The Inherent Violence of Modernity

The calm voice at the helm says, “Make it so…” and with it, the mantra of modernity is invoked. The philosophy that governs our culture is rooted in violence, the ability to make things happen and to control the outcome. It is a deeply factual belief. We can indeed make things happen, and, in a limited way, control their outcome. But we soon discover (and have proven it time and again) that our ability to control is quite limited. Many, many unforeseeable consequences flow from every action. If I am working in a very, self-contained environment, then the illusion of total control can be maintained for a very long time. If, say, I am building a watch, my actions and their results can remain on a desktop. However, when the scale of action begins to increase, the lack of true control begins to manifest itself. Actions on the level of an entire society or culture are beyond our ability to manage. A culture is not a very large watch.

But we think it is. That delusion lies at the very heart of the philosophy of modernity.

The arguments supporting the success of modernity are always misleading. The single desired effect (e.g. the end of slavery) is cited. But every unplanned consequence is ignored (the massive displacement of black families, etc.). Certain actions are extremely desirable (such as ending slavery), but every action carries its unforeseen cost. What tends to be the case is that the desired outcome is credited to our actions, while the unforeseen consequences are credited to “nature” (or some such thing). Modernity always wins, because it cooks the books.

The work of “making it so,” is always an act of violence. We take what is not so and force it to be otherwise. Whether it is the violence of a plow making a field suitable for planting, or the violence of creating a parking lot, human beings have formed and shaped their world by “making it so,” for all our existence. The field and the parking lot, as innocuous and innocent as they may be, also create consequences that were not part of the plan. The only means of dealing with these consequences are to employ more violence to alter things yet again (requiring yet more violence, ad infinitum), or to treat the consequences as an acceptable change.

In this sense, to be an active part of the world is to employ violence. We do not sit lightly on the surface of our planet. Most human societies across history, have made a moderate peace with the world in which they live, using forms of violence whose consequences have been well-enough tolerated and accounted for so as to be bearable. The rate of change in such societies was modest, and within the limits that a culture could easily accommodate.

Large and rapid change is another thing entirely. “Changing the world,” under a variety of slogans, is the essence of the modern project. Modernity is not about how to live rightly in the world, but about how to make the world itself live rightly. The difference could hardly be greater. The inception of modernity, across the 18th and 19th centuries, was marked by revolution. The Industrial Revolution, the rise of various forms of capitalism, the birth of the modern state with its political revolutions, all initiated a period of ceaseless change marked by winners and losers. Of course, success is measured by statistics that blur the edges of reality. X-number of people find their incomes increased, while only Y-number of people suffer displacement and ruination. So long as X is greater than Y, the change is a success. The trick is to be an X.

The ceaseless re-invention of the better world rarely takes stock of its own actions. That large amounts of any present ruination are the result of the last push for progress is ignored. It is treated as nothing more than another set of problems to be fixed. As the fixes add up, a toxic culture begins to emerge: food that cannot be eaten; air that cannot be breathed; relationships that cannot be endured; safety that cannot be maintained, etc. As the toxicity rises, so the demand for ever more action and change grows, and, with it, the increase in violence (of all types). The amount of our human existence that now requires rather constant technological intervention is staggering. The entire modern pattern of dating, marriage, family and procreation are impossible without chemical and biological intervention. There has been no “sexual revolution,” only the application of technology into one of the most all-pervasive and normal parts of human existence, creating an artificial aspect to our lives that rests on violence. The abortion of nearly one-third of all children conceived is but a single example. The foundations of our present society are built on doing profound violence to human nature. And this is but a single example.

It should be noted that I have not suggested some mode of existence that is free of violence. Human beings make things happen, as does most of creation. Modernity, however, is another matter. Its better world has no limits, its project is never-ending. What are the proper limits of violence? Are there boundaries that must not be crossed?

Modernity has as its goal the creation of a better world with no particular reference to God – it is a secular concept. As such, that which constitutes “better” is, or can be, a shifting definition. In Soviet Russia it was one thing, in Nazi Germany another, in Consumer-Capitalist societies yet another still. Indeed, that which is “better” is often the subject of the political sphere. But there is no inherent content to the “better,” nor any inherent limits on the measures taken to achieve it. The pursuit of the better (“progress”) becomes its own morality.

The approach of classical Christianity does not oppose change (there is always change), nor does it deny that one thing might be better than another. But the “good” which gives every action its meaning is God Himself, as made known in Christ. In classical terms, this is expressed as “keeping the commandments.” Those commandments are summarized in the love of God and the love of neighbor. There are other elements within the commandments of Christ that minimize and restrict the use of violence.

There is, for example, no commandment to make the world a better place, nor even to make progress towards a better world. The “better world” concept is, historically, a heretical borrowing from Christianity, a secularization of the notion of the Kingdom of God, translated into terms of progressive technology and laws (violence). Instead, the management of history’s outcomes is considered idolatrous. Only God controls the outcome of history.

My experience is that questioning our responsibility for history’s outcome will always be met with anxious objections that we would be agreeing “to do nothing” and the result would be terrible. Keeping the commandments of Christ is not doing nothing. It is, however, the refusal to use violence to force the world into ever-changing imaginary versions of the good.

I will cite a somewhat controversial example (all examples would be controversial, for modernists love nothing better than to argue about how to next use violence to improve the world). Consider the task of education. Teaching children to read, write and do numbers is not a terribly modern thing. It has been done for centuries, and, occasionally, done rather successfully. But the education industry (a subset of government) exists as an ever-changing set of standards, techniques, and procedures, whose constantly changing results occasion ever-increasing testing, change, control, management and violence to yield frequently lesser results. It has largely produced a cult of management and administration (the bane of every teacher’s existence). This example could be, mutatis mutandis, multiplied over the whole of our increasingly dysfunctional culture.

Sadly, as the results of modernity’s violent progress become more dysfunctional, the greater the temptation becomes to do more of the same. Every problem is greeted only with the question of how it might be fixed, with no one ever suggesting that the fixing of the world might be our largest problem.

Again, this is not an all-or-nothing thing. The classical world was not passive nor was there an absence of change. Modernity has chosen economics as the measure of the good, treating increasing productivity as the engine of progress and prosperity and the primary measure of a better world. Debates over the best means of driving such productivity, whether through command-and-control or passive market forces, have been the primary arguments within modernity.

There are many, many other goods that could be, and have been the measure of a culture. The only reason for using economic productivity is the false belief that material prosperity is the fount of all blessings. If we are rich enough, we will be happy.

At the very dark end of the spectrum, America’s philosophical assumptions have made it the servant of modernity-as-export where literal violence is the day-to-day result. Remaking the Middle East has not only failed (completely) but cost hundreds of thousands of lives, a large proportion of which were complete innocents. The resulting chaos has been, at best, a distraction from our unrelenting pleasure in the entertainment industry, though our wars have generated a very popular genre of video game. Violence itself has become a consumer product.

