The Rome of Christ and Antichrist

You know, ever since the gnostics there has been an apocalyptic, quasi-occult culture of superstition, pseudo-scholarship, and titillation surrounding the future – what the evangelical fundamentalists like to call “prophesy”. One of their key themes is the re-creation of a “Roman Empire” that will wed the economic and political structures of society into a globally pervasive environment, with people finding it impossible to do business (buy, sell, trade), make a living, and support their families unless they adhere to the system. In other words, it’ll be a pugilistic entity that uses pressure, leverage, and force to compel participation in its system. It’ll starve, bankrupt, or make war on and ultimately (with much suffering wreaked upon the poor) absorb peoples that don’t want any part in it. This empire is essentially the cultural face of antichrist.

restored quadriga atop Brandenburg Gate ►pale-...
Image by quapan via Flickr

For the past 100 years or so, all kinds of entities have been called that “revived Roman empire”. The League of Nations, the UN, the European Union, NAFTA and GATT – all kinds of things. Most of this has involved all kinds of selective information and reasoning, dubious analysis (to onlookers), and again a quasi-occult culture of superstition, pseudo-scholarship, and titillation surrounding the future. The enlightened who “see it” (gnosticism) get together for prophesy conferences and do a brisk trade in tithes, tapes, tabloids, and book sales. Everyone is convinced they need to explain their version of it to you (how else would they make a living?) but it’s really just the same sermon repeated again and again. Daniel and the 7 weeks, etc. etc.

Now of course, we Orthodox don’t think the same way. There have been many antichrists, many romes, and we expect there will be more again, until Christ comes. We have no need to understand all prophesy, as if analysis were understanding, or numerological theories were the same as knowledge. We say the books are sealed, and not yet opened. So we have written in the holy scriptures. But we’re not above some speculation, tho the best speculation is merely recognizing the typologies that we know from the holy gospel. We recognize Pilate. We recognize the Evil One who met us in the desert. We say this emperor, potentate, nation, or false prophet – these are antichrist. Stalin was antichrist. Pol Pot was antichrist. Hitler was antichrist. One might have more contemporary leaders in mind, if they did what those persons did – torture, bomb, and subjugate others, etc. Typology. I’ve no objections to calling any such person antichrist, even if he bleeds red, white, and blue. Perhaps especially then.

But I find it quite compelling that these fundamentalist prophesy gurus (vicarious prophets offering derivative visions of the future) have not pegged the United States as the best example in all of history of a “revived Roman empire”. It’s the seat of international lending and credit institutions and currency exchangers, “food” and chemical conglomerates, energy conglomerates, NGOs (world bank, IMF, etc.), private military-security forces and “intelligence” networks… if ever there were horns coming out of some beast, the metaphor would certainly be the most apt in this case. The US has fundamentally wed political and economic (commerical/corporate) interests, and created a global system into which it compels participation, by subjugation, leverage, and all manner of economic extortion – it is the Walmart of world powers – it is *the* world power – you basically can’t do business, as a people, unless you’re involved with the US system. And if you’re the exception, holding out and giving the US the finger, you get bombed into oblivion and made a client state as we ‘rebuild’. One way or another, you break and yield – if we have to claim there are WMDs hidden somewhere under your house, and fabricate documentation, we’ll do it. If we have to claim you have “ties” to nebulous global organizations that threaten us, we’ll do it, even if you’re fundamentally incompatible with those organizations. If we have to say that you attacked us, not the other way around, that’s in the contingency plans – always has been. Whatever it takes, one way or another, you get the mark. That flag will wave, that dollar will prevail – you’ve got to be in bed w. the leviathan, the behemoth, the enormous, all-consuming world empire that sets the markets, manipulates the rise and fall of governments, and wages war on those who stand against it.

I think one would be hard pressed *not* to say, using the Orthodox ‘hermeneutic’, that this is one of the “Roman Empires”. As I say, I think it’s the best example ever. It’s on a grand scale, compared to all the localized Romes we’ve known. Sure, we think there’s a final Roman Empire, and there’ll be a final antichrist, out of many. Whether this is it, or is just one more, from which once again there will be redemption, God knows. I merely think it’s silly to fill our eyes with flags and love of McDonalds and Oprah and Chevy trucks, and pretend it’s always the other guys. The rest of the world knows. We’re the only ones who go around thinking we do little wrong, that the rest of the world either must be like us, wants to be, or should be, and that it’s OK to profess our friendship with a gun pointed at someone’s head and the other hand taking the food from their children, while we crap under their dinner table. If someone were to ask for an example of what Christ is talking about in the gospels, this is what I’d tell them.

Of course, the fundamentalists are busy trying to figure out how to make their “bibles” fit with President Obama being “the” antichrist. They want to stop just short of his “blackness”, what there is of it. But they’re just not being creative:  he’s a pugilist and a bully, too. He’s continuing, not discontinuing, the extension of the system of global US influence, control, and possession of markets through military, economic, and cultural force that his predecessor was also continuing and extending. Parties change – this underlying global policy does not. It’s too important to leave to the exigencies of a single executive. The duality of parties is like the difference between being bludgeoned or merely beaten – it’s a form of words.

I share more faith with those who used to shout that the US is the “great Satan”, before we set up secret prisons in their countries, and helped get them rounded up and tortured to death by their governments. They at least have a correct analysis of typology, and are doing it in an Orthodox manner. Listen to the rational ones, and they’re saying that the US is trying to dominate the world culturally, economically, and militarily in a global empire of influence and control. In other words, they’re saying, “look, here is Rome”. Remember, all roads lead to it. Or put another way, our “worst” critics are also most accurately describing what we, in our speeches and white papers, declare as our express goals, whenever we talk about “pursuing US interests” – those aren’t your interests or my interests, but those of the entity – the ‘beast’, if you will. It’s as if our biggest problem is with those who don’t cooperate, and our second biggest is with those who say “Look, there is Antichrist!” Let those who have understanding count the number of the “beast”. Hell, a turnip could understand it when it’s this obvious.

It’d be interesting to see those toting around their prophesy pamphlets and Scofield bibles work up a set of “parallels” (their concept), representing Christ’s words about Antichrist and his empire and US economic, industrial, political, and military endeavours over the past 70 years. “Hers” for those of you into ‘inclusive’ bibles and female antichrists. Instead of the manifest destiny bit in the back of their Birch Society minds about “America” being “special” or “chosen” or a “Christian nation” (that one makes me laugh) – just assume for a moment that all of that is made up – foolish blathering – that none of it has been correctly understood (that’s certainly the way almost everyone else on the planet looks at it). Instead, play devil’s advocate and just compare Christ’s words in the gospels with things like the decade of Reagan’s secret wars or, more blatantly, every military and international banking action, and every US trade dispute since the Berlin Wall came down, and its plethora of effects in the world. My favorite quotation right now from the US is “We’re going to open up new markets, one way or another.” Sounds pretty much like that ‘Bible’ to me, if you ignore the notes in the margins, and just listen to the beast talk. 🙂

Incidentally, the Protestants will never understand the Rome of Antichrist until they understand the Rome of Christ, and how it is said (in one of our prophesies) “Two Romes have fallen, a Third stands, a Fourth there shall not be.” Amen.

Also, the fundamentalist “prophesy” sticklers will say I missed one. They say the empire weds political, economic and *religious* aspects of the culture together, and we’re back to that “but we’re a Christian nation” rhetoric. If that’s all we’re missing, I’ve got two words for you: Max Weber. If there was ever a wedding of those three elements, it was right there at the beginning, when the US was founded (and it continues to this day). The US was founded as a “Christian” nation only in this sense that, utilizing Weber’s thesis (“The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”) it’s in perfect symmetry as an Antichristian one. Remember, these are their criteria – economic, political, religious- I merely point out that Weber answers that nicely. Give it a read. It’s a required text for any US political science degree. Then grab Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations (also required reading, if you do US foreign policy) for his delightful diagrams of the “end times”. That’s the real “prophesy” in use in US foreign policy. What is ‘prophesy’ anyway, but the belief in the inevitability of a thing?

And just to be fair to Walmart, I think it’s one of the “little” beasts. I didn’t want to leave that out. It’s got horns everywhere.

By What Authority?

In the sense in which the West offers it, I don’t recognize any authority “over” me. No president, congress, pastor, leader, boss, block captain, warden, or petty supervisor has authority over me. I accept none. I’m obliged to keep my word, compelled to follow my honor, and committed to adhere to my ethics. But these are comments on my own inclinations, on the authority of character, not of any external force.

Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-centur...
Image via Wikipedia

I used to take a lot of flack for this from the evangelical fundamentalist crowd that talks in terms of overseers, and “the leadership” (as though it were an objective entity that should rightfully rule the world), and that does not distinguish their political inclinations from objective religious obligations – claiming, in their support of corporate structures, that the boss is appointed by God and that the president is “Il Duce” – nothing short of messianic, provided he’s Republican. “You don’t submit to authority,” they would shout.

Right. I don’t recognize an authority to submit to, and wouldn’t if I did – I’d rebel against him and join the opposition. They’ll appeal to the “Bible” (a Protestant contraption made out of clippings and arranged parts from some of the Holy Scriptures we Orthodox authored).

And yes, there are words about authority in there. However, they are several in kind. One is adherence to the Bishop, which the evangelicals certainly are not. Those who think you can think and feel a “church” into existence and then appoint yourself or others to “positions of authority” certainly cannot accept that Christ objectively founded a historical Church in a place and time, laying hands physically on bishops, empowering them to lay hands on others, and so they themselves must adhere to the Church that has never ceased to exist down to our own day. In short, the Protestant cannot accept that rather than inventing the Church, they are required by the only authority to locate and be received into it.

Another type of authority reflected in the holy scriptures is that conditional authority given to rulers, which is limited, not absolute or blanket (not fascist in character) and which is practical and de facto. Remember, Pilate had “authority” to murder Christ. He did not have the right to do it, the divine ordinance or sanction to do it. He merely had the ‘authority’ in the sense that God literally put the power to make it happen in his hands. It’s not so different from the authority of Bishops. Bishops *are* in authority, in the sense that who the bishop is is not a matter of opinion – you don’t create him, you locate him, and adhere to him. With a ruler like Pilate, he’s got the guns and the tanks and the legions – you pretty much can identity who he is. This in no way implies you can’t oppose him, resist him, or even ignore him (things Christ did more than once). Being Pilate doesn’t make you good or right, or make his decisions good or right or the divine intention.

Another kind of authority in the holy scriptures is authority in terms of experience. Obviously the monastics, who have walked long in the desert, fasted fiercely and humbly, and have overcome the Evil One, have experience that may be regarded as authority. If you were consulting an authority on engine overhauls, you would consult an experienced mechanic. He’d speak with some authority. His boss, who might be a corporate geek who has never rolled up his sleeves, has no such authority in that sense. The Orthodox Faith is eminently practical in this way.

We’re basically mechanics of the body and soul, attempting to accomplish our union with God, not create a religious philosophical system to which we can then provide membership or advocacy. As our fathers would say, we don’t have time to argue with your religious philosophies, we’re too busy trying to save ourselves.

So, I know there is a kind of authority in various governmental and industrial (same thing) figures of power – I am usually opposing them, so of course I accept that they exist.

Obviously, I know that there is a kind of authority in the Bishop – I can’t be saved without him – I’d be a fool not to locate him, and be a part of his Church – he is Christ on the earth – to separate myself from him, is to be without Christ.

And finally, I listen to our fathers in the Faith, because they are our authorities – the repositories of the Word of God, which always comes to us as persons. Trying to “cook my own meth”, so to speak (invent and live out my own religious experience) would be a delusional exercise, a kind of inner Protestantism – “personal savior” indeed. I can’t really get by without looking to and seeking the help of those who have gone farther ahead, been proved and made perfect, living and praying for us in their glorified union with God. An example is an authority on what it represents.

This is why our ikons are authorities – they are repositories, in person, of our Faith. When we say “faith” we don’t mean first and foremost “content” in a religious philosophical way, but “history” – experience – what happened, what is happening, and what will happen. That’s the gospel, the Creed, and the means of our salvation – practical, real, tangible, personal, historical, experiential events. We don’t “believe” our Faith so much as live it out.

When we say the words “I believe” in the Creed, it’s not “here follows didactic content” but “here is what happened to us”, “here is what we are responding to”, and “here is how we intend to live”. That too, is authority – the authority of simply being true. A thing that is so has the authority to command our adherence, and when we dispute or disdain it, evading history and experience and reality, we are disdaining that authority.

So, no I recognize no authority in heaven or earth in the sense that Western, Protestant, Republicans do. No such thing. Figment of their imagination. False god – Baal – idol. Illicit authority. But neither do they recognize the authority that layed hands on the apostles and gave them all authority, binding and uniting heaven and earth together as one. If they did, they would join their Church and become their disciples, thereby becoming disciples of Christ who gave them such authority. Not the authority of power – but of truth, reality, and the body of Christ himself. It’s not a Western Protestant, Republican story – it’s the gospel.

I feel completely free to be at once an anarchist (if I like) and an Orthodox Christian. I know some would take exception to that, but then we’ve got all kinds of things that creep into any religious context, including neo-conservative fascism that repudiates the very Faith of the adherent. Someone is bound to think that loyalty to their political system is required of those who follow Christ within it. They no doubt would take exception to Christ having worked on the Sabbath, had they been Jews. I’m OK with someone taking exception. As I said, it’s following Christ, not joining the party of those who trumped up the charges against him. A little more disdain for the significance of one’s government, and a lot more concern with those persecuted by it, would be far more Christian if, by Christian, we mean Orthodox.

Groups inside Churches

Why, why do people have this impulse to form religious groups within their churches? Women’s groups that are chapters of the such and such association of women. Men’s groups that have men’s breakfasts and luncheons. Men’s “business” groups that either seem to be about networking or about reinforcing attitudes toward work that are drawn from the culture and merely bronzed with religious platitudes – honor your boss, who might be a violent screwball – don’t disobey, because “god” will be unhappy. Or worse yet – the thinly veiled dating societies that megachurches put together – the thirty somethings, etc – dim lighting and alcohol (dimmed wits) provided.

I mean, I suppose on the surface I’m sympathetic to people getting together to help one another with their lives. That’s what marriage is like. It was various wise monastics who explained to me, before and after Holy Matrimony, that the Western mediaeval gospel of romantic love, which is a poetic, chivalrous veil for a feudal contractual exchange of male property rights for female exclusive sex, isn’t why God gave a man and a woman to each other – it’s to be a help to each other, for one another’s salvation. It’s eminently practical. It’s the stuff of households, not date movies.

But I can’t help but feel these groups inside the churches, however well-intentioned they often seem, and however purely they seem to start out, become inevitably very religious, in a way I don’t like. – And that they deepens the divide between and artificial definitions of genders, age groups, wed and celibate, and various social classes distributed between degrees of wealth, types of employment, or whatever.

And that has the resultant effect not only of stigmatizing any communication I might have with, for the best example, members of another gender, but especially of another gender in my own age group! Try being an independently-minded married man who finds himself engrossed in an intellectual discussion with a single woman who is a member of whatever designated decade-group we both fit in. Now, this has not happened any time recently that I can recall, and there’s nothing illicit going on that motivates my concern – it’s just years of experience with religiosity. Try likewise being a young, single man who isn’t interested in the young “singles” group (God-forbid), which can be a prettified organizational meat market for marriage – designed to perpetuate membership and fidelity by keeping procreation in-house, and wasn’t interested in the “youth” group eithern (which is usually led by a dope-smoking pedophile just a couple years older than the “youth”, and who the parents think is doing a wonderful job of “relating” to the kids – yeah, I’ll say). Try telling a bunch of ingrained corporate bosses in pastel shirts and bad ties that you told your boss to take a short walk off a shorter pier and that you’re not letting him bully you, because it makes it just that much easier to create an atmosphere of intimidation for everyone else, and yes you think Christ would have you act exactly that way. Fun stuff – you’ll fit in so well with that squinty-eyed prayer that we’ll all be more “submissive” to whatever little Napoleon “god” has appointed “over” us (despite the heterodox and fascist notions in that kind of hierarchical mentality).

In other words, these groups always seem to reify experiences as being proper to one or another gender or age or class or societal role. There’s no coincidence that political uniformity often seems to result, not to mention the more subtle devotional unformity – the Faith gets processed and becomes a particular kind of faithness – a consistent, predictable, comprehensible faith product – the equivalent of the fettucini at Olive Garden, with none of the edgy roar of real Italian food. If I’m a man, it’s presumed I have X experiences (in marriage, in work, in economic pursuits, in aspirations) that will be relate-able, share-able, overlap-able with other men. Maybe we’re all working for the four keys of success the WWII generation instilled in their successors as the proper end and aim, heart’s desire, fascination and preoccupation, and general badge of maleness: the wife, the house, the career, the cars or investments.

