of religious belief. You want to know if I’m guilty of it too? I don’t know, but my faith teaches me to say that I am, whenever anyone accuses me of a failing, and to accuse myself so that the enemy can own nothing in me. So whether I can think of a specific instance or not, I’m guilty. I’ve been religious. And damn every stitch of it, when I have been. Let’s repent together!

In Haiti, thousands are dead, families left fatherless, widows wailing in the streets, orphans looking for their parents, people have lost their homes and have nothing. Remember, you are charged with the words of our father St. James, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Brother of God, “Pure and undefiled religion is this, helping orphans and widows in their affliction, and keeping oneself unstained by the world.” Don’t mouth off about “yeah, but is it really our responsibility?” like you’ve been smoking too much conservative crack and it’s made you too high to hear the gospel – you’re putting shame and judgment on your head, and it’s just adding to the agony of the world. It’s not about you, and it’s not your job to turn everything into an ideology like you long ago did to your faith. It’s not all a belief system. The Samaritan has more faith than you or I, he will judge us in the last day, not vice versa. And if you think otherwise, you’ve been spoon fed too much triumphalist baby food that was just what your pride wanted to hear. Tell your pastor to go to hell and do something to help Haiti. Protest by withholding what you normally put in the offering plate, if he stands up there and tells you it’s not your concern. The Red Cross is the ‘church’ in that moment more than whatever cheesy architecture is wrapping those pews.

There’s plenty of stuff on the web about how to help, and what’s needed, so before anyone says I should light a candle not curse the dark (there’s a nice double entendre there), we just don’t need that extra voice on that side of the delivery truck. But I don’t see a lot of hands helping shove people off the rice sacks that have planted flags in them and are giving the finger to the desperate because they can’t find a “bible verse” to tell them they “have to” show compassion and mercy. So that’s my job. Get off the sacks you freaking false prophets, you cheats and stealers from the poor, you horders of the provisions God gave you to precisely to give away. I’m not “saying it with love” (timidly and in a pretty, Downy-soft, impressionistic manner). I’m just saying it.

Remember, these words, “You didn’t visit me in my distress. You didn’t give me food when I was hungry. You didn’t give me drink when I was dying of thirst. Depart from me, I never knew you.” What do you think is the penalty for stealing from the poor in the sight of God? “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.” – St. John Chrysostom

For those interested in helping, I recommend Global Giving (they’re solid – we use them all the time – and you can give any amount using paypal, credit card, or online check) or text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 via your cell phone bill. 100% of your $10 donation passes thru to RedCross for Haiti relief. Your cell carrier keeps nothing.

Text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate. 100% of your $10 donation passes thru to @RedCross for Haiti relief. Your cell carrier keeps nothingText “Haiti” to 90999 to donate. 100% of your $10 donation passes thru to @RedCross for Haiti relief. Your cell carrier keeps nothing..

Worry Free Christian Living

I just got a great chuckle. An ad for a retirement home (that’s the nice phrase we use now), offers “worry-free Christian living”. Hilarious. How exactly does that work – dope? sedation? tying you to your bed? I mean, what kind of people actually believe in “worry-free Christian living”?

Moises y los 10 Mandamientos,Moses and the ten...
Image by oseillo via Flickr

For you evangelical-types, the books say those who have no worries are in the grave. Maybe it’s a funeral home, in disguise. “I’m still worried.” – “That’s all right, dear. We’ll help you achieve a better attitude.”

This is why it’s no good for me sitting in congregational settings, even if it weren’t forbidden. I laugh when people are the most serious about their euphemisms.

“Leadership” (control), “authority” (papism), “my ministry” (my hobby), “God told me…” (I was smoking crack), “man of god” (boy scout Ken doll), “woman of god” (barbie housewife), “prayer warrior” (self-righteous delusional), “prayer circle” (religious masturbation), “biblical” (distortion), “miracle” (magic), “power” (witchcraft), “spirit” (the force), “father” (Charlton Heston), “Christian nation” (fascist super-state), “personal relationship” (customized designer-faith), “we just come before you and just… just… just…” (I have no farking idea who I’m talking to or what I think), “offering” (tax-free donation), “Christian marriage” (awkward shotgun dysfunctional relationship with dubious sex), “God in the schools” (banning disturbing facts), “evolutionist, environmentalist, feminist, gay rights, lobby” (people who are going to burn in hell, if we can’t get the stake legalized), “spiritual warfare” (religious video game in the mind), “Christian music” (artistic drek full of meaningless mantras), “praise God” (what you’re supposed to do, because my time is limited), “bible study” (initiation and intervention), “witnessing” (trolling for vulnerable neurotics), “pastor” (self-appointed prophet), “choir” (people who sing better than you), “youth group” (babysitting squad), “frozen chosen” (people with brains), “stale, dead religion” (no electric guitars), “legalism” (inconvenient ethical rules), “faith” (gambling), “trust” (guesswork), “hope” (hope), “unconditional love” (positive attitude toward both short and long term prospects), “givers” (clients), “vestry” (customer service), “scholarship” (indoctrinated agreement), “research” (google and Strongs concordance)… one could go on indefinitely. Yes, I’ll probably publish the book. 🙂

Anyway, “worry free Christian living” (dropping off your old people at the pound).

And that does it for our religious euphemism roundup for today. Stay tuned if you like. I’m just enjoying myself, but you’re welcome to watch.

The Historicity of the Scriptures

I got a note yesterday from someone who is leaving religion, because they don’t any long believe in the “historicity” of the scriptures.

Bronze ceremonial standard of the Hittites; he...
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t know why people feel compelled to announce this sort of thing. I mean what, are we supposed to keep an empty chair down at the “club”? I don’t even know this person, not really. Maybe it’s to make a clean break. Maybe it’s because we’re all supposed to rush out with “don’t go”. It’s sort of like standing on a ledge, maybe. But invariably these sort of notes are arrogant. This one worried about wounding any “weaker brothers”. It made me sort of chuckle but also wince, like when a TV anchor says something stupid and doesn’t realize it.

The other thing about these sort of notes is that they might as well be multiple choice. They usually contain one of a handful of reasons that we’re all familiar with. I’d really rather get a form letter, like when someone unsubscribes from one of my  mailing lists. “We’re sorry to see you go (or uninstall). Is it a) you’re planning to reinstall, b) service didn’t meet your needs, or c) you found one you like better.” Actually, I shouldn’t joke, there are mega-“churches” who actually do that sort of thing. And you know, if you don’t take them seriously, they send their parking lot security goons out to your house to let the air out of your tires.

This one was “I just can’t believe anymore in the historicity of the scriptures.” Yep, that’s one of the usual five. It’s a real yawner though because, only an idiot casts a blanket aspersion against the historicity of the scriptures. What, you don’t believe there were Hittites? Heck, a lot of people didn’t, until we dug them up. I mean, which part? I had a friend who once said he wasn’t sure there ever was a person called Jesus. I pointed out that there’s better support for the existence of Jesus than for Homer. I mean the documentary evidence kept by his enemies is pretty darned good. No serious scholars say there wasn’t a Jesus. They doubt that he is God, but not that he exists in history. There are nut jobs like Madeleine Murry O’Hare, of course, but come on. She’s like the Shirley McClain of atheism. Not to offer an ad hominem, but she’s not exactly basing her thinking on science. It’s like taking financial advice from Joel Osteen.  My friend relented, of course, and then we could have a more honest discussion. You can’t even be honest about what’s bothering you unless you’re willing to stipulate to the obvious facts. After all, it’s hard to claim religious people live in a fantasy world when they’ve got logic, science, and archeology and you’ve got blithering belief in the absence of something.

