Soft Atheists – the New Gentle Antagonist

I’ve always thought atheists should be consistent. Don’t bow your head when someone says grace. Don’t close your eyes and pretend to go along. Don’t go through the motions in your parents’ church. Just be what you are. It’s really impossible for atheism to be fully consistent – nihilism is the theoretical outcome, but if implemented, they would simply make arbitrary decisions. To step in front of a bus is the same as not to, in absence of a grand scheme of things. But at least don’t be hypocritical like the Pharisees – yes, it’s possible for atheists to be Pharisees.

image from militarygear.com A Soldier's PerspectiveA catechumen once asked me how people can do it – go through the motions without believing. After all, there are tons of people doing it. There are Roman Catholics who aren’t really Roman Catholics – they’re evangelicals who hope to influence and change Roman Catholicism into what they want it to be. Evangelizers of their own religion.

There are evangelicals who aren’t really evangelicals – they say things in church that are meant for church, but they’ll kill you if you don’t drive as fast as they want, they’ll bomb your village, torture your family, and beat you to death for no immigration papers, like it was the 4th Reich, if you don’t hold up to their real ideology. They’re neoconservatives for whom evangelicalism is more or less symbolic – like joining the empire’s religion to get ahead politically for some pagans in St. Constantine’s time, and of course still today (different empire, different religion, but the “Christian Right” is the biggest power bloc in the American Union). You gotta be a member of the “Party” or at least nod to it. And even the neoconservatism isn’t something a lot of neoconservatives actually believe in. They call for the world to adopt ‘democracy’ but when Muslim countries rise up against Western-supported dictators to do that, a lot of them say they don’t care what happens to those protesters – so it was yet another cover for yet something else.

It’s really a principle inherent in and inherited from freemasonry and occult practice, right down to the Ouiji Board – in other words it’s a cultural gnosticism. After all, how many freemasons enter into oaths about gouging out eyes and cutting out tongues and binding and drowning them with sand if they break them, with utterances to pagan deities? And yet, if you ask a lot of them, they say it’s “symbolic”. They “don’t really believe that stuff”. How is that different from the guy hearing Jesus on Mount Olive who says he doesn’t really think he means what he said? Go out, take over, and kick ass in the name of the guy who told you not to do that.

The ability to enter into cognitive dissonance, to separate what you’re saying from what you’re meaning, deliberately is (besides being a psychological condition), a fundamental alteration of consciousness and ethos. It’s an ethical modification to the soul. It’s why young men can torture and kill innocent civilians (of course we label them all insurgents later, like we did in Nam), and do it in the name of freedom and American values. Cognitive dissonance. It’s part of the ethical system that licenses any kind of dirty dealing or corruption if your ideological side wins or you hold onto power.

So yeah, endorsing that by participating in it isn’t just hypocrisy, it’s an ethical deficiency and form of cognitive damage. Don’t get me wrong – I think atheists, in general, are simply covering for their ignorance of religion (a lack of education), for merely passing intelligence (atheism is a presumed seizing of the intellectual high ground, by an oddly ordinary assortment of minds, in most cases), or for outright bigotry. But that’s a theory. The ethical observation I think is indisputable. It’s called “being polite” but it’s anything but polite – it’s patronizing. I don’t want someone mocking my religion by pretending to go along with it because they think it’s unable to cope with dissent – that it will somehow shrivel and wither and fall to dust if people don’t pretend it’s real. Besides, how many non-atheists are there merely pretending it’s real? And it’s their own religion. How many atheists are going along with people who themselves don’t even believe what they’re doing and saying? That’s a self-mockery on the part of the atheist – how lame is that?

It’s one thing to go around insulting something you don’t fully grasp. As I say, most atheists I’ve met are possessed of stunning religious illiteracy. Not all, of course. The ones that aren’t seem to utilize just enough logic to seem to have unassailable criticisms, but become mere scoffers (which is why the Church simply calls them “scoffers” and not atheists) when met with substantive apologia. I don’t like to generalize, though. Take Ayn Rand for instance. She’s an incredible logician, but had only a limited and skewed awareness of religious diversity, and so fell right into Adolph von Harnack’s camp of generalizing about “religion” which does violence, intellectually, to critical distinctions. I love her, but she just wasn’t very good on that topic – which is sad. With more religious literacy and thought, atheist or not, she could have posed incredibly interesting challenges, possibly even something new that the ancient Faith hadn’t heard in its first thousand years. Frankly, there’s a dearth of new challenges, and we’ve grown morally and intellectually obese. The West lacks much critical creativity, especially since the dying off of the last real cultural critics (they’re almost all gone now, as Russell Jacoby observed), and we’re getting an internet-educated generation of wannabees that dish out stuff that was argued into oblivion 1700 years ago. It’s like trying to tell the chicken crossing the road joke. Tedious in the extreme. The young turks are all punks now. Where is the Origen the great heretic to make it interesting again? He was fun. He had some great things to say. He just was incredibly logically flawed, which happens to all these neoplatonists. Instead of being challenged, we’re being coddled and played to, by people who object to coddling religion in politics, but engage in just that socially, except for the brand that makes the Penn & Teller / Kevin Smith type jokes which, again, are as old as the chicken getting to the other side.

The new atheists are what I’d call “soft atheists” – a monniker I borrow from the phrase “soft male”. These are atheists who either blurt out some indefensible nonsense on their blogs (perhaps they might think I do that), or they “go along”, bowing during dinnertime blessings. Jeez, it’s like they’ve gone limp. I mean come on, you’re leaving us Bjork? Howard Stern? Frank Zappa? Mark Zuckerberg? It’s like putting Ford in the White House! I bet Jack Nicholson would be fun to chat about this with, or Orwell if he was still alive. John Malkovich would *have* to be fun just because you’re dealing with someone who, in movie life, would blow up the skycraper you were in, just because you pissed him off. Keanu. I dunno. I have my doubts, but maybe if he used lines from the Matrix. Penn & Teller bore me – same tired commentary. Warren Buffet – seems like the same thing. Dawkins – everyone is on about Richard Dawkins. Really? This is all your team has got? I’d rather argue with Janeane Garofalo. I’m betting she can kick some rhetorical arse. I’m not avoiding swearing because I’m delicate – it’s that Google punishes for it too much. It’s silly. William Shatner. Now there’s an atheist I’d like to rumble with. But I want to go at with staves like that time he was forced to fight Spock or die. Twain. If Twain were around, now that would be something. But he just didn’t do enough in his lifetime to make it interesting. WTF? He had every opportunity. I guess they would have burned him at the stake even in the North. Andrew Carnegie? No, he’d just smile and shake our hands. I thought Chomsky would be interesting, and I certainly love his cultural criticism, but no, not really on this topic. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not personally interested in sport argument. In fact, it bores me to tears, so no I’m not interested in invites if you’re a web troller. But I’m partly kidding around and partly saying that atheists have become really ineffectual. Forget the fundamentalists that go on about the harm atheists are doing – you can’t take that stuff seriously – they blow everything out of proportion. Remember the UN? Was supposed to have taken over the world by now and enslaved us to a New Age antichrist that was Shirley McClain’s male twin. That’s never going to happen when you put soldiers in baby blue hats and give them cork guns. Blah blah blah.

The interesting atheists, as I see it, were always believers. Heterodox believers, but they weren’t this crop that believed nothing. Our fathers have instructed us that it’s possible for any of us, in the true faith, to be atheists. St. Seraphim said the man who doesn’t fast doesn’t actually believe in God. How true. Religion of the tongue and not the stomach is inconsistent and just hypothetical – another form of going through the motions, but in a funny way – the motions are in the intellectual faculty only (where they don’t belong), while the bodily faculty, starved of transformative motion is told to buck up and starve itself fat on intellectual “symbolism”. Another kind of dissonance and sickness. Oh well. Anyway, you’d think the atheist would at least stand up for equal treatment, culturally as well as under the law. Seriously, you guys are demoralized into pretending and going along, when the people you’re going along with would never just go along with some atheist activity, if atheists had activities (kind of inconsistent – if you don’t believe in anything, you don’t do anything). Not all atheists are as anarchistically consistent as I would be, I get, but surely they do some things they think are just as fun and interesting – like maybe buy liquor on a Sunday, and who is just going along with them? Who is sitting there missing church and pretending to take sips? Demoralized. Acting like second class, in the name of being polite. I mean, they’ve got the right to vote, they don’t have to use separate bathrooms or ride in the back of the bus, but they aren’t mounting a really formidable (and new) intellectual framework. And they’re busy using their ‘liberal democratic’ freedom to … drumroll please… to pretend to engage in religious participation, at least partly. Stop it. It’s pathetic. It’s sad, really.

Power, Ideology, and the Western Epistemology

Every movement driven by ideology of any kind will eventually massacre, maim, murder, torture, and terrorize in the name of its ideals, if it can get the means, acquire enough support, and evade eradication. It could be a movement for peace and lollipops led by Bambi and Mother Theresa, and it would shoot your family in the back of the head to hold onto power if it ever even accidentally got enough of it. The mistake is thinking that there are multiple organisms of power which can replace one another, leaving open the possibility that some can be good and some bad. That isn’t the case. There is only one organism, overlapping industry, commerce, finance, food, energy, governments, religious corporations, publishing, information, communications, education, and indeed all institutions.

One of the most famous Tabletop Games of all time, Call of CthulhuPower is a single living thing, And the power in Iran is no different than that in the US or in Stockholm or in Bank of America or in a university or in the cubicle farms or the jungles with machine guns. We only participate in it, not change it. You can swap out people and what they say they think, intend, or believe, but this is not an alternation in the thing itself. It is merely power’s inherent and essential operation of moving people in and out, of revolution, itself as a biological process like breathing that gives it enhanced vitality. I’ve come to the conclusion that all believers are just murderers who haven’t been promoted yet, but are on-call in case their turn falls within their lifetime. In the meantime, they’re just livestock, like the rest of us, for leviathan. We power it and make it go. Almost no one I know sees it this way, because it’s an answer about the world and the self’s place in it that is too objectionable to be faced. But it is, nonetheless, what I think is true.