And even if there’s nothing wrong with someone, or even 90% of someones, wanting and deciding that’s the look, shape, and feel of their salvation – let’s be honest, what we spend most of our time and attention on is what we mean by working out our salvation, in Orthodox thinking, contrary to the notion that it’s something holy we tack on to the “mundane” pursuits (Roman Catholic thinking) that are derived wholly from the culture – Still, the inevitable result of religion is to reinforce the idea that somehow the most common experience is the right experience – in other words that the most cliched gender roles, cultural pursuits, social (and even political) views, relationship scripts, and religious platitudes (all those likewise para-Faith catchphrases that either do not appear in our holy writings or are quoted from them with creative recontextualization) are the ones somehow backed by God. In other words, classification makes uniformity seem like the divine will and dissidence and difference seem anomalous to piety. Classification gently (or perhaps ungently) transforms religious experience into stereotyp by casting common experience as expected experience. And the result can be actually, opposite of the original intent, intolerance, increased misunderstanding, and undue pressure to uniformity. Those with common experience – the 90% – will feel very comfortable – indeed more comfortable within than absent such an environment. But that’s precisely why it further reinforces the transformation of the exceptional into the common.

I don’t like it. Yeah, I know there’s lip service to “bring your diversity and we’ll be enriched by it” – but come on, there’s diversity, and there’s diversity within the bounds of commonality, and those are not the same thing. Within the bounds of “manly” or “womanly” things, there’s plenty of room, even to the point of illicit behavior – bring your accursed freemasonry and we’ll ‘understand’ – be the single, hormone-filled guy who is dating that nice Lutheran girl (“Who knows, maybe she’ll see the light that way.” – That’s right, bed her into the Faith), etc. But what if you don’t bring any of the attitudes these groups seem to foster, and quite a few that suggest the bulk of their assumptions are superfluous? In my experience, that’s less welcome. It’s a one-way ticket not to the group widening its expectations, transforming itself by realizing its assumptions are too limited and don’t account for everything (i.e. are *not* God’s thinking), but rather to oddballness if you’re lucky and rather serious stigmatization as a conflicted, troubled, unholy person if you’re not.

And no, it’s not just me, I’ve seen it happen to plenty of others. Women who just aren’t interested in talking about their babies and shopping and their husbands all day – women who’d feel more comfortable with the men at the “Men’s Breakfast” – but of course they can’t freaking go, because talk about stigmatizing you in one of those penis-rallies, try being the one with no penis at all! That’s the fun part, though – being a living testament to the question ‘What does having a penis have to do with preferring sports to shopping, talk of work (and never of one’s penis) to constant talk of one’s uterus and related products and dependencies as almost the sole measure of life? Or what if you’re the house-husband, and your penis makes you a member of the wrong group?

Sure, there’s always “one” on the team, right? We’ve got a black guy, and an Asian, and a Democrat, and a feminist, etc. Next time you see them, give them that kiss of peace and say “Hi, Token.” Come on, be real. There’s tokenism within certain bounds for certain acceptable minorities (as long as they stay minorities, of course). But try just being freakishly incoherent to any of the cultural expectations. How “embracing”, “loving”, “tolerant”, and “accepting” is your group at that point? I’ve seen the lingo, the beautiful words, but I’ve seen far less of the real thing. In fact, the real thing doesn’t seem to stand a chance – I’m trying to say that it’s a structural problem, as the academic criticism would render it. There’s something about the way these groups are chopped up, and you’re funneled to the ‘right’ one, that spoils any chance for the individual groups being routinely challenged, continually enriched, and constantly expanded by unknown diversity, the diversity that can’t be classed, identified, or put in a tolerance care package, the micro-minorities. The latter are the ones who, as the cliche goes, “fall through the cracks” of religion – not because someone didn’t scoop them up into a group (“We men are all getting together on Monday mornings down at the…”) – that’s exactly the thing that will push them all the way through the cracks and out the other side.

When you’re given that corporate-ish visitor’s packet that feels like a job application, or cornered for that visitor’s handshake and exchange of biographical data (in the smaller, friendlier communities), how long (you can time it) does it take for someone to look at (or listen to) the data and then pair it with a ‘group’ that matches that data? Isn’t that the purpose of collecting it? “You’re married, in your 30s, and female. Great, the Couples Seminars are Wednesday nights (my Bill and I lead the class), the Women’s Group meets Friday mornings (so we can bake recipes for Sunday), the Midlife Warriors have a dinner on Thursday nights (never on weekends, because it’s mostly singles, and they’re all pairing up and going out), and by the way have you met Susan – she leads a crafts luncheon with prayer in her home on…” Holy farking crap, can you picture it? If you have a soul left that hasn’t been sharpened down to a nub by your religion, would you not say it’s pretty bleak?

Let’s translate, shall we? “Women belong largely with other women, especially if you’re married – hanging around with men other than your husband would be improper. While we don’t judge you if you work in corporate life and eat out a lot, really the standard is cooking and keeping house to enable the men to go out and do that sort of thing. At your age, too, don’t expect to go out and have a lot of independent fun – you know that part of your life is over, hon, don’t ya – those of us that are past that, and haven’t really found another particular point in life, have got to stick together so we don’t fall apart. At least we can look at the people that haven’t gotten the house, the husband, the kid and feel gratified that we’re no longer running around with their busy, desperate lives. There are a couple of people who really sum all of this up in their lives, the ones that have it all figured out, and they’re who we should mimic – it’s what God wants, and that’s how we fit in here.”

Did you hear it? Well, a lot of people do hear it, and hear it with crystal clarity. And even if that’s not exactly what you mean, or you wouldn’t say it like that, or even if it’s not what you intend, that’s the message coming over the loudspeaker as surely as if you’re walking around inside a barbed wire fence to the tune of “Conform. Your individuality is an illusion. Your leaders are your parents. Give up the self.” And instead of communism, it’s “god” waving at you on that red flag. I at least want little emblems to sew onto my shirt. “St. Smithereens Men’s Group – Putting the Sausage in Salvation” or “The Faithful Forties – Half Way to Heaven and Feeling Like Hell”. I need the stripes to aspire to.

All this said, I’m quite certain that a lot of good is done by these groups. I don’t think that’s a justification of their existence (we can conceive of other kinds of groups – why not just “People Who Want to Get Together and Pray”. I know, I know that people want to hang with the likeminded. In fact, sometimes you even see that taken to its logical conclusions – religious chess clubs – the “softball game” (if you tack “men’s” on it, you’re back to square one) or “the baking society” (which has its token man). I find these annoying for entirely different reasons. Maybe a future post. But I certainly don’t think the good a group does is a justification of its exclusivity, intended or not, of its core assumptions, which often as not are heretical, or its underlying structure. Again, it is possible to conceive of groups who don’t create these issues – it’s just extremely hard to find any. As a concession to human frailty, I acknowledge that any group is likely to be imperfect (though I disagree with those who suggest ridiculously that that’s part of the desirable allure). But likewise, what’s open to criticism is open to criticism, and criticism too may be imperfect and yet have some benefit. I’m sure this critique is overly this or that. Still, there’s something real there, prevalent enough that it bears talking about.