So anyway, no great refutation here. I just don’t care. You want to go, “I’ll hold the trap door to hell open for you”, as a Protestant comedian once said. Why be impolite? Blunt, perhaps, but courteous is my approach. We all know someone who doesn’t believe in something, and goes off to grow their beard (all we Orthodox men should have beards if they grow on us), or live on granola, or tour Buddhist shrines, or whatever. Send me a postcard. But it’s not something that needs a lot of drama. “I mean it, I’m going…” Did you ever run away from home, when you were a kid? “Dinner is a 6:30.”

Look, you want to claim that there was no King David, even though there’s better evidence for that than for who built the pyramids, you go ahead. People “believe” or “don’t believe” all sorts of things. If we were Protestants, we might get all bent out of shape and have a prayer circle around you. But if you’ve been involved with genuine Orthodoxy, we’re not really built on a foundation of beliefs anyway. When people ask, “What do you believe,” the best response is that that’s a Protestant question, and we should really refuse to commoditize (commodify?) our Faith in that manner. Protestantism is the religion of mental beliefs, which is one reason everyone goes out and starts their own ‘talk show’, so to speak. You get gazillions of groups in storefronts, precisely because belief is central, belief is everything, belief is the basis for it all.

Orthodoxy is based on history, not belief. We’re not a knowledge-based religion, like Gnosticism and its modern equivalents in Protestantism – we’re historical. For us, the “I’m leaving” spammer got one thing right, it really is important that there was a David. Not that you believe there’s a David – that’s different. Only a neurotic confuses his own belief with whether something is actually there or not. It matters not whether you believe, or even whether you exist (I push you off a building, and your belief ceases to matter much – you’re gone, the world goes on). It matters whether something is real. And since we live in time, live in history, all real things are historical. That’s why we don’t share a theology with the Protestants or Roman Catholics. Time is a creature. Reality is a creature. They’re created. In that sense, we don’t say that God is “real”. We don’t believe in God’s “existence”. You can’t think like that and really be Orthodox.

In fact, Orthodoxy is the religion of unbelievers. Our Faith is really historical. But our doctrine is really antithetical – to everything else. Our theology is negative theology – the via negativa – we deny things – we disbelieve things. If you look at  how our doctrinal statements have been formulated and why, they’re mostly statements that we, like the “I’m leaving” spammer, “don’t believe” – a whole host of things – or that we are “not persuaded” and so don’t intend to convert to something else. It is because I am an unbeliever that I am Orthodox in a sea of neurotic religious speculation. Our councils came about, because it was necessary to rise up and deny things – namely things that religious people had come up with by doing “positive theology” – cooking their own meth, so to speak. All our various statements, which we don’t like making for their own sakes (“Hi, welcome to our church. Here’s our doctrinal statement. We have a great youth program!”), are statements of disbelief or of opposition to belief foisted upon us by others – they’re refutations of the insanity and nuttyness of religion. To quote Vladimir Lossky’s “Mystical Theology” (emphasis is mine):

Unlike gnosticism, in which knowledge for its own sake constitutes the aim of the gnostic, Christian theology is always in the last resort a means: a unity of knowledge subserving an end which transcends all knowledge. This ultimate end is union with God or deification, the theosis of the Greek Fathers… All the development of the dogmatic battles which the Church has waged down the centuries appears to us, if we regard it from the purely spiritual standpoint, as dominated by the constant preoccupation which the Church has had to safeguard, at each moment of her history, for all Christians, the possibility of attaining to the fullness of the mystical union. So the Church struggled against the gnostics in defence of this same idea of deification as the universal end: ‘God became man that men might become gods’. She affirmed, against the Arians, the dogma of the consubstantial Trinity; for it is the Word, the Logos, who opens to us the way to union with the Godhead; and if the incarnate Word has not the same substance with the Father, if He be not truly God, our deification is impossible. The Church condemned the Nestorians that she might overthrow the middle wall of partition, whereby, in the person of the Christ himself, they would have separated God from man. She rose up against the Apollinarians and Monophysites to show that, since the fullness of true human nature has been assumed by the Word, it is our whole humanity that must enter into union with God. She warred with the Monothelites because, apart from the union of the two wills, divine and human, there could be no attaining to deification—’God created man by his will alone, but He cannot save him without the co-operation of the human will.’ The Church emerged triumphant from the iconoclastic controversy, affirming the possibility of the expression through a material medium of the divine realities—symbol and pledge of our sanctification. The main preoccupation, the issue at stake, in the questions which successively arise respecting the Holy Spirit, grace and the Church herself this last the dogmatic question of our own time—is always the possibility the manner or the means of our union with God. All the history of Christian dogma unfolds itself about this mystical centre, guarded by different weapons against its many and diverse assailants in the course of successive ages.

In short, we are an army of unbelievers who wish to be united to God, and defend ourselves against the seduction by which religion would deprive us of it. We are very practical about it. Try to force your religion on us, and separate us from God by means of it, and we declare an anathema against you, and all our people cross their arms, turn their backs, and leave your “belief system” to die in the ashheap of history. We are the people of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and of the seed of David, Jesus Christ. So yeah, if you become ahistorical like the Protestants and create a religion based on a belief system, or you become anti-historical like the “I’m leaving” spammer, and start denying the holocaust or the existence of Assyria (same thing, in principle), or whatever, then you’re right, you’re leaving. You’ve left. Good luck. But let’s not be confused about it – it really doesn’t matter what you “believe” or “don’t believe” in and of itself. What matters is what happened. History doesn’t need our belief to make it so. Once you accept that, you might as well believe you’re Elvis, because the distinction between belief and tangible, historical, scientific reality – the rock under our feet – well, that’s just gone off into lulu land.

Anyway, I still like the form letter idea. Maybe one of the atheist groups should create an online form, and you can fill in (by blind copy) the e-mail addresses of your religious group, and check off the appropriate boxes, before hitting send. I’ve got a belief system or two in my past I wouldn’t mind sending a test form to. 🙂 But come on, because of history? Next you’ll be denying Masada, and that’s just wrong!

Review of Avatar

It’s the connections of things. That’s what it is about Avatar, the James Cameron film. And I don’t mean in a Gaia, goddess, neo-gnostic, pagan kind of way. But it’s something else. The way they interacted with animals – the metaphor of actually plugging in – and what it suggests about how animals are. The way they plugged into the earth and with each other to the trees, not because they’re trees, but because it’s creation – it’s the same as with the animals. It situated them in creation. I really don’t respond other than with delight to the trees being connected as a network. All creation derives its meaning through man. But the fact that they were connected to the network too, that’s the story. The real story of us. That we are situated in creation by the economy of Christ – by God becoming a man, flesh of the womb of the Virgin, Adam’s flesh and Eve’s. Avatar gets it – the network is a network of trees sharing human memories – human souls, as well as their own. It isn’t connectedness that matters, but interconnectedness, of all things.

Birth of an AVATAR on Vimeo by Peter Ammentorp...
Image by marcotruiz via Flickr

This has always been huge for me, but because it’s huge for mankind. When I wrote my first critique of environmentalism, this is what I was aiming at. When I write about the Economy of Christ and a lot of people don’t understand me outside our Faith, and some within don’t, this is what I mean too. The economy is all that is not God – all that is created – there’s nothing that is not God that is not created, including time – including history. And all that is created – all things that are not God – are created with one purpose, the salvation of man. The deification of man. The entire creation is God’s salvific act. The Economy is God’s action toward creation, and is the creation itself. And it culminates in God becoming part of creation, entering creation, entering time and history, taking flesh of our flesh – “plugging in” – but much more than that, by becoming us – the only act that would save. And by becoming us, he took in his body all minerals, plants, all elements, all history, all categories in which all creation participates. By becoming one of us, he summed up all creation, and brought it all together in one. His salvation is salvation of the animals, and of the plants, and of rock and stone, and of all things. Nothing is abandoned, nothing lost, nothing without participation in the glory. All things will be deified. All that is created or ever has been will become God. And by participation in him, by our own deification, we participate in that recapitulation of his.