I’ll go one worse – not only is all of that so, but even those of us who don’t believe in anything are merely awaiting our turn to believe. The guy at the door w. the Watchtower, the guy taking names for a petition outside the post office, the guy with the bumper sticker that says “vote this Tuesday” – we’re all waiting to be that guy, whenever we quote management theory, or mouth the standard interpretation of Descartes that we learned in school, or just sit down and watch an hour of television. We’re all just waiting for our turn to believe, for our rotation, our swapping in. And a minority of those will pilot the drones, put a sack over a prisoner’s head, shove around some kid at the mall bulging over the midriff from one too many donuts, take money at a liquor inspection, misrepresent funding to a client, or get elected, or whatever other role we play within the beast.

All the theories of power are too narrow. They deny this notion that it is rooted in the cosmos itself, and is as inescapable and intractable as death. It is, if you will, the order of human experience. That nice lady who bakes cookies and puts money in the offering plate – she may not turn away when the Mexican is beaten up by nightsticks and killed by the people sworn to protect and serve, and she may decry the secret prisons and the continual Tonkin Incidents, but somewhere there is someone that she’ll close her ears to. Nice people kill you with pretending you’re not there. They don’t maintenance the planes – that’s not their assignment. In our world, Bambi is a murderer. That stuff you see of cats playing with a live mouse, or the brutality of a cheetah taking down prey – that’s the entire story of human existence. The rest is waiting our turn.

What it’s now popular to call “liberal democracy” is the dominant Faith of our age, as Roman Catholicism was once the Western Faith, and Protestantism after that, each successively creating a cultural revolution and its own age of imperialism. Indeed, I view the entirety of Western history as an experiment in the heretical spinning away from a historical center, beginning with the departure of the See of Rome and its cultural embrace – the transforming of what was essentially a historical, visceral, ascetic, almost tribal reality into a theoretical belief-system.

After all, the West views it that way too, whether it has spoken of Fiore’s 3 ages, historicizing the Trinity into an age of the Father, age of the Son, and so on, or it’s the very notion of Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern eras based on that, a concept created in the alchemical world of the Western Middle Ages, or it’s Hegel’s historical process terminating in the Age of the Spirit, or it is the belief/ideology of the liberal democrats (be they Republican, Libertarian, Liberal, Progressive…) that, we’ve reached a belief system or ideology that is the consensus of the world and the ages, if often imposed non-consensually on both – what Fukuyama called “the End of History” – the ultimate or terminal ideological framework. That is, after all, a tenet of the framework itself – that this is it – this is the right, good, true, best, most free, whatever ideology. Hence its patronage, patriarchal imposition, and patronization of the world in much the fashion that previous imperialisms have done – whether in the Crusades of the Roman See, the “Age of Imperialism” to follow, or the march toward personalized, individualized “freedom” in the form of various representative Republics, as offered by the new religion. The dominant Faith has not achieved the full fruition of hegemony yet. But it is certainly getting there through cultural imperialism – Or if one doesn’t like words bandied about that are used by its opponents, then by cultural means. The difference here is, of course, that this particular church isn’t intent as the previous one on achieving a balance of power over wealth extraction from colonies and homelands, but instead a policy of perpetual warfare for said extraction. The question is not *if* we will fight, but who is next.

In any of the successive Faiths of the West, there was a terminal end condition proposed that is offered as paradisical. Sure not every adherent specialized in, cared about, or as ideologues want to put it “believed” in that eschatology. But it is nonetheless a core cultural component. For the Roman Catholics, it was a “Christianized” world, bowed to “the cross”, represented symbolically as well as tangibly in the conquest of Jerusalem. For the Protestants, it was the Millennial Age, the transformation of a metaphorical, typological reality into an actual historical period (which lent itself readily to any number of historical teologies – Marxism for instance, as easily as the horsemen of Billy Graham). For liberal democracy, it is the adoption of liberal democracy, the condition that both reaffirms their underlying belief, and is the terminal goal of it, the desired paradisical end condition. The premise is that the consensus of history and the world is being achieved, just as a previous era believed it was the “Christinianization” of history and the world that was being achieved.

I’m aware that the consensus premise is a tenet of the Faith, in other words. So much so that to question its obviousness among many believers (in the rightness and goodness of the new Rome, the new Jerusalem, the new Geneva, the new Soviet, whatever you wish to call the holy land of America), is to doubt the obvious, to be almost a fool, to challenge the fabric of history and culture and common sense itself, so ingrained is this notion of historical and cultural consensus. It is to challenge the essence of wisdom – to speak nonsense.

To me it’s still a cultural heresy, though – not because I’m a believer in any alternate ideology, but because I insist upon history itself, not the theoretical doctrines of it, on the tangible, visceral, almost tribal reality that the successive ideologies of the West have sought to transform into theory. People ask, aren’t you Orthodox? Sure, but this is not a theoretical church “based” on the teachings of Christ, but the actual Church that Christ built by gathering the apostles and instructing them – that very historical reality which has never ceased to continue existing. It took the departure of the Roman See to create, for the West, a “Christianity” in the form of ideology, a belief system in place of a fundamental asceticism, a “what we hold to be true” rather than a what we know, experience, and do.

Seems like a small shift, but the historical record demonstrates otherwise. We are here today, chatting away on the internet, precisely because of that apostasy, that revolution. We each have a combination of positive experience, psychological dysfunction, and political delusion with regard to our personal autonomy, liberty, or freedom. I simply can’t look at consensus in the liberal democratic Faith without remembering Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam, and we could fill all the whitespace with our list if we want to talk about the secret wars in Latin America in the 1980s.

Those hundreds of millions dead make it hard for me to join in the kum-ba-yah talk of consensus, which strikes me as the singing after the revolution, while Stalin disposes of 50 million Russians. Easy enough to sing if you’re still there. My people experience the dead as still living – we talk to them, we go to them, we are still connected to them. It’s not an ideology but a tangible and historical reality that we experience – something we do or that has happened to us, not something we “believe” in the same way a Protestant believes in sola scriptura or a patriot believes in the flag. We are not ‘constructing’ an ideology but simply continuing (which is why I used the word ‘tribal’) in a body of activity – an ekkumene/economy of experience.

It is hard, therefore, to see talk of consensus by those ideologies that have presumably silenced those who are still so loud in our ears, and remain so until we join them. So it’s not a matter of not liking – it’s that I’m aware of the tenets (such as that we’ve arrived at the most good for the most people, or the most widely accepted model, or some other form of consensus-based theory – i.e. the premise of liberal democracy itself) – I’m aware that they are believed (that they are tenets in one denominational variation or another) – and I don’t believe. It’s not a question of like but of credulity. I’m with the dead, and with my own people, and for myself, not for any theory.

Incidentally, it’s true that Orthodox use the words “I believe” at the beginning of our creed. However, this is almost universally misunderstood. In the West, believing takes on primarily positive value – it is a statement of ideology, of fealty to an abstraction or a theoretical concept, a tenet of religious philosophy. To believe is to take a position of asserting that a thing is true. So ingrained is the quality of positive belief, as the very concept of belief, that to say “I believe” can scarcely be understood any other way in the West. Indeed, it is for this reason that the West felt free to modify the creed as its philosophy evolved – the positive content of its belief changed, so the positive statement of its belief changed. On the other hand, the Orthodox who had written the creed in the first place, were willing to let the West go form a new religion, the Roman Catholic Church, rather than permit the transformation of their religion into an ideology or their community into a theoretical entity – an institution predicated on various hypothetical claims to ‘authority’.

That’s the level of resistance they had to this understanding of “I believe” – the level of resistance to ideology itself and to the hegemony of abstractions. For the Orthodox, the “I believe” is a statement with primarily negative value. The Orthodox did not author the Creed as a list of doctrinal distinctions of our religion, like a pamphlet offering the features of a religious product, with various market differentiators. Rather, the creed is a series of ritual statements, liturgical ones, that have the value of rejecting precisely various ideologies actively assaulting the community – by, in effect, replacing and supplanting their concepts, assertions, or methodologies. It was born out of the defense of its own against seduction by heresy, by ideological abstractions. In that sense, it is more of a renunciation than a profession. Vladimir Lossky has pointed this out in the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.

For us, the mind that says “I believe” is not listing abstractions which we think, suppose, or presume are true as an act of saying “here is the truth – it is contained in words – it is philosophical, theoretical, abstract – let us communicate it”, but rather the mind saying “I believe” is engaged in an active, militant rejection of assault by precisely the world of religious philosophers and their bid to transform faith and the Faith into ideology or religious philosophy. The Great Schism was not a tiff over a few words, but a schism over an entire cultural worldview and attitude toward reality, life, existence, meaning, the future (history), and identity.

It is for this reason that when the See of Rome finally tore down the silver shields from St. Peter’s Basilica, placed there by Pope St. Leo the Great, who we venerate to this day, on which the eternal and inviolable defense of the faith was written (that’s what the Creed is – a defense of the faith, not a speculative codification of it, a denial, not a list of exploratory hypotheses), and they ordered the West to begin uttering the new confession as precisely an ideological rubric – a set of positive philosophical speculations or utterances, we then also removed something – we removed (1014AD) the name of the Roman Patriarch from the dyptichs, the prayers that venerate Orthodox patriarchs as such. It was a recognition that they had torn down their inclusion in our community – indeed they had rent apart the world in their quest for an abstraction which they now termed “God”, thereby blaspheming the all-personal deity himself.

They had become ideologues, people with a theory of the church, an “ecclesiological claim to authority”, and were no longer simply continuously essential participants in the historical church that Christ had made. They transformed faith into “belief”, religion into religious philosophy, the creed into a doctrinal statement, and began the self-definition of the West as on a historical quest for abstract identity (e.g. “Europe” itself and “Christian Europe”) which ultimately was met in the antithesis of Protestantism (and “the New World”) and the synthesis of ‘liberal democracy’ (e.g. “the West”). They had been what we were but were now a new/novel and very different thing, and the world has suffered as much from what they have wreaked upon it (need we recount?) as from their absence as members of our community (resulting in the fall of New Rome in 1453. That initial change though, made the West essentially a philosophical/ideological phenomenon.

