Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Plea to Ignore the "War on Christmas"

Around this time of the year certain sectors of the ostensibly Christian community will start getting really worked up about the "War on Christmas". My earnest plea to any Christian of any sort that might read this is: please, please, please don't make a fuss about this. It's really not worth it. From a Christian perspective, properly speaking, there's only one important thing: union and communion with God. That's it. That's the point, the end, the telos, the goal, the whole enchilada.That's the only thing that matters. Everything about being Christian, the prayers, the church-going, the fasting, the icons, all of it is aimed at union and communion with God. So everything you do should be done with that in mind. So when your local sales clerk says "Happy Holidays" and you want to make an issue of it, ask yourself: does what I'm about to do help or hinder this person and other persons in attaining to union and communion with God? Is this bringing them closer to Christianity, which you and I believe is best for their souls? Or is it painting Christians as a bunch of dickbags? If it's the dickbag outcome, maybe you had best not make an issue of it.

Having said that, I can already anticipate the response: "We can't just act to please other people. Where does that lead us? It leads us to watering down the faith to please humans, that's where." And, do you know, I agree that we can't just act to please people. But if we're going to piss people off, we should piss people off for good reasons. We should use our time for profitable things. Imagine if all the effort put into making sure everyone says "Merry Christmas" was used to battle the porn industry, or  was poured into prison ministry, or some such?

I'm also not suggesting we shy away from making objective claims. We can and should joyously tell the world that God has, in an act of incredible love, taken on the nature and form of His own creature. We don't have to be postmodern about it. But there are better ways of sharing this wonderful news then angrily organizing coalitions to make sure the local supermarket clerks say "Merry Christmas".

Besides, there isn't actually a war on Christmas. There are a lot of people who don't like Christians, fair enough. Some of them don't like Christians for reasons related to the Christian reaction to the whole wretched "Happy Holidays" issue. But I have trouble believing there's a bunch of people out there who have assembled together with the mission of taking down Christmas. It'd be a losing battle anyway, reactionaries or no reactionaries. Christmas isn't going anywhere, I'm quite sure.

Glory be to God, who, in His unfathomable love, has brought healing to mankind through His glorious Incarnation! Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Taking Socrates's Advice Seriously

Socrates was a big fan of admitted what we do not know. In fact, he claimed that most of what made him wise was the fact that he was always fully aware of the limits of his own knowledge, and the fact that he was willing to admit to these limitations.

 Following this, I have recently been attempting to only have opinions on those things I actually know something about. I've largely stopped having political opinions as a result of this. After all, people go to school for years to study economics and political science. What makes me think that I can intelligently comment on such matters because I watch The Daily Show and read every once in a while? I haven't the slightest clue if Obama's policies will work out or not, so I choose not to pretend as if I do.

But I have found that I have a great many opinions about things I know nothing about. I've been reading about the phenomenon of fandom for my Mass Media class. Once upon a time I had strong opinions about people who would dress up and go to Star Trek conventions, most of them negative. In retrospect, I had, and have, very little experience with those individuals and that kind of behavior. What makes me think I can evaluate their actions? This recent trend in my thought has been most freeing. I find that the fewer opinions I have, the less I have to be stressed about. I would encourage my readers, for the sake of their own wellbeing, to do their best to dispense with any opinion of theirs that is not based on adequate experience and information. If you are anything like me, you will be surprised to find how many of your opinions are of this kind.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Unforgiving God of Protestantism

I should provide an immediate caveat: talking of "Protestantism" is a difficult thing. So many Protestants believe so many things that attempting a general address to all of them is nigh impossible. This is primarily directed toward those Protestants who subscribe to what is called the Penal-Substitution Theory of atonement, or else understand the atonement primarily in legal or financial terms. Having gotten that out of

It seems to me that when many Protestants speak of God forgiving sins they use the term "forgive" in a way quite foreign to its normal usage. I will first examine this matter from what might be called the "financial" imagery of atonement. Every time someone speaks of our "debt" to God, and of Christ paying that debt, they are using this imagery. Likewise, every time a pastor uses the analogy of someone paying off a speeding ticket in our stead or some such, this too is financial imagery, albeit intertwined with legal imagery.

The financial imagery is problematic because it fails to have God actually forgive anything. For there is an important difference between having a debt paid and having it forgiven. If someone else pays off my student loans then none speak of those loans as having been forgiven, and they ought not to because that is not what forgiveness means. Forgiving someone a debt means taking a loss, as in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant wherein the King forgives the servant his debt, and that debt is simply never paid, or at least that is what was going to happen before the servant failed to forgive another. To reiterate: forgiveness of a debt means the debt goes unpaid.

Switching to more legal terminology I still find no forgiveness. For if it were possible in our society for another to, for example, serve a prison sentence in our stead, it does not appear that the criminal is thereby forgiven, but that the sentence has been removed from him and shifted to another. If a friend does me wrong and I forgive them, then I seek no recompense from them, much less from someone else.

So this poses a problem: it seems to divorce rather drastically what it means for you or I to forgive someone, and what it means for God to forgive someone. For some that might not be so much of an issue, but I think we ought to be wary of distinguishing so utterly between God and man. We are made in His image, and therefore we bear similarities to Him. To simply cross our arms and say: "God is so far from us that of course His forgiveness is radically different from ours" is to not give due attention to linkage between God and man.