Personally, I tend to weigh in on the side of not wanting any of these groups, though in fact I’ve started more than one – just not within the context of an official offering on a bulletin somewhere – they’ve always been informal (and no, not one of those heretical gatherings of the really and truly true people that tries to get a “church” of the correct or of a higher consciousness going inside a church – that stuff lacks honor and is forbidden). I prefer to get together with who I want to get together with, not with who I don’t, and not to feel any need to pair up on the basis of demographics, or to pair up at all if I just want to get my coffee and go home. I want what’s real in my experience, and nothing if there’s nothing. Sure, I want to ‘belong’, but I’m just not willing to pay the usual fare for it. Where I am now, I haven’t been pressured, which is good. I don’t know – maybe some people are pressured – I haven’t seen it, but then I don’t stick around much. I just know what I do see, and find people describing, explaining, discussing in general all over the spectrum of religious experience. And it reaffirms my basic thesis – while Holy Orthodoxy is as distinct from say Protestantism or Roman Catholicism as sailing is from golf, religion (as a characteristic attitude of transforming the tenets of the dominant culture into liturgical and traditional constructs) is ubiquitous in attaching itself to anything it can. Call it “spirituality” or whatever canard you want – there’s something that follows around anyone who prays – it’s not integral or endemic – it’s something that stalks the experience, an emissary from the culture, and it begins to transform all it touches into something far less charitable, hopeful, and faithful while dressing it up in the language and recontextualized concepts and constructs of its host. It often even engages in benign acts, but underneath there are things worth questioning that bring into doubt the whole process. For whatever reason, some of these articles seem aimed to draw out these relationships and to argue in favor of de-religionized religion, or at least question what it might look like and how it might be accessible within our various confessional boundaries and in true fidelity to those boundaries as its first premise. Lord have mercy. The sinner writes this. And at the risk of repetition, just to be clear, I’m interested in an Orthodox religion that’s more free of religion – I’m not trying to construct a “Faith” – we Orthodox don’t do that. I’m trying to think in terms of the actual fish without the flukes (for you non-anglers – those are the little black parasites that burrow into the animal), not of crafting some custom-built Frankenfish.

Orthodox Semi-Veganism – is it Deadly?

Listening to NPR the other day, I heard an apocryphal account of an artist’s death blamed on Holy Orthodoxy. It was said that, under the guidance of a particular priest, he destroyed his health with fasting.

What’s interesting about that are:

  • With health conditions, economia is granted, whereby the fast is kept by including any foods deemed medicinal. In other words, the fast is for our salvation, so it’s forbidden to fast from medicine. What is otherwise forbidden becomes prescribed. This is also why nursing mothers and infants keep the fast, but not by omitting foods.
  • The fast in Holy Orthodoxy is a vegan fast. Nothing of animals (including alcohol) and no olive oil. It’s also followed by feasting, where fasting is actually *prohibited*, and feasting required. In other words, a ton of the world – even whole cultures (Hindu) keep this fast for life without ill effects. This includes old women who have been doing it all their lives and fall asleep at ripe old ages.
  • A priest does not make the fasting rules. There is one fast for the whole Church. There are some greater depths of fasting for monastics, but the artist was not one of those, and their fasting likewise is merely abstension from meats (most monastics eat fish only, even when not fasting). And it is the Bishop, not the priest, who sanctions economia and akkrivia – so the priest is not permitted to unilaterally make broad adjustments.
  • Abstinence (from food), unlike fasting (removing certain foods and frequencies of meals), is only prescribed a couple of days out of the year. The rest of the time it is only permitted at any length under the guidance of a monastic or other father, and then only in small steps in keeping with gradual religious advancement, then too only for some among the Orthodox who have the physical stamina, and only in a voluntary manner (i.e. cannot be required in any way).

I find the mythology of the Orthodox fasts being harsh and unreasonable to be a commentary on the gluttony, egotistical wealth, and obsession with death in our culture. The same claims would make no sense at all in many Asian and Near Eastern cultures. Which is it that’s so awful, horrendous, and unthinking – the temporary veganism or the temporary removal of olive oil? The notion that these things are some sort of abusive throwback to a pre-enlightened era, before we knew that lots of hydrogenated corn syrup and processed meat products are all that’s keeping us alive, is retarded.

I’ve met people that throw such a fit at the notion of living for a while on vegetables that they should have to apologize to the rest of the world for their decadence and taking more than their share. People in this part of the West eat several times more meat per day, per sitting, and per portion than even Western Europe, let alone the rest of the world. It’s a violent, passionate culture made high on protein overload, as though you can never get enough – cheese on this, pork belly on that, it’s all got to have meat. To listen to some people at the prospect of going even a day on vegetables, grains, and fruits, you’d think it was a violent moral outrage, torture, or an offense to their “god-ordained” right to endlessly slaughter and consume things. It’s stupid.

Anyway, this is not to say that there exists anything anywhere that can’t be abused. We’ve probably all seen some of everything abused in some way. But abuse is not a commentary on the whole. Now rampant, widespread abuse (like the incessant porking of boys by gay Roman Catholic priests) reflects deep and abiding problems there. Or the constant financial and sexual scandals among televangelists, etc. But come on – how many people do you see dropping dead on a daily basis from veganism, whether for their whole lives, or half the  year (the Orthodox requirement)? Pish tosh. NPR can eat me over that one. Maybe that way, we’d spare half of the 8000 pounds of cows one of them eats in a lifetime.

By the way, there are Orthodox who blow off the fasts, or make it up themselves, or even express disdain for the fasts. Most are either lifers who think being born into it is the important thing – that somehow merely belonging to the right institution is the Faith, or else converts from non-fasting traditions who bring their basic assumptions with them, preferring to remain unconverted in that way, and present the Faith as a collection of “beliefs” and a basic moral structure – a Protestantized propositional/ethical/institutional religion.  They just don’t know what the hell they’re doing.  Orthodoxy is not a belief system, it’s an asceticism. What you believe is best summed up in what you do. Failing is easy – I’m not knocking anyone for failing – I’m knocking the dismissal of reality and reduction of it to a mere religious philosophy which, frankly, if we were going to do that, we might as well shove our heads in our arses and sing alleluias, because they’re a dime a dozen.

Contempt for the core behaviors of our Faith can only come from contempt for God, contempt for man and oneself, and contempt for reality and creation. As St. Seraphim said, “He who doesn’t fast, doesn’t actually believe in God at all.” Until those words are understood, it’s not penance and theosis – it’s philosophical masturbation. I’d be more concerned about dropping dead from that than from eating my vegetables. Try a cucumber. Despite what your pastor tells you, it actually won’t kill you. Remember God’s first discussion with man? “Here, eat all the veggies and fruits you want, they’re good and that’s why I made them. You can live on them, and they have all you need. But fast too – don’t touch the tree that makes  you a philosophical fool, because that’ll separate you from your Creator and what we have together, and then you really will die.” You know the rest of the story and what came from the gluttony.

Christians Responsible for Crusades?

So, one of the things that’s mildly annoying about those who like to say “You Christians are responsible for the Crusades…” is that usually there’s a complete lack of familiarity with the history of the Crusades. It’s just something they saw on TV, barely comprehending even that much.  So, here’s a crash course:

First Crusade 1095-1099: The Turks had invaded Anatolia, and the Byzantine Emperor requests military aid to repel the invaders. Pope of Rome responds by requesting volunteers, and eventually sees opportunity to elicit a larger geopolitical goal of recapturing the “Holy Land” – especially Jerusalem. On the way, the Western crusaders set up “kingdoms” for themselves through the Middle East. Jerusalem is recaptured. To the disappointment of the Western crusaders, the Byzantines had much more limited goals (repel invasion), and openly utilized diplomacy to negotiate and settle with the Muslims wherever possible, while the Western crusaders are there to “reconquer the Holy Land” and invade and massacre accordingly. The massacre of Jerusalem is historic, and the “first holocaust” against Jews in Western Europe is inspired by this same effort.

Second Crusade 1144: Muslims capture Edessa. Western saint Bernard of Clairvaux travelled Western Europe asking people to take up arms. No clear goals or leadership. Result is that little came of it except to combine Flemish, Frisian, Norman, English, Scottish, German, and Portuguese crusaders. The Western forces were a super-alliance.

Third Crusade 1189: Muslims had recaptured Jerusalem. Western Europe again mobilizes en masse. Frank emperor Barbarosa dies en route to Jerusalem. Lionhart (England) recaptures several coastal cities, but does not enter Jerusalem. Instead secures a treaty for pilgrims to enter the city.

Fourth Crusade 1202: No clear goals or leadership. Massive Western armies looking for a target, however. Franks and Venetians invade Orthodox Byzantium, systematically desecrated the Byzantine (Orthodox) temples, and looted the products of Byzantine civilization. Vast numbers of the artifacts of civilization (dating from ancient Greece and Rome to modern) in Western Europe actually date from this crusade – both in originals and copies. The Library of Constantinople (last of the great libraries of the Ancient world – successor to the destroyed library of Alexandria) was burned. Schism is regarded as universally permanent from this time on.

One historian writes: “The Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. The Crusaders vented their hatred for the Greeks most spectacularly in the desecration of the greatest Church in Christendom. They smashed the silver iconostasis, the icons and the holy books of Hagia Sophia, and seated upon the patriarchal throne a whore who sang coarse songs as they drank wine from the Church’s holy vessels. The estrangement of East and West, which had proceeded over the centuries, culminated in the horrible massacre that accompanied the conquest of Constantinople. The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians. The defeat of Byzantium, already in a state of decline, accelerated political degeneration so that the Byzantines eventually became an easy prey to the Turks. The Crusading movement thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention.’