This picture of the modern world can, in the modern Christian mind, provoke an immediate response of wondering what can be done to change it. The difficult answer is to quit living as though modernity were true. Quit validating modernity’s questions. Do not ask, “How can we fix the world?” Instead, ask, “How should Christians live?” and give the outcome of history back to God.

How should we live?

  • First, live as though in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated into the world and the outcome of history has already been determined. (Quit worrying)
  • Second, love people as the very image of God and resist the temptation to improve them.
  • Third, refuse to make economics the basis of your life. Your job is not even of secondary importance.
  • Fourth, quit arguing about politics as though the political realm were the answer to the world’s problems. It gives it power that is not legitimate and enables a project that is anti-God.
  • Fifth, learn to love your enemies. God did not place them in the world for us to fix or eliminate. If possible, refrain from violence.
  • Sixth, raise the taking of human life to a matter of prime importance and refuse to accept violence as a means to peace. Every single life is a vast and irreplaceable treasure.
  • Seventh, cultivate contentment rather than pleasure. It will help you consume less and free you from slavery to your economic masters.
  • Eighth, as much as possible, think small. You are not in charge of the world. Love what is local, at hand, personal, intimate, unique, and natural. It’s a preference that matters.
  • Ninth, learn another language. Very few things are better at teaching you about who you are not.
  • Tenth, be thankful for everything, remembering that the world we live in and everything in it belongs to God.

That’s but a minor list, a few things that occur to me offhand. They are things that encourage us to live in a “non-modern” manner. It is worth noting that when Roman soldiers approached John the Baptist and asked him how they should live, he told them to be content with their wages and to do violence to no one. They were in charge of the world in their day – or so they could mistakenly think. My few bits of advice are of a piece with that beloved saint’s words.

200 comments:

  1. Fr. Barnabas,
    Glad you asked (I knew as I wrote this that someone would bring it up!). The “violence” (“enter the Kingdom by violence”) refers, of course, to energetic efforts such as asceticism, renunciation of property – and even(!), the refusal to violence to people! It is the violence of love, in which self-emptying is the tool. It is the opposite of the world’s violence.

    The world’s violence seeks to force the world and others to change. Note that Matt. 11:12 does not describe doing violence to the Kingdom in order to enter it, much less is there a hint that violence furthers, builds or establishes the Kingdom.

    Matt. 11:12’s “violence” is one of many statements that express the paradox of the Kingdom. Those who win, lose; those who lose, win. Etc. This violence is the violence of God – which does not force but loves.

    Even in creating the world – God does not “make” it. He says, “Let there be…” God’s creative work is an act of self-emptying. It is love.

  2. So very profound and true.
    Alas, it is and will be hard to shed the modern mindset, even for a Christian. I often see people who think fixing the world is an act of kindness and love, part of the Commandments of God.

  3. So well said. I thought immediately of Solzhenitsyn’s point that the West relies too much on politics and social reform…we lack courage. Cultural Marxism has infiltrated the secular mindset, and unfortunately made in-roads to those in Christendom…all progress is thought to arrive through conflict. It is a lie!

    In the words of Chesterton, “I” am what is wrong with the world. Your bulleted list of ‘how we should live’ is a blessing…may God’s love continue to be perfected in you!

  4. Fr Stephen,
    Brilliant summation, and nicely referenced to St John…!

    Fr Barnabas,
    I once read about that passage that the (evil) violence that entered creation –with its sentient creatures’ turning away from God–, is inevitably cured through their voluntary (sacred) violence upon it [(evil) violence], which is how the effort to love, to trust, to abide, can at first appear to a fallen being.

  5. Wise words. Reminds me of the wisdom in Benedict’s Rule and elsewhere in the early church.

  6. Was just reading a book by a Potawatomi woman who points out that English is inherently objectifying of the world. Whereas the languages of the indigenous cultures of this land (which are now almost all extinct because of our govt), every creature is spoken of as a subject and seen as animate (even rocks!), and only things humans make (knives, baskets, etc) are spoken of as “its.” Whereas in English, animate things and soulless things are spoken of with the same sort of objectifying language (plastic is an “it,” deer is an “it”), and only humans are spoken of as subjects. Shows such a difference in worldview. If you see something as subject you respect it. If you see something as object, its there for you to exploit however you want. I think there has been no greater national sin and tragedy than our governments systematic destruction of indigenous cultures. They could have shown us so much. I wonder what will happen to a people so abusive to the land they depend on. Language is powerful.

    The other day I was speaking with my husband about guardian angels when I realized that I referred to an angel as an “it.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. Is there really no more fitting pronoun we have for such a majestic creature of God? Its gotten me thinking about how I can start speaking English in a better way.

  7. I think of the “violence” the Kingdom suffers as expressing the effort required to do the “about face” and reverse the inclinations of my own twisted will, so that I cease to be driven by sin and begin rather to be drawn along by the love of the Savior. It describes the “G forces” on the soul of the act of repentance.

  8. I think the very core of the issue with Modernity and “fixing” the world is that one of the very basic assumptions of the Modern Project is that there is no absolute truth. This eliminates God from the picture and puts the individual center stage. I am reminded of the Lord’s answer to the Rich Young Man who called Him “Good Teacher.” Only God is good, and our ideas of what is good is driven by our relativistic idea of good.

    Violence enters the picture because the group or individual seeking to “improve” the world has a different idea of what good is than the people thy seek to control to make the world “better.” People who resist or nature that resists must be forced to “get with the program” as my Dad used to say. Little does it enter into the mind of those controlling that their standards of good are quite different than those being controlled and that the controller suffer outrage to their beings.

    Even in modern Christianity there are huge differences in understandings of the faith and visions of what good God means between various groups. I often see one group attacking another based on different understandings of Scripture. Your article is so timely Father. Thank you.

  9. Nicholas,
    With the absence of God, there really is no reference point for what is “good” or “better,” as you well observe. That leaves only the blind assertion of a desired good or betterment which can only be made through an assertion of the will – i.e. violence. Modernity is inherently violent. We should not be surprised when violence happens in our modern world – it is its most natural outcome.

  10. Thanks for this reflection and adminition Fr. Stephen. I find much to agree with as I read, however there were two things that I couldn’t digest and want to offer alternatives for your consideration.

    First, your example of ending slavery having an unintended consequence of displacement seems to me to gloss over so much important history (which I cannot do justice to here). My overriding concern is that critics and coreligionists alike might not get past the facile interpretation of this argument as support for a laissez-faire approach to injustice in the world.

    I don’t think that the principle you’re advocating changes if you were to use a different example: we should seek the good that causes the least violence. As you point out change happens whether we are actively engaged or not, and as Desmond Tutu (among others with similar messages) has observed: remaining neutral in the face of injustice is to side with the oppressor. As you note in your eighth point on how to live, we need to focus locally, on the people we see right in front of us. To consider what wider societal implications might occur because we act in love for the person in front of us seems to me to be engaging in the politics and economics of what that action may cost.