The essence of the West is ideology – the quest for abstraction. And that transformation – the removal of its roots in the universal ekkumene of a global community constituted in historical, tribal, visceral experience – the vacuum that removal created in the West – accelerated its ability to wed itself to other arms of abstraction and ideology – be it political philosophies and that sphere, economic theories and that sphere, even military, industrial-corporate, and social-cultural sciences. All of those things were utilized by the Orthodox, of course, but were distinct from the Faith. The anchor was still the tangible, historical community – the people. Indeed, it was rooted ultimately in the personal. In the West, the ascendance of idea over personality, abstraction over persons resulted in the history of the past 1000 years that really doesn’t need recounting, and even the idea of “the people” became fundamentally an abstraction – a theoretical component for modular use by various ideologies. The West even finally sent its Hegelian dialectic back, like a strapped on bomb, to the third Rome, Russia, in the form of Marx’s ideas, with results we’ve mentioned.

Ultimately, we are at the end, if this is the end (Fukuyama’s book is really worth reading), not because the current ideological consensus that gives us such “freedom” and comfort isn’t built on a vast expanse of skulls, like a shopping mall built on an Indian graveyard (ala Poltergeist, which is often misunderstood too – the point is our institutions are built on genocide – King has written about this stuff too – e.g. Pet Sematary and others). Rather, we are at an end of sorts, because the West can’t resolve its own dilemma of being essentially ahistorical, questing for an abstraction that isn’t there, by means of a dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) that drops it off exactly where we are now, inevitably, at a place that equips us with wonderful notions like “freedom” (an abstraction) but an ever increasing consolidation of power, control, and starvation of personality within those abstractions.

Micro-ideologies then, that draw upon the world as offered by this system of ideological abstraction, inevitably repeat its cycle in small – if they survive long enough. Along the way, they reach a place in the elevation of abstraction over person, and the corresponding reduction of person to abstraction (because of the Western assumption, every area of ideology has corresponding implications for all other areas – anthropology – the idea of what a person is – most significantly). The person becomes machine like, a part of the ideological process – supporters/allies, and opponents especially are reduced to the status of disposable (by being reduced to some form of abstraction (those liberals, those populists, those people) – and you can always dispose of an idea – it’s not a person anymore. They are villified and denounced, and, if the movement can get enough power, silenced or deprived in some form or another. Whatever else occurs, someone’s ideology ascends and some set of persons is trod down. When we talk of good or successful micro-ideologies, of their “benefits” (like features of a product), we skip over the people they’ve hurt, the voices that have been silenced. We speak only of the clean shopping mall on top of the graveyard. Power is the all-consuming Cthulu, and ideology is the incantation that continually calls it forth in various abominable incarnations.

The Path

Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. – Oscar Wilde

Hell is My Salvation

ImageHell in the Orthodox conception is a form of redemption, where even those who resist God freely (which, when the creature of time is swallowed up, becomes for eternity) will be burned continually by God’s unwavering presence, since he will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter what crimes we have committed, and God as Creator of all things is an all-consuming fire, likewise consuming all things, and yet he preserves and does not annihilate us, allowing our individual wills and minds to remain as they are, even resurrecting our bodies so that nothing of us is lost, despite our wasting of the gift of life in his image. This allows us to seek salvation through continually confessing the gravity of our failure, and the unapproachability of God (a theological reality), and to say with the fathers of the desert, “I am kindling for the fire, fit only to be burned, and surely all will be saved and I alone condemned – I do not know the sheep, but I am one of the goats”, and yet also with even St. Job, who was deprived of everything, “I know that my Redeemer lives” as, trusting in God and seeking his mercy continually, we release ourselves to the reality inaugurated by the Creator, who by becoming his creation, in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, has redeemed all things, and is redeeming them, and will redeem them, and does redeem them, and will never cease redeeming them, forever and ever, Amen.

When Being Christian isn’t Christian

ImageA fundamentalist preacher once said, “If you want to start an argument in an elevator full of Jews, ask ‘What is a Jew? Is it a religious person, an ethnic person, or a citizen of Israel?” Before anyone screams “racist”, it isn’t racist – he happens to think Jews are the “people of God”, which is a tenent of dispensationalist fundamentalism, which is what that was.

But he has a point. What the heck does being Jewish really mean? You ask different people, you get different answers. And for all the sort of “well, there is some consensus” that people try to pass off on us to calm things down, that seems sort of like a cover for real and serious disagreement, which if you’ve ever lived in an international city which includes all kinds of Jews, you get immediately.

In the same way, this word “Christian” is thrown around so much, and by people who can’t get along, that you get the impression that it’s not one thing. Here again, peacemakers do what peacemaking personalities do in any context – they try to smooth it over – “well, but there is some consensus” – no, there’s not. Not by a long stretch. You get someone saying “we pray to the same god” (do we? some of us think the god described in Sunday School is imaginary.) or that we agree on the essentials (what essentials? some of us don’t think there is such a thing as essentials).

Critics of “Christianity” do the same thing (it’s so easy to be a critic – you don’t have to be religiously literate – don’t have to really know anything – you just have to have a kneejerk response to the worst examples of what you’re criticizing – of course, in debate, the man with integrity selects the best of his opponents, not the worst). Critics talk of “Christianity” and “Christians” as though they concur with those who smooth things over – that we’re talking about one thing – which is convenient, because by simplifying it to that degree, you can dismiss or criticize it more easily.

ImageThe fact of the matter is that most of what passes for “Christianity” in media, in public culture, and in any visible way, isn’t even vaguely related to historic Christianity at all (“salvation” as accepting something, getting your own “personal saviour”, the rapture and all that crap, and even the “Bible”, which didn’t exist in the early Church – and, if you listen to TV or some Sunday School, has become a collection of “books” to be “studied” so you can “come to the truth” – gone is any sense that these were ever purely liturgical works meant to be sung (what are those choir-instructions in the Psalms about), not collected into a single “book”, and certainly not read in your lap in some auditorium as you squint to get answers to personal religious riddles, like a Ouiji Board or a Magic 8-Ball).

Furthermore, if you listen to “Christians” you’re led to believe that there was Jesus and the Apostles, and then corruption set in, and then Constantine politicized it all, and then 1200 years of ‘darkness and dark ages’ until Martin Luther unchained the “bible” and you get Jerry Falwell. Really? It’s amazing how many critics of “Christianity” (no wonder) have actually accepted that story as real, in varying levels of sophistication. This, despite the fact that decent historians of the period would tell you (e.g. Joseph Strayer, Norman Cantor) that the so-called “dark ages” didn’t exist. Some of the most complex works of architecture, literature, learning, and culture were created during this supposed blank spot, and it’s not true that the Roman Catholic Church controlled all of it, by any stretch, or that people lived in a kind of destitute, blind slavery. You could make an argument about the city or Rome itself, after the Goths, but Jeez, that was a backwater of Europe – it’s like saying the U.S. is Hildale, Utah. Heard of the Hagia Sophia? It’s one of the architectural wonders of the world. And that’s just getting started.

If I raided your closet, dressed up as you, and went around being taken seriously as you, doing and saying things you’d rather die than do, wouldn’t you expect anyone with any acumen to eventually learn the difference? Well all right, that’s if it was you. What if it was Elvis? Ever seen an Elvis impersonator on a Vegas stage or TV or at your cousin’s birthday party and thought it was the real thing? If he was drunk on stage in Vegas, would you go home and say “Elvis is a drunk. I don’t think I can listen to his music anymore.” Reductio. The thing the so-called Christians have done that screws it up for everyone, including people who might otherwise know something about it, is that they’ve made it so anyone can say they’re a “Christian”. What, all you have to do is “accept” something, right? And maybe “believe” a few things. So that’s what Christianity is? Badger puke. So for the last 1000 years or so, anyone can claim to be Elvis, so to speak, and the thing is *you* the critic are just as much a believer, because you took that premise seriously. You actually listen and call these folks “Christians”, despite readily available historical information to the contrary.

ImageThe point is, some of us who know that history, and might be tempted to talk about Christ very differently, are thinking, ‘Jeez, if these people are Christians, then I’m nothing of the kind, and vice versa.’ and ‘Whatever god they are talking about doesn’t exist.’ and ‘This rapture crap is stupid -there’s no such thing.’ Now, it’s easy to claim that “all religion is made up, and none of it is real”, because that keeps you from needing to know anything about the “all” you’re talking about. Blanket statements simplify things, all right. Might as well say Elvis never really existed, or you don’t exist, since I stole your clothes. And yes, anyone who has listened to amateur critics go on about “religion” in general (is there such a thing?) in a coffee shop, has heard argument by definition (“all religion is x, therefore religion is y”) – e.g. “all religion is the speculation of one man who invented it”, “all religion is man-made”, “all religion is a belief in magic and the supernatural”. And the “y” invariably means, therefore “crap”. Well, certainly what passes for “religion” in the equivalent of the tabloids, that stuff schlepped out by anyone who can open a storefront and accept donations is crap, but some religious people aren’t telling you anything, don’t need you to join, don’t hand you any literature, and don’t make it a point of explaining to you what they’re doing or thinking about it. Some religion isn’t a belief system at all, and I’m betting, if you’re one of those coffee shop critics, you don’t know whit about it.

Thing is, logic says the “all of these people, or all of this thing” simplifications are shite. First, you can’t sit on theological illiteracy and claim you know the basis of “all religion” based on dime-store reasoning, any more than I can speak of “all football fans” being violent, or “all Americans” being slobs. If you don’t know, you don’t know – it’s like claiming “the US is the greatest country on earth” when you haven’t ever lived anywhere else, let alone everywhere else. Some religion is based on history, which actually happened, and is distinct from religious philosophy, which is a form of speculation (i.e. ‘someone thinks it might be so’). Some religion is historical, in other words, and some ahistorical. If you’re not even making that distinction, it’s like saying “evolution is proven science!” or “evolution is just an unproven theory!” without even getting the difference between macroevolution and microevolution, and what’s actually been done in the real of experimental science in this area, and what hasn’t.