Fifth Crusade 1217: Western European monarchies (Hungary and Austria) captured Damietta. The Muslims offered Jerusalem in exchange, but they refused.

Sixth Crusade 1228: Western Europe (led by the Frank Emperor). Ends in negotiated return of Jerusalem.

Seventh & Eighth Crusades 1270: Western Europe (led by King of France). Won but lost Damietta again.

Ninth Crusade 1271: Western Europe (led by King of England). Failed to defeat sultan of Baibers.

“The Children’s Crusade” is an apocryphal series of events and myths dating to 1212, taking place in Western Europe, notably Italy, but amounting to little historical import. Popular versions of these stories still abound.

So here are the points I draw from that history:

  1. While there’s a religious pretext for them, except for the 4th, it’s a mistake to think the Crusades have a primarily religious impetus. The 2nd Crusade failed to get legs precisely because it was purely religious in character. The third Crusade ended in European monarchies fighting over loot.
  2. To take the religious aspect at face value is also to remove the ground of any such argument – after all, how many crusades by atheists (Leninist, Maoist, etc) have been far more brutal and totalitarian? Does this mean that, to be consistent, atheism is to be impugned in general on the basis of those? Every ideology is an opportunity for violence. More recently, it’s “Western Democracy”. Logic demands consistent applicaton of a rule w/o prejudice for one’s own group.
  3. It’s inaccurate to attribute the crusades to only Christian influence. It is precisely a response to the wholesale Muslim invasion of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Africa that the Europeans are responding. You don’t get one w/o the other. In all the rhetoric that “Christians are responsible for the Crusades” one wonders if anyone is left who knows who their opponents were. Ironically, they are the same opponents Europe is fighting as we speak, over the same area of the world as the earlier Crusades. One again, this underscores the point that what you say about “Christians” in the one context, you must concede about “Western Democracy” in the current one, otherwise it’s just a prejudice against religion and not an interest in logical consistency.
  4. It’s inaccurate to attribute the Crusades to some kind of generic “Christianity” – or a “Christianity” in general. We Orthodox not only didn’t participate, except arguably in a nominal way (i.e. we asked for help of the West to drive back a massive invader of our own empire), but we were the victims of the Crusaders’ massacres at least as thoroughly as the Muslims in Jerusalem. In fact, one of the reasons we enraged the Crusaders was that we were not Crusading with them. Rather than invading the Middle East – we were using diplomacy to repel invaders of our own empire where possible, and asking for military assistance where it wasn’t. We were defending our homeland, not trying to dominate Jerusalem. To paint everyone w. a broad brush might be a testiment to the absurd simplicity of some Western intellects, but it’s not the reality of what happened, and it reflects a theological illiteracy akin to saying “you people” to all Asians when referring to the Chinese. It only persists as cute, because the one bigotry and ignorance is more culturally acceptable than the other.

You know, it’s fun for some people to aim their guns at religious adherents, but it’s usually more like a joke about the evening news that gets the facts wrong, so the punchline doesn’t matter.

A Taxonomy of Priests

You know, I’m not a huge fan of mosts priests. I pray for them. I show reverence to their person. But I find that most of them are entirely unhelpful, primarily because of the tendency to substitute religion for life. I don’t mean that they offer faith but don’t into account some need I have to be generally dishonest as a corporate minion, to murder that unwanted child in the womb or euthanize granddad at the pound (er… hospital). That’s not life – that’s just being a complete religious fraud. No, I mean the substitution of religion – the principles of the world dressed up as faith – in place of living experience. I’ll explain. First let me say, my lack of fondness for most priests extends to “pastors”, if your religion was invented in the last few centuries. “Religious leader” or “band director”, if you’re one of those mega-churches whose domain name ends with “.TV”. So this is a survey of how priests (or parochial religious leaders) sometimes fail us:

The neo-gnostic: You know that person that always presents an exception to everything, because he doesn’t really believe that anything is true? The closet nihilist? It could be the anthropology instructor who, when you say “homosexuality is demonstrably unnatural, because it does nothing to extend the survival of the species, and no species survives without procreation” (a demonstrably Darwinist principle), pops off with “well, there’s an obscure tribe in a remote corner of an island in New Guinea, consisting of 40 people, among whom…” You see, the remoteness of the exception demonstrates the genuineness of the rule. If you have to resort to something almost non-existent, you’re demonstrating the opposite point. The religious version of this creature, using the same gnostic technique, will respond to a statement about the Fast with “one monastic instructed another…” (different context) “that he should specifically refrain from the fast” (a rare exception) – or, for example, to “according to our tradition, women may not serve in this capacity…” with “1700 years ago, in a cave Church, in a remote village of what is now Romania…”. You get the point. This priest just doesn’t like Aristotles law of identity: a=a or the law of excluded middle: a or not a – he doesn’t believe a thing can be so or not so at all – for him, the thing religion is a tool to eliminate is the false belief in any certainties. His role is the reinterpretation of the certainties of the faith, the world, and human experience as a series of “yeah buts” on a program of “nothing can be known for sure” and “nothing really is really, really real”. He’s so committed to his nihilism and gnosticism that all he knows for sure is that you don’t know anything for certain. If you detect groundless, circular reasoning there, it’s because yeah, it’s religion – it has nothing whatever to do with the Faith. I find these priests inhabiting large parishes in the established jurisdictions. They’re loads of fun.

The perpetual seminarian: Ever get the feeling that you’re being “handled”? The neo-gnostic is handling you, too, and this is no less a form of religious manipulation. But I’m talking about something seemingly more benign, if every bit as sophomoric. It’s as if there is a class somewhere on what things to say to people to make the bundle up their concerns, their hurting, and their fear, and take it away with them, so the religious offices are not burdened. There are a gazillion things a priest can say to that end: “Maybe this is a trial, so you’ll learn humility” is one of the best. After all, when you say to someone, “you need more humility”, they can’t argue, can they? Not if they’re honest, and not in any case w/o seeming to prove you right. But it’s a non sequitur. In any other venue that religion, it’s understood that your issue is being blown off, and a kind of ad hominem is being used in its place. Only in robes, or with parents to their children, or husband to wife, or from employer to employee is this tolerated. In other words, it’s only gotten away with when one is in a position to emotionally manipulate another. The perpetual seminarian has a complete compendium of these can pop off with. It makes you think there’s a big book of them somewhere. Much to my disappointment, some years back I went to see, and such books actually do exist. It makes one considering buying the biggest one and carrying it around with a highlighter but, of course, religion is so all-consuming that that would just be more fodder for religion’s usual response to too critical an eye.

The guru: Similar to the perpetual seminarian, the guru is rife not with the helpful and practical words of the fathers, not with the ascetic demands they place on us, so that our deification is possible. But instead, they give us the swami response. “Sometimes, all you need is a love.” or “Wherever you go, God is there.” I mean, that latter is pretty good, and sometimes they get it right. But precisely because they don’t seem to see a difference between the words of the Beatles and the wisdom of the Fathers, you really don’t know what you’re getting, whether it’s consistent, and whether ultimately it’s even helpful. It all blends together in a self-help, personal psychology – a religion of personal improvement and the acquisition of self-fulfillment. I figure you can get this anywhere. There’s no need to dress it up in religious garb – just go down to your local coffee shop, breathe the incense, and smoke the ganga. Ganga is actually a form of organic coffee, you know. 🙂 I’m kidding – I like organic coffee – and ganga smoking is for dumbasses. But you see what I mean – is the Faith about deification or is it about personal enhancement. If the latter, religion becomes just a different flavor of something on sale in the CD section at Starbucks. “The question may be more important than the answer.” Really? Then what do I need you for? “The journey is…” You get the picture.