    My second concern is similar to the first, in that it has less to do with what you have written than in how it might be interpreted. In point #4 you admonish to quit arguing about politics. I don’t disagree! I would be concerned, though, if this were to be taken as “don’t engage in political action” or “don’t engage critically with the opposition.” I’m convinced that much of our civic disease in the United States stems from a lack of in-depth discussion about critical issues due to poor education and apathy. Circling back to my first point, I think we should do this locally without any expectation of changing the world, but only because it is our responsibility as citizens.

  11. Nicholas,
    Yes, indeed. I have even seen this within my own parish. I have heard far too many people who say, “well if they won’t agree, then they must be forced to agree, for their own good” or “well I think the government should force people to give to charity by taxes, and that way people can fake it till they make it” both of which are utterly absurd statements seeped in modernity. I have also heard the same people brag that they do not give to charity; they expect the government to care for the poor by forcing others to pay taxes to do so, thus they are not required to be charitable. It saddens me that a member of the Orthodox church, or any church, would think such a thing, but it illustrates the mindset of modernity that invades or attempts to invade the church.

    It is easy to become confused, to think that welfare, for example, would be a good thing, but welfare forcibly takes from one and gives to another. It may not involve bloodshed, but it is against one person’s will that the money is taken.

    Violence does not always involve the shedding of blood; sometimes it is just subjugating someone else’s will to do something “for their own good” or for someone else’s good.

    There is no greater evil than that which screams “I am good” (a paraphrased quote from my own parish priest) and our own personal standards of good are selfish, greedy, materialistic, and the exact polar opposite to God’s standards of good.

    All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. – Isaiah 64:6

    Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. – Romans 10: 1-4

    And there is of course the entire book of Romans which speaks of righteousness and sin, especially chapter 3.
    Not to mention the verse which states there is a way that seems good and right to man but leads to death. That verse describes the “modernity” mindset, which is not limited to the current modern era, for every point in history has dealt with it’s own manifestation of modernity.

    At least, that is the way I understand it.

  12. Jonathan,
    Good points. On the matter of slavery – their freedom would be important in a non-modern approach because it is right. It is a sin to enslave people, particularly because of the color of their skin. Consequences would extend beyond that, as well, in that the commandments of Christ are very much pointed at doing justice. That includes not only freeing slaves, but educating and making them able to fully participate in the whole of culture – which would entail not a little expense. As it was, they were freed only to be enslaved again under the Jim Crow laws, from which we have yet to recover.

    We do not have “responsibility as citizens.” That is the rhetoric of the modern state. We have responsibility to God, to keep His commandments. That might very well exceed anything we think of under citizenship. Frankly, we need to quit thinking like “Americans” and think as Christians. Most people’s idea of engaging politically is nothing more than the cheap, never-ending notion of having opinions and occasionally yapping about them. There is no commandment to have opinions and express them. There is no commandment to take political action. Modernity suggests that the political realm is that actual definition of “reality.” It is where we do things. This is false and makes an idol of the state. The political realm is the place of violence.

    I am in no way advocating “doing nothing.” Indeed, what I suggest is far more radical and subversive (which is the true nature of Christianity and the Kingdom). Christians, during slavery, (real Christians) helped slaves escape to freedom. They did it regardless of the law. It was good that the laws changed, but with the end of the War, there was too little Christian response – in modern fashion, the Christians thought the job was finished. Slavery was a product of modernity – it was rooted in economic and biological and progressive theories (“the white man’s burden”). We’re fortunate that our nation was allowed a continued existence by the merciful God – such was the wickedness of our land (and in the name of Christianity). Christian businessmen continue to justify unjust actions today in the name of the “market,” etc. More modernity and wickedness.

  13. “Modernity is not about how to live rightly in the world, but about how to make the world itself live rightly. The difference could hardly be greater. ”

    The only person we can change is ourself, and that only through God’s help.

    Thank you so much for your very specific and practical list of how to live rightly in the world.

  14. Father,
    You are a blessing of such wisdom.
    Thank you for your blog.
    And your patience in putting up with all of us, especially me.

  15. Well, you know us farmers today, violently assaulting the earth and providing humankind with toxic food. Going broke doing it too- at least we’re content to do so, otherwise instead of slowly being poisoned to death, most of modernity would simply starve.

    If anyone’s curious, the most violent tool used against the farmer today is the keyboard, used effectively by people ignorant on conventional modern farming practices and those that stand to turn a profit with a little fear-based marketing. We take it on the chin. We’re usually too tired from working (or is it violencing?) 100+ hours a week to fight the popular (in fact, one of the few areas the faithful and the secular agree) narrative with truth and reason. Nonetheless, I’m always shocked to hear this marketing trope repeated or insinuated by leaders in the church. We’re now seeing the affect too, most tragically, moms turning down the Eucharist for their families because it isn’t gluten free. (If that doesn’t horrify you, I don’t know what will.) The fact that they’re not celiacs is besides the point. It’s the principle! Blaming the farmer for our diseases , real and imagined , while buying expensive substitutes so we don’t have to really do without (the poor are out of luck) is more tolerable than simply eating sensibly. My most memorable example of this was The Orthodox Mom writing about how miserable she felt after living on cheetos and other junk food during a weekend trip to a monastery. It finally occurred to her it was the gluten. (Duh!) And all of her followers said amen.

    When I think of bread, I think of God’s greatest gift to us. I think of the thousands of man hours that went into producing it and the blessing I will say over it. I do not think of food that cannot be eaten. What a sad state that so many in the church do.

  16. Father, the presentation of ‘Judas kiss’ is a very important statement in its own right, in context of your words. ‘Love and kisses’ in conjunction with the violence of ‘fixing’ doesn’t undo the violence done. It seems only to twist the violence ever deeper into the heart. No wonder we have disfunctional families.

    I appreciate the bulleted points.

  17. as Desmond Tutu (among others with similar messages) has observed: remaining neutral in the face of injustice is to side with the oppressor.

    This has always been a way to force people to assist in violence. Christianity does not ask us to “remain neutral” but it also does not require us to “change the world”, as Father notes. In most of these struggles, taking one side or the other is still doing violence, as both employ it. I highly recommend reading about the French village of Le Chambon during WW2. It is an astounding story of non-violence in a horrifically violent time.

  18. Farm Wife,
    I think you have taken my words amiss. Of course we do “violence” to the land – and always have, and do so of necessity. It is not wrong, nor is it an evil. Farming is a gift and a great good. Nor are the technical tools of farming “modern.” Technology is not at all what I have meant by “modernity.” Modernity is a philosophy. I would suggest that that mega-farming of corporate farm culture moves in the direction of modernity – in which productivity can become its own god. Religion, of course, can be done in a modern fashion – as a matter of “productivity.”

    Bread is indeed a great gift from God to be blessed with thanksgiving. I give thanks for farmers as well. I hope you will understand what I have written.

  19. The only way around politics is to adopt a providential view of history. Any other view is problematic for a Christian. There are several other dominant views of history. The historical paradigm of modernity is nihilisim coupled with philosophical naturalism. Destruction and violence is the driving force within that paradigm.