ImageAnd yeah, any sophomore can say “history is just what someone thinks happened – you weren’t there” (neither were you, but there’s more evidence for a lot of historical events than a lot of current ones – were you there when Osama bin Laden died? Which of the four times?). Saying things like that means you’re not taking your own reason seriously, let alone anything else. Subjectifying all history means your comments are even more subjective – i.e. you’ve removed the ground of your own argument, since that would include everything you think you can describe about what religion really is, or what happened instead of what didn’t happen. That’s the problem with armchair criticism – it’s all fun and games until someone actually thinks.

Not everything critics say is without merit, of course – and, it can be hard when different groups seemingly calling themselves the same thing are at odds about whether that’s in fact, true. But easy answers that say, “well, they’re just arguing with themselves, they’re all the same thing” are just as made up and oversimplified as a lot of the criteria you hear coming out of the least intelligent voiceboxes on TV. Hasn’t your own career even been oversimplified to the point it made you disgusted with the ignorance, or your region of the country, or your country, or your cultural preferences, or any number of things you take seriously? But aren’t some of the people who do what you do actually some of the reason it gets stereotyped that way? We owe it to each other to be a bit more liberal, and try to understand distinctions, and not just say all Republicans are Ollie North and all Democrats are Barney Frank, and be done with it. That’s cave man thinking.

ImageMy solution to this stuff doesn’t get wide approval, but I really don’t care – it works exceedingly well for me. If someone asks if I’m a Christian, I tell them no. It’s quite simple – what they think of when they mean that word is imaginary to me, and is a system of religious philosophy, and I’m not a believer in religious philosophies – I’m not even a ‘believer’ in systems of belief. Orthodoxy isn’t primarily a belief system – it’s an ascetic activity – it’s something one does, like Yoga or photography. You might need to think about it, but it’s not primarily a system of thought. Some Orthodox don’t agree with me, but I think my way of doing it is the most honest, when people are looking for a simple answer, not a conversation or deep analysis. If someone asks if I believe in “god” I usually say “no” because, again, I think what they’re talking about in most cases is imaginary – the guy in the sky, Charlton Heston, that guy Pat Robertson talks about – these, to me, are like comic book superheroes, in a weird kind of world where nothing is cool and no one has fun. Nope, I don’t believe in the tooth fairy or Easter bunny, either. More on this, in a sec.

Even if someone wants to debate “religion”, to cater to that assumes religion is one thing which, again, is ignorant, or if they want to debate belief in “god”, then to accept the ground of that, one has to accept the premise that “god” is a describable philosophical construct, a ‘something’ of religious philosophy, a concept of speculation, and that he has attributes the way a human being ascribes attributes to a thing or other human beings – he is just, he is kind, he is good, etc. But I’m an atheist in that regard – such a god doesn’t exist. We have a people among the Orthodox called Hesychasts who keep us in mind of that. They teach us to remove all false images from our minds and conventions of speech, because all such constructs are idolatry, are constructions, are invented, are man-made, are thought of. If there were a “god”, he would be unknowable, and beyond being unknowable, because unknowability too is a construct. Therefore, the Hesychasts do not so much believe as act. This is not a course in religious history, but a little wouldn’t hurt, from what I hear out of most critics.

ImageThe “god” people describe is, inherently, a speculation (= made up = imaginary). It’s a circular argument – a god who can be described couldn’t be “god”. If they want to talk monotheism, I point out that Orthodox people are not monotheists. We do not believe in (or in our case act because of) a countable “god”, of whom we can say “there exists one of him”. And we are more ready to say that God does not actually ‘exist’ in the sense that people can think of existence – God’s “existence” is the last thing we could believe in. One could talk about this at length, and I’ve done so elsewhere, but that’s not the point.

The point is critics who try to bundle everything for simplification don’t have the answers they think they do about “all religion” or even about “Christians”. To “hit” something, logically and rhetorically, in your conversation, you have to at least know it. And lumping things together, invariably, means you don’t know. This is why we call it “ignorance” when people make hasty generalizations about “all Jews” or “all white people”. It’s just, with “religion” or “christianity” or “christians” somehow we miss that it’s just as philosophically primitive.

One last illustration. Just because there’s no Santa Claus, doesn’t mean St. Nicholas isn’t a real person. And if you can unpack that, it pretty much answers oversimplifications and ignorance with a logical construct that is truly simple, but not simplistic.

Coffee Shop Religion

ImageAt the coffee shop today, a confident young man is explaining to a credulous young girl how if anyone shows up claiming to be a messenger from God, they’re not a messenger. Then he explains why: “because God doesn’t want….”

It doesn’t matter what comes next; you see the problem. 🙂 By speaking for “God”, in terms of what he supposedly wants, you’re that messenger, the one we should ignore. I ignored.

Protestantism: how it’s wrong when everyone else does it, but OK for you, because you’re right.

The Rapture Sounds Awful – What they Don’t Tell You About Dispensationalism

standA friend of mine writes on esoteric matters and one of his recent video talks got my attention. He was discussing dispensationalism as an ‘engineered ideology’. You’ve probably heard the tenets of dispensationalism, even if you don’t know that word. It’s the Protestant evangelical theory of the imminent disappearance of millions of people (Protestant evangelicals) into the sky – an event called “the rapture” – after which, according to the theory – there will be a 7 year “tribulation” on the earth (terrible things happening – rivers boiling with blood, etc.), and Israel will fight as ‘the earthly people of God’ against the antichrist who has taken over a “revived Roman empire” and stamped everyone with his insignia. Then Israel gets martyred, and the Savior returns with his angels to win the war, inaugurating a 1000 year golden age of peace on the earth. Then the world is destroyed after all, and judgment occurs. Or something like that (it’s been a while since I looked closely at the various charts they’ve made, so a few details might be off).

Dispensationalism is not part of Christian tradition: My friend points out that this is a relatively recent system and, quite correctly, that it is not part of historic Christianity, but is in fact considered a heresy by the Orthodox Church and was, at least until recently, by the Roman Catholics too, and still is by Reformed Protestants. It became the dominant preoccupation among religious fundamentalists in the West, based on the popular ‘study bible’ notes of C.I. Scofield (someone who wrote in the margins of his book a lot), and was propagated by Dallas Theological Seminary and the gazillion independent evangelical churches those graduates founded and inspired during the Goldwater-Reagan era, and so was linked with neo-conservatism as a quasi-religious political ideology (see Sharlett’s book “The Family” if you’re interested in how that really happened) and therefore with the military industrial complex Eisenhower spoke of. It is largely the reason why the US considers Israel an inviolable ally to this day – seemingly unaccountably (any politician challenging that doctrine is signing a political death warrant) – and also for the massive opposition to climate science, with private studies funded by corporate energy lobbies (the ones who have been benefitting from the last few wars) and backed by religious ideology.

Most Christians consider it heresy: One point, that this friend made, I think is particularly worth repeating – and that is that dispensationalism has become so prevalent that the average person, who is religiously illiterate, thinks that’s just what Christians believe. People seem completely unaware that actually any Christianity with a history going back more than a few hundred years holds to nothing of the kind and considers such ideology alien if not repugnant. Keep in mind, Protestantism itself is of fairly recent vintage. That particular Protestant ideology, eschewed by Reformed Protestants but adopted by the Brush Arbor Revival movement that gave us mass evangelicalism and populist politics, incidentally, is even more recent.

It’s inconsistent with what Christians have always said: All of this “Left Behind” stuff would be baffling to Christians just 5 centuries ago, before there were any Protestants at all. Back then, there was no looking at Hebrews as a special people – Christians (Orthodox and Roman Catholic) considered themselves the new Israel whose Messiah had come, fulfilling all the Patriarchs and Prophets, just as Reformed Protestants do now – an idea they inherited from the original stream, if you will. The idea of a separate chosen people and the validity of some kind of re-instituted animal sacrifices as atonement for sin in a rebuilt temple, which dispensationalists push for according to their theory, would have been considered most dire heresy to anyone receiving the blood of Christ in the Christian liturgy. In the West, you’d likely have met the Inquisition for such an unChristian proposition, if you’d said something like that in the wrong era.

2000 years of ‘end times’: As for the 21st century being “the end times”, no one thought that in the 4th century, of course, nor the 5th, 6th, etc. There have always been moments of hysteria among ordinary people, but the Church has maintained that the ‘last days’ began when Christ came, fulfilling all the Patriarchs and Prophets. In other words, the ‘last days’ are all the days of the Church itself.

There are many antichrists: As to specific events and trends that signal the death throws of the world, the thinking of the Orthodox includes various opinions, but a general consensus is that there are and have been many antichrists, many tribulations, and many fallings away – that these things have occurred in every age, and will occur again. That is not to say that there will not be a finality to the world at some point, and a rather bleak one, a necessary working out of Death to its logical conclusion, in a kind of fascist enthusiasm for leadership and authority, with people clamouring to be led and for someone to be ‘strong’ on their behalf, trying to use power to bring all the world under one overriding system of cultural influence. You see it now, don’t you? To say “government” now is to think of something dominated by an executive, isn’t it? Hardly what the founders of the fledgling US would have considered a balanced republic.

One world culture: It’s interesting that just a few years ago, evangelicals were up in arms over “submitting” to anything like a “one world government”, calling that the great “babylon”, but they were working doubletime to ensure the world submitted to their own nation’s hegemony, and outraged when anyone even expressed disagreement with its consolidation of power (remember the French on Iraq?). But creating a one world *culture* – a monoculture – is virtually a stated goal of the same evangelicals, not just politically (in terms of “furthering our interests”) but religiously as well. That’s literally what “evangelicalism” means – to evangelize the world – to make it, specifically, evangelical – to self-propagate. And when that culture is operated from a political ‘city on a hill’, that’s exactly what a one world government is. It’s a city with “many hills”, on which the one harlot perches, as the prophesy goes. So, it’s easy to be skeptical about the prophetic doubletalk.