The top of the pyramid: This could be the quasi-rogue priest who keeps dossiers on everyone and leads his followers into the true, truth, of the true, one, only true, trueness, but strangely manages to stay within the lines well enough to avoid defrocking, all the while making it clear that his own brand of the brand is what’s really important. It could be the priest who sees himself as indispensible – without him, his public would just be the sheep w/o the shepherd (it is the Bishop who is the shepherd, not the priest, and the Bishop is a monastic who cannot but see himself as servant of all, if he is rightly dividing the word of truth). This kind of bandleader priest gets annoyed easily, talks in terms of the burden things pose to him, the emotional distress it provides him when he ‘has to deal’ with people who aren’t inherently propping up his view of things. It really is all about him. This gets helped along by those parishioners who apologize to visitors whenever the priest is sick or on leave or out of town, as though someone how the prayers will be less effective, or little of meaning or interest can possibly be conveyed in his absence. The two forces condition each other – the indispensible priest and the sacramentally gluttonous, dependent congregation. In the Church of our Fathers, a liturgy cannot even occur without the presence of at least one layperson. The laity are just as necessary. Does the priesthood of personality ever ask what emotional burdens it is placing upon the congregation?

The cool guy: This priest is the one who focuses on the 80%, and the 20% can either stray or get lost. 🙂 The focus and emphasis is always about what the majority want, or are thinking about, and he takes great care to remain popular – which isn’t wrong in itself – except that he also tends to frame things in terms of how you are pleasing others, fitting in, and making it all go smoothly. The parish is a machine, and you’re either oil or you’re sand – he encourages you not to be sand. Everyone likes this priest, except those who don’t, of course, but it’s all about fitting into the “family”. I always get creeped out when visiting some place and they pop off with, “we’re all like a big family”. It sounds like a small, white town to me, except that it’s about religious homogeneity rather than racial. It’s a cultural uniformity, and your role is supposed to be to ensure its continued existence as what it is – not extend it to embody more diversity. The rock star priest is fun, if you like that kind of music. If not, you’re on the sidelines like a nerd at a high school dance. You can hang on for the liturgy, but the picnics are going to suck – again, at least if you’re the other 20%,

Now I’m not picking on priests in general. I’m not interested in the anti-clerical cultural impulses that can prevail on the fringes of religion, any more than I am the anti-monastic ones that can prevail in parochial environments, or the anti-episcopal ones that typify fanatical manipulators who like to start their own missions across the street from the congregation. There are great priests. If priests had reviews, all of the above would get 5 stars from a ton of their fans. Fans are like that. Microsoft has made a ton of people its bitches, who are ready to sell their soul and everything else for a different color toolbar. The reviews don’t mean much – after all, do people really know what they want and need – if you’ve asked that question about me, ask it about yourself, too. It’s a fair one. So neither should you mind my reviews. I haven’t even named names. But obviously I’d give more of my stars to priests who don’t seem to want the above roles.

My preference, lately, is for the priest who is just doing the best he can. I’ve known a couple of them. One used to travel to minister to us, at his own expense sometimes, with often little sleep. He wasn’t perfect – he was just genuine. Another feels free to say “I don’t know” but without fixing you up with some artificial (and gnostic) platitude like “maybe the question is more important than…”. He’ll just say he doesn’t know, and give you the best advice he can. Not to laud these men, but let me ask you a question. When someone close to you has fallen asleep (you might say “has died”), do you want platitudes, guru-ism, emotional manipulation, to try to swallow your grief so you fit in better, or the general uncertainty of all things, or do you want someone to say “Your pain is yours. I don’t know what to say. I’ll stay here with you.” I know which one I prefer.

Neo-Coservatism – the Pseudo-Religion

I look at political neo-conservatism as a quasi-religious entity, like freemasonry – a kind of social religion. The religious people involved seem to be looking for precisely a quasi-religious talmudism that allows them to re-interpret the historical Christ and Christianity much like the Talmud allowed Hebrews to reinterpret the requirements of the law. The focus is on keeping most of your money and rejecting responsibility for the poor, militarizing against foreigners, foreign nations, and immigrants and rejecting the love of strangers, and maintaining a closed, bigoted society and rejecting the diversity required by following Christ’s teaching. In short, to be a neo-conservative is to become a religious Pharisee, with all the attendant self-righteousness, obfuscation of rational debate, and filibustering to paralyze society when it doesn’t cooperate with the agenda. It is the religion of this world, expressed in the particular formula recognizable in all fascist societal movements.

Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator ...
Image via Wikipedia

To say that I have no respect for it, is an understatement. Certainly, I don’t have respect for the ideas, thoughts, motivations, and activities of its adherents, any more than I do those of brown shirts or black shirts. But I also see it as a tremendous blight and cancer upon civilization. It is the formulized antithesis to Christianity itself.

  • Christ preaches constant concern for the poor. They preach constant concern for “us and our own” and that the poor can take care of themselves. You stick with yours, I stick with mine.
  • Christ preaches welcoming and embracing the stranger, the foreigner, and the alien. They preach denying hospitality and treating the alien as less entitled. There is a reification of nationality, and overtones that nations of other ethnicities are generally inferior. Who are they always bombing? Little brown people.
  • Christ preaches tolerance continually for others, religious, cultural, gender, ethnic, sexual, everything. Yep, that means gays too. They preach denying to those who don’t hold their values the very things Christ freely gave – his community, his attention, his interest, his compassion and charity, his involvement, his help, and his protection.
  • Christ preaches visiting those in prison, relieving their suffering, and healing their wounds. “I was in prison,” says Christ. They preach putting more people into prisons, depriving prisoners of adequate medical care, decent food, and substantive emotional and mental comfort, and closeting them in ever more deprived situations, far from the public eye. In some cases, they preach secret prisons, torture, and utter deprivation of human dignity – things that no Christ, real or imagined, can inspire.
  • Christ preaches constant concern for the sick, and securing their health at our own expense, just like the good Samaritan. They preach “I am not responsible”, and letting the sick die for lack of anyone to treat or attend them. They say the government should not be involved, but they do not themselves, like the ancient Christians who founded the first hospitals as charities, found hospitals to heal those who cannot find healing.

In the end, the only relationship of neo-conservatism, especially as a para-religious society for protestant fundamentalists, to Christ and the Christianity of the Holy Apostles and the Holy Fathers is an inverse one. It is the antithesis. It is every word of Christ turned on its head, sandwiched in a “yeah but”, “only if”, or “that means”, just as the Talmudists did to the law. And Christ preached also against Talmudism – saying they had reinterpreted the law and thereby ignored its precepts.

In short, neo-conservatism in general, and religious fundamentalism in particular, are systems of modifying Christianity and Christ until you get the pseudo-“Jesus” of the airwaves and the campaign trail and the Klan rally and the closed community. It is “Jesus” as a Rush Limbaugh figure, “Jesus” as an Oliver North figure, “Jesus” as the powerful fascist leader that keeps soccer moms and “women of God” safe from the unclean hordes outside the culdesac. “Jesus” of the Country-Western station and the torture chamber and the neighborhood association. It is the “Jesus” of beating up “faggots” behind the bleachers, “Jesus” of the prom queen who thanks him for winning. It is a made-up, tooth-fairy Jesus who doesn’t exist, most certainly is not due our worship, and is in fact a demon masquerading under the name of the very God who pointed out that there will be false Jesus’ and false Christs. The “Jesus” of expedience, of convenience, of national interests – the red, white, and blue clad “Jesus” of U.S. hegemony.

The false “Jesus” is the “Jesus” who told the poor that they should get a job, and turned his back – the “Jesus” who chased away the stranger or called immigration or the police when they showed up, and who plotted how best to invade the Samaritans. It is the “Jesus” who told the woman at the well that she belongs at home – the “Jesus” who cast the first stone at the harlot and asked if they had any gays on hand. It is the “Jesus” who said, “you didn’t visit me in prison – good job – they were too easy on me, anyway.” It is the “Jesus” who told the blind man and the sick, “you’re not my responsibility. I don’t believe in social welfare”. It’s the “Jesus” who instead of saying, “my mother and my brothers are those who do the will of God”, said, “I’m for good, old-fashioned family values – family comes first. To heck with staying on the cross for people I’ve never met, charity begins at home, can someone give me a ladder?”. This “Jesus” would never have gone to the cross in the first place – it just wouldn’t make sense. The false “Jesus” says the end justifies the means, the outcome justifies whatever we have to do, “collateral damage”, torture, suspending rights, punishing sedition, and building a security state. This “Jesus” would never feed 5,000 from a few loaves – he would say “we can’t help everyone” and then go to Dennys with the apostles for a “Men’s breakfast” and eat five pounds each of fatty foods.