People often don’t realize what this means. Simply saying that death will end, so we will not eat animals in the kingdom, is greeted with surprise. But saying that all things are being deified – everything – anything conceivable – anything that ever was or will be – that can shock and scare people. But it is our Faith. It is the meaning of existence, the very definition of creation. Creation *is* the Economy of Christ. Creator becoming creation *is* the gospel. And of course, if you ask the priests or the scholars, the decent ones who are not arrogant asses pursuing their own exaltation by trying to pick apart the holiness of this, they will all agree, of course. They will tell the people who don’t know, yes that’s right, of course, didn’t you know that is our faith?

But then to point out that this means that when we look at animals, we see, not in the same depth as we see in man, but still see Christ. We see them being deified. We see that they are not fodder, not machines. And then again, when we look at other living things, all living things, plants, trees, algae, we see deification, we see that which will become God. And then even, finally, in perhaps a wider radius, that which is inanimate matter, though we don’t really know as much about that as our scientific dogma pretends when it talks to us – I prefer to listen to the high level scientists talking to each other – they’re less dogmatic and arrogant about “the facts” that always turn out to be just the bare intelligence of public school science dogmatics and popularizers of Darwinism.

That which is rock and stone and mountain is not, as we may think, “dead” if by “dead” we mean it will be lost, has no value, or can be disregarded as profane or not sacred. All the earth, and all that is beyond it is sacred. The skies, the sun and moon, the mountain, the trees, the earth, and all that lives on it, and we – we are connected to it through Christ our saviour, the saviour of all creation, the deliverer of animals and trees from death, the redeemer of mountains and stars and stones and algae and insects and all that is, not merely all that lives. That, this kind of talk, at least in US circles, scares people of presumably “christian” faith. But theirs is not a “christian” faith, if they deny this.

To deny it is to deny that God became man. It is to say “not really”, “not in fulness”, “not entirely”. It is to deny as surely as the heretics and gnostics of old that Christ is one person with two natures. It is to “protect” Christ by insulating him from creation, and so severing our line to creation too, our ability to plug in, it is to separate and alienate us from creation so that we abuse it and do not consider it in our salvation, it is to set us against it and embrace death, not salvation from death, as the natural norm. It is to make distinction the basis of opposition. It is the heresy of all heresies. It is the language of hell. Francis Schaeffer’s book Pollution and the Death of Man is fantastic on this.

That’s why I put together my earlier essay on the topic – the pagan environmentalists are simply trying to defend the sanctity of creation by suggesting that “god” made it “out of” himself (or herself) – that it is deified in that way. But that’s not the only avenue to take. It’s damned close. We insist that God’s creation is through his energies (energia), which are uncreate, and are God. Not God’s essence but, still God. In that sense, yeah, God could be said to have created the cosmos out of himself, if you can also allow that he created it out of nothing, meaning that there was no pre-existing material that co-existed alongside God – because then, he’s not God at all, which is why the gnostics have to cook up a creative “demiurge” alongside him – where did the demiurge come from? What the pagans are not prepared to accept, partly from the influence of Darwinism corrupting their paganism, and making it pseudo-paganism, is Death, and how it came upon the world. They consider Death *part* of the natural order, not an alien infection upon it. And that’s their undoing. But the sanctity of creation *is* protected in the deification of all creation, as we insist. Paganism is a left turn into theoretical invention to accomplish something, unsuccessfully, which is already accomplished from the outset by the Creator. It’s just that a lot of people passing themselves off as “christian” and representing “christianity” aren’t really offering a Christian understanding of the Economy at all. What the pagans are really running up against is gnostics in “christian” media.

All of creation is sacred. We are saved through water, and through wine, and through bread, and through oil, through fishes and loaves, and through all things that participate in Christ. All things around us, everything that is, is a vehicle of our salvation and co-participant, and to be one with us, and one with God, so that all are one. This is the only Christian faith. Anything that detracts from it is a different “christ” – one who is either not God or not man, not creator or not creation, and then we are all lost, and all is hopeless and despair. It is Christ who joined creation and Creator, deifying the one by the other, in his one person by the two natures. To be of Christ at all is to participate in this joining – this interconnectedness.

Or else they make him creation but not God, and so then we are just men among men trying to be wise, and nothing has the power to connect us to all things or connect us and all things to God. And then creation is futile, because that which was created is not to be redeemed, and creation and redemption are irrevocably torn apart, and the Enemy is right that death is all that will be forever. And no faith is then true. All is nonsense, even disbelief becomes madness, and we are lost to chaos with no ground for our minds, and no ground for our bodies, and no ground for anything.

When I watch the blue movie, as I call it, I see it showing me how we are connected, but not insisting that I fall down and worship a god who did not become man, which cannot make all things one, or worship a god who is just a man, and can therefore give nothing meaning. True, it’s full of religious references, but not offensively. They’ve asked more than preached. And for this, I can live in the film.

And do you know what it means to someone who is alien even from aliens to be connected to all things? “No longer strangers. No longer aliens. Now, we are citizens with the Saints in the Kingdom of God.” For someone who has searched for meaning, for meaning all over, to find in Christ’s Incarnation that all things have been joined, united, put together? And for someone who suffers at the suffering of the world, the cosmos, the “groaning and travail” that is the slaughter, disease, warfare? It is a profound deliverance. Not that Avatar has given me that meaning – this is our Faith and always has been – but that I feel an immense and abiding joy when it is articulated visually.

Anyway, if you’ve seen it, see it again. And again. There’s so much detail, if you look. And do see it on the big screen. You have to be immersed in it, not spectating from outside when, at the end, they are all plugged in to the earth, to the roots of trees, and are seeking a transformation.

Oh, and yeah, if you were expecting the standard review with commentary on special effects, you can get that anywhere, so no.

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Notes on Pleasure

Someone yesterday was saying that Aristotle’s idea of pleasure is doing something well. I think that’s one good definition. Contemporary man treats pleasure as stimulation, but without other purpose or meaning. Constant stimulation that we get from video games, sex without love, or mindless dissipation in simulated pleasures – which might be rehashed TV or music, or reading crappy magazines.

Happy 4th of July!
Image by Lorika13 via Flickr

I think pleasure is always other-related, it’s always outward, not merely auto-erotic or entirely in the self. I’m not knocking those things, but I’m saying there’s a distinction between pleasure and stimulation, and that pleasure is derived, ultimately, from meaning, like all other human qualities. I just got back from conducting a 2hr training, and then another appointment for 2hrs of consulting. I left knowing I did well, and deriving an ongoing attitude of pleasure from it. My experience suggests that Aritstotle, as we may interpret him, has this right.

But how does one evaluate doing “well”? Lots of people on American Idol think they sing well, when clearly they don’t. You’ll see someone belting it out, but it’s awful. Some will say it doesn’t matter, that it’s singing “well” if you derive pleasure from it. This is fundamentally backwards. It’s a heresy against man’s energies, against the order of creation, to say such a thing. No, it is possible to seem to derive pleasure illicitly – pleasure from acclaim, from attention, from an illusory self-image, but these aren’t actually pleasure – they’re merely the stimulation of the passions. In such a case, meaning is alien to the activity, in that meaning is an interaction with others, not merely a presentation of an image to others or the receiving of a stimulation from others. To act “well” implies an interaction with others that is more substantive than self-gratification alone. Actual pleasure is derived from doing well in the sense that meaning, external to the self, but thereby residing in the self, is the source and fruit of one’s activity.