All sizes of Antichrist, sixty for the price of one: Likewise, we don’t question whether Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin were the antichrist – of course they all were. So was Diocletian. Herod was an antichrist. So are all the various little antichrists – Gaddafi, if you like – the list is very long. Most of them, during and since the cold war, have actually been funded and supported alternately by the United States or Communist Russia – now just the US. I find that interesting, in the wake of all the little revolutions against various antichrists happening all over the world, the vast majority of which we plan to ignore and allow to be crushed, and so the power of antichrist to be consolidated for the sake of a ‘stability’ and ‘flow of energy resources’ to the one great nation (the ‘superpower’, if you like). The one big beast supports a crown of many little horns. You’ve probably met an antichrist in a corporate setting, or a family, in a religious venue, or on the roadway driving a big vehicle and railing at you – micro-antichrists of a sort. The world is awash with any number of us ready to step up in any capacity to act as antichrist of whatever power we can gain. The person matters less than the personality and the power that is exalted as the basis of humanity and human interaction. Craving for power is high witchcraft, and you’ll see it on the airwaves, as people squint and talk about exercising the ‘power’ of “jesus” too. The ideal culture of antichrist occurs when it no longer matters who you elect to rule – you get the same thing – it could be any one of us because, eventually, it’s all of us.

Dispensationalism itself is part of the “falling away”: As for apostasy, we could read forth a litany of ‘fallings away’ – the Protestant Religion itself is a falling away from its Roman ancestor (and a logical conclusion initiated by an original falling away of one Patriarchate – the Roman one – from the other Patriarchates of the world). Evangelicalism is considered a falling away within Protestantism by other Protestants, watching their break with Rome further fragment into 10,000 denominations – as many as there are storefronts to support them. Dispensationalism itself is an example of falling away within Evangelical denominations, too, and from the tradition and eschatological thinking and analysis of the originate Christendom. The children repudiate each other, and their children’s children, just as they deserted their mother.

The “falling away” began with the first humans: The world itself fragments. As the poet said, “the center cannot hold”. That’s what we Orthodox mean by Death – first, the fragmentation of man physically (his body from his soul – do we not find them in conflict?), then of man’s soul itself (his mind conflicting with his will at odds with his emotions), of man from man (conflict among people), of the one man and the many, of one multitude and another, of man from ecology (man and all other natural creatures and things, even the world itself, the whole cosmos), of one animal species and another, one plant species and another – the lion slaughters the lamb, and the little boy spears the lion, and we all bend our plowshares into swords, and death is evermore, and sorrow and crying go on and on, and of course man from his creator – the one thing is not somehow separate from the other – it is the meaning of Death indicated in the dis-integration of all things, and addressed beyond all measure in the Incarnation. Want to see apostasy? Look at greenhouse gases. Look at war. Look at extinction. Look at epidemics. Look at how many marriages fall apart. We are always, all falling away.

Tribulations aren’t magic acts: And tribulations we have known all along. Need we enumerate them? Sure, it’s not done yet, and there’s going to be some really bad stuff go down, but it’s not without (so far) ten thousand years of tremors leading to it. An incredible blowing out away from paradise, spiraling from eternity toward entropy. Even the cosmos itself is said to be an explosion, expanding away from a fragmented center. This magic act stuff of people flying off by the gazillions isn’t happening, and certainly isn’t the point, even if it weren’t itself a form of religious apostasy – a falling away in its own right, in its pretense at ‘flying’ away.

Why would these people be raptured? I mean come on, are there really that many people who are without pride or hypocrisy or hatred or anger, who have given their surplus to the poor, shelter to the immigrant and foreigner and stranger, relieved prisoners in prison, made sure the sick had health care? That’s who Christ said the righteous are, right? And if there are a lot of such people, as many as say they are ‘saved’ in their hearts, are they really the people who have consistently done the opposite all this time, and voted against it, and lobbied against it, and screamed on talk radio about how they shouldn’t have to, and no one’s going to make them, and have erected enormous political seige engines to lay waste to anyone trying to see that it gets done? Good Lord, if they’re right about the rapture, they’re not the ones going!

The rapture as a ratline operation: The “rapture” sounds more like a Gaddafi exit strategy than justice being served or the righteous being rewarded – if anything, it’s a way out for the people who made sure the poor didn’t get public assistance, the immigrant got chased out as quickly as he arrived, the prisoners got neglected with worse treatment not better, and the sick died for lack of healthcare not healed by the willingly parted with coin of good samaritans. The rapture is more like an elevator ride out of danger to the great bomb shelter in the sky after nuking Hiroshima, draining the world of resources, starving most of the people on the planet, poisoning everything that was pure, creating the longest running period of nonstop warfare in human history, and bringing on a climactic extinction event. If there were a rapture, it would seem more like a post-WWII ratline escape to Argentina than a joy bus to cloud 9.

You’re needed here – your work isn’t done: Besides, the people with the rapture bumper stickers have been the ones clamouring for strong central leaders, the very people we need for antichrists to succeed and to get all that important work done building up that “one world government” that binds all other governments to its will, ensuring our interests are followed, and extending this particular culture into every corner of the world where “American” values can be understood, to mix a little Hal Lindsey, Darth Vader, and nearly every president since Reagan together. My own view is that whenever the people talking about the rapture get what they want, politically, economically, and religiously, we’ve got another antichrist on our hands. Remember the last one? The little devil doesn’t have to be able to string a coherent sentence together – heck golly gee, we could even see the first female president in that role in 2012 and rest assured it won’t just be more mooses that get shot from helicopters then, don’tcha know? Don’t get excited if you voted for Obama, though – same policies, difference of degrees, different face.

Which way is Rome? What about the great city among all cities they call the “whore of bablyon”? You’ve probably heard that phrase. The dispensationalists say it’s a symbolic “revived Roman empire” that weds economic, religious, and political power into one monolithic monoculture that dominates the whole world. Um… I thought we have that already. When I learned the Pledge of Allegiance, I thought that’s what we were saying – “one nation under god” – just one – not many. And currently, that nation is driven by a corporate-evangelical-neoconservative nexus of power. Do you deny it?

Eschatology is sociology: See, this is where I think they almost have it right. Eschatology (the science of prophesy) is really a sociological analysis projected forward to its logical conclusion by people with discernment – it’s a social science, as much as anything. The ancient tradition says basically, ‘hey, when you see this (aforementioned) power nexus occur, you’re looking at the culture of antichrist or, if you prefer, an anti-Christian culture’. And the fathers that wrote that stuff knew full well that “anti-” means not just opposite of, but having the trappings of the thing it is opposing – a counterfeit. In other words, the culture of antichrist, in the view of the original Christians, will mimic and proclaim itself as a “Christian civilization” and will oppose all other civilizations in its bid for hegemony (check out Samuel Huntington’s book, The Clash of Civilizations http://goo.gl/yiBWR – it’s a neoconservative bible and almost dispensationalist-like blueprint for the necessary wars of the future that will resolve all civilizations into one).

All antichrists are puppets: In short, it will be an unparalleled imperialism, under a princely executive, at the ostensible head of an economic-religious-political power structure with enormous military power (yep, that’s what the prophesy says – it says, to paraphrase, ‘you should see his armies – mess with the bull, get the horns!’ ) – but that leader, who will attempt to dominate the whole world in the name of that all-consuming, all-dominating “city”, civilization, or “nation/empire” will be just a puppet, according to the tradition. Maybe it’s even just the office of the executive and a succession of such leaders, but I think it’s certainly both. What is really behind him is the systemic evil that supports such a thing, an almost nebulous reality one could call ‘the beast’ (some have called it ‘the octopus’, some ‘leviathan’, some a ‘monster’) and, underlying that, the personal enemy of all mankind himself – the one for whom ancient pagans tossed babies to burn in the belly of Molech, whereas modern civil religionists toss white phosphorous at the babies – more efficient that way. The thing about the illusion of a presidency is that long-term policies are too important to be left to the exigencies of a single person and a 4-year timetable. A shadow government *must* exist in any successful world power, or it simply couldn’t get anything done. In that sense, it’s absolutely necessary that any president and any antichrist be a puppet. The change that’s evolving is simply that the conglomeration of power structures is becoming “multinational” as we like to put it in stock reports – or “global” when we advertise or picket it.

Onward Christian soldiers: Among the ways evangelicals tend to err is in thinking the systemic antichristian society is a single political structure, a unigovernment, like some pristine nation, instead of a massive multinational set of relationships governed by influence from a center of power which is at once both national and global. Nationalism itself feeds the culture of the beast, if you will, and blinds us to the tradition as it is elaborated before us. Anyone who has touched governmental bureacracy knows the smell of brimstone quite well, though. What, did they think you’ll know the beast by a one-page tax form, a balanced budget, and no filibustering in congress? Simple is too simplistic. Likewise, they tend to think there’s some kind of new religion, like spectacular devil worship, that will be the cult surrounding the antichrist. They fail to look at what has happened to their own religion, and how it has become the dominant political force, a civil cult, at the apex of power, a religio-political reality, and to correctly assess the antichrist living in and through that coopting of anything like real faith they might have had. You don’t vote for Sarah Palin because she makes any sense – you do so because of ideology – and religion reduced to political ideology is the ideal religion of antichrist.

Mark of the beast: In short, if I were looking at the bumper stickers, then looking up and looking around for candidates for all of this, and I had a strong background in the ancient form of Christianity that typifies Orthodoxy, I would have to shrug and burn my draft card, rather than hand out a tract on a “rapture”. There’s a ticket to ride, all right, but it’s going the other way. You know it’s weird, they still ask for that darned thing (draft registration) any time we do anything official, even if we’re too old. Did you register? Yes, sir I did. You spelled my name wrong, so I’m officially not in the system, for the umpteenth million time – but here, I’ll take the mark… (I’ve filled out the darned form to re-register half a dozen times over the years).

