The Imaginary Foe

Catechumens: My godchildren and my hope, without whose prayers I cannot hope to be saved. Rather routinely, and following as best I can the holy fathers, I share with you pitfalls I’ve experienced. I am not like a staretz or even an abbot or one of the fathers, except that Christ has pleased to make me your father in leading you into the faith as much as I can, with dread and trembling, sharing with you the unique filial bond that makes A*** and I your parents in the Lord, and you our most beloved children, who remain brothers and sisters and friends. It is to you I write, while A*** sends love.

Mutual Confession and Self-Accusation

Catechumens: It is good to confess our sins to one another, if we can bear to do so. It is good to admit our faults. I am striving to learn to always be ready to admit my faults and, when I cannot see a fault, to accuse myself with my accusers, so I don’t fall into the most dangerous sin of pride. While justifying myself before my brethren, I may lose that quiet of conscience that comes from vulnerability and contrition before God. How will I hear, if he corrects me in my brethren? If the Lord corrected St. Anthony in the desert, how am I above correction in the midst of the luxuriant wellspring of men? It is good to listen for God. – Catechetical Letter 1/18/2005

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. – St. James


It is easier for me to admit sins I have committed, though, than to accuse myself when others wrongfully accuse me. Can I bear to say, “I am guilty” whenever another says that I sin? Can I say, “I remember it differently, but perhaps you are right,” when I am falsely accused – misquoted or misrepresented? If I can bear insults, as the Lord teaches, can I bear unjust insults, slander, attacks on the dignity of my character? Can I bear to be thought of in a different way than I think of myself? Can I accept being wronged? Can I accept it without railing at it? Can I go to slaughter without resistance? Can I keep humility, if I am wronged, without welling up with pride that knows my innocence? Can I bear being misunderstood and presumed upon? Can I bear it from brethren, and not only from the world? If I cannot, am I not then right in saying, “I am guilty.”?

St. Paul: To Thessaly

The Holy Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians.  First Epistle. Chapter 5.

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.


And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;  And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

Brethren, pray for us.

Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

St. Paul to Ephesus

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;

And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;

Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.

Be not ye therefore partakers with them.


For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light:

(For the fruit of the Spirit [is] in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)

Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them].

For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.

But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.

Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord [is].

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

–          The Holy Apostle Paul to the Church at Ephesus

Ringing in the New Year

I am not going to say that it is a sin to celebrate the beginning of the year with one’s countrymen. Personally, I do not keep the New Year; I don’t care for holidays (holy days) that aren’t actually kept in the liturgical cycle of the Church. In point of fact, there are some reasons for this: it isn’t the beginning of the Orthodox year (Sept. 1) and, given that we already keep different dates for Holy Pascha and (if on the traditional calendar) a different date for Holy Nativity, I’ve become comfortable with not keeping step with the West in the observance of time. If you do observe New Year’s Day, or more realistically, New Year’s Eve, with the West, fair enough. This in itself is certainly no sin; and if anyone does sin in its keeping, I regard them as still more worthy than I who sin all the time. But there are some things that need to be clarified about what is specifically Orthodox practice in the matter and what is not. …

Review: The Body

The Body is one of the component religion films in the current trend engineered to raise consciousness. It is weakened even in that task by its anticlericalism. Indeed, one gets the impression that its gnostic considerations – the possibility of faith apart from history – in this case Christianity without a risen Christ – are there merely to lure the viewer in to a trite lecture on clerical and ecclesiastical authority.

In the opening sequences of the film, the priest protagonist Father Matt Gutierrez is simultaneously indicated to be a devout Roman Catholic trusted by the Vatican and to maintain a Protestant anti-catholic ecclesiology. He immediately draws a dialectical distinction between the Church and the Faith. When asked to defend the one, he presumably corrects his superior by substituting the other. The film contrasts him with his Church by Cardinal Pesci saying that between Faith and Church there is no distinction. Immediately the direction, if not the general plotline, of the film is indicated:

We are given two choices – the one that opposes Church to Faith, and the one that fails to distinguish them. The premise is the old Augustinian one shared by Roman Catholic and Protestant alike: distinction equals opposition. There is no room in the film for a Faith distinct from the Church but not in opposition to it. The film concludes with an equivocation – faith for The Faith, ending up then on the Protestant side of its own dialectic. The protagonist, disillusioned with the stereotypical power-brokering of the Vatican, chooses his own “personal way”, and that is presumably a defense of The Faith and an indictment of The Church.