  20. Byron,
    The myths of modernity are numerous. Whether it’s the end of slavery, the end of apartheid, the end of the Nazis, the liberation of women, etc. – all tell the story in a very edited manner – as though history were a three-minute production on CNN. We have the image of the brave rebel who changes the world through his action. The movie stops quickly and ignores so much else that should be understood. The aftermath of Apartheid is still quite complex. America never dealt with post-slavery in anything like an adequate manner, and has a deep-seated racism that we have difficulty admitting or recognizing. “Women’s liberation,” particularly over the past half-century has also been built on a platform of artificiality, from birth control to abortion, a part of the story that is generally ignored. God cares about His world, and has given us instructions on the right way to live. He did not command us to fix the world or manage the outcomes of history. He commanded us to keep the commandments. If we did that, we would not have slaves, or apartheid, or oppress women, etc. Nor would we build a world on ever-increasing violence.

  21. Michael Bauman,

    I am unclear on what you mean by “nihilisim coupled with philosophical naturalism.”
    Would you mind explaining what it means?

  22. Thank you, Father. I’m newly illumined. How does point six jibe with St Paul’s writing in Romans, warning evildoers that rulers do not wield the sword in vain?

    It seems obvious that the “sword” has been wielded in vain many times in recent years, but are there any instances where something violent must be done to preserve peace?

  23. Consistently these articles on modernity are the ones that challenge me the most. And so I think they are the ones I most need to read. Give history over to God. I’m reading this and letting out a sigh of gratitude.

  24. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this hopeful reflection.

    I find myself simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by what has become known online as ‘neo-reaction’. There is some overlap with your thinking here–in that neo-reaction often correctly identifies the problem of modernity. But, not to put everyone into the same box, it seems that many fall back into the modernist trap, seeking to change the world into their version of what a healthy society would look like (typically some form of pre-enlightenment monarchy or Christian imperialism).

    Thank you for reminding us that Christ calls us into being small enough to follow the foolishness of God–rather than into violently rising to the level of greatness, into becoming some kind of important social engineer.

  25. Glenn,
    That verse has been much abused in history. St. Paul is basically saying that we should be careful and behave ourselves because the State can kill us. Even an evil state will still punish many evildoers. Some of the most terrifying aspects of the Soviet Gulag came about when political prisons were incarcerated alongside regular criminals. It could be brutal.

    But, this verse has been used, particularly in modern times, to create a wall of sanctity around state-sponsored violence. There were German judges who refused to condemn the “legal” incarceration of Jews because of this verse. In modernity, when the state has been secularized, whatever “good” it decides to pursue can be pursued with violence and there is no appeal to a higher good – i.e. God.

    Christians should respect the State and not forget that it has the power to kill us. But we should not treat that violence as something of a “good” to be positively pursued. The American prison system, for example, is utterly unworthy of any nation that might dare call itself “good.” It is badly designed (largely through bad laws), underfunded and frequently cruel. The practice of solitary confinement (which does not mean just getting a private room) is extreme, and often used for little more than administrative purposes. There are roughly 80,000 in solitary confinement presently. There are roughly 2.3 million in our prisons.

    Obviously, the State everywhere and at all times uses violence for various reasons: peace, order, etc. As I noted, I have not suggested a violence-free world. Instead, I wanted to point out the inherently violent nature of the modern project and its efforts to make and control the world. That philosophy does not set limits in the pursuit of its goals and its goals are both utopian and dangerous.

    You cannot make a nation “great” when it is not even good. These myths and slogans of modernity are dangerous and contrary to the faith. I hope I am providing people with some tools to rethink a number of things in the light of the gospel.

  26. Chris,
    They should challenge us most. Modernity permeates our minds and thoughts – it’s the reigning philosophy of our culture – so complete in its domination that we cannot distinguish it from “common sense.” And so, the need to raise a Christian critique – to call out to our brothers and sisters to leave Babylon and “be not a partaker in her iniquities.” This, I think, is a prophetic voice – but simply that of the gospel. Modernity has been endangering the gospel. That these articles challenge, show us how far gone we have been.

  27. I’m sorry for making two posts, but I couldn’t resist making an observation regarding slavery after reading the comments. Slavery as it was practiced in the western hemisphere such as in Colonial America and the United States was very much a Modern Project. It was different in terrible ways from slavery in the ancient world, because of its modern aspects such as mass intercontinental transportation – and perhaps more insipiently its reliance upon supposedly modern ideas like the superiority of one civilization over another. These errant ideas, considered modern in their day – cast a pallor of racism and disharmony over my home state and our country that continues in various ways even today. I have wondered many times why we could not have outlawed slavery as the British did in 1833. I have wondered why a monarchy could do this peacefully, whereas our supposedly enlightened republic could not. It’s just one of many questions I have about our country’s troubled past, present and future. But I have to pray and learn to entrust history to God.

  28. William,
    I am offering no political model or solution. I am suggesting that the Church should learn to be the Church regardless of the political projects that surround us. Those who keep wanting to fix the State are still just mouthing modernities notions. In Christ, the Kingdom of God has entered the world. That is our politics. The existence of the Church, beside and within the culture of the State, should always be perceived as something of a threat – the suggestion that God is King and the State is not. If that is lost, then the Church ceases to be the Church.

  29. Father Stephen,
    I thought I might relate a modernist situation in my own family context. My husband was diagnosed with high blood pressure and warnings from a medical doctor about the eventual need for medication if he didn’t alter his lifestyle. Then someone in his immediate family nearly died of a heart attack, who had in the same timeline a history of high blood pressure. Upon that event, I dived headlong into all the research that I could access to learn about dietary relationships to heart disease. Then I mapped out a course of action for the both of us. My husband followed my recommendations carefully. (thanks be to God) However, after having some blood work showing how well he had achieved our mutual goals for health, we have both ‘relaxed’ (in a big way) our regimen. Signs of high blood pressure are appearing. I’m just reflecting how the success of just reaching a goal isn’t the ‘fix’ we needed. How and why do we care for our health? What is the motivation for such care? Fear of death? Apparently even that is not sufficient motivation, for either of us to keep at it. I reflect now how our bodies are temples of our souls. But loving the temple whether it is the human body or another edifice, seems to be a difficult enterprise.

  30. Chris,
    Then, as now: follow the money. The American project, as it now exists (and has for quite some time), is about making a number of people and corporations rich. Everything else is largely about pacifying a population and making them think that we’re about something else. The State is about power – and money is power. The Church is about power – but its power is Christ crucified. That is why the most subversive and dangerous thing we can do is lay down our lives for the world.

  31. Modernity is kids playing in the yard and getting the Frisbee stuck in a tree. They look around and find a football. Someone throws the football to knock the Frisbee out of the tree. The Frisbee comes down only for the football to get stuck. Now, another kid chucks a baseball glove to knock the football down. The football comes loose, but now the glove is stuck. Someone then hurls a baseball at the glove, but the baseball sails through the foliage and into the picture window nobody noticed beyond the tree. The sound of shattering glass surprises everyone. Then, the kids scatter and disavow any part of the effort or shift blame in order to avoid a spanking.