If there’s a mark of the beast, though, it would seem to be whatever credentials make one successful in the beast’s society, wouldn’t it? So, in this society, that’s being White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Republican. Being a WASP, and all that goes with it. Another way of putting it is that I’d need to be an evangelical fundamentalist neoconservative, or at least comfortably existing in their world, under their influence. A more skeptical and rationally anarchistic way of putting it is that I’d have to just participate, in nearly any way, in the system emanating from the USA. It allows plenty of room for participation – protest, within reason – dissent, within reason. It just asks for some basic signs of upholding the core, underlying premise, and then you can have your parade. After all, haven’t the last few wars been fought in part to enrich certain energy, arms, and security investors, in part to ensure the operation of the physical power plant that keeps the beast’s heart beating, but also, at some level, to eliminate genuine resistance – the kind that says ‘we’re not participating at any level – we’re going to oppose you at every level’? I think that’s exactly what’s going on. Certainly, it fits well with that Huntington thesis, again.

Does the mark work? The evangelical WASP thing, though, probably seems unfair, but it seems even more unfair to those who aren’t part of the good old boy ‘network’ that makes that mark work. Doubt that it exists? What do you think a political coalition is? It’s a nexus of corporate lobbies and moral doctrine disseminators that shape society in a way that best benefits the interests of a particular type of person at the expense, one can easily argue, of some other types of people. Natives over immigrants, corporations over individuals, tax-exempt religious institutions over non-exempt ones, Christians over Muslims, or whatever. And that’s without even appealing to the lowest examples of those who wish blacks and women had never got the vote. Someone with integrity argues with the best, not the worst, among their opponents. Of course the mark works; it works very well. The mistake is in assuming it’s an actual tool and die stamp or some kind of microchip. If there were a microchip, it would just be a symptom of the order, as another form of control, but not the total story. The mark is, according to tradition, the political, economic, and religious currency of the realm – and the mistake is thinking of it in terms of one one person getting some kind of tattoo on his one forehead. Instead, it’s a system that supports, sustains, and entitles participants in the beastly system – not a magic stamp reduced to a meaningless microdot on the hand, but a full ideological reality involving one’s mind and one’s labour.

Understanding marks: The Christians who actually wrote those original texts would have gotten it, as they touched their own foreheads and hands together with a different mark, the sign of the cross – ‘my mind, my gut, my strength is marked by my hand with this sign.’ The titillation over a mysterious mark has more to do with iconoclasm in the Protestant evangelical mind, that rejects physical signs themselves as inherently spooky and evil, and that skews the reading, so they go looking for which microchip or barcode is the bad one. The people that wrote the books have always had physical signs and icons of many kinds, including lots of marks. If you’re a Westerner who has been to an Ash Wednesday service and gotten the cross marked in ashes on your forehead, you know there’s something very old which that’s left over from. The Orthodox are continually marked in many similar ways, all year long.

You’ve got it, and you don’t even know it: The thing is, even if you’re “against” all that global hegemony and system of personal control stuff, the US has been pulling you farther right, while calling it center, so to speak, and using dialectic to get a little concession there, a little more over here, until basically if you’re not an evangelical fundamentalist neoconservative, you’re just being inconsistent. Shop at Walmart? What’s the difference then? You might as well be. Don’t shop at Walmart, but sending your kids to patriot camp? Er… public school? Same thing. What kind of conditioning do you think they’re getting in there? Centrist, moderate, “balanced”, conditioning. <evil grin> They’re being conditioned to take their place and pursue their role in the system, and not to want to overthrow it or refuse all participation, or some such thing. School is about citizenship, not learning, otherwise it would be bad at the one, and good at the other, not the opposite. Have a job, pay your taxes? We all give tribute, in some way, right? No, we’re all evangelical fundamentalist neoconservatives, in some sense, right down to the most herbal progressive of us – let’s not fool ourselves. We’re all children of antichrist. How’s it going, brother?

No evangelical ‘bar code’: I should say that I realize any number of people reading this might be believers in the system we’re talking about. I won’t try to convince any one individual. I never argue with belief when I encounter it. People believe all kinds of things. Aliens among us. Elvis being alive. Healing scarves sold on TV. Effortless diet plans. Talented “contemporary christian” musicians. That Sarah Palin, or that sorority bimbo you’re dating, is actually quite intelligent. Respect in the morning. In fact, credulity, and this age of creedence is, in my view, one of the principle conditions necessary to progress toward that final antichrist – people must be conditioned to believe, and believe easily, not necessarily in traditional magic, but in things that have the equivalent epistemological value – easy currency that distances one from tradition (makes us ahistorical) and discernment (e.g. logic). I just won’t argue religion because, generally speaking, religion is magic in this contemporary culture.

Not gonna argue: Besides, my interest is only in saying look ‘this stuff’ isn’t ‘our stuff’. I am willing to concede, on a theoretical level, that you may well be right, and the god I pray to is a fiction (it is certainly not the Protestant evangelical god), and the church on which I will forever stake my salvation is a blindness (it is certainly nothing even remotely like Protestant evangelicalism). But I don’t think so, obviously, and I seem to be doing fairly well, epistemologically speaking – unlike Kansas ( http://goo.gl/WXbqx ), an icon of what evangelical fundamentalist ideology can do to shift a people away from the kind of authetic self-interest that protects their families and communities from decline and harm, by getting them on a kick of “national self interest” and appealing to their ‘morality’ as a temptation to exercise control over others, and so be lured into the culture of power .

So if you’re of a mind to convert, convince, or cajole me, I can tell you it won’t even flower into a discussion. This is, for my part, a monologue. Not every article is a debate – almost none of mine are – and I’m well aware of the fragmenting tendency in evangelical religious circles toward continual argument. Orthodox people, properly, aren’t trying to discover truth by arguing. We simply say this stuff isn’t what we received from Christ, the Apostles, and the Fathers, and preserve to this day. In fact, to consent to argue it, would be one possible form of participating in the very alien deviation from tradition, or apostasy, we must necessarily oppose.

The process is: argue, fragment, reduce fragments to any shared denominators, transform the shared denominators into central essentials, unite under a banner of coalesced power to go after others together for a similar process of synthesis and mutual conversion. It might easily be, in effect, participating in the very culture of antichrist I’ve been describing, which necessarily is a force for fragmentation, and then reconsolidation and control (which is why the myriad fundamentalist “christianities” (sic.) are united under a political force, coopted into reducing their interests to “moral issues” and blind support for corporate interests, by having been transformed into cultures more amenable to integration into a political-economic reality – that is, said culture of antichrist.

So if you’re inclined to dislike what I’ve written, all I can say is I’ve written worse, and probably will write worse still, but the writing itself doesn’t change the fact of the distinction I’m drawing – which is the point, not anything that could be argued. Or as Christ said, “Does this offend thee? It gets worse…’

Justice is Coming

ImageTo believe in a transcendent reality is to necessarily believe in a transcendent justice and vindication. When you see those who kill people indiscriminately, or for money, those who torture, those who conspire to deprive people of their basic human needs, you see people who, regardless of the emblem they wear, or what they do at prayer meetings, or the acclaim they receive because of wearing a uniform and serving some national ideology or local sense of “law and order”, you see people who don’t believe in a transcendent reality. If they say they do, they are liars. If they did believe, they would fear what will happen to them, and the rising up of their victims. Whether they’re US soldiers at Fallujah or Abu Ghraib, or US intelligence and security people who tortured or murdered or committed massacres, or they are the armchair ideologues who enabled them, or they are Qaddafi’s paid murderers in Libya, they are atheists apart from any religious confession they may pretend, even to themselves. They are bereft of belief. They are apostate to all. They will, with us all, face judgment, but they don’t fear it – they don’t really think it’s there or it’s going to happen. You judge what someone believes by what they do, apart from what they say. Action is belief. There is justice coming, though – and I don’t mean to put things off with a shrug and say “I’m not going to get too concerned about the present, because judgment is coming – they’ll get theirs”. No, that’s someone who believes in the transcendent, but not the reality of the present – someone who is denying the Incarnation, if they are a Christian. Now is real. This is real. And the justice to come is real. And it all matters. All of it. When the sparrow falls, it matters. One who cannot contain both belief in a transcendent reality and belief in the here and now cannot be a Christian, at least. He cannot be an Orthodox person.

One Faith

“There are three things I cannot take in: nondogmatic faith, nonecclesiological Christianity and nonascetic Christianity. These three – the church, dogma, and asceticism – constitute one single life for me.” — Elder Sophrony

I am Nothing – Are You?

Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev
Image via Wikipedia

When a monk says “I am nothing”, I think he’s saying that what I am and what I think I am, in my passions, are not of the same order. Likewise, when he says “I have done nothing good” or “what I have done is nothing”, I think he’s saying that what he has done and what he sees he ought to do are so far removed, that there is no comparison. It’s the same, in a way, as when we say that if God exists, I don’t, and vice versa. There is no analogy between contingency and the Holy Trinity. To say “I am nothing” is not to deny that God created me, nor that God loves me. It’s to say that all that I have attributed to “I”, quite falsely, has no analogy to what I really am designed to be – we are created in the indelible image of God, but the likeness of God is something only reachable through theosis. Somewhere along the lines, Death seeped into my best efforts, my best intentions, my seemingly “pure” motives.

A cake is not terrible because it’s fallen. But it’s not what we mean, exactly, by “cake”, nor was it the intention for that particular cake. It might taste delicious. It might be wonderful in its mess and failure. But it’s not a cake, not really. As far as cake is concerned, it’s nada. And that’s because a cake is more than just the shape, or the taste, or any of the components – it’s the far greater sum of the whole.

We might do things well, and so thing we are “good” according to one order of thinking. But to say simultaneously that what we call “good” is nothing, is to say simply that there’s no analogy between God and man. I can achieve good only in a broken way. I can become good only in that way. But brokenness isn’t analogous in any way to the whole that we were meant to be, untroubled by Death. That whole is more than the parts we see broken, as if gluing them back together would create what God had in mind, let alone make it godlike. “I am nothing” means “there are other worlds besides these”, that not everything is of this order, not everything is subject to Death – just everything that I see. In that sense, “I am nothing” is the quintessential expression of faith itself.

I am nothing is to say that being made in God’s image does not, in this Death that consumes all that is, confer godlikeness. The image and the likeness, precisely by the severing sword of Death, have become disconnected, flung apart, so far apart that there is no longer any analogy.