The pragmatic skepticism of the film’s ambitious Israeli bureacrat Moshe Cohen – ‘If Christ is found to be still in His tomb, Christianity may lose a few, but it will continue because religion is not about facts, it’s about human need’ is certainly a tired thesis. Christianity long ago answered that a need for something does not indicate its nature, cause, or reason for persistence. Choosing to explain a phenomenon in a particular way does not necessarily tell us these things; it tells us only about the one who is explaining.

The character’s view is in the film to represent a particular ‘common wisdom’ answer to religion as a generic total. What he and that ‘wisdom’ lack is the basic knowledge of the centrality of historical events, particularly the Divine Incarnation, to Christianity – unique in this way from all else that is called “religion”. If Jesus Christ was not God Incarnate, Christianity as such, will not continue. But the film does little to dispel the general theological ignorance.

Only the protagonist in the film seems to understand what is at stake in religious terms rather than psychological and political ones, and he is beset with the typically flippant theological ignorance of his counterpart and love interest (more on this) archeologist Sharon Golban, as she makes the most asinine comment of the drama, ‘Why is it such a big deal for you people if that’s Christ in the tomb? Isn’t it enough that he was a good moral teacher? Do you really have to have him rise from the dead too?’ We are granted the sense that the priest is frustrated with her failure to realize that the Incarnation, and specifically the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is indeed necessary to His very morality and teaching. The latter makes no sense without the former, presume as non-Christians and anticlericalists would to understand a Christless Christianity.

What we do not see is much discussion of this point. He stands alone, with even the stereotypical Richelieu-esque Vatican cardinals arguing only the power of the Church. Golban’s naivete is further underlined when she cries and sniffles out, ‘Why won’t they leave me alone’, when zealots begin throwing stones.

Moshe Cohen tells Father Gutierrez he selected the Roman Catholic Church to investigate the dig because it is the most formidable of the Christian confessions, but the film wouldn’t have had a plot if he’d gone to the mainline Protestant denominations, whose revisionism might have answered that the body is irrelevant; only the spirit is raised. The film recognizes that it is historic Christianity of which an “unrisen Christ” would spell “the end”, not each of its various revised and amended versions. What was at stake, as far as Father Gutierrez was concerned, was whether or not Jesus Christ was God. Implicit in that concern is that historic Christianity insists that to be the case. One wouldn’t get that from many of the religious revisionists. This recognition in Father Gutierrez’ constant confession that Jesus Christ is God is the film’s most interesting and substantive element.

The film is further weakened by the usual religious shock sequences. There is a brief scene where the heroine kisses our hero the priest, and he seems to succumb for a moment. There are earlier moments as clues this will happen – when he stands as close to her as might a lover; had he been a construction worker, she would have slugged him or called for help. The sequence does not succeed in shocking, or even being interesting. It is merely bowing to the formulae of the current religious film genre, in which one would place films like Dogma, The Passover Plot, Stigmata, and Original Sin, where priests as presumably icons of the sacred, are cursed at, spit upon, or sexed up. The genre hasn’t come farther than the Exorcist, or perhaps a more interesting film Stranger Among Us.

Incongruently Golban, among the closing scenes of the film expresses some faith in a quasi-Judaistic God. This warm fluff, if meant to leave the viewer all cuddly, succeeds only in undermining the heroine’s skeletal integrity of which the rest of the film took such great pains to convince us.

In light of these failings, relatively minor flaws include the complete absence of the Jerusalem Patriarchy of the Orthodox Church, which would at least have noticed such events. There were never enough guards around the tomb. The Romans had a whole legion or something like it there; Israel had two to four guys and sometimes none. And there were all the typical elements of a Vatican plot: secret diplomacy, cryptography, theft, cover-up, the vow of secrecy – enough for the paranoid right or for the suspicious left, but no one dared call it “conspiracy”. At best it was noted that a perceived Vatican coverup would weaken its standing. The question of conspiracy as Vatican policy was either presumed or ignored.