It’s not writing a poem that only you understand. That may have “meaning” to just you, but it’s not Meaning, in a universal or cosmic sense. By definition, that which is utterly autonomous is not a source of cosmic meaning. Doing something well is doing something that benefits or enriches creation, and you as part of it. Meaning is that which is derived from acting in coordination with creation as a whole. And genuine pleasure is derived from meaningful activity.

If you cook well, it is well when it provides comfort, nourishment, and peace to yourself or to others. If you made an intricately detailed casserole and then just threw it away, that’s not cooking “well”. You can claim all you want that you showed expertise, skill, and creativity, and that may be true in the barest sense, but those things only derive their meaning by finding a place in the grand (cosmic) scheme of things – in conjunction with creation. Autonomy from meaning is the curse of pleasure. And nothing is done well that is devoid of meaning.

So, in the quest for meaning, which all people are on, whether it’s to find for the first time, to find what was lost, or to continue to find what is nearby and identified (the quest for meaning is, in this way, like the quest for food), it may be helpful to distinguish pleasure from stimulation, doing something well from doing it with mere technical skill (again a chef who makes a souffle for the garbage is not doing well in the same way as a mother who makes scrambled eggs for breakfast), and to distinguish between meaning and self-gratification (what people erroneously refer to as “meaning to me” – as though we all live in separate cosmoses and get our own cosmic meaning – meaning is meaning precisely because it can be shared in by all of creation).

It is an opinion, but taking a queue from Aristotle, I believe this is some of what our Faith would say about it. As ever, I don’t speak for the Orthodox in this, because it’s just an opinion (we would say “speculation”), and I acknowledge with the fathers that speculation is dangerous and to be avoided where possible. One reason for this journal is to remove from my mind through expression those things that, if I hold them inside it too long, can become an endless source of speculation that will surely lead me to the pit. Sometimes people will pick up something off the ground and run with it. Please keep in mind, if that’s you, especially if you are not of the Faith, the one, holy, and true Orthodox Faith, this is trash. This is not a gem. It is cast off here for a reason. It is only the byproduct, the emission of a mind that is striving to obtain union with the source of meaning, the most holy Trinity.

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Narn Thinking on The Scriptures as Ikon

“Do not thump the book of G’Quan. It is disrespectful.” – Ambassador G’Kar, Babylon 5

Good Props Gone Bad

I like the dual edge of this remark. Fundamentalists and iconoclasts both could take it to heart. I was once present when a guest set a can of Pepsi on an icon. The host, my Bishop, was kinder than I would have been. We both reacted much like G’Kar would though, only on different days. Blood racing, if you don’t know G’Kar.

In another instance, a family member piled my laundry on an icon. I was less charitable than I should have been. After all, she had just folded my laundry. A lesson for me – defending the icon while simultaneously ceasing to be one.

The Holy Scriptures are an icon, which is why we still kiss them, as we did the scrolls in the temple. It is not true that we had no icons when we Orthodox were merely Hebrews and not yet Christians. My old Bishop used to tell me, when I asked “What about the butchered Protestant versions? Cut down to 66 books. And some of them barely constituting a translation, frequently taken from gnostic versions of the texts. Are they to be handled with respect?” He replied that ‘they mangle Christ as well. How would they not do so to his icon? Indeed, iconoclasm is at the core of their heresy. But we recognize that even a heretical icon deserves to be handled within the realm of reverence, which is why we burn them, not casually or disdainfully, but with prayers to the Saint depicted, however evil or wrong the depiction.’

So it’s not OK to thump even the “study bibles”, “living translations”, “good news versions”, and “translations from the latest texts” that have mangled holy writ. We don’t thump icons that presume to convey Christ or Christ through the Saints, one way or another. And regarding icons that are truly icons, we might carry them into war, since we stand against principalities and powers. We might carry them in other processions around our Churches, since we are sanctified by them, and since we are honoring the saints as if we held their flesh, though this also is a form of warfare. But we do not either wield them as axes on the merely misguided, or else treat them as casual things merely because they are not axes.

It’s not good to thump a book of G’Quan. Just ask a Narn ambassador. By the way, I hear they’re making a feature motion picture, for you fellow Babylon 5 fans.

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What the hell is a Judeo-Christian?

:en:Rabbi :en:Moshe Feinstein
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I don’t know if my dog likes watching news commentary and reporting but, when I come home, that’s what’s on TV sometimes, so he must. From that, I pick up snatches of what your “average joe” is thinking about today.  Today it’s discussion about governments posting religious monuments and stem cell research. It’s a bit like listening to aliens, without the lasers and space ships. One thing that doesn’t seemed to get questioned, I noticed, as I relieved myself in the other room, is the phrase “Judeo-Christian”. Supposedly, the US is predicated on “Judeo-Christian” values and beliefs, and these monuments are “Judeo-Christian”. What the hell is a Judeo-Christian? That, to me, is like saying Islamo-Hindu.

I know, I know, they’re not talking at all about Christianity as I would use the word. They’re linking together components in a historiographical theory that claims there’s some fundamental shared worldview between Jews and Christians. People of the book, they used to call them – tho they don’t include muslims anymore – that went out of vogue in the 1990s – so now that phrase is largely forgotten. I remember the lovely little men who used such terms, with their pony tales and their liberality, who a few years ago wouldn’t think of including muslims in the same breath and, once again, now that the invasion of Iraq and its atrocities are evil, and there’s some color in the white house, they’re back to cautiously regarding the “good muslims” as somehow sharing a history.

One of the exercises we did in college in the History of Mediaeval Philosophy was to compare Avicenna, Averoes, Aquinas, and others, and see whether or not Jews, Muslims, and Roman Catholics (proto-Protestants) sounded more like each other than any of them resembled Holy Orthodoxy. Even the critics, atheists, and committed religionists of other stripes admitted they did. People of the book, indeed. But the religious psychology has just as much in common w. Brahmanism. I know someone who was in a schismatic Roman Catholic group before converting to Holy Orthodoxy. He was always an agitator and never really was happy with his conversion, and now he’s off being a quasi-Buddhist. He doesn’t realize that he just really went back to his original species. The trappings have changed, but not the fundamental premises.

Anyway, I listen to words like this thrown around, with no one batting an eye, and not one voice asking what precisely is the theory behind this compound “Judeo-Christian” and I realize that if an Orthodox person were to stand up and say that the Jews are the enemies of Christ, that there is no separate “dispensation” of salvation for them apart from the Church (standard evangelical speculation), and that we have nothing to do with these false Jews but are ourselves the New Israel, the Israel of God, the ancient religion of Adam, of Noah, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Solomon and David, we would undoubtedly be labelled anti-semitic. And there can be no greater crime in the current political empire than being anti-semitic – our support for zionist Israel is “unwavering”, and is continually being “renewed”. We wouldn’t have to go that far, though, to incur the wrath of “anti-racists”. Just saying, “Judeo-Christian? Don’t know what you mean. We have nothing to do with the Jews, unless you mean the Christian ones. Yes, we have a Patriarchate in Jerusalem – are you talking about them?” – that would do it. That would incur the ire, the wrath, the hatred and vitriol of those who insist that there’s a standing dogma about Jews that we all must share – support for the nation of Israel, and hence for Zionism, their supposed shared content and historical continuity with Christians (yes, I deny that, too), and the notion that the religion of these folk is just as salvific, not to mention the unwillingness to even say the word “Jew” unless it’s in delightfully upbeat or solemnly positive context.