When we read in the scriptures, “if I have not charity, though I move the mountains, I am nothing” and we listen to all the monks denying that they have charity, saying “I have not loved,” “I do not love”, “I know nothing of love – I have only failed at love”, meaning that what they have achieved of love is so far removed from the love that God tells us about and has revealed in Christ, so un-analogous, it is only consistent, and indeed the same thing for them to say “I am nothing” for exactly the same reasons. All that I am is so far removed from what I am meant to be and what Christ truly is, and I someday may be through theosis in Christ, that today I say “I am nothing”.

The fallacy the general populace makes is to think all things are of the same order, making God only a “higher” form of eggplant. But these monks would say that it is so far removed that if I were to attribute an “order” to things, God would not be of any order, and vice versa. To say “I am nothing” is not so different than to speak of the darkness of unknowing, or alternately that God “dwells in unapproachable light” – these things, again, simply underscore the failure of analogy between the created order and the Holy Trinity. Indeed the life St. Paul described (“the thing I do is the think I would not, and the thing I would not is the thing I do”) is another way of saying not that he didn’t do ‘good’ things, but that this the good of those things is so far removed from the good he is striving for, that it is not the goodness that we do, make, or think, or *are*, that is in question from the words “I am nothing”, but rather the limitation of our own vision of the good, because the only good we see is the good accessible to this created order, this contingency, this orb of existence revolving in Death.

The vision the monks have is of things beyond the created order. They’re saying that compared to my best and all I am in contingency (which is forever) and in Death (which is not), the other is everything, and I’m nothing. This is badly written, and I’m not wise. I am not really able to say what the vision is the monks have. Because I listen to them, doesn’t mean I can tell you what they are talking about. Only someone who has seen what they can see can say. Even to repeat is to lose, in ‘translation’, the meaning, when I do it – it is to recontextualize and reduce it and even misuse it. So forgive me for where I have erred. This blog is a way of looking and trying to listen, and to remember and to think, far more than it is an attempt to tell anyone anything. I realize that’s unconventional – it’s just what works for me.

A Prayer for Shelter

ImageHold me, Lord, in the palm of Thine hand. Thou who dost surround the righteous with angels, surround me with Thyself.

Thou art greater than all, and it is enough for me, the small one, if Thou hidest me in the cleft of the rock, as Thou didst Moses.

Bury me in the belly of the whale, as Thou didst Jonas. Thou who wast carried in Thy Mother’s womb, enflesh me in the prayers of the Theotokos.

Hold me up over the waters, who am not worthy like Peter. Be with me in the tomb, as Thou didst Lazarus, Thine own friend.

The world cannot contain Thee, yet I am contained in Thee. I am fit for Hades, but find me there, as Thou didst the Psalmist, and take me up in the clouds as Thou hast done the perfect.

The lamps full of oil, the cisterns of water and wine for the Wedding, the vials of costly perfume for Thy feet, all these hold Thy servants, yet hold me in Thyself where I might not be poured out except for Thine own pleasure.

Thou who dost wrap the heavens in a cloth, who was wrapped with purple, who was placed in a tomb, who made the world a paradise, who clothest the lillies and the stranger and the poor, I am poor and a stranger to Thee. Visit me in my prison and make it a cell of prayer.

My heart is full of passions, my house unswept, purify me and walk about in me as the Temple, bury the law in the ark of my heart, that when Thou dost empty judgment upon the world, I might be spared.

Thou art the home and the place of all real things. Thou who dost shelter existence, with Thy blood on the lintel. Thou dost show us the Eden of thy most pure mother, the bosom of the saints, the shelter of Thy house in which are rooms for the holy. The cup that dispenses Thy body and blood is the vision of the heavenly union, the theosis of at last dwelling in Thee.

Make all the places one, Lord, and do not let me be outside, without a place, in outer darkness. Thou has made a place for Thy favored servants, let me be a slave in the house of Thy sons, as the prodigal. Make me rise at the appointed time and at last live in my own body with Thee who was resurrected for my sake.

Hear my prayer. Look with mercy on my failed words. See and know my broken thoughts, and make of all these things one whole dwelling place among all Thy places. I am desolate, barren, and a shelter for demons. I am a tomb for the dead. Save me.

Two relationships entwined

“He cannot have God for his Father who has no the Church for his mother.” – St. Cyprian of Carthage

Our Worthless Quotations

I used to teach my catechumens that if anyone speaks against the Fathers, or the monastics, or the Bishop, to cross themselves discreetly, and dismiss themselves as quietly and politely as possible, and go outside or get away. St. John the Small used to do as much whenever anyone was spoken against, and his example is fruitful. Perhaps I should close my ears and run away, as did St. John. But in this case, hospitality and the possibility of giving shape to this place for future visitors seems to invite comment.

Someone stopped by the other day to drop off a blanket potshot (submitted a comment to the site): saying the quotations (the words of the Fathers) are “worthless” without sources. I’m always fascinated for a moment or two by those whose sole mission seems to be scrawling a “what you’re doing is nothing – it’s worthless” on things they don’t like or are unfamiliar with. We don’t usually publish such comments here, because they start needless and fruitless discussions. But I will respond to the general trend.

As Franky Schaeffer once observed, back when he was Protestant, it’s very Protestant to give things a label, even when they don’t need one. Nothing can go without comment. A mountain must have a ‘verse’ scrawled across it. A sunset isn’t commentary enough – it needs a slogan attached. It’s part of the overall mentality that all things must be placed in categories – right/wrong, true/false, correct/incorrect – and our job is to help you do it. A tree is suspect without an appended ‘word’, because all things, in this mentality, are reduced to concepts, to didactic, pedantic propositions. A tree, by itself, might lead  you to the ‘wrong’ conclusion. A tree is therefore ‘worthless’ without a ‘point’ made about the tree in a format that can be categorized, debated, and easily referenced. You gotta be careful – you might end up hugging it, or protecting it from loggers, and that wouldn’t be “Christian”.

Case in point, we do generally attribute any quotations. It might say “St. Seraphim of Sarov” or “Our Father among the Saints, Maximus”. But this is insufficient for the Protestant visitor. Instead, he wants the exact page of some edition of some work, so he can go and look it up and compare it to other ‘sources’. But that’s just the issue, isn’t it? Sources. We already know what the sources of our Faith are – these are not up for debate, are not a matter of conjecture, and do not need to be proven among our people. And we’ve said repeatedly that this is an internal discussion. First, the blog is an interior one turned outward as an act of Confession, and secondly the content of our fathers’ words is for our fathers’ people. It is not really for someone who is attempting religious archaeology to construct their own religion from sources they did not produce in a context they are specifically rejecting and cannot duplicate. As someone once said, ‘If you believe the Apostles’ words, then join the Apostles’ Church!”

In the same way, we’ve pointed out that the Holy Scriptures themselves were written by us, by the Orthodox, for us, for use by us in the context of our community. They are liturgical works, concerning Jesus Christ, written by a people for themselves. For someone else to come along and wish to argue with us about what we meant when we wrote them, or whether our fathers intended them for use as our fathers used them, is silly. Protestantism must ever take other people’s works, revise their meaning for import into an alien context, and then claim that the original authors did not know what they were doing, saying, what they meant, and were using them incorrectly. It’s the equivalent of you telling me that some poem I wrote is not about what I say it is, nor written in the context from which I know I wrote it, but is about the sister who I never had dying in the childhood abroad that I never lived. Or more accurately, is about your sister who I never met, who lived her entire life in a country I never visited, and who rejects everything I thought or believed when I wrote it. It gets that absurd.

We know who St. Seraphim or St. Maximus are, and we know what they said, did, wrote, and what it means (they’re part of our community), and we know what to do with it. The notion that somehow this must be posted on a door in Wittenberg, like Martin Luther’s 95 theses, to try to gain the acceptance of people who have nothing to do with it at all is equally absurd. The Orthodox do not offer our religion as one of many religious philosophies to be held up to the light of something external (and presumably superior) for it to be judged. What would that superior thing be? We deny that there is anything superior to it, or anything outside or alongside it that is the science of determining its efficacy as truth. As C.S. Lewis has said, truth is its own justification – if a thing is really true (if a thing is *reality*), nothing external can be drawn upon to validate or invalidate it. When a thing is true, there is no appeal beyond that. Real is real, even if everyone and everything else said it isn’t. If the “Warren Commission” of religion made a pronouncement on what is and isn’t real, it wouldn’t change anything, would it? What is, is. And we Orthodox do not merely *argue* that our Faith is true, do not *conjecture* that it is so, do not *hypothesize* or offer a theoretical set of “claims” (to use the Protestant parlance – think Josh McDowell); we are not constructing a religious philosophy; we act and live in it as true, as ultimate, as comprehensive of the cosmos and all created things. We have received what we have received from the Incarnate God, in person, in the flesh, and there is no further court of ‘validation’ or appeal. As one witness said, “Whether this (jibes with your religious philosophy or not) I can’t say, I can only tell you what happened to me.”

‘Sources’, as such, are for people trying to *prove* something, trying to argue in favor of something to some *external* party, trying to support a *propositional theory*. Indeed, in that respect, to such a person intending such an endeavour, Holy Orthodoxy is indeed worthless and would remain worthless if we listed chapter and verse, since the intent of the person is not to become Orthodox but to build his own religion as a construct of his mind – something an Orthodox mind can have no interest in.

But to those of us who are Orthodox, and seeking salvation, by which we don’t mean anything like what a Protestant would mean by such a word, we find it very worthwhile and far from worthless to hear the words of one of our fathers saying, “Keep your mind in Hell, and despair not.” This is one of our own, who is glorified, speaking to those of us aiming for that very thing. It isn’t for those who are trying to fabricate a historical context for themselves out of parts of other people’s religion in a religious Piltdownism. Such a revisionism, some might say fraud, can only be perpetrated by those who, for example, have already rejected the notion that God became man, physically, laid physical hands on other men and made them bishops, who themselves repeated this process, until the Church remains gathered around that very succession of bishops to this day. If one accepts that, one goes where the bishops are and discovers their Faith, one does not ignore Christ and create another “Christ” out of concepts that are more conveniently portable, adaptable, and transferable to anyone with a store front and a feeling that God appointed them to “cook their own meth”, so to speak. We’re not trying to “prove” that there’s a succession of bishops, as though historical reality itself must be submitted to another source of validation – but we’re living in that reality. We were there, and our fathers led their children to those men, and they led their children, and so on as it happens to this day. The attempt to come up with a validation for history (that we ourselves are experiencing first hand) is only sensible among those who aren’t, in fact, part of that history at all – and in fact, the result is the fabrication of an alternate history situating people that never were into things that never happened.