Now, another caveat is helpful here. People may, and the Church historically has, employ both legal and financial imagery. They are useful ways for beginning to get a grasp on the Crucifixion. However, problems arise when analogy is pushed too far, and I feel that this is precisely what so many Protestants have done: take an analogy and say "This is, more or less, exactly what it is like." The Penal/Substitution theory is essentially a codification of the legal/financial imagery.

Having said all that, I must insist that in order to maintain a proper understanding of atonement and the Crucifixion and Resurrection we must treat the financial/legal analogies properly, which is to say: as analogies, and certainly not the only ones we have.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Degradation of Feminine Beauty by Immodesty

It's far too easy to sound curmudgeony and super-conservative when bitching about standards of modesty. People who know me would say that I am hardly guilty of the latter, while drastically losing a battle to the former. I shall just have to do my best.

It hardly needs to be said that the United States, and the world, has lower standards of modesty than ever before. Clothes be tighter and cover less, year after year, at least in some sectors of the fashion world, incomprehensible system that be. Why this is baffles me. Some might say that the less-covering clothes are better in a hotter clime, such as is present during summer. But I would note that some of the hottest regions of the earth, specifically the Middle East, have historically, and even to a certain degree contemporarily, maintained quite modest garb, even overly modest garb. This could be linked to a certain amount of over-emphasis on modesty present in certain forms of Islam, but the clothing styles insisted upon in fundamentalist Islam are largely, if not entirely, based on pre-Islam clothing forms. Of course such covering garb is practical only in hot and dry climates, and most tropical climates have used decidedly less clothing. But this lack of clothing was accompanied by a completely differing understanding of physical attraction. What we have done today is take ancient Hawaiian modesty standards and combined them with a dramatically over-sexed worldview. 

Almost paradoxically this has in fact had a negative effect on feminine beauty. Oh women are attractive enough nowadays, but more and more they are attractive in the way deep-fried snickers are attractive. But attractiveness is different from beauty. Beauty is appreciated, attractiveness is used. Beauty is good whether anyone sees it or not, attractiveness is wasted without an admirer. 

So I implore us all, men and well as women, to be modest in our attire, so that we can attain to real beauty.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

To Kill

The earliest Christians, by and large, were pacifists. There is no way around this. To say otherwise is simply to not take history very seriously. Numerous early Christian writers, both clergy and laymen, made it very clear that taking the life of another human simply was not something a Christian ought to do. If we think of sin  properly it becomes difficult to see how killing could ever be anything other than a sin: which is to say that killing is damaging to the human soul. We were not made for killing, and making ourselves kill is as bad an idea as putting diesel fuel in my Impala. A great many soldiers would say the same thing, after experiencing the...there is no words for it...the...thing that war is. Of course, even within the Church allowances have been made. It is not inconceivable that one would be put in a situation were killing was the least damaging thing you could do to your soul. Nonetheless, I think that serious consideration must be given to the idea of Christians killing. Too easily do we dismiss the matter as a given. Largely this stems from our own discomfort: we do not like to think about it seriously lest we come to conclusions we dislike. We want to be able to kill if it comes down to it. We want to be able to execute that bastard for what he did. But what we want matters little in this matter.

More will be said about this later, but something important to consider is a painfully obvious question: can you love someone and kill them? 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Consider the Cat

Consider the cat: the cat does not labor so that it may enjoy itself, the cat lies down so that it may enjoy itself. The cat requires string and sunlight and food and water and shelter. The cat that has these is happier, I imagine, than I ever have been. See how it languidly stretches. But do not confuse leisure with laziness, to paraphrase B. Franklin. For see how the cat hunts. The cat is happy because it knows how to move and how not to move. We, on the other hand, have mostly forgotten both. We have forgotten how to live.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Who are these people?

Erin has this book lying around, a kind of self-reflection journal thingy. It's essentially a book that makes suggestions for lists, lists of all kinds of things. She and I decided to fill several of them out together. One in particular sticks in my mind: People from History You Would Most Like to Have a Conversation With. As I was filling it out I began to ponder the prompt. What precisely do you mean "People from History"? Are we not all in history? Perhaps we will not have biographies made of us, but we are in history nonetheless, I feel. Still, I think I know what they meant. Essentially: famous dead people. Following that I was going to put Jesus down, but 1. it felt too easy, 2. I don't think He's dead, 3. I can have a conversation with Him,  and it is only my own fault that I deprive myself of this great pleasure. Then I went to put some saints down, but then I remembered that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, and the saints are alive in a fashion not terribly dissimilar from Christ. And then I thought, really, who am I to say if anyone else I might put down is not also sharing in that blessed state? So I gave up pondering and decided that my rules would be 1. famous, too a certain extent, and 2. is dead in more or less the traditional sense. Number 2 still gave me pause with the saints, but I went ahead anyway. My list, as if you should care, in no particular order:

Martin Luther, St. Isaac of Syria, St. Seraphim of Sarov, Melchizedek, Morihei Ueshiba, Mark Twain, C.S Lewis, and a few others I cannot remember. I think I put down Einstein, but that seems too easy now. And some of these, I admit, are less because of historical importance and more just because I think they'd be enjoyable to have a drink with (Luther, Twain, and Lewis). Oh, and Wittgenstein, I'll Wittgenstein too. 

Should any of the above pop in for a visit-- not so unlikely with the saints-- I'll be sure to let everyone know. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On Worship and Veneration

I first stepped foot into an Orthodox Church my freshmen year. I was an eager armchair theologian and was intensely curious, although I think I had already decided before I arrived that Orthodoxy was wrong. This is because I am an ass, and I struggle against the impulse to argue for the sake of proving others wrong. I walked away even more curious, but it took me another two or so years of floundering around before I realized that I couldn't be a Protestant anymore. Originally, however, one of my biggest issues with Orthodoxy,  more than Mary or the saints, was icons.