Do you see how the “Jesus” of neo-conservatism deserves only our derision and scorn, our contempt and ridicule? And if the mascot of their movement, then the movement as a whole. The people are lost people, deceived people, enthralled by a false Christ, in the power of the demonic, and compassion is what we must provide. Contempt for their ideas, compassion for their persons. We must never do what they have done – commit the heresy of reducing persons to their ideas or affiliations (“those people” while forgetting that they are people like us) or reducing persons to their actions (“terrorists”). That last is the fallacy into which existentialists fall, and it is heresy, and rejected by the Church. It is a denial of the Incarnation. Hate neo-conservatism, but love the neoconservative. At the same time, this system of neoconservatism deserves unrelenting opposition as an anti-human, anti-life, anti-Christ, and anti-Christian force to substitute fascism for faith at the expense of every person and group they would abandon, imprison, or trod under foot in the name of a demonic “Jesus” who hates you if you don’t follow him.

Responding to Accusations

ImageWhen accused of a general failing – pride, foolishness, laziness, always agree. Be the first to admit it. You needn’t go out of your way to announce these passions, but the moment someone points the finger, join with them. When you accuse yourself, you avoid judgment. When you think them correct always in their observations, you avert the very passions attributed to you, and so overcome them. Don’t defend yourself. If they say, “So, you admit it!” say “Of course.” If they say, “then why don’t you change” say “because I am obstinate, too. Forgive me.”, or “that’s how far gone I am, pray for me”. It doesn’t matter whether technically they see anything real or not. God has granted them words, whether they are false prophets who pretend to see your sins instead of their own, or whether God is graciously reminding you of your sins. If you think with the fathers, you think that all these things that can be said about you are true, and that you cannot recount all the ways in which you have failed. If you think with the desert, you think that you fail in all ways, that every failure that can be attributed to you is true. But don’t be depressed by this, or let others insist that you be depressed. Shame is best expressed in acknowledgement and worship, not in self-pity. Genuine shame is in gratitude for being allowed to live without being struck down for your sins and utterly destroyed – weep over your sins, but don’t be destroyed by them, or it mocks God who has not destroyed you in judgment. If your accusers want you to fall down before them, you cannot – it is a thing you can only give to God. Even the angels do not ask as much. As the fathers say, “keep your mind in Hell and despair not”. So you can be cheerful, even tho remorseful, happy even though sad for your faults.

If someone accuses you of a fault, acknowledge it, and ask forgiveness. If they say that you must do something to gain forgiveness, say you’ll discuss it with your Confessor. It is not appropriate to arrange ‘penance’ from just anyone. The mysteriological significance of penance cannot be replaced with our assigning it to one another. This is likewise why we don’t bless one another. You and I are not priests – unless you’re a priest – I’m certainly not, so I won’t be blessing anyone today, or presuming to assign penance. At some point, another person’s inability to forgive your faults is their own burden, and must be something they work out likewise with their own Confessor. You don’t have to just shrug it off, but you aren’t a slave to someone else’s probationary program for you to fit in with their agenda. In response to “pray for me”, someone once said, “you make it hard to pray for you”. All I can say to that is, “I understand”, leaving it at that. Something similar might be “then we can pray for each other.” It needn’t be arrogant. We are taught to say, “by (that person’s) prayers save me”, believing that our sins are so corrupting that we cannot be saved apart from the prayers of others. Ask forgiveness, but asking isn’t agreeing to a 12-step plan where you mow someone else’s lawn. On the other hand, if you ruined their lawn, it’s probably the right gesture.


When accused of a specific crime, such as lying about something, don’t lie by confessing it falsely to anyone. You can say, “I am a liar”, and you know it’s true, because you have spoken words of God with your lips but not your heart. But don’t say, “yes, I lied about what I told you yesterday” unless that is true. The fathers don’t ask us to become liars in order to admit to being liars. If someone says, “but the fathers say you should admit every fault”, freely admit to any fault, but not to historical events that did not happen.

When there is a subtle blend of accusations – “you’re being proud about this – what you’re claiming happened didn’t happen” – just separate the failing from the facts. “I am indeed very proud. I have no doubt that I am being proud right now, and that I was proud before you even noticed it. Pray for me. However, what I have said is true, and I have not lied about it. Forgive me if I seem to be saying you’re mistaken.”

Accusations are a gift, so that all your enemies, as St. Nikolai Velimirovic has written, may be your friends. In this way, God makes peace in the whole world. “You’re too proud of your intellect.” Answer: “That is certainly true. Thank you for helping me remember.” But mistakes of history – “You cheated on the exam. No one could have gotten all the answers correct.” – are just that – mistakes. When someone is mistaken, especially about you, you don’t have to correct them. Don’t tell them “you are wrong” or “you are mistaken”, but also don’t join them in the error – that kind of accusation is the Evil One tempting you, though they don’t know it. “I disagree” is enough. “I don’t believe so” is sufficient. Keep it subjective – “I don’t think so”, not objective “you are in error”, to allow for your own weakness, blindness, or delusion – in humility – and because in this way you aren’t also accusing them, which otherwise you would be. But if they say, “You are a cheat”, say “Yes, certainly.” and remember that you’ve cheated yourself of paradise. Say, whenever accused of a fault, that the accuser is right. Then neither of you can be wounded by you fighting with them. When they offer the Enemy’s accusation, don’t even say “I think differently” – which is a positive statement – don’t offer your thoughts – humble yourself and leave no room for fighting over your ideas – instead say “I don’t think as much” – adding, if you wish, “though I am certainly capable of it”.

By leaving nothing for anyone to fight with, you leave nothing for them to stumble over, and nothing for the Enemy to seize from you and make into a weapon. You cannot be pulled into a war, if you become like a lamb, though I find it a very hard thing to do. In this humility, the Enemy’s arrows leave no mark. In this self-accusation, Judgement won’t destroy you. In this willingness to concede all that can be conceded, finding any way possible to agree over your own failings, you become a peacemaker – taking, as did Christ, all sins on yourself. Say, if you fail in it, “it’s my fault. It’s all my fault.” Love, as the apostle says, covers a multitude of sins.


And yes, it’s a tragic facet of public life (corporate culture, academia, politics, religion) that acknowledging weaknesses and following Christ can ruin your ability to be promoted, to even retain your position, and can be spread as gossip like wildfire, distorting your reputation and making life intolerable. In a religious environment, leave. You’re in the wrong one. For the rest of it, though, most of us developed two voices – the one that tells the truth, and the one that responds to manipulation. I don’t fault anyone for it. I have done what was needed to feed my family, and to survive, too. It’s a commentary on public life and the people who make it what it is that integrity is converted into just a means of destroying you, and people who cover their sins are rewarded by the same people with prosperity. When I was in those environments, I always tried to determine whether I was dealing with people who didn’t think of sin as sin, but as merely leverage to convert into a weapon, and those who were genuine. The latter were almost nonexistent, in my experience. And in corporate, academic, and political life I gave very little ground. That’s still how I would do it. For those who would condemn this, did every Christian present himself to be burned in the genocides against our people? Some did, some didn’t, but Saints are among both. But in religious environments, I have preferred to let the chips fall where they may. It is one way I have distinguished cults, with merely the appropriate religious affiliations and blessings, from genuinely Christian communities.

I will say again that to be an Orthodox Church, while incredibly important since there is no other Church, does not mean that you are a Christian community. Cults abound everywhere, because there is little else that religion can do when it embeds itself among people, than to turn the worship of the Creator into the worship of our own personalities. One group is busily ‘defending the truth’ but with clubs and virtual burnings at the stake. Cult, not Christian, whatever its pedigree. Another is busily replacing the Faith with a social theatre, a “mega-church” with a complete absence of genuine Orthodox tradition – in fact a campaign to eradicate it as some kind of vestige – it wishes more than anything to be the biggest non-denominational religious centre in its region, disguised as an Orthodox Church. Bigness and social acceptability are its twin idols. Cult, not Christian. In either environment, reputation can make or break you – it’s very much the same principle at work in corporate, academic, and political circles. Again, it’s better to leave them behind. Staying means accepting the ground of warfare by which they are busily converting human beings into cogs in an ideological and social apparatus that bears little resemblance to the Faith of our Fathers, whatever sign is on the door.