  32. When I, or anyone, sets out to change the world it always has an unspoken addendum: “in accord with my will”.

    Everything after that is violence, anger and destruction.

    As Father points out it never ends well. As a recovering angerholic, going down that route in even the smallest way is a bit like going on a bender.

  33. Father unfortunately any comment on social order and action is defacto considered to be political in the US. That is the curse of modernity it is almost impossible to imagine anything out side the box.

    Of course in a larger sense it is politcal–the actions of the polis.

    It is ironic that the dedication to “change” in modernity actual prevents much actual transformation or at least gets in the way.

    Nietzche hated the Cross–so does this world he prophesied.

  34. Dee of St Hermans,

    I can totally relate. Year before last, I was…well there’s no delicate way to say it, I was fat. Very fat.
    I had a myriad of health problems caused by my obesity, including headaches, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, etc.
    I lost 80 pounds, by changing my diet and exercise. It was not easy but once I got past the initial hurdle, it became easier. I did so because I kept having visions of my own death and my own funeral every time I entered the church. It was not my imagination because it only happened in the church. It really made me wake up and realize what I was doing to myself.

    There are times when I break my diet, but my nutritionist says don’t worry about the past dietary fumbles if you fumble, start again and go right back on the diet.
    Much like how the church fathers (or is it desert fathers or both) tell us, “When you fall down, get right back up and keep moving.” Don’t worry or dwell on your dietary fumbles; get right back up and keep at it.

    There is a mantra that is a modernity-based mantra. “It’s my body and my rights” which applies to many things. However, that is the wrong mindset. This is not my body, because God created this body. This body is an icon of God. Therefore, I should treat this body with respect for God’s creation, for the icon that is this body.
    (Forgive me, perhaps I am not articulating that last part exactly right.)

  35. ‘Live an Ordinary life’

    Thank you for this Father Stephen. The inherent violence of Modernity has been a theme of my study for a number of years, yet most people look blankly at you when you suggest it. I guess because I spend too much time with the Xs, of whom I’m one, and too little with the Ys

    The Automobile is a terrible tool of this violence as you have inferred elsewhere. As I ask folk ‘do you live by the Aluminium smelter?’ they begin to see

  36. Ananias,
    Thank you so much for that inspirational note. I especially appreciate your description of the body as God’s creation and icon of His image (both in the soul and body). This is a very helpful reminder.

  37. I was watching an interview with one of the scientists who is editing the human genome using CRISPR techniques. Just that sentence is more than I can understand. The scary part of the interview was when the scientist admitted the unforeseen consequences may be violent, yet she had hope in the ability of humankind to control it. It was the most perfect and horrifying example of modernism I had ever witnessed.

  38. Science and Oil have given us unimaginable Power Over everything outside of ‘us’

    We are like those pitifully enraged Bulls in the bull ring, driven mad by being bated, set loose amongst the most delicate and beautiful Limoges

    We know neither who nor where we are

    Lord have mercy

  39. Fr Barnabas,

    I think that Matthew 11:12 is actually most pertinent to regaining non-modern non-violence.
    Ironically, in order to be freed from modernity’s tendency to continual violence, we need to do violence to our self. This is not some ‘activistic’ effort. Rather it is a ‘hesychastic’ effectuation of: “Let it be according to Thy word” and a harbinger of the true freedom (of the Spirit). Spiritual liberation (which should encompasses a sense of ease/unconstraint and contentment) comes from this “good” violence of being able to tell myself, ‘now you wake up, now you sleep, now you fast, now you focus, now you will not give in to this desire of yours…’ So spiritual ease is -ironically- the unconstrained freedom (an effortlessness and zeal) to self-constrain.
    This is what yields a healthy, relaxed, noble, courtly outward (and even inward) manner that does not desire to change others or the entire world but trusts in Christ’s power to steer everything according to His will. (A condition that always be naturally hesitant to resort to modernity’s sick violence…)
    “Good violence” clearly never implies reclining into a self-absorbed relaxation!
    However, it must have a foundation of contentment and acceptance for everything. This is because even if we were to do ‘good violence’ on our selves without such a sound basis, it wouldn’t produce the right fruit (To use a classic example: we ask for a blessing to do a 2 hour ‘Jesus prayer’ vigil every night and our spiritual Father is reluctant to allow this because he knows that we will simply revolt after two weeks –because we haven’t that healthy foundation of trusting acceptance and humble non-expectation–; he therefore suggests we only do 20 minutes –which is what he deems sustainable. [Besides, if we were to go ahead with the two hours desire of ours, we would soon blame the “night-time-rule”, and God…])

  40. Dee / Ananias,

    I can very much relate to the dietary issue, and the question: what is the motivation? I know people with diabetes who know full well the risks they take by continuing to eat the way they do – and yet they seem to be voting for a short but “happy” life with their current diet rather than a long but (in their eyes) dreary existence.

    I sympathize. I wrestled with this a lot. As I found myself leading a lifestyle which would take me to the same place, I realized I needed a way to visualize why I would be changing my eating & exercise plan. The fact that I would live longer wasn’t enough, basically for the same reasons already cited. I finally came to two things:

    1. I do not live for myself. First and foremost I am God’s servant and need to follow His will, but even beyond that I have my family and others dependent on me to consider beyond my own desires. Thus I need to change out of obedience. But this reason alone can lead to perpetual depression and if there is an end to it – an “other side” – it can be impossible to see from here. There must be more.

    2. The other one for me was the deep revelation that food had become one of my gods. I had a rather large altar erected to it. Therefore eating for my health instead of for my desires has come to mean letting that idol die. It has become more about my salvation than my fitness level.

    Making this lifestyle change (I’m still in the middle of it) is very much like detox. But just as with that process, I believe (and early converts have testified) that one goes from a state where nothing matters anymore – to one where the color begins to come back into your world and everything starts to matter again.

    One more thing: I have found that this time of transition and emptiness has caused me to cry out to my God much more. It has made me realize, referencing Simon’s words, that I barely know Him let alone love Him. But He seems to hold no grudge about any of that. He is simply happy to be spending time with me again. It feels so good – and yet I’m so wretched during our time together. I wish we had met in better circumstances. (grin) But it is good. A forced relationship that I have unconsciously been avoiding forever and yet instinctively know that I have been made for. Someone once said that when things are the hardest, that is when we are actually closest to God. That’s how I feel. It is hard but good.

  41. Father,

    I hope you have time to give some guidance here. I love your articles, and they always make me think. As someone who studied political science in college, and is presently in the military, I also struggle with some articles, especially this one.

    While perhaps the most important thing I learned through my major was that there is no “good” government, I certainly believe some are more just than others. Ambition is certainly a great danger – one of my most influential teachers told us “never go out to do great things – people who try to do “great” things become the greatest tyrants.” Should Christians, however, not participate in political action? In high school I attended something of a Christian Boys’ State, where we were encouraged to actively pay attention to politics, vote, and be active in our local communities. While we were certainly taught with more than a tinge of modernity, we were mostly taught to have integrity and live as Christians in whatever station we found ourselves. If the circumstances arise, should Christians become government members?