To those not introduced to the subject icons are images (I think the word icon is just a translation of the Greek word for image) that depict either holy persons or else events of great spiritual importance. Orthodoxy is big on them, and their churches and homes and cars and offices are filled with them. We (they?) pray before them, prostrate ourselves before them, kiss them, and venerate them. There have been times in Orthodox history when there have been major internal strife over the role of icons in worship, and those who sought to cast down iconography from its place have been called iconoclasts, the origin of that term. 

Originally, the whole thing looked too much like worshiping icons to me, too much like idolatry. A great many casual observers probably think much the same. Years later I think I've come to understand where part of the problem stems from: we have lost a proper sense of what worship is, and so we confuse worship and veneration. We've made worship to mean: too say nice things about x, and to act as if x is important. In a sense, if that is what worship means, I could see how people would think the Orthodox worship icons. Then and again, if that is what worship means then a good many Protestants worship C.S. Lewis. The secret here is not that the Orthodox Christians solve the problem by devaluing veneration, but by meaning something by "worship" that is so very lofty that, properly understood, it could never be confused with veneration. Orthodox Christians honor icons, but they (we? WHAT AM I?) seek to be united to God. Of course I am still not completely sure what worship is, but I accept that it is something profoundly different from what Orthodox Christians offer to icons.

 As I just said, I still have a lot to learn, but I've come to understand, mostly, the importance of icons. It has been said that they are "windows to heaven", that they do with color what Scripture does with word. We venerate them not in their own right, but because of what they depict, and because of the greater spiritual reality revealed by them. In the Orthodox church, surrounded by icons of the saints, we know that we are, truly, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The whole of the gospel is before me at once. Immersion is the experience that one feels in an Orthodox Church. We are not supposed to examine our theology from a distance, but to be plunged into it. And it's only there that we can really know it. That is why icons are so important.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What I'm up to

So I just moved into an apartment. It's a really nice apartment actually, nice setup all around. All though there are fees and such popping up that I had not anticipated ($150 just to get the electricity transferred to my name, because I've never had electricity under my name before, which I get I get, but still.) 

Anyway, stressing out about that. But hey, life goes on.

Btw, I've taken to writing a series of martial arts guides. I should get photos on them soon. Only two up so far, but there will be more. If you know someone who is interesting in martial arts, pass them along.

Peace, Corey.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We Know Nothing of God's Justice

I am always terribly unimpressed whenever arguments are proffered to me using God's justice as a premise. Justice doesn't change men's hearts, only love. And, lo and behold, we see, eventually, that God in fact is love.There is nothing just about the Crucifixion, no justice to be found in Christ's actions. Justice is unimpressive. Justice demands repayment, love accepts persecution. We hope never in God's justice, only His love. St. Isaac said it better than I ever could. It was sort of his thing.

"Mercy and justice in the same soul is like the man who worships God and idols in the same temple. Mercy is in contradiction with justice. Justice is the return of the equal. Because it returns to man that which he deserves and it does not bend to one side neither is it partial in the retaliation. But mercy is sorrow that is moved by grace and bends to all with sympathy and it does not return the harm to him who deserves it although it overfills him who deserves good. … And as it is not possible for hay and fire to be able to exist in the same house, the same way it is not possible for justice and mercy to be in the same soul. As the grain of sand cannot be compared with a great amount of gold – the same way God’s need for justice cannot be compared with his mercy. Because man’s sin, in comparison to the providence and the mercy of God, are like a handful of sand that falls in the sea and the Creator’s mercy cannot be defeated by the wickedness of the creatures."

"Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. 'He is good', He says 'to the evil and to the impious.' How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers?...How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? Where, then, is God's justice, for while we are sinners Christ died for us!"
"We know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.”
—St. Isaac of Syria

(Note: I am criticizing a distinctly Western defined concept of justice. The term sometimes used in such a way that I have no qualm with it.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Road thus Far

I have a feeling that I did not capitalize that title quite right...ah well.

So I am finishing up my junior year college....


Where the hell did the last three years go? Seems like I just graduated high school. Anyway...feeling....something....wistful? Is that the word? Maybe. But I feel like writing, that I know.

I've learned a good many things in college, some more important than others, and most of the important things I did not learn in a classroom. Please allow me the great privilege of sharing with you a few of these things.

1. The human collection of knowledge is no where near complete. Growing up I was possessed of the feeling that science was drawing to a close. The cosmos had been mapped, the human person decoded, history demystified. This is a load of bunk. We know the surface of the moon better than we know the bottom of the ocean. We are not sure why humans sleep or how memory works. Last I checked we still weren't completely sure why ice is slippery or exactly how bicycles work. We discover new species all the time, and only 2 million out of a potential 30 million species have been documented (people argue about how many species there are in total). Also, the bloop:, the antikythera mechanism:, and--classically--Stonehenge, regarding which we still have little clue as to how it was constructed. There is an unbelievable amount that we do not know.

2. People lying is far less of a problem then people telling what they honestly believe to be the truth. Sometimes people straight up lie, and that's tricky and depressing and so forth. But, far ickier, is when two or more people all proclaim precisely what they believe to be the truth, but those accounts are either contradictory or unrelated.  This kind of situation can quickly devolve into a backbiting hell of confusion and strife. Try and avoid this kind of thing at all cost.