There are interesting parts – Father Gutierrez briefly arguing Talmudic hermeneutics with a venerable ‘Rebbi’, and being called Rabbi in return – it’s weird seeing a priest in a yarmulke; the stone-throwing fest by Orthodox Jews – they got in some really good shots; the economical use of pyrotechnics to terrorize a Palestinian shopkeeper – just enough to be scary in a “we were in your place and we can get to you” kind of way.

In all, Banderas does a decent job, until his attempts to be in-your-face at the Vatican with over-rated “You can’t handle the truth” remarks that wouldn’t even have earned him a burning during the Spanish Inquisition. The subject matter was interesting enough – an earthshaking archeological find – an explosion of religious and ethnic violence in a region where Judaism, Islam, and Christianity coexist. But the film descends into an anticlimactic couple of booms, a bit of scientific incompetence, and a vaguely fundamentalist conversion for its big statement.

Ecological Futility and the Incarnation

When I was younger I never wanted to hurt anything or for anything to be hurt. I tried to stop other boys from torturing bugs and shooting birds for amusement. As a young man I got into fights over another man’s treatment of his pets. My ignorance accounted for most of the harm I would do. I never realized what goes on in meat-processing plants, on large-scale production animal farms, and in laboratory tests. The gratuitous violence, the disregard for suffering; not pain that lasted just a moment like tearing off a bandage, not dumb oblivious deaths, but agonies which in human terms could only be called “torture” stretched out over days, months, years. I never saw what happens at the circus when the paying customers aren’t around. I never realized the incredible quantities in which animals are killed for only a fin, a claw, a hand, a head, a tail, their feet. I never knew what chemicals we’ve pumped into the animals on our farms and the grotesque distortions and mutations that result, and their resulting agonies. I hadn’t yet been abroad – in places where our slaughter methods look incredibly humane, where dogs are beaten severely to increase the adrenalin in the meat.

Dialogue: Religion, Science, & Human Sacrifice

But science is a humane undertaking. It is religion that is responsible for immense human suffering.

One word: vivisection.

You’ve got to allow that we’ve made some progress. It’s not like we do that anymore.

Two more words: human testing.


The Department of Energy’s radiation experiments. MKULTRA. Eugenics. Tests on POW’s.

OK. But those are isolated events.

Really? How many isolated events does it take to make a pattern?

OK. But they’re the result of a few quacks here and there throughout history…

Modern history.

Yes, modern history, and quacks who had access to power and misused it. But that doesn’t represent the ideals of science.

But you don’t grant this same reprieve to religion.

Oh, all right. Touche.

But the similarity stops there. You haven’t accounted for the unique guilt of science in that it has placed itself above human life while claiming to serve human life. It is doctrinaire science as a law unto itself – every bit the modern surrogate for religion – that has more or less consistently argued in favor of man’s destruction by degrees, and the horrible irony is that it does this presumably as a means to serve man. There is an underlying premise at work there, and that is why it pops up rather consistently, and the quacks are consistently taken seriously by presumably the best minds in the so-called scientific community. Read the AMA journal for a taste of the latest – fetal harvesting and so on.

Granted, but I wouldn’t say man’s destruction is at stake. Perhaps that of a few men.

The Manhattan Project.

Well, I see your point.

Abortion on demand.


Operation Paperclip.


And how many men is “a few men”? How many can sanely be sacrificed for the good of how many others? Isn’t science’s arrogance far in excess of religion’s worst nightmare in that science, far from repudiating God, has replaced God with a priesthood of specialists.

I could say that the scientific crimes you mentioned were not serving science but proceeded only in the name of science. I would hardly call them a priesthood.