Judeo-Christian? No such thing. Not if we, the Orthodox, are Christian. If we’re not, then yes, certainly, Judaism, Islam, and Protestant Roman Catholicism have a lot of substance and history in common. As religious philosophies, most certainly. Historically, though, Judaism is a concoction of the enemies of Christ, that section of Hebrews who wished to remain anti-Christian, when Christ rose again and filled the world with his body, the Church. Reformed Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, Judaism in general – this is not the faith of the ancients. These are religions of recent invention. True, they draw upon a gnostic and occult that existed alongside the ancient faith, and certainly they draw upon early anti-Christian gnosticism and hermetics, and mediaeval scholastic inventions, just as Protestantism and Roman Catholicism do. But they are not the faith held by the Patriarchs, our Saints. And no Orthodox mind can declare them to be such. All such dispensationalism is abjectly heretical.

It will be deemed anti-semitic to say there is no separate salvation for the Jews. Why not be honest – there’s no separate salvation for anyone? Why make the Jews an issue. We feel the same way about the Greeks. Nationalism doesn’t save. Ethnicity doesn’t save. Christ saves. And apart from Christ, there is no salvation. That is the Christian Faith; it is the very statement of that Faith for which Christ himself was crucified – it is indisputable. Calling something else administratively “Christian” or to declare it “Christian” by sheer exercise of ecclesiastical judgment, is simply dishonest. Words become nonsense when they don’t have even the remotest resemblance to their historical significance.

Same with the word Jew? What is a Jew, anyway? Those who bandy about terms like anti-semitic at the drop of a hat can’t answer that authoritatively. An old adage goes, “Want to start an argument in an elevator full of Jews? Ask what is a Jew – is it a practitioner of some form of Judaism, a citizen of the nation of Israel, or an ethnic designation?” The “Jews” themselves can’t agree. What is it, then, that an anti-semite or an anti-anti-semite is really against? Besides, terms like anti-semite are really inappropriate when we repudiate salvation by any other religion, by any national affiliation, and by any ethnic background with equally disregard. If you were a South African Jain Buddhist of Polish descent, and we said it doesn’t convey any special treatment or presumed theosis, what would you call us then? Even “racist” becomes nonsensical, since Buddhism, for example, is not a race. How about “intolerant”? That gets tossed out there a lot – not to mean what it really means – failing to tolerate something – but to label anyone who fails to say what you want to say about others – that it’s all “just as good”, “six of one”, that there are “many roads, all leading to the same place”.  I think it’s you who is intolerant, if you can’t even speak accurately about those with whom you disagree.

My old bishop used to say, when referring to the temple, to the implements of the altar, to the books kept in the altar, to the psalms sung by the choir, the smoke filling the air, the candles, the vestments, indeed all the physical implements of the ancient faith, “Really, we’re just Jews.” Not these cooked up “Messianic Jews” who get together and play at temple the way evangelicals play at church, wearing yamikas, slaughtering lambs, and reading the King James Bible (the scaled-down 66-book version). I’m talking about being able to refer to Saint Moses, the Patriarch, as easily as to St. Paul. I won’t go into a long set of proofs and illustrations. If you’re Orthodox, these things abound. They’re all around you on a consistent basis. If you need text, you might read Georges Barrois, if you’re interested. I’ve heard his “Jesus Christ and the Temple” delves into this. One can just as easily read the scriptures, in the context of the liturgy of the people who wrote them.

The point is that when I listen to people tossing out this “Judeo-Christianity” and it goes unchallenged and without disclaimer, I think, “They’re not talking about anything that has to do with me. This is an alien religion that I don’t have anything in common with. Not even the words on their monuments which my people wrote, since we do not mean the sames things by those words.” In their attempts to be inclusive, they’ve been exclusive. And I imagine, were I a Buddhist, I could feel marginalized. Here, though, I don’t want these US governments creating monuments to my faith. Historically, that’s been a disaster. Look at all the religious crap that’s been commissioned by rulers throughout the ages. Screw the rulers; give me the monks. You don’t get bizarre arias, and weirdly occult tapestries out of decent monks. These stone billboards they’re dropping onto capitol lawns just muddy the waters and spark arguments over things that aren’t even real, like “founded on Judeo-Christian traditions”. Which practicing Jews signed the Declaration or wrote the Constitution? And come now. You mean Protestant traditions. The US is a Protestant nation. Its tolerance for everything else extends just as far as its ability to coopt it and shape it into something seemingly compatible. It’s a syncretic tradition, all right. That’s what the hyphen means. And all this presumed ‘inclusion’ and ‘tolerance’ is just intolerance of anything but that syncretism. If we don’t want to be what you are, don’t want you speaking for us, deciding for us, whatever, you’ll brand us with labels, bomb our villages, and villify us in your pseudo-histories. Tolerance indeed.

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Our Christian Names

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...
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In our quasi-revolutionary, neo-gnostic culture, including most especially academia, and especially still religious academia and its amateur counterpart among those of us who read books, it is popular to refer to every scholar (and eventually everyone who has said anything at all) by surname. “Ecco’s thesis is…” “Jaki is daring when…” “Cantor actually challenges the notion…” The depersonalization of the individual, the treatment of the person as genus – as nature or essence – is in fact heretical to Holy Orthodoxy, which is why we do not refer to Saints in such a manner. Applied to the Holy Trinity, this reversal is in fact the reason for the Great Schism by which Holy Orthodoxy has repudiated all heresy, and the heresy of heresies. Person is not interchangeable with genus. So to speak that way, it truly to speak as a heterodox. It is barbarian speak, it is the speech of the unlearned, of the irreverent, of the thoughtless and impious.

Still, you hear dapper religio-academics referring to “Fr. Schmemman” or just “Schmemman” when they’re being particularly “down to earth”. The sing-songy tone is one of perhaps unintended disdain – the kind of disdain that is inherent in a trivialization of personality, intended or not. One hears it in hip-hop speech, hippie slang, and the “bro” and “dude”-ness of insipid “guy-speak”. And why shouldn’t we expect it among Orthodox, when in some Orthodox Churches you hear of people being called, in the Roman Catholic vein, “Father Anderson” (at least they don’t toss out just “Anderson”), not to mention “Fr. Bill” (who would ever dare to refer to a Saint Bill), or even just “Bill” (“Bill’s not coming to the men’s breakfast today.”) – I think I just threw up. It’s either the heretical anti-personal anthropology of the heterodox or the vain ultra-personalism of their social descendents, thoroughly Protestantized, as if we were joining hands together, singing campfire gospel songs, and listening to the mystical insights of the Fr. Larry or Brother Lenny or even Linda. (well, we have yet to see Father Lisa, but the attitude is the same). The imposition of cultural flippancy on one hand, or cultural utilitarianism on the other, is a great show of religiosity but really a mediocrity of Faith.

I won’t argue this endlessly with naysayers. You are of your tradition, and I am of mine. Be what you are; let’s not argue. I don’t have to eat with you, and you certainly won’t be sitting at my table, if you’re claiming we share the same Faith. And yes, I do eat with out and out Protestants, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Witches, Warlocks, Atheists, and Spiritualists. I don’t eat with people who, pretending to honor Christ, dishonor his Church, claiming it’s all one big religion and I’m (quite unwillingly) a part of it. Rank me among the unbelievers, if that’s the case. Give me Samaritans any day. Those I can pat on the back and make friends. So before you say, “Christ ate with sinners,” think also about who was *not* at his table. Did he break bread with all the false Christs?

The truth is that speaking in this manner ultimately belies the Holy Incarnation of Christ. Christ shared our nature. Christ became man. And his name is Jesus. When you say in your heart that name, you teach your mind how to say all names, and how to think of all your brethren. Why then, this disdain which masquerades as disregard, mere casualness, and laziness? Piety, as my old Bishop used to say, is taking little pains. What pain it was for God to be born with a man’s name.