3. Humans are messed up, waaaay more than you'd think at first glance. Some of us are fortunate enough to be in situations that are conducive to getting better, many of us are not.We are a fearful bunch. Afraid of being known and afraid of not being known. Afraid for each other, afraid of each other. Afraid of losing our stuff. Afraid of being fat, afraid of being useless, afraid of not being fulfilled, afraid to try anything fulfilling, afraid afraid afraid. We are blind, we are deaf, and we hurt so much. And if you don't hurt you probably chalk that up to your own cleverness, or your own moral integrity. We buy into the bullshit machine of life--me too-- because it's safe. We have no love, not really, because it feels so good to hate. And hating allows you to fool yourself into believing that you're not really like the person you hate. But you are. Different parents, different neighborhood, different friends and you likely are. Hate on others and you might just hate the person you were fortunate enough not to be.

Few other things...these are the ones that come to mind. I have a paper on contradictions to write however. God save us all.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Universality of the Orthodox Church

Quick post. A good friend of mine explained to me that the Tradition of the Orthodox Church acts like a fence. It keeps us within a safe doctrinal area, to the benefit of our souls . But, and this is important, it's a rather big fence. E.G.....

all the way too....


Thursday, April 26, 2012

On the Structure of the Orthodox Church

After taking some brief time to study and work on finals and such, I am now able to find a moment to continue my little series on why I am turning Orthodox. This post isn't very well written, but I want to get write something before finals week is over. Reason numbah...well. I don't know. Anyway: The Structure of the Church.

We spent a little time in Theo class this year going over church governance, and the varying ways that's arranged throughout the world: congregational, presbyterian, episcopal, non-governmental, etc. The Orthodox Church takes a high-church view of things. Patriarchs at the top, down through bishops and priests and deacons, etc. (I'm still figuring it out, Metropolitans go in there somewhere). And this structure affords the Orthodox Church many benefits. As they lack any single governing figure over the whole church a certain kind of theological balance is maintained. At the same time, the top-down structure enables effective governance. Priests can be moved to a parish or removed depending on the needs of the congregation there, bishops can offer correctives to churches, discipline can be enforced if need be, and things can be kept running smoothly. And since, if you're Orthodox, there is only one Church, it's not like you can just up at leave and start your own parish.

Of course, growing up Protestant, I know the anti-authoritarian church rhetoric by heart. Somehow, almost by osmosis, we absorb a good deal of information regarding the horrors that can be brought about by an powerful church structure, more or less all of it pulled from the Reformation-era Catholic Church. And of course abuses do happen, here and there, but in my searching I haven't been able to unearth many of them within the Orthodox Church, and I cannot rightly speak for the Romans, who likely have their own view on these things. Moreover, and with a regularity that astounds me, as I read the lives of the saints it appears to be a bit of a thing for people to straight up run away when asked to be a priest or bishop or the like. St. Augustine had a particularly memorable ordination: essentially he was cornered by a boisterous group of people and forced to become a priest, and he only acquiesced with tears in his eyes. Ultimately, we trust that God will preserve His Church, and that the Holy Spirit will guide us in selection the clergy. Sometimes mistakes are made, but these are not enough to destabilize the unity of the One Holy Catholic (universal, to the unfamiliar) and Apostolic Church.

I leave you with this:

"An acquaintance of Monk John once met him on a train in Serbia. When asked his destination, Monk John replied, "I'm going to straighten out a mistake. I've gotten a letter meant for some other John whom they intend to make a bishop." The same person met him again on his return journey and asked if he had been able to resolve his problem. John answered, "The mistake is much worse than I thought: they did make me a bishop."" (Brady, John. "Orthodox Saints Commemorated in July ."Orthodox Saints and Feasts. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr 2012. <>.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Different Logics for Different Situations

This will get a tad rambly.

I'm in an advanced logic course at the moment, and it's done tremendously well at getting me to think of the world in new ways. The issue logicians are dealing with now is creating a formal system of how logic works without getting icky results. We had this great symbolic logic that we now refer to as Classical Logic, but we found out that it has icky things. In Classical Logic the following is a true statement: "If I am the King of France, then the moon is made of green cheese.". Obviously icky, and there are more troubles with it that I won't go into detail about. So everyone is working frantically in the logic world to come up with ways to fix the problem. Of course we often run into issues where we have to decide what we want to keep. The other day we studied a system that regained disjunctive syllogism (either A is the case or A is not the case) at the expense of transitivity (if A therefore B, and if B therefore C, therefore if A therefore C). It gets messy.

On of the ways people try and solve some of these issues is by accepting true contradictions, so that A both is and is not the case. I may or may not agree with this at the end of this week (I'm writing a paper on it), but some of the common applications don't seem to hold much weight with me. The liar paradox is one usual example.

"This sentence is false."

That's the liar paradox. It's pretty obvious what the issue with it is: if its true it's false, if its false it's true. Some people want to say that its both true and false. (Others want to say that its neither true nor false). But this post really isn't about getting into that either, although what it is about will have implications for it.

No this is about the idea that different logics might apply to different situations. I think this is the case. My Professor cringes a bit whenever anyone mentions the idea, and he is considerably more intelligent than me, but there you are.

For this we need to get into the differences between the truth of the world and the truth of propositions.

There is a book on my desk. There is the fact that there is a book on my desk, and so I can say that it is true that there is a book on my desk, and by that I mean that there is in fact a book on my desk. Okay.