“You’re full of pride,” they would say. And they would be right. I am full of pride. Pray for me. “Separating yourself is a sin,” they would say. “I don’t believe so.” I really don’t believe so. Besides, I have not separated myself from the Church, merely from some versions of it that I don’t think have a monopoly on what it means to be Orthodox. In fact, if pressed, I suppose I would say I haven’t really learned any Orthodoxy from them at all. Surely, that’s my own failing. But nonetheless, to guard my soul, and to protect my family, I stay away. The community I am more or less a part of (I really like the ‘more or less’ – I find it much less prone to spiritual violence) doesn’t beat me up much. I show up twice a year at least, and I send my checks. “Not spiritual”, someone may say. “Of course, I fail in all such matters.” But what I am not, also, is very concerned about my reputation. As for corporate, academic, and political life, I’ve finally been granted, by God’s mercy, emancipation from those too.

Vegetarianism and Orthodoxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Wife the Saint

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

St Anastasia
Image by jimforest via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rules of Religious Blogging

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

Prophet Amos, old Russian Orthodox icon
Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Blogger

Update on Haiti: Don’t be discouraged by the reports of overwhelming aid, and too much of one thing at one time. The aid is going to be needed for the long haul. There is no decent running water, and where that’s true, and people have no homes, families are destroyed, and most things are just a pile, it’s going to be an ongoing need to get people to the point they can survive and rebuild. The “overwhelming” part is a testament to how quickly the world responded – quicker than ever before on anything. The duplication – e.g. with so many countries sending field hospitals – demonstrates the need for better international coordination of aid. We still act like nations – we still believe in the made-up construct of nationhood and act in a disjointed way, because of it. At a minimum, we need to act as a federation of nations, with some federal coordination. But that doesn’t mean the ongoing aid is not needed. Please keep helping.

As usual, that was preface, and I don’t intend a discourse on the passion of anger or divine anger or any such thing. It’s preface to personal confession. I experience anger whenever I start something new. It’s a kind of outrage. And I don’t know if it’s the passion of anger or not. I’m not going to try to sort that out here. It’ll take more than a platitude or two. I just know it’s there. When I first decided to work for myself, I felt anger at all the pretences that had been foisted on me by the culture and corporate life, the bondage I had placed in, unknowingly, since infancy – sculpted to become a slave. And I spent the first weeks after expressing that anger, or outrage, or what have you. When battered by ridiculous pagan mantras (no negative energy, no negative energy…) I became outraged and began throwing those shackles off. It felt as if they would handcuff me to something that can’t sustain life, mold me into the output of a philosophical meat grinder – a concept not a human. Nothing more complex than a few mantras. And I railed against it. When I began writing again here, I also felt anger. Anger at the chains put on others, and the chains once clamped on me. And I cried out and am still crying out against them. If my experience here matches the other venues, this will last a while, and then it’ll be done, and I’ll either talk about other things or have nothing more to say for a while, so that it becomes a protest venue, for when raids are made against my sanity and my liberty by the world. I don’t know which it’ll be, of course.You know, we deny that there is such a thing as righteous anger, good anger, or the anger of God – if, by that, we mean anything remotely like human anger. God is not subject to the passions, because God is not subject to death. To deny this is to make God part of the universe – not the creator, but rather himself the created. To deny it is heresy and gnosticism. It is also to turn the scriptures against themselves, a common characteristic of both gnosticism and Protestantism – quoting proof texts that elsewhere are seemingly contradicted. When the Apostle calls anger a passion, how then can the prophets say that God is angry? The apparent disymmetry comes from attempting to treat the scriptures like a book, external and separate from the thinking community that wrote them – external to its liturgy, it’s understanding. And even now, as people convert to Orthodoxy, from other religions or from the culture at large, they bring with them this disymmetry and find it difficult to learn to understand the holy scriptures in an Orthodox manner. As Christ said, “let him who has ears to hear, let him hear”. It is difficult to hear when listening with ears that are alien to the faith of the first man, the faith of our fathers, the faith of all ages. But the Orthodox mind does not attribute anger to God as some higher form of the passion experienced by man, any more than we can think that God forgets or that God grows weary. Genuine Christianity is all of one piece, not a jumble of statements in a book that you can toss onto your kindle and get your head around on a plane. In fact, the more people attempt that, the less they really understand, because they acquire the delusion that they have understood. The books are liturgical, and cannot be understood externally to the liturgy. That’s just the facts.

I believe anger is so often the result of pain. I know from experience that mine is. The Haiti thing tho is the latest example. I think it’s one thing to listen to ongoing interviews on the ground, listen to people pulled from the wreckage, listen to the husbands burying their wives, listen to the overwhelmed doctors and the people trying to find others in the rubble, and the people learning that their loved ones have died. When you listen to that, if you’re human, if you haven’t converted your humanity into ideology, which is genocide on all human beings everywhere for all time – Christ included, you feel… solidarity, symmetry with the suffering, pain. Not pain like theirs, not suffering like theirs. After all, you have a radio, you are driving a car, you are on the way to buy food or to earn money. You take a drink of water or coffee and you have everything they do not have. You cannot feel what they feel. But you don’t feel nothing, either, unless you’ve killed your human soul. You feel pain.

It’s another thing entirely to listen to 40-second clips on TV news punctuating 3-hour rants by a Rush Limbaugh figure on how it’s being politicized, ironically politicizing it just by making that statement. Over and over, building it into an ideological agenda. No pain, no humanity, just ideology. An intellectual meat grinder for quasi-intellectual, half-intelligent armchair philosophers. The Sadducees of our time. The cultural gnostics. There is no Christianity in that. To borrow from Lewis Black, right wing, conservative cultural religion is to Christianity what KFC is to chicken. And it distorts, warps, and finally deprives one of humanity. It eradicates the human soul, substituting for it a set of platitudes, much like Protestantism and gnosticism from which, unrealized perhaps by the listener, it originates. It is the translation of those premises into popular culture.

And it doesn’t let you feel pain, it causes pain. It doesn’t lessen the suffering of the world, it adds to it. And when you feel the pain in your soul that is the shared life with other human beings, and someone comes along and turns on a loudspeaker of droning, caustic, antagonistic vitriol against and pollution of the fundamental connection we share with all of creation, and foremost with all human beings, not only are they attacking the gospel, by which God became a human being, the very meaning of salvation – the Incarnation, they are trying to crumble the underpinnings of your human soul – creating their own earthquake, their own disturbance, to bring down the part of you that makes you a man. And the pain felt by sharing, by connection, by what we Christians can only reach for and describe as love, is drowned out by the pain of blunt trauma to all connections, all sharing, all solidarity, in fact to the very nature and essence of man, which is one thing, summed up in Christ, expressed in the diversity of all. And that pain fills me with outrage. It makes me angry. And I try to overcome the passion. And fathers help me, saints save me, but I don’t know whether what’s left is my sin or something else. St. John Cassian, I completely submit to thy teaching that there is no righteous anger. And I have no recourse but to do as the fathers tell me – namely, when in doubt, attribute sin to myself, and so escape the wrath of God, which is not like my illicit wrath, not a more nobler version, but is justice in the very uncreate energies of an all-consuming God. Consume me so I am not destroyed. Consume me, so that my life is preserved.

We say, among the faithful, that God does not absorb us. But union with God, theosis, to be consumed, is the very preservation of our unique persons, the very protection of diversity, while the God who became man, wedding but not confusing the two natures, joined in on person, joins us to himself. It is not a thing for the armchair theologian. It is a thing to understand by becoming a real part of the community of people whose liturgy expresses through the year the mystery of this union, enacted through the days of the calendar and the fasts and the feasts, and in the life inside the timeless temple that is one with the temple in Heaven, all us with the angels in the one liturgy, with all the Saints, everywhere unceasingly, mystically representing the Cherubim, finding thereby the union with “all mortal flesh”.

That talk radio garbage is an outrage against God and an enmity with all men. But I don’t wish to fight on God’s behalf. I am not a nice man. I am “meaner” than that. The worst thing one can do to one’s enemies is to refuse to strike them, consigning them instead to the judgment of God. Christ withheld his hand, though he could have turned the world inside out and swallowed them in flame bathed in blood. But he went like a lamb. “I am not here to judge. There is one who judges.” How foolish to think this means he was not hear to point out wrong and elevate good. He did precisely that, all the time. No, but real judgment is when God decides what to do with each of us. And that is a “terrifying thing”, is it not? I am angry, but I am trying not to strike, because God will do what is right, and know what is right, and the passions will not be his guide. He is ever free from Death, and has liberated us likewise to his freedom. I wish to go into it. Lord have mercy.

Getting Off the Religious Holodeck

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

Google Street View Holodeck
Image by niallkennedy via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shut your pie hole and help Haiti!

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

Image by Nite_Owl via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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