But there are those who do not wish to dishonor all that is dishonored by using these inappropriate designations. And sometimes they ask how to cultivate a habit of proper attribution. I’m no wise person to consult, but I think it’s helpful, when you think in your mind of “Fr. Alexander” (Schmemann) or “Fr. John” (Romanides) to think of them in the light of “Saint Alexannder” or “Saint John” for whom they are named. Who among us would have the spite to refer to a Saint Maximovitch or a Saint Hotovitzky? If we can’t bring ourselves to what we know and should sense is irreverence toward the Saints, how dare we do it of anyone among us, especially not those icons of the saints who are our teachers and clergy, those who bear Saint’s names? When you say the name of your brother in Christ, think “he will be glorified” if he is living or, if he is reposed, add “pray for me” to your thoughts when you say his name. Fr. John (“pray for me”) Romanides. Fr. Alexander (“save me by your prayers”) Schmemman. Then, over time, you will find it hard to speak shamefully of such people and, perhaps, with mercy, of anyone (“grant me such mercy, Lord”). In fact, what we’ve been doing is speaking of people in a naturalistic way, as though they are dead, or as though they will not live forever. This is, perhaps, part of the cure for our blindness. And of each other, perhaps especially if we find it hard to honor one another in our thoughts, it is good to remember, to be mindful, of such gentle sayings: “he will be saved, and I will be condemned” Matthew, “by his prayers save me” Michael, “remember me, St. Barbara” Barbara, “pray for me her Angel” Micah.

Keep in mind that we call it your “Christian name” for a reason. The name you received at Baptism is the new name, written on a white stone, the name by which you will be called in paradise, the name that in the Kingdom, this economy of Christ’s Incarnation,  you are known by and are referred to. Doesn’t the priest say this name when you receive Holy Communion? Isn’t it written into the prayers said at the altar, behind the iconostasis? The pride it takes to disregard the name, and shake it off, preferring “Homer” and “Kelly” to the names of your patron Saints who watch over you and pray for you, should you make it pride upon pride by applying it likewise to others?

We sometimes hear the xenophobes among us complain that this is an “ethnic” tradition – that it’s Russian or Greek. Such statements beg the question, besides which they are inaccurate. This is the ancient tradition, the living tradition, the one tradition. This is not “your” tradition or “mine”. It’s “ours”. How can we claim such things? It is the tradition of paradise, active in Heaven, and indeed throughout the whole of the One Church, undivided and indivisible by Death, which we repudiate, speaking life everywhere. If the Saints speak to each other this way, gathered around us, when we pray, what arrogance says that the bonds of our Death, the cultural of our natural birth, or the affected culture of pseudo-academia is the basis for what comes out of our mouths? The whole man is made new, speech and all. All must be deified – you must not cling to anything and say, “Not this. Except this.”

And do remember your mother in the Faith, the Church whose missionaries founded your Church. It’s impossible to listen to “Americans” (which are not a people, nor a race, nor even a nationality), refer to traditions as Russian when they received the *entire* Orthodox Faith from the Russians in the first place.  Shame. Sadness. Blindness. Again, I won’t argue this here – not today. One thing at a time. Blindness and foolish talk are everywhere – they are cheap and abundant – trying to cover every argument at once makes truth into a commodity also, and I won’t do it. I will say that I think you know, in your heart, when you’re espousing ideology (be it communist, deconstructionst, neo-fascism, or some glib amateur cultural anthropology), and when you are in fact striving to walk in the footsteps of the Saints down through the ages. It is so much easier to be a succesful rhetorician of ideology than a failed but determined adherent of better men who lived wiser lives.  Easier to be the fathers’ widely heard critic than their poor and obscure imitator. Bleh.

Anyway, I write here for a few reasons. To give people answers who bother me with questions, so they’ll go away, and also so I can think through and give answers clearly, be transparent in what I’ve said, submit it to others to correct, and not let the impulses of the moment govern my response, and so I don’t often have to repeat it. I write also to record thoughts for my own memory, because it’s poor (I am neither mindful nor therefore righteous – I’m forgetful of everything I hope to remember). I am writing also to confess my sins – not the specific circumstances of them, but the sins (Whenever someone accuses you falsely, say “I am guilty”, even if you did not do what they say – say “I am guilty of sins like these” and “Yes, I am prideful. I am an angry man. I am impatient and thoughtless. I have committed all the sins you say except, perhaps, renouncing the Orthodox Faith.”) Here is one place I say such things because, saying them, I hope to believe in them fully and be saved. I write here also to think, because, for me, the two things (writing and thinking) are so tightly interwoven and bound. I need to think, and I need a place to think, a place conducive to the kind of thinking I’m doing. I create such places wherever I want to do a new kind of thinking.

Have you ever picked up a bottle of something and it said not to use it for what it was designed for? Like a children’s toy, clearly designed for a certain age group, that says not to let that age group use it? Or batteries that say not to leave them in the device after use? I wish I could offer a disclaimer like that – “This may poison you. What I say may be not only completely useless but actually harmful. And yet, if you want to use it, it’s here. I won’t stop you.”

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St. Barbara's Roman Catholic Church
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I get a lot of comments I don’t post. I think it’s only fair to say why I post some and not others.

* I don’t post comments that offer an agenda that I find despicable, tedious, or needlessly controversial, especially when it’s not relevant to the content. Things that come through advocating white supremacy, neoconservative imperialism, hatred of particular ethnic groups (recently got one referring to the “Satanic Serbs”) – I don’t post. For one thing, you might read enough to at least realize who you’re talking to and what the blog is about, before vomiting this stuff all over us. But even so, it just would be material I’d have rebut, so someone else doesn’t have to, sparking a flame war. I only have so much energy and inclination to fight (yes, I have a little), and I see no point in letting other people determine when I’ll do so.

* I don’t post comments that disregard the very underlying premise of the conversation. The comments coming in that begin with the assumption that nothing matters but what you and I come to through some process of discussion or argument. These are the inherently Protestant commentaries that try to persuade through appeals solely to feelings, rhetoric, religious philosophy, or some activity of “coming to agreement” we presumably engage in with each other. I look upon these things as abject Roman Catholicism with the papal mitre simply democratized. Each of us is presumably our own pope, and we pronounce de facto what is and isn’t so, confusing our perceptions with the thing perceived – subject and object. It’s a waste of time for me to post those comments, because I find I’m endlessly making the same point in response: “Go away. We’re not really talking to each other at all. You’re trying to converse by saying, “Well, dismissing all you believe, all your sources of understanding, your religion, your fathers,  your creed, all of it – your entire epistemology, and starting with just you and me here in a blog, let’s come up with our own religion, which will work just like a religious philosophy…” What kind of numb nuts goes in for something like that? It’s the Nigerian E-mail scam of the religious world. Might as well ask to borrow my wallet and my car, setting aside any commitments I might have to protect my family. Not being a dunce, nor inclined to needless repetition, and finding these attempts tedious in the extreme, I have responded to a handful of them, and chase the others off wherever possible. Truly, you can’t argue with a committed Protestant; he can’t hear you, so he just keeps ignoring what you’re saying are your premises and offering speculation or alien premises as substitutes. Drain your brain, he’s saying, and then we can talk.

* I don’t post comments that ignore the fact that previous comments made the same point, and are just being offered as a way to flood the comment box with extra “votes”. In fact, I click “spam” on those, and they stop arriving.