Now. "There is a book on my desk." That statement is either true or false. The statement happens to be true. Notice however, that the truth of the fact is distinct from the truth of the statement. Of course the truth of the statement is contingent upon the truth of the fact, but they are distinct things. (Once more: the fact that there is a book on my desk is different from the truth of the statement "there is a book on my desk.")

Actually, come to think of it, truth isn't really a thing we even worry about until statements come into play. The world isn't about truth as some property that things have. There is not "truth" in my desk or my book. The world doesn't have anything to do with "truth", the world just has to do with what is, and what is is that there is a book on my desk, and what is is that the book is not on the floor. What I'm getting at is that truth isn't even something in the world, its just something that applies to statements. And we call a statement true if it is a statement that accurately describes the aspect of the world it claims to describe.

So, does the liar paradox accurately describe the aspect of the world it proclaims to describe? That is, does the lair paradox accurately describe itself? Well the issue, it seems to me, is that the liar paradox is trying to mix two distinct realms, if you will. The realm of propositions and the realm of the world, and its trying to act as if the truth of propositions is the same thing as the "truth" of of the world. We could work into our language something about how statements aren't allowed to be self-referential (it would solve a few problems), but we haven't. But let's say we did. Problem solved. If it doesn't follow the rules of our language, it fails to actually say anything, and meaningless propositions aren't worrisome. But we've included in our language the capacity to make contradictions. Whoop-di-do. Yay us. Hey, I have a grand idea.

New word: Blarg.

Defnition: adj. something that is Smarg and is not Smarg.

The book on my desk is Blarg according to the new language I just invented (It's the same as English but has the words Blarg and Smarg in it, and accompanying rules of grammar.)

Yay me, I've made a contradiction on my desk, but with a conspicuous lack of black holes or horrifying monsters from other dimensions.

Point of all this: The logic of how language works might just not correspond to how the logic of the world works, and probably doesn't. And there very likely could be other cases where differing logics apply.

New Blog

Woot, blog is up.

Anyway, finals week is upon us, and I love it. Why? Because most of my classes don't have real finals, and free soda is in the barn. It's the little things man.

Here there be Humans

We come into this world shrieking and confused, and we go out of it in much the same way. Knowing nothing, connected only by illusions, seeking with blind and dull senses, understanding with a dim and insufficient mind, flailing about in sound and fury, anxious, afraid, angry, suspicious, jealous, prideful. Believing that truth is out there, but always just beyond our grasp. Believing that without that truth we are damned. Mocked by a God that dangles just enough hope before our eyes to make the pain all the greater, leaving us desolate at the last, unable to love, if love is a thing. Painful to live but oh so terrified to die. Hoping that the way we live is the way that will lead to happiness, but always concerned that it is not, and if we see a better way, unable to bring ourselves to pursue it. Darkness, and torture, and then...a speck of light, a bit hope, a handhold, a floating bit of debris that we can cling to in this turbulent sea. But the light is the flash of a muzzle, the hope is a sham, the debris is rotted and weak. And so we fall back again, tired of fighting but terrified of what would happen if we gave up.

More Specifically, Belgrade Beckons

As was pointed out, since I attend a Serbian Orthodox church it makes more sense for Belgrade to beckon me, being the home of the Serbian Patriarch. Anyway, more on why I am becoming an Orthodox Christian. Again, none of these stands alone as the reason.
An important aspect of my decision is the connection of the Orthodox Church to the historical church. Whatever it was the earliest Christians believed it may be safely assumed to be the faith immediately passed on to them by the Apostles, and I believe the Orthodox Church is the church of the early Christians. The difficulty with maintaining that Protestantism is the true faith is that one is forced to maintain that the true faith essentially vanished shortly after Christ's Ascension and then reappeared with Martin Luther. As early as 311 AD the Virgin Mary was described as "ever-virgin", the organization of the church (bishops, priests, etc.) was in place by at least 67 AD, and, baptism for the remission of sins-not as a merely symbolic act- was in place by 381 AD, and so on. I should mention that these are merely documented mentions that I am aware of, and I believe that their acceptance by the church was in place much much earlier.
If the Protestant understanding of Christianity is true, then there were essentially no Christians from, at the very latest 400 AD (the Nicene Creed had been formed and the Three Holy Hierarchs had finished their writings, although I suppose John Chrysostom could have written something in his remaining seven years. Close enough. The beliefs espoused by the mentioned documents were, I believe, already widely accepted beforehand, but 400 AD makes for a convenient benchmark) all the way to about 1517 AD (the day Luther posted his 95 theses). And indeed some denominations have held that the church in fact did cease for a time. I find this, at best, extremely questionable.
Even if one wants to push my 400 AD date up you will still have to put it back far enough that the church will be nonexistent for a good length of time. The only way to get around this would be to postulate that Protestants were hanging out in secret churches for hundreds of years with nobody knowing about it, and I can't think of anybody that maintains that view.
To be fair to all readers, I grant that the above is merely an argument for Orthodoxy over  Protestantism, not for Orthodoxy above Roman Catholicism. That, I admit, would require a theological and historical knowledge base that I simply do not have. I should also mention that certain Protestant groups maintain a baptism for the remission of sins and have a church hierarchy at least vaguely like Orthodoxy, so the aforementioned topics wouldn't concern them. However, the theological views of the Three Holy Hierarchs would concern them, and as those views were accepted church theology fairly early on, the issue stands. Interestingly though, Protestant believers with a high church theology and strong sacramental tendencies make up a pretty high percentage of Orthodox converts. There are tales of whole Anglican churches up and converting to Orthodoxy all at once, although I can't back those up with documentation.