    Finally, as a more personal question, what did St. John mean when he told the centurions to do no one violence? Did he mean to live in their profession as justly as possible, and perpetrate no evil, or refrain from all warfare, which seems impossible without ceasing to be a soldier?

  42. Paul,
    First, the easy part – St. John’s words. His words to the Roman soldiers – who were something of an Imperial police force – would have the meaning of not abusing their power and injuring people. He would not have meant, “Don’t be a soldier.” Frankly, at the time, soldiers who have been thugs to the surrounding population. The people were not Roman citizens. You could kill a non-citizen without fear of punishment. Pretty dangerous writ of authority.

    More complicated is thinking of the State. Christians may, of course, hold office and have government jobs.

    A difficulty comes when thinking about the modern Nation State. It’s a different entity than those that preceded it – it is a new thing. Those prior to it were kingdoms. Kingdoms had, for better or worse, an understanding that the King/Queen ruled by divine right – that their power was ordained by God and answerable to God (in some manner). Thus, government service meant serving the ruler – which was done but, like the ruler, with an understanding that God comes first. The famous play “A Man for All Seasons” treats the situation between Thomas More, the Royal Chancellor, and his conflicts with Henry VIII, as the King is moving away from Divine authority and making unrighteous demands.

    I’m a great fan of Solzhenitsyn. His insights into the Soviet Union were spot on and time and history proved him right. I recommend an article he wrote back in the 1970’s called, “Live Not By Lies.” It was an approach that was Christian and non-violent but opposed the evil of the Soviet System with honesty. Worth a read.

    We are not in the Soviet Union. We are somewhere else. But we are also in a system that “lives by lies.” We need to learn the truth – particularly the truth as it is in Christ. I have personally dropped out of any political activity, inasmuch as I believe it serves to maintain the illusion that present politics is genuine. The corruption is pretty universal.

  43. I should probably add a warning to my articles. When the coin drops and you first decide that modernity is a false ideology, you will likely become depressed for a bit. We have learned to be “happy” through believing in the nostrums of modernity (progress, getting better, economic growth, etc.) and of the long-term effectiveness of political action. These things are nowhere given us in the gospel and do not belong to the truth that God has given us.

    But when we lose modernity, we tend to lose a certain amount of hope – at least a first. You will sound cynical to your friends. But, in time, this is replaced by a conversion to the Kingdom of God and the possibility of a contentment that holds up even in the face of suffering and loss. The mind begins to turn to prayer and love rather than violence as a means of living.

    Just a thought.

  44. I’m so grateful that I mentioned our predicament. I didn’t anticipate such helpful responses.

    Thank you Drewster2000.

    Your thoughts provide powerful seeds for reflection. Just as you say, it is very much like going through detox. Not just the process of transformation in our bodies but in the shedding of the illusion of ‘making ourselves better’, as if there is a definitive and finite goal completely under our control as described in the modern project. Rather, it is more similar to entering a new life, one with more color (a wonderful analogy you provided).

    I appreciate your words about ’emptiness’. This thought had not occurred to me before but perhaps there is a parallel with the physical feeling of emptiness (from eating less) and the desire for self-emptying love, and crying out to God. Your reflection also bears close resemblance to Fr Stephen’s words at 9:02pm. Indeed there is a feeling of depression with failure and a transition and transformation with the realization there is more depth to our endeavor in our conversion to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

    And as Ananias mentions, similar to falling to sin, after we fall–and we do fall–with God’s grace we get up again.

  45. I have a very close friend who has worked for the last 35 or 40 years counseling victims of domestic violence and now works in the state’s attorney’s office in Greenville, IL as a victim’s advocate. Based on decades of experience working with victims and abusers he is always keen to say “The issue is never the issue, the issue is always control.” Much of what I read here connects with that idea. Hunger isn’t really the issue. Poverty isn’t really the issue. Neither is equality and justice. The issue is control.

  46. Simon,
    I believe St Maximus the Confessor makes a similar point as that (that “The issue is never the issue, the issue is always control”). I think he says that ‘it is not the things themselves (and I think he incorporates even impulses, affairs, problems, etc. in ‘things themselves’) which are bad, but our thoughts (logismoi) on them.
    It makes me ponder that we are (as profoundly contingent beings) mainly “responders” to (rather than initiators of) things, no matter what modernity would like to claim. A creature’s “Let it be according to your will” response is probably the greatest possible ‘initiator’, despite it being perceived as unacceptably non-violent (“Gethsemanean”) by modernity.

  47. Dino, I agree with that completely. Another friend of mine had a phrase he liked to “It isnt so much a case of free will, but free won’t.” In other words, most of our “yes” behavior isn’t about free initiation as it is about conditioned response, but we can choose to say “no.” Our freedom isn’t expressed in what we will to do, but in what we will not to do. What do think about that idea?

  48. It is interesting to me, upon reflection, that in my childhood and youth, I never heard adults talking about politics, much less political action. I remember my father and an uncle talking about the Nixon/Kennedy debate (1960), but the conversation was so innocuous, that it made little impression on me. There was, of course, the Civil Rights Movement, and I heard a lot of opinions about it – mostly bad because I was living around Southern whites, but no one seemed to think they should do anything. There was only the newspaper and 30 minutes of a news summary per day on the TV.

    It was not until Vietnam that I began to hear political speech very often. By 1968, I had developed opinions and did a few things to oppose the war – most of which consisted in making an ass of myself whenever the opportunity arose.

    Things have changed. The 24/7 news cycle for one. Social media is another. The long protracted struggle against abortion has been a strong driver for political involvement for some, just as all the various “rights” groups have for others. On college campuses, and among many of the young, political action is almost everything – and often it means bullying people who disagree with you.

    What is most clear in our present culture, is that politics, by which I mean the assertion of power, whether through words or actions, has become a primary means of interaction. With it, we have become surly and rude, angry and often mean. The opportunities for offending and being offended are ever-present.

    My childhood years represented a time of a great post-war consensus, and were very apolitical. Eisenhower played a lot of golf, and no one thought that was a bad thing. He warned against a growing thing he called the “military-industrial complex.” There was, of course, a terrible hidden violence in the laws of the South – a form of apartheid that were called “Jim Crow.” It was beginning to change – very slowly – but probably would not have changed without violence of some sort. MLK was very non-violent and probably saved the nation from a lot of killing and destruction.

    The difficult thing about politics is that making something happen is not at all the same thing as changing a lot of minds. Creating a peaceful consensus is extremely hard. MLK worked to change minds, and was more successful at that than many people know. I think that much of his success was rooted in the fact that he was a Christian speaking to Christians with the Scriptures as a source. Billy Graham, many people do not know, refused to have a crusade in cities unless the audience could be integrated. Prior to that, blacks would not have been allowed to sit with whites. He was doing that long before it was ok – before MLK was speaking.