* I don’t post comments that offer to argue it out, without a useful end being proposed. See above – if the goal being proposed is that, by argumentation and discussion, we will arrive together at “the truth”, and have now a religious philosophy we can hold to, I have to remind you this is not a Protestant’s blog. I don’t count invitations to apostasy as useful ends. If the idea is argue so that you’ll understand it better, get better at arguing, etc. – what’s in it for me? That’s right – is your desire to be a better debater of one of these topics a claim on my attention and peace of mind? You’ve heard of spiritual warfare – what do you think I’m off doing, in this mind of mine? I really don’t need to fight a war on two fronts, if I can avoid it. This is called a blog of personal confession – I’m in it because it saves me, not because I want to argue, let alone argue for the sake of arguing. If you can propose a useful, and honest goal, that an Orthodox person can legitimately accept, then maybe arguing something out will be beneficial. So far, no one has done that. And “because I really want to know” is not useful or sincere, if that’s really just something you say to get the argument going – a feint, to invite your rhetorical opponent to reveal their hand. What, do you think you’re dealing with hobbyists? I’m not “just curious” – I’m in this for my life – I’ve been around that block – I’m no dummy.

* I don’t post comments that are out and out pretense. When some one writes, “So basically, you’re right, everyone else is wrong, and unless I believe what you believe, I’m going to Hell.” I don’t bother posting it. This person is not asking a sincere question, they’re summarizing via a mischaracterization, and trying to sell it as an innocent question. Again – no dummy here – a rhetorical question is just a statement with a question mark after it. What, do I seem to be of middling intelligence, with the emotional sophistication of a third grader? Besides being insulting to your host, it’s wasting the time of the audience. It’s more appropriate to yell out, “I know you are, but what am I?” than something that tedious and lame.  Your desire to flop about and whine, “but I’m confused – I’m confused – enlighten me” is not a claim on anyone else’s attention. What, do you think I’m trying to get you “saved”? I’ve no such interest. I’m trying to save myself. I’m not responsible for your feigned desperation to “better understand”, when it’s a cliche for agitation. And no, I’m not “judging” you, I’m avoiding you, because you’re patently obvious in gimmicks that we’ve all come to know and recognize if we have any sense. Have you read Proverbs? Do you not see all the warnings against being taken in by scams? Next time you think I’m judging you, be consistent – send your money to that Nigerian scam artist who just wants a few hundred to withdraw and split thousands with you. Don’t judge him – take him at his word.

There are probably one or two other reasons. But these will do. This post is offered in the interest of fair play, transparency, and  yes, you can detect it, a bit of weariness with reading the same diatribes, illicit offers, and offers to participate in peeing matches. I don’t pretend to be democratic – this is not an open forum. I don’t pretend to give voice to all ideas – what the hell would I want to do that for? And I don’t mind seeming to be inconsistent, if you’re not paying close enough attention. Just because you don’t see the pattern, doesn’t mean there’s not a formula in play. Not that there’s anything wrong with being idiosyncratic – I’m a person – it’s a personal blog – a site of personal confession – I’m working things out, and I expect inconsistency. It’s a home-made cake, not store-bought off the shelf with anti-caking agents in a cake, of all things!  I’m willing to have it appear that I only let through posts I like or think I can refute. In truth, I’ve not seen any new arguments – it’s not like my people haven’t been doing this sort of thing for a very long time. You’d think most of the likely arguments, we’d have heard centuries ago and already responded to, wouldn’t you? It’s not like we’re an invented religion cooked up out of the Enlightenment and presuming, like an institution, to start from scratch, issuing all kinds of “original” pronouncements.

In a way, wouldn’t you expect a blog operated by an Orthodox person to simply toss away most of the same old arguments we’ve heard a thousand times and answered quite effectively and finally once, a long, long time ago?  Why should I repeat all that – read our fathers, if you want to know. Ibid. I don’t need to “hash through” the same old things. I’ve got  a goal here, and if you’re visiting, and reading, and wanting to comment, comment, but keep in mind that goal. I’m not doing this primarily for you, or to broadcast yet another personal religious philosophy from my own pet pulpit. I’m here trying to work out my salvation. If you want to talk with me about it, talk with me about it, but the heterodox agenda stuff, or the personal cultural agenda of some Orthodox people (conservative imperialism, ethnic cleansing, or whatever it may be) is not really an attractive addition to that discussion.

You know, even the post that attracts the most vitriol – the one on Freemasonry – really is just because someone asked me for documentation, and I happily provided it. That’s a good discussion. But then people came along wanting to say, “Yes, but let’s ignore all that, and let’s ignore in fact everything else you’re saying, and let’s make some new religion together, based on our personal whims.” That’s like some prostitute walking up and saying, “Yeah, I see the ring, but wouldn’t a roll in the hay be a great idea today?” I’m married to my Faith. I’m sorry, but building a tinker-toy religion out of parts that we find lying around is really not going to be a temptation for me; in fact, the very idea is repulsive.

If you’ve got nothing else to say but, “Well, but I don’t want you to be that religion, I want you to just walk away from it and come prancing into mine,” then you’re asking us both to commit apostasy – you by cheapening your Faith, and me by departing from the Rock for something as momentarily bewitching as an e-mail scam. What the hell? Don’t you have any self-respect, or respect for what you’re throwing out there and calling “the truth”? If not, why should I respect it, either? My best friend is of another religion. And the turning point, for me, the moment of detente – easing of tensions, came when we both acknowledged that we’re of different peoples. I can break bread with my friend, because I don’t commune with my friend. We don’t confuse things that are distinct, so respect, love, compassion, these are possible. What you offer, when you say that it’s all the same silt, is none of those things – you offer the very death of respect, the meaninglessness of love, and the irrelevance of compassion.

“I am not what you are, and you are not what I am.”  is just as much an appropriate stake at which to be burned as “I will not renounce the Gospel of Christ.” The goal of this blog is not to continually make that confession, but it comes out in nearly every encounter with encroachment, because,  by god, it’s true. And if it were not true, I would make it true, like Abraham, by coming out of Ur, and taking my family with me. The line between us, makes us human, and allows the possibility of real Faith. The absence of the line, the notion that one thing is as good as another, means that no Faith is real – truly, I weary of posting comments by atheists in religious robes. So, sometimes I don’t. I just don’t. In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Lastly, I plead technology. Comments are letters to the editor, not to the world. This isn’t a forum, it’s a blog. I publish what I think fits, whether it praises, is antagonistic, or just asks a question. I don’t publish things I think miss the point, especially not if it seems intentional. I don’t publish things, usually, that I think are inflammatory. I don’t publish things it takes too much time, attention, or emotional involvement to respond to. And I don’t publish things I think will cause needless bickering. But I will, at least, tell you, up front, that I’m not publishing them. I don’t send out rejection letters. Your comment either appears or it doesn’t. We’re not the New York Times. But I don’t pretend it’s an open forum, and then treat it as though it isn’t. Can you really ask anything else of me but honesty? If I’m not what you want, go elsewhere. There are other blogs. If you have a comment, I welcome it, if it takes into account where you are. This is my chapel. It’s not a church, it’s a chapel. It’s not the private chamber of my heart, nor my icon corner. It’s my chapel, a little out of the way, but still the door is unlocked most of the time. But if you want to have your Vegas-style wedding here, I might lock the door. I’m trying to be saved here. Leave me in peace, if you don’t want to be around that, or honor it.

To those I’ve offended, I apologize. I have no doubt that I sometimes ignore the worthy, flame the innocent, and promote the obnoxious. If you can’t think of times I’ve done so, I can. I am guilty, and beg your forgiveness, and your prayers, so that I can be saved by them, unworthy as I am.

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Christ and the Feeding Tube

My wife and I have an understanding. Resuscitate, revive, and sustain life as often and as much as possible. Neither of us will accept any prodding to pull the plug, sign DNR orders, or any such thing.

The Good Samaritan (Oil on panel, 32 x 23 cm)
Image via Wikipedia

We do this, not only because we love one another, and want to live together forever, as we shall in paradise, but also for religious reasons. And we know full well there are those who claim it is Orthodox thinking to “let people go”, to refuse to use “artificial” machines and techniques to save or sustain life. And we think many of these people have imbibed deeply of the spirit of the world, and are not espousing Orthodox thought at all. Some, we allow, have simply misunderstood technology and medicine, or have not thought it through. The prevalence of thinking doesn’t indicate good thinking.