Constantinople Beckons

So, I've decided to become an Orthodox Christian. If you don't know what that is, that doesn't really surprise me. Somehow I, despite years of enthusiastic armchair theology during my middle and high school years, never found out about its existence. Maybe I heard it mentioned a few times, but if I did I probably thought it was just a form of Catholicism. Anyway, so the next couple of posts are going to roughly document how I came to this decision. These will most certainly not be chronologically arranged.
Anyhoo I get to college and hey, I meet this one guy and he's wearing this funny shaped cross.
Yeah, that's the one. And so I ask him what's up with the cross and he tells me that its an Orthodox cross. (The extra lines-extra to Catholics and Protestants anyway-are the sign at the top of the cross-the "King of the Jews" one- and a board nailed to the cross to which Christ's feet were nailed. The bottom board was not, I think, slanted in reality, but it is tilted to symbolize that one thief rose to paradise while the other went to hades.) So I get to be friends with this guy throughout this complicated nonsense I was going through at the time. I go to his church a few times, and hey, its cool and all but musically I thought the chanting wasn't that great (which isn't a stab at the chanters of that church, I just didn't like how chanting sounded.) and the veneration of the icons was off putting and the Ever-Virgin Mary thing was too Catholicy for me. So I stopped going.
Fast forward a year and a half or so and I'm attending a Greek Orthodox church on and off. Why I'm not sure actually, can't remember how that decision was made. But I've spent all this time studying theology, because I was a theology major. And, ya know, I'd come to like a lot of things about the Orthodox church. Orthodox Theology is uber merciful and handles sin realistically. So its cool, but ya know, I think its just one thing among many. Moreover, I'd come to hang out with Orthodox people a good bit and I became roommates with the aforementioned fellow. And they tend to be, ya know, pretty cool people all around.
By this time the seeds of discontent were in me. Years of studying Protestant theology were leaving a bad taste in my mouth. It just...somehow...didn't feel right. Somehow Protestant theology aimed at Christ but didn't quite reach Him. Although maybe it wasn't even the theology so much as the application. Protestant theology would say things like "love your neighbor as yourself", but then really not mean it. Somehow that got turned into: be decent to your neighbor, so long as their fairly decent back. Or we'd say "love everyone", but then exclude murderers and that one family member who really pisses us off and so on from the category of "everyone". Now this is, of course, a generalization. Of course there are Protestant people out there who really do hold to these doctrines as they should, and there are of course Orthodox Christians who don't do as they should. But somehow I couldn't shake the sensation that most Protestant churches-meaning the people, not institution- would say but not mean.  Protestantism was doing some good, obviously, but it wasn't doing enough. It wasn't taking sinners and making them saints.
So fast forward to a couple months ago. I'm can't even read my theology textbook anymore, because I'd have to put it down every few minutes to fume. I hadn't been going to a church. And, most importantly, I realized that I was, and still am, evil. And I wasn't getting any better. You can go ahead and laugh it off, or pretend like I'm being melodramatic. I'm not. I am evil, and I know it. ("if I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them."- From Abba Dioscorus) And I simply felt that Orthodoxy was the place that I would get better. Orthodoxy, you see, speaks of sin many ways, but one of the most emphasized ways is that sin is a disease, and the Church is the hospital. I needed, and need, to get healed. Christ is often referred to as the Divine Physician, come to cure the darkness of man. This is what called me: the hope of getting better. You may say that that can happen in a Protestant church as well.Perhaps, but this does not shake my faith that the Christianity of the Church Fathers is the best and truest place to heal sickness of the soul, and the only place to become what humanity was originally created to be.
I'll leave you with this: the straw that broke the camel's back. I began reading the lives of the Orthodox saints, the friends of Christ. And as I read their lives, their beliefs, their incredible humility and love, I was struck by the unshakable notion that here, here, at last, was Christianity. Whatever they were doing, they were doing it right.
"What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists."-St. Isaac the Syrian
Lord have mercy.

The Mind as Me

Just a reminder, in good part to myself, that your mind, your thoughts, are not you. Our minds will often try and convince us otherwise, but there you are.
I highly recommend the following video if you have the time:

The Inadequacy of the Penal Substitution Theory

I hate doing my theology homework. It's usually about forty to fifty pages of reading, which isn't that bad, but when I have to stop and put the book down and pace and think-and often fume-every three sentences the whole thing becomes laborious.
Anyway, we're on the theory of Christ's atonement tonight, and my affliction is doubly worse. I feel a heat in my chest and a pressure in my head and a twitch in my fingers and I do so sincerely hope that writing this will alleviate my troubles somewhat. Else I don't think I'll get the reading done.
Anyway, the penal substitution theory, broken down and thoroughly critiqued:
1. Human x has sinned, that is, had done something contrary to God's will. As such, human x now deserves to be punished,  and we'll start with that.
What does it mean that x deserves something? We mean, that, according to a particular rule system if x does y, then z will happen to x if the law is enforced. The particular rule system part is important. According to the rules of my college, if x drinks on campus, then x deserves y=fines or expulsion. This is why Rosa Parks deserved to be arrested in one sense, civil law at the time, and did not deserve to be arrested in another sense, God's law (if that's an accurate description of how God relates to humanity).
Now then, it is implied by the P-S theory that human x, having broken God's law, deserves to be punished according to God's law. But, why must God uphold the law? Say that God's law demands that I be punished, what compels God to uphold that law? Because he wants to? But then, if God merely punishes sin because he wants to, but he so loves the world that he desires that humans not be punished for their sin, then we have...well, a conflicted God for one. Both wanting to punish me and not wanting to punish me. Moreover, if it is simply a matter of God desiring to punish me, then if he therefore wants to forgive me surely it is within His power to simply forgive apart from any sacrifice. It could, of course, be the case that God just wants to go the long way and send Christ and have him die just to do what He could have done from up in heaven, but then we'd have a new question: why did God see it better to send Christ rather than just to do what he could have done from up in heaven? The reason for that will end up being the real reason for Christ's death, and his death won't have ultimately been about paying for our sins, but rather for demonstrating God's love or for setting an example for us, and I don't think we want to say that.
But other's perhaps want to say that God must enforce the law. Why? Because he is just they say. Just, that is, doing justice. But what is justice? It means....well....upholding the law I think? So...God upholds the law because he upholds the law? Okay, okay, let's just assume that that is part of God's nature, and God has to uphold the law just because. (It's funny that the same people biggest on preserving God's free will are also biggest on the things that God must do.) Let's roll with that.
So, there's God's law, which is a set of rules that God must enforce just because that's the way it is. Does God want to uphold the law? Evidently not, otherwise he would just punish the sinners and not send Christ, but evidently God is the kind of person who says "have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? "(Ezekiel 18:23) So...God's conflicted again? Forced to uphold the law by nature but desiring to not punish the wicked? Are we willing to say God is so split? Or perhaps the law itself dictates that we be given some measure of possible clemency? Very well, we will leave this alone for now.
So, human x sins. God's law, that he is forced to uphold, commands that human x be punished. Furthermore, God, either because the law commands it or because God doesn't want to uphold the law, decided to act to make it so that humans would not have to be punished. God evidently cannot or does not want to simply forgive humans without punishment. So God sends Christ to take the punishment for us. Evidently the law simply demands that there be punishment for sin, doesn't specify that it be to the sinner, which is weird but whatevs. So, Christ became human to suffer for our sins because the law of God demands that there be punishment for sin and God is forced to uphold the law just because.
But must there be punishment? What punishment, what sacrifice was there for the sins that Christ forgave on earth? Did not Christ simply forgive?
Also, the P-S theory has the problem of dividing the Trinity. Christ saves us, ultimately, not from our sins, but from God, who, like a man possessed, reaches out to smite what he only wants to love. And I am not sure if we want to so pit Father against Son.
Anyway, peace out. I'll clean this up later and add to it maybes.
P.S, Thanks to Joel for proofreading a bit.

The Art of Happiness

I have been considering happiness. How one gains it. I have…some guesses that I think are decent.
                Taking deep and serious pleasure from things that are not easily taken away, and are easily accessible, is a good way to start. I was walking along with an art major friend once, and every ten seconds she would have some joyous exclamation to make about the beauty of the world around us. And not just about the obvious, typical beauty, the sunset or the trees or so forth, although those were quite a sight. But also she expressed a kind of childlike pleasure at the sight of the shadows on the blacktop, or the light on a concrete curb. It a fifteen minute walk she had more things to be happy about than I do in an entire day. And this is not an easy pleasure to take from her. Short of imprisoning her or taking her sight, that joy is hers. No matter how poor she is or where she lives, she can always take a walk and have pleasure in the world around her.
                Why then, if such great and lasting joy is to be found so simply, do not more take advantage of it? For one thing, we are not trained to do so. We are conditioned to believe that joy is to be found in the exciting, the fast, the loud. Indeed, there is a certain kind of slight mocking made about those who are "easily amused." We see a child child spend ten minutes keeping a balloon up in the air we smile and nod and sort of unconsciously agree that someday that child will no longer be able to be so enraptured by a balloon. And if an adult were to do the same we find them rather odd. But…why? Why must we lose such simple fascination and fun? Imagine if we were able to find such joy in ten cent balloons.
                This will, as I have already mentioned, require a certain kind of…well, you'll need to not care so much if people think you're weird. I think you should be able to find the utmost depth and beauty in a sea rounded stone, but if you stare at a rock for an hour you'll get funny looks. And if you care altogether too much that other's find you odd, well, your attempts at finding simple joy will be inhibited.
                Anyway, go take a walk outside. Find something beautiful. Stare at it. Pay attention to all the little details. It will be boring as hell at first, but keep doing it. It's going to take some practice. After all, you're learning to experience the world in a different manner altogether. It'll take some time.