    I think both men were keeping the commandments in the situations that were given to them. Keeping the commandments is not about doing nothing. I think Graham’s insistence on an integrated venue was like Simon’s “what I won’t do.” He didn’t make anybody attend, but he said no to segregating the audience. No doubt, many people stayed away rather than risk sitting next to a black person. Heaven is not segregated.

    I have suggested several times that there are certain things that will be taken in the wrong way in a modern culture. “Progress” is a term that I will now not use because of this. Political action is probably another such thing. We’re sick right now – sick from our own violence. We need to stop our unceasing wars – at home and abroad. At least it would help. But it’s in that vein that I suggest stepping back from political thought and speech. In my observation, it is killing modern souls.

  49. Simon,
    I couldn’t agree more. My earlier comment [on that kind of magisterial “spiritual ease” -ironically- being the (unconstrained, effortless) freedom to actually self-constrain] was a way of describing that “It isnt so much a case of free will, but free won’t.”

  50. Here’s an interesting quote:

    “It is like a great athlete to take blows and yet win the fight. For God’s sake above all we must endure everything, so that God, in turn, may endure us. Increase your zeal… Look for Him Who is above all time – the Timeless, the Invisible, Who for our sake became visible, the Impassible, Who became subject to suffering on our account and for our sake endured everything.”

    St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in 106 A.D., on his way to Rome to be martyred

  51. Another thought. Justin (whom I credit with the “free won’t” statement) also used to say “Don’t play their game.” Back in the day a number of young people I was associated with were people Pres Trump would call “professional protestors.” So would basically argue that ‘you are free to do what you want. But do you want to feed the system?’ In other words, marches, placards, protests, shouts, and sloganizing only galvanizes and innoculates people in the system against the change you’re trying to make. So, Justin would say ‘Don’t play their game. Play a different game.’ In other words, give your energy to something that takes life, attention, and energy away from the system.

    For me the kingdom of God is what it means to play a different game; to take time, attention and resources away from their game. And, of course, this isnt about playing a better game or merely a different game. Its putting ourselves into the effort of realizing the fruition of a deeper, God-realized humanity.

  52. Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for your words about Dr. Martin Luther King and those about Rev. Billy Graham. They were both instrumental in pointing me to Christ as a young man. I was fortunate enough to have seen them both in person. God is good.

  53. Dee/Drewster/et. al:

    Change is difficult. It is hard. My hypothesis is that we, humans, tend toward laziness and change is hard work.
    To effectively change, you have to utterly reject the aspect you are changing in it’s entirety. For me, I had come to accept the fact that I was fat as a fact; I convinced myself that change was not possible. When I decided to change, I had to reject these things, in order to change it.
    Much like in the 12 step programs, you have to admit you are powerless. That is anathema to modernity; modernity (as emphasized in this current post) is about power and control. Giving up power or control is heresy of the highest order to modernity. But you have to give it up to change.
    Then you have to Trust God. God is good, right, and Holy. You have to trust that all things God will do will be Good, right and holy. They may not seem so to our limited physical and human minds, especially to the modernity mindset, and they may hurt, but in the end, God will never do anything that is bad, wrong, or unholy.
    As I said in one previous post, nothing I can or will ever do is capable of making God wrong or making any decision or action on the part of God to be the wrong decision or action. We, and I include myself, have to trust in this completely with total faith, which is hard to do.

    Being fat is easy. All it requires is eating what I want, when I want and how much I want and sitting all day doing nothing, especially not exercising, and it allows me to constantly complain about being fat. I was miserable. No, I’m not being sarcastic; I was a miserable person that people avoided. No one wanted to be around me or talk to me. Even my own mother did not want to talk to me. I was that miserable.

    Changing is the hardest thing I ever did but it has been worth every hard moment, temptation, and desire, because I am now so much better. I enjoy martial arts, I enjoy the food that I eat, and I enjoy not being fat. I am so much happier and now my friends enjoy being around me. I enjoy going to church and worshiping and being an altar server.

    It is hard to start and hard to keep it up, but it is worth it. You may pause, and that’s okay but never stop. Pausing is okay; it is normal and my nutritionist said that pausing in my diet, that is allowing myself to break my diet 36/37 days out of the year is perfectly acceptable. But as I said before, if you stop, do not dwell on it. Simply start again and keep going. Eventually you’ll get to the point where your diet is your new normal.

  54. Our freedom isn’t expressed in what we will to do, but in what we will not to do.

    One of the big influences on Pastor Tromce of Le Chambon was a German he met in WW1 named Kinder. Tromce, then a youth, was French but in a city under German occupation (near the front lines). He was shocked to find out that Kinder was a Christian and considered him (a Frenchman) as a friend. When Tromce asked how he could be a soldier and a Christian, Kinder said, “first, do not shoot.” Kinder went into battle (a signalman) without a weapon. That statement stayed with Tromce all his life as he championed non-violence against the Nazis and then others after WW2.

  55. I am interested in your statement about learning another language. As someone who speaks a couple of other languages well enough to conduct my own affairs unassisted in the countries in which they are spoken, the major result is that I now sin trilingually, and have made myself a nuisance to a larger number of people.

  56. Oh God! I just finished reading about the Jim Crow laws. I was familiar with the name, but never read the history. Even growing up in the 60’s (up north) discrimination was just a given. But how sad, how terrible such a thing was made a law. It only goes to show how depraved, splintered and ‘broken in pieces’ we have become…and I mean, all of humanity. We do these things and convince ourselves it is good and right?! Oh my God in heaven…have mercy on us. You are right, Father…we are still suffering from those Jim Crow days. Look at the ‘Black Lives Matter’ thing…and at the same time you have people disgusted with it, saying ‘what? ALL lives matter!’. We think the civil rights movement ‘solved’ the problem of racism, but it has not. We’ve been splintered and broken in this way since time began. Now we just cover it up with new laws, but the heart is still desperately wicked.
    Every time reality ‘hits me in the face’ like this, I begin to think about the strictness of asceticism. The ‘doing violence’ to ourselves by saying no! to the self. For repentance to take place, there has got to be a strict measure to say no!, to refuse the ‘pleasure’ of satisfying my prideful self…because it has become so ingrained. No wonder fasting is of utmost importance and limiting food one of the hardest to overcome. It is the easiest way to feed the flesh. No wonder the Saints say gluttony inflames all the other vices. It is no wonder that we will not find the answers anywhere but in Christ. No where!
    I do not have a very high opinion of mankind as we are, broken and sick. But beyond that I do have high regard for the image of God in us all. I know nobody wants to be broken and sick…we are all to be pitied. May God forgive me if I am too pessimistic. This is just the way I see things. My hope is only in Christ. What He has done for us in His selfless love…to take on the nature of man and redeem us…to show us that through His self-emptying, death to self through ‘control’ (or a violation of our sins) and not to control others (in any way, shape or form) is the way of living a true Life. This is the love of God. This helps me understand the question ‘why pain’….why suffering? There has to be a death to the self.