Yet they proceeded under the direction of the foremost scientific minds, with the support of the journals, the academies, and the blind faith of their cultural parishioners, caught up as they were in the ecstatic faith of progress, babbling like witchdoctors about how we should bring back the throwing of virgins into volcanoes to save the village or, if you prefer, how we should sacrifice this or that group of people presumably to save some other group of people, and how that is presumably compassionate. Religion, like science, may have been perverted, but it is religion that offers man the hope of repentance. It is religion that has achieved in so many cases, which are seldom cited, what science has proposed but only succeeded in mocking – human freedom, which is above all the freedom to exist. Romania and Poland are two good examples. There religion has been a civilizing force in the face of presumably scientific elitism.

And still people kill each other over religion in Northern Ireland.

Do you really believe that is over religion, or do you believe it is over politics which hasn’t the courage not to hide behind the name of religion.

Ah. You didn’t buy it when I said that about science’s quacks.

For good reason. At least those fighting over Northern Ireland have the decent honesty to frame their epithets in terms of raw power, however they toss around religious affiliation as the terminology of power. It is only in the press, after all, that the religious aspect is taken seriously by the chronically theologically illiterate.

I suppose. We should talk more on this.

I hope we will.

Good day then my dystopian friend.

Adieu then, True Believer.

Gaia and Animal Rights

It is easy to expose the weak underbelly of the “animal rights” idea. After all, the conception of “rights” is uniquely human, and so depends on humans to conceive of and apply to animals. It means that without humans, animals can have no rights, and so are subordinated to humans, having only the animal rights granted them by their human benefactors according to human interests and human concerns for self-preservation, enjoyment, etc. Ironically, the concept of “animal rights” accomplishes the opposite of what its advocates seem to be seeking. Rather than showing the innate value to ecology, it subordinates ecology (perhaps wholly) to man’s values and choices – ultimately to human utility.

It is then also  ironic and certainly disconcerting that so many who assert a “fundamental right to life” for veal – unborn cattle, reject any fundamental right to life for humans who have not yet emerged from their mothers’ wombs. The inconsistency begs the question: What is the source of rights? The tendency here is that rights derive from power, or might makes right. Some discerning animal rights activists note that from power comes responsibility, but this leaves the question unasked: Why does power demand responsibility rather than simple utilitarianism? From what ultimate power and benevolence does the principle derive?

One answer to this question has been the “Gaia” deity (Mother Earth) theology which (without going into the mythological and purely religious details) asserts that great damage has been done to the terran ecology by man. The earth is somehow suffering, as a result of man, from futility, and is somehow returning the favor. This is an easy theology to adopt when it compliments the widespread faith of nihilism – belief in the futility of absolutely everything. It begs the question though: What are intelligence and volition, and how are they measured? Cause and effect are one thing, but a soul is another. Deifying the earth that one holds as ultimate value is essentially totemism; that’s fine, but it is a far cry from a genuine answer. If, as pantheism suggests, it is creation that is divine, why the persistent futility? The question becomes also: what is divinity? The Gaia myth also, however, identifies key human concerns  which it may be possible to address in other if similar terms.

Debunking “animal rights” and “Gaia” arguments has two pitfalls: 1) that of  a merely reactionary mentality – casual about suffering and uncompassionate, 2) that of rejecting the arguments without getting at the basic problems being identified, however not solved, by these ideologies. Set over against the “animal rights” and “Gaia” thinking is the most powerful force in Western thought, Latin and Protestant Christianity.

So often there has been a failure on the part of this force to at once adequately explore the identity of man with the rest of nature, to posit an adequate basis for the unity of all of creation, and to preserve the unique identity of man with God, man’s singularity among creations in the image and potential likeness of the Creator. This dilemma, as Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer correctly observed, has led to a concentration on the identity of man and God at the expense of the rest of creation, and so to a theoretical ethical vacuum which must necessarily be filled with the ideas of Christianity’s nemesis, Monism and its practical expression in Gnostic Paganism, even if those ideas are not only inadequate but carry attendant faults every bit as dangerous as the Western Christian ideas have proved destructive. Certainly the risk of greater inhumanity results from the blurring of the distinction between man and animal and the alienation of man from the moral perfection of the Creator.

It is possible, also that the best formulation of a morality of ecology is found not  in a dialectical oppsosition to the Christian tradition, but rather within it. Eastern Orthodoxy argues that the Incarnation accomplished not only the deification of man, but  the deification of ecology as well.

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