Felicitas per Passione Invenitur

The most common approach to suffering is to avoid it whenever possible, and to try and not feel it as much as possible when it find us. We flee from suffering like lambs before the wolf. Painkillers, therapists, various other methods of escape. But I'm not sure that this is the best response. We flee from suffering until we cannot, and when we find we cannot it usually is because it is the worst suffering we have ever encountered. And it destroys us, because we have not learned to deal with suffering. And when we flee from this suffering of ours we empower it. We offer it our backs, an easy target for it to slip a knife into our lungs. My dorm has been doing this little thing where we don't wear shoes. Even outside. In January. In Ohio. It hurts. But it's been getting better. The feet are becoming stronger, the flesh of my soles thicker. Soon it shall be no worse than if I had shoes on. And I need one less crutch to live happily. And if I lose my shoes, no real loss to me. By wearing shoes I escape pain, but when trial comes-I dunno, I end up homeless and my shoes fall apart- I set myself up for misery.
                This isn't to say that we should seek out suffering unduly. Temperance is wise in all aspects of life. But we do ourselves no favor, when faced from suffering to flee from it. Our bodies, and our souls, will be left soggy, weak, limp, and unable to cope with the tribulations of life. Suffering is something to be endured, to be grappled with. The Japanese have a practice called misogi, a ritual practice that describes a number of activities, but one of the most common is standing under bone chilling waterfalls to purify themselves. Various indigenous tribes have brutal manhood ceremonies.  Pain and suffering was once accepted as something to be faced down, as something one learned to deal with because it was unavoidable.  But today…well. Banning dodgeball at schools, and so forth. Hesitancy to use physical means as a behavior corrective. I find this trend unwise and impractical. Thankfully, it's something that it's not hard to do something about. Start small. Try not wearing shoes. That'll do.

Who we Are

The surest defense against depression of any kind, of any length, is to avoid being thoughtful. Not to be unintelligent, as the smartest of men can spend little time ruminating on life at large. Thoughtfulness is something different.
At any rate, most people will get through their lives believing that they're mostly decent, admittedly not perfect. Basically good. Some on the other hand,and I don't know how many, will hit a point where they realize that they're basically evil. Not disagreeable, or rude, or abrasive, evil. The only thing separating them from manson-esquery is a variety of psychological constraints, be they social or religious. When this happens it is humbling, and terrifyingly so. The ability to separate the world into "them" and "us" is one of our most valuable psychological defenses. It allows us to value ourselves. It lets us find a reason to like ourselves. Remove that, and we find ourselves scrambling for motivation. A great many actions that we take seem to have as a prerequisite that we not be monsters.
To tie the free will thing into this, I wonder how free our will is. I was thinking that it makes sense for "bad" people to go for the no-free-will angle, because it gets them off the hook a little. But then I realized that it makes equal sense for "good" people to go for the yes-free-will angle, because it means that they get to pat themselves on the back. Not only that, but the more free will we have the simpler the world is, because then when someone does something bad we can just file them away in the "bad-guy" file and forget about them, lock em up, etc. We don't have to think about how righteous our judgement of them is, or about what we could do to arrange society so that people would be less inclined to do such things, or (especially) how similar to them we really are. It makes for an easy life to be repulsed by Mr. Manson. It makes things so messy for Mr. Manson to be born to an unwed 16 year old that once reportedly exchanged him for beer, who was then sent to live with relatives when his mother was sent to jail, and then placed in a boy's school, which he later fled to return to his mother, who refused to take him in, and then began a life of petty crime, before so on and so forth. You will complain  that others endure similar treatment without doing what Manson did. True, but they have a different personality and a different psychological makeup. (Imagine an eqation, say 5y=x. The 5 represents a troubled childhood. They y is the individual psychological and emotional makeup of a person. X is the person's lifestyle. Manson's y is a 2. X is now 10. But 10 happens to be...well....cults and such. It's not a perfect illustration, because I like to think that free will does exist, and I'm not sure how to work free will into a mathematical equation, but you get the idea.)
But how does someone rise above this realization? How can they do...anything....when they walk around with the certain knowledge of their own exquisite cruelty and malice?  Their security blanket is gone. They have lost their ability to judge another, to stand apart. How awful. What can they do? What comfort is there for such a person? Myst they not surely drown in a sea of hatred for their own disgusting, repulsive, odious, sick, ravenous, petty, hungry, clawing, perverted, wrathful, unreasonable, lustful self? I wonder......

Working Society

I wonder if Americans work too hard and too much. I also wonder if I'm the right person to be thinking this. At the moment I hardly work at all. I've been looking for a job, but not a one has answered back so far, so I'm pretty lazy at the moment. Still....I'm aware that in much of Europe work isn't so hyped up as it is in America. (Think two or three hour lunches in France.) Here, the "Working Man" is a cultural icon of responsibility. We admire hard-workers, and well we should. But I would point out that work for the sake of work is not anything good. We tend to lean that way, but it's not.
When explorers first landed on Hawaii there was a clash of interest and culture. Companies moved in and tried to get the natives to work. The native's response? "Why?" The companies attempted to provide various reasons for doing so, but the native's just couldn't see their point. What could they want that they did not already have? This was unsettled Hawaii. If they were hungry they grabbed a piece of fruit somewhere, or they speared a fish. Shelter was easily made from local materials, and if a storm knocked it over, well they didn't take long to make. Clothes? They didn't wear much. The rest of the time they could surf, be with family, have sex, nap, whatever. Why on earth would they work?
Not that I have anything against ambition, or wanting to accomplish something, etc. etc. If you have a passion for a craft then of course it will take hard work to master it. But the focus is the craft, not the work, and we needn't idolize the work like we do. And in today's society working long hours at the office or wherever may be a necessity to maintain a serviceable lifestyle. But I ask my readers to see if they can learn something from the following story:
The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
"Not very long," answered the Mexican.
"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his
needs and those of his family.
The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs ... I have a full life."
The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help
you!  You should start by fishing longer every day.  You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.
"And after that?" asked the Mexican.
With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second
one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.  Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can  then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City!  From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."
"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.
"Twenty, perhaps 25 years," replied the American.
"And after that?" the Mexican asked.
"Afterwards? That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing.  "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"
"Millions?  Really?  And after that?"
"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."