The sources of our Faith are those of our Faith. Take this example: the (Greek) Orthodox do not have to have sermons in which they’re constantly saying “in the original Greek it says…” (something prevalent in Protestant settings) – because they never lost Greek as the West did. They never ceased the constant recitation of the actual original in their Churches and monasteries to this day. They aren’t doing religious archaeology, they aren’t trying to piece together a mystery amid the ashes of the Great Schism, at which the West departed Orthodoxy, or among the bones of the Reformation, at which one part of the Schismatics departed another part of the Schismatics, or within the chaos of the Great Awakening and evangelicalism, in which each individual “believer” (of various propositions and doctrinal statements and personal philosophies) departed from each other and created 50,000 denominations of Protestantism and invented quite a few previously unheard of religions, establishing for all those “believers” schism as the basis of faith itself (and therefore the need for constant proofs and references to establish one’s intellectual pedigree). The Orthodox aren’t trying to figure out what piece of a millenia-old puzzle goes where, while operating with a box cover that looks like a 20th century Sunday School painting of ‘Jesus’. They aren’t having a “dialogue” with the saints or an “encounter” with ancient Christianity, and they’re not antiquing for the beauty and splendour of a golden age that somehow no longer exists for them. They are just living their lives, praying, remaining in the same community they always have, as established by Christ, and following in the same well-trodden footsteps of holy men that they always have, leading back and forth to Christ like a ladder to Heaven on which angels ascend and descend.

This is why you don’t see the Orthodox carting around 20lb tomes and looking up and quoting references to one another in lunch rooms, trying to figure out how to solve various problems from whether its right to watch R-rated movies to free will and predestination. That latter, for example, is a Western heterodox problem – a Protestant and Roman Catholic one – it has nothing to do with Orthodoxy. We didn’t invent that construct, it’s not a dilemma that arises in Orthodox thinking as it is for someone whose sole “sources” are a theoretical system of dialectic and requisite proof texts, and we’re not possessed with solving it for someone who’s part of a culture of religious philosophy that necessarily produces  those dilemmas for them. We’re not inventing a religious philosophy; we never were. Why would anyone want to go through that, when the end result is submitting one’s “belief”, one’s intellectual and moral fidelity, and the fidelity of the heart, to something self-created (invented) and fictional?

The god of such a system doesn’t exist – he’s a figment of various imaginations – a gazillion individual schismatic ones – a construct of vocabulary or of concepts, himself merely a super-concept, a ‘pure essence’. For all the evangelical talk of a ‘personal relationship with “Jesus” in one’s heart’, it turns surprisingly quickly to a war of philosophical constructs where whoever has the most presumably authoritative “sources” wins – but even that, any first year logic student can tell you is a running Appeal to Authority, and hence an unreasonable non sequitur. The god of those sources is just a footnote in the imagination, a bibliography in the mind. That god is about as formidable as a big Excel spreadsheet (I’d pit a VAC computer from the 1970s against him any time), and just about as conducive to overcoming the chains in which people live in their hearts – pride, anger, jealousy, rage, accidie, despair, despondency, vainglory, vengeance, dissipation, bitterness, and the other various passions that have produced such agony in the heart of each individual person, visible in phenomenon like the constant need for stimulation (my music, my games, my news, my TV, my movies, my magazines, my friends, my texting, my phone, etc. etc. to try to drown out the cry of the heart in an anguish against which ‘having the right answer’ is no match). There is no peace, and the great spreadsheet of references in the sky just makes it worse, not better – for that god has no power to purify the heart of such diseases of death.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to elucidate what we are not. For that, the comment is appreciated. For what it recommends, we can only respond that you must do your own research – we’re not here to do it for you, and we certainly can’t be involved in helping you create a personal heterodoxy, since that would be, for us, to commit apostasy. One again, this is merely the blog of an Orthodox Christian who, while failing utterly in all things and at all times, is striving (including by means of this blog) to be united to God in theosis. But he has only just made a beginning, and keeps failing again. So even if you were striving for the same thing, he couldn’t help you. He does, however, find the words of the fathers to be of inestimable worth. By their prayers and yours may he be saved.

Loving Enemies Means Having No Enemies

In the teaching of St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony, people are not classified as enemies and friends, bad and good, but people who have known God and people who have not known God. Wherever enemies are acknowledged, it means part of the body of humanity  is cast aside and universality is restricted. Keeping the commandment of love for ones enemies, man embraces all human beings and becomes catholic and universal. On an ecclesiastical level, love for ones enemies comprises the criterion that ensures catholicity. – Prof. George Mantazaridis, quoted in Patristic Theology, – Fr. John Romanides

The Battle of Hours

ImageI’m fascinated by how no matter how something is phrased, it can be right there in front of you, simple and plain as day, but that doesn’t mean you’ll hear it. I’m not talking about some ‘self-annointed’ gnostic’s personal interpretation of a religious text – I mean something that’s dyed in the wool tradition but still, somehow, eludes the grasp. When people ask, “Why didn’t Christ tell everyone what was coming and what to do about it?” the answer is ‘He did, but that doesn’t mean “everyone” or even many peopleĂ‚ have heard him.

I seem to have stumbled upon something effective for overcoming sin. I know our fathers have told me this. I can go to my library and come out with armloads of books that will tell me this. I know that it has passed through my ears. But I know I haven’t heard it. Or I’ve forgotten it, which happens too.

 

It seems counterintuitive (and almost cowardly) not to fight sin head on. Not to attack it where it is, or defend against it where it comes. The fathers have told me this lacks humility, that I am already beginning from Death, “in sin did my mother conceive me” – the very context of that fight and defense has itself been corrupted – how then do I presume that I can make a stand? But I have heard them and thought ‘what else can I do?’ I didn’t hear the rest of what they were saying. And I know something about synergy. I am not mystified as to what’s me and what’s God, as though I have not learned the Orthodox thinking in this matter. I don’t presume either to struggle alone, or to wait for God to come and save me. There is no struggle and no salvation that is not both of us fully engaged together – my will, my mind, my emotions, my body, and God’s energies as well.

But the other part of it – I didn’t realize is so effective. Fighting and defending *indirectly*. As I say, it’s counterintuitive (to a man infected with Death). But it seems that praying the hours, that pushing through to sing the liturgical prayers of our people, helps overcome sin, helps not only drive away the evil one, but make a mind for overcoming the world, and also a disposition to overcome the passions. It makes a self less inclined to sin in the body, which is somehow raised through prayer, as though less corruptible, and it makes a soul less inclined to interest in sin, as though the fullness of prayer has filled an aching void that sin always promises to fill but never does, require addict-like returning to the needle of passions.

Now the fathers have said again and again, “pray so that you might not fall into temptation”. They have bled their voice onto the ground before me with admonition and encouragement, and I have not heard them. And I have been proud. I have thought to fight and to defend, to take sin on head on. But this is arrogance, not bravery. And this “indirect”, “counterintuitive” fighting and defense – I think this is what they meant. I think they meant I’m incapable of winning, but if I turn to God not to fight for me, but to fix me, to fix the broken, damaged, savaged by Death corruption in soul andĂ‚ body that has eaten me away, then I will be raised to taste incorruptible life, and Death won’t succeed in owning me, forcing me back to the ‘needle’ of passion-addicted slavery.

I walk away from the Hours, and I don’t care about the ‘needle’. I walk away and am happier, and it lasts, and I want to return to the Hours. And I think that, if I don’t, I will be overcome again. The passions – pride, anger, rage, envy, fear, lust, vengeance – these will come for me and find me broken for them, open for them, unclothed, needing, agonizing, incomplete, with a void they crawl into like roaches into a gap in the wall. The prayers, said with every attempt at fitting attention and devotion, with persistence and sincerity, they place the house on a high rock.

It’s not like the noon witching hour on “church day” when drivers roar out of parking lots and onto roadways with their “how dare you get in front of me, I am important and not to be trifled with!”, and the restaurants and buffets are packed with “I demand service. I will be catered to. How dare you fail me in any way!” No, that would be stupid. I don’t mean walking away feeling so good about yourself that you won’t do bad things – won’t kill someone, but will burn in the acid bath of pride. I mean that if the prayers are fitting and devoted, it seems like God does what he promises, fills up the gap between the man standing saying them in his Death with unworthy lips and the goal to which he aspires. As C.S. Lewis said, God “directs our arrows to himself”, apart from which they could never hit anything except an idol of our deluded imaginations. And God saves through prayer, deifies one a little more, heals a little more the disease, and abides with one a little more when in the dark cave surrounded by the slaver and the enemy and the dire wolf. And it’s stronger. The center is more well, and it holds more easily, to cite Yeats.

For me, it is the ‘discipline’ to say the words in private, to stand in the icon corner and sing the hour without help, without others, without anyone but me and God and the Saints knowing I am there. Which is really not ‘discipline’, but it is discovering and ever rediscovering that comfort is there, healing is there, health and wellness are there, that God abides especially there, in those prayers said “fittingly and with devotion”. The synergy is in going out to meet him. “Keep me this night without sin.” It’s amazing that one could say these words many times and not realize that they are exactly what is happening – I am saying the words, for my part, fittingly and with devotion – and God is keeping me this night without sin. This is the simple prescription. This is what I must do. Not dig in, stand, and fight, which it is my inclination to do at the first sign of trouble. But flee to the ‘altar’, choose good ground there, and call upon the host of Heaven to come to my aid, trusting not even the words of my own imagination, but the time-honoured implements of holy men who have withstood flame and sword and tooth and claw, and are there in prayer with those who honour them.

Lord have mercy on my blindness. Pray for me those who see.

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