Now to sustaining life: What we’re talking about, quite often, in real terms, is food, water, oxygen, etc. So much of removing “life support” is quite literally what it sounds like – it is removing the things needed to support life. In fact, the most common causes of death in this way, are starvation, thirst, and suffocation. Not only are they painful forms of death, but grotesque and violent, however ironically the very technologies being removed are replaced with technologies to make these less painful or less grotesque – more presentable.

But these are the very things that we are bound by Christ to provide for our families, our brethren, indeed those who have need of them. Feed them. Give them Drink. Etc.  “If anyone doesn’t provide for his own, he is worse than an infidel.” and “If one has the world’s goods, and seeing his brother in need shuts his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” “If anyone’s son asks for bread, does he give him a stone?” “I was hungry, and you fed me. I did thirst, and you gave me drink. Therefore…”

You will hear the religious pundits and armchair religious philosophers tell you that technology has extended life beyond what God intended (as though they know what God intended), and that therefore we have to ask “new questions” about when to stop sustaining life. This is gnostic thinking. I won’t expand on that here, but it is, and this is our response:

The questions aren’t new. The ancients dealt with very real issues of the responsibility to sustain life, or to let it expire. Indeed, the early Orthodox established the first convalescent homes for the elderly, not to mention all of their hospices for the homeless, abandoned, and those dying of leprosy and disease. And they fed them, clothed them, and cared for them with whatever means they had. Once you say that we will give this much care, and no more – this much we will sustain your life, but no longer – under these conditions, but not those, you are engaged in a kind of philosophical relativism that has nothing to do with the love demonstrated by the Church. The testimony of the lives of the Saints stands in stark contrast to and repudiation of the decadent, murderous lives of these contemporary religionists. Denying the Saints, they are neither Catholic nor Christian, nor Orthodox and partakers of our holy tradition.

Raising the dead and healing the sick, those who were not of the Faith prompted the apostles to protest to Christ, and Christ told the apostles to let them be – these were doing their good work in Christ’s name. Even greater things would eventually be done in his name. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a similar  example.

And so now to the question of saving life. Left for dead, without care, the Jew would have died, but the Samaritan, the one with love, says Christ, provided care and feeding, sustained and revived him.

Image via Wikipedia

What technology has done is made it possible to do that better, for longer, perhaps more expensively and with more finesse and precision, but it hasn’t changed the questions. Who dares say that Christ needs to come and preach a new gospel, and address the questions that he forgot or couldn’t forsee. Who dares to say they will do this for Christ, with their religious philosophy? Gnostics. Gnostics every one. Denyers of the gospel. Repudiaters of the Incarnation. Blasphemers of the Holy Spirit.

What is “artificial” is their philosophies, their contrived gospels. Medicine, using the tools and techniques at hand, has been around forever. And Christ himself, sanctified the concept of medicine, by himself accepting the attribution “Great Physician.”

Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him. For of the most High cometh healing, and he shall receive honour of the king. The skill of the physician shall lift up his head: and in the sight of great men he shall be in admiration. The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them. Was not the water made sweet with wood, that the virtue thereof might be known? And he hath given men skill, that he might be honoured in his marvellous works. With such doth he heal men, and taketh away their pains. Of such doth the apothecary make a confection; and of his works there is no end; and from him is peace over all the earth, My son, in thy sickness be not negligent: but pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole. Leave off from sin, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all wickedness. Give a sweet savour, and a memorial of fine flour; and make a fat offering, as not being. Then give place to the physician, for the Lord hath created him: let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him. There is a time when in their hands there is good success. For they shall also pray unto the Lord, that he would prosper that, which they give for ease and remedy to prolong life. He that sinneth before his Maker, let him fall into the hand of the physician. – Sirach 38

We hear so often, “for all practical purposes they are dead.” Practical purposes? What does life have to do with practical purposes? And you rail against machines? You’ve just declared that a human life is nothing but a machine.

Did not even the Lord raise one who had died? Was already dead. Was long since dead. He raised him, “Lazarus, come forth!” Indeed, Christ raised all the dead, and when Christ died, the dead rose and walked around and were seen by those who knew them. Christ is the antithesis of these theories of life which are hostile to our history, Faith, and tradition. Christ is the one who goes far beyond the stench of the grave, descending even into Hell to retrieve those who have long since reposed.

Speak against the Lord, Gnostics, if you dare. You repudiate the very one who can save your life, now and forever. But you Orthodox, who are you to decide with the philosophies of the Protestants, the metaphysics of the heretics, who should live and who should die – who is kept alive and cared for too long, and who should be abandoned and their care removed? When you mouth their vanities, you are not my brothers, when I or my wife are sick. Don’t come near our bedside. Stay out of our hospital room. Keep the bony fingers of your heresy from our lives. You are not our brothers; the Samaritan is. Give us the Samaritan. The pagan that saves our lives is the Christian, and the Christian that says, “let them expire” is the pagan, and we will not pray with you.

I have even seen one blasphemer’s “Orthodox” web site that is offering up these “withhold treatment” orders for his congregation and others, as he preaches his vain personal philosophy as though it were the truth. Schemer. Ideologue. There’s one frock in which I cannot find life, one stole under which I cannot find shelter.

Now, I’m not interested in debating this with anyone. Above all else, I see our religion as a religion of life. Did not Christ say as much? God is God of the living. All the enemies of life can offer is religious philosophy – they have no appeal to the one that created life, not recourse to our Holy Tradition that is not polluted with the whispering of others. It is true that some holy men held varieties of opinions on varieties of things. No doubt someone can easily find such an opinion. In the end, I will forgive an opinion, as you must forgive mine.

But if you come near us with your gleaming knife of sacrifice, I will call you “pagan”, which is what you are. Keep away. May God curse the knife that is raised over our living bodies, the testament of his greatness and power. As much as you do not sustain us, you do not sustain Christ. As much as you do not save our lives, you do not save the life of Christ. As much as you withhold treatment from us, you withhold treatment from Christ. And what will the Physician say to you in the Judgment? That you were philosophically right? “Physician, heal thyself!” He has already spoken.

And may God preserve the physician that shows forth the glory of God, with machines, with mixtures, with tubes and tools, with wires and computers, with whatever means he may have. As the Samaritan gave from what means he had, so in the case of my family, give, and you will be rewarded by the Most High God who created us both, who made Heaven and Earth and put it into your hands for this purpose. You are the instrument of the Almighty. Save us, by the prayers of all the Saints.

And even if we babble insanities, “Kill me. Let me go. Starve me. Suffocate me. Abandon me. Go away. It’s my time. I want to die.” What friend hides from his own friend in time of need? What suffering person calls out, “leave me be” that you shrug and leave them be? Who are you? What kind of friends are you? What friend sees his friend on a ledge saying “I don’t want to live,” and thinks, “all right then. To each his own.” If you’re my friend, you will ignore me if I plead for death. You will give me life, because in life is the Spirit of God. Because I get old, you want to abandon me? How is my life less valuable than an infant’s? Who are you to decide which lives have more or less value? Or if I’m unconscious? Is the infant able to tell you his preference for life or death? If you are knocked out, shall I wait until you wake up to ask if you’d like treatment? Try to get around it all you want. Good people, like the Good Samaritan, care for those who are sick and dying. Bad people offer up philosophies over their sick beds.

And to hell with your religious arguments. Christ healed even on the Sabbath. Your argument is with him; you won’t find it here.

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A friend shared with me “Super Correctness” (Chapter 63 from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works). Happily, this piece is also available [online]. Now if I could just find chapter 61 “The Desert in the Backyard”.

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