    Lord have Mercy on us. God help us and keep us by Your Grace.

  57. Dee,

    I too noticed Fr. Stephen’s comment above: I should probably add a warning to my articles. When the coin drops and you first decide that modernity is a false ideology, you will likely become depressed for a bit.

    One thing that clicked for me was that a period of depression was more than normal; it was actually what was happening. As God empties my life of all the crap, the idols, the passions, I’m being pressed on. In the same way you would squeeze air out of a tire or puss out of a wound, I’m being “de-pressed”. It doesn’t feel good but it is the correct feeling I should experience during this time. If you will, it is what I should feel if the process is successful. That understanding is very hard to accept as truth. We are continually told that if it hurts you’re doing something wrong. And we believe it even though we instinctively know better. It takes time for this mental shift to fully take place. You have to be patient with yourself.

    I also want to second Ananias’ advice in his last comment. I’ve heard it before but it’s worth repeating. One piece that sticks out for me: Then you have to Trust God. God is good, right, and Holy. You have to trust that all things God will do will be good, right and holy. They may not seem so to our limited physical and human minds, especially to the modernity mindset, and they may hurt, but in the end, God will never do anything that is bad, wrong, or unholy.

    It is the case that hitherto in this process I have been depending on food (or whatever; fill in the blank), but now I have to depend on God. And since He won’t allow us to grab Him and control Him, this requires faith. Trying to practice faith makes me believe I have never done so before. It seems to be an unused muscle. But the pain of exercising it is the right kind of pain. It feels like it should feel when true progress is being made. I have no control over that progress but I do have the power to keep believing and keep walking forward. As my brother says about his bike races, “keep your head down and keep pedaling”.

  58. Since we’re moving back into the more personal dimension again, how can we take the lessons above (and particularly Solzhenitsyn’s essay on lies) into more immediate situations where there is an exercise of authority and shaming against us—where “the issue is control” and thus no amount of compromise or “obedience” will affect the outcome—and act rightly? I still keep coming back to the story of the child who cried during Holy Week—which I think was really the right and liturgically-appropriate response, albeit inconvenient for “show”—and wonder what the response should be had the child been a little older. If the child were taken away and accused of various things, should they just repeat “I do not believe that.” as the situation takes its course (but also refuse to argue)? I’m not sure if there is there is like a “step 2” to Solzhenitsyn’s method or something in another essay or book (I haven’t really read him) but I feel that I may have missed something—though maybe its just me still hoping for a “fix” of some sort and a resolution that sees everyone “get it”.

    Second, what do we do in the reverse case, when *we* are given some authority, *must* complete a task and/or discipline someone, and there are issues/disagreements—other than the article’s points about serving and loving, what else can be done to lead and serve without shaming or “lording it over” another? I think talking about the situation/behavior/action and not the person (ie, “*You* are such and such.”) is a good start but what else can be done to handle it in a more Christ-like way?

    Third, and I suppose this diverges a bit more than even the other two questions, what is the appropriate way to handle the shame storms/flashbacks/etc from trauma that result from situations like this? With something like political conversation, we can just turn it off or walk away. But if the trauma screams internally, we’re just to “speak peace” to such logismoi, retorting “but I forgive” and such—or is that too quick, cheapening the process of forgiveness (as was mentioned in a recent article/comments)?

  59. “For God’s sake above all we must endure everything, so that God, in turn, may endure us.”

    The antecedent “we must endure everything” is followed by the consequent “that God may endure us.”

    Im not really sure about the relationship that is being hinted at. Is it saying we must endure the world’s evils so that evil may be endured by God through his union with us and subsequently transformed by God??

  60. Burro,
    I am fluent in sin as well!

    The foreign language thing is probably because I’m an American and I stagger at how ignorant we are when it comes to language (including our own). When I was in college, I remember reading scholarly debates about whether Jesus could speak/read Greek. The discussions were among Americans. The thought that he did not speak Greek (the lingua franca of the Roman Empire) would surprise anybody in a country occupied by a foreign army. That most Americans can only speak one language means that, in one regard, we’re the Empire and the occupying army. In another regard, it means we’re among the least sophisticated people in the world. It will not keep you from sin – but it might help with certain kinds of sin.

    I should add that it’s interesting hearing confessions of people who are not native English speakers. I’ve learned a lot of “sin-words” in Russian, for example. I’ve also gained occasional insight from how a different language says certain things about the soul.

  61. Joseph,
    The one book I would recommend as reading in order to think about “what else” we can do – is St. Porphyrios’ Wounded By Love. His words are deeply non-violent in the manner I have described – and he’s a contemporary saint. Utterly worth the time to read and digest.

  62. I think another way to see the loss of that post-war consensus is the steady increase in an ideological mapping of the world, so that there is no longer anything shared simply by virtue of being human. Every event becomes a battleground between political visions. It becomes absurd when horrific tragedies like a shooting at a school immediately becomes politicized. We can only see events through political eyes. It is very sad.
    A friend of mine recently moved out of our neighborhood in the city. She is a a pretty politically opinionated person and shares most of the liberal “progressive” opinions of our friends. She moved to a much more conservative suburb, and found she was sharing a street with people who supported the other side. Yet they were kind and she reported how odd it was to experience this neighborliness with people who she had learned to vilify. Then, a tragedy hit the street and in the wake of it the neighbors could not do anything but seek each other out and mourn together. It was no longer “odd” for my friend. Ideology disappeared in the face of concrete reality of life shared. She spoke of it as waking from a dream. It is sad that it takes death and grief to shake us out of the dream.
    Realizing the extent to which competing ideologies shapes so much of our existence has been something of a wake up call for me. But I am part of it, and it has become part of me- it shapes my thinking in so many ways. What can I do? Our culture is sick, so of course I am sick as well. But I do not underestimate the antidote which is neighborliness. It’s much harder to maintain the abstractions when you are seeing someone face-to-face. I feel lucky that I live in a neighborhood in a city. Stoops are still somewhat of a living room.

  63. Father,
    Our parish has a few people who speak another language. I love talking with them because I learn so much from them. We have two Armenians; one speaks fluent Armenian and the other was raised in Russia and speaks fluent Russian. There are others who are Greek, Arabic, and Russian as well. We had a Romanian and a Bulgarian for a while. There is such beauty in other languages and cultures.

  64. Jordan,
    I think of the question put to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the Kingdom of God, every human being is my neighbor. We must learn that we are not “citizens” of this world. St. Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” This stuff is just plain gospel…somehow, people have failed to read it.

  65. Do you think Ignatius means that God’s ability to endure/put-up-with us is conditioned on our ability to endure/put-up-with the world?

  66. Remember too the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I am slowly learning to live and love by this rule. Orthodoxy has helped me to realize that every human being, regardless of what the world says, is created by God and is an icon of the image of God. I must learn to love them for this reason, because to love God, I must love that which God Himself loves.
    So, I must learn to treat the icon of the image of God within each human being with respect and love.
    Hard, very hard.

  67. Jordan,

    I have learned that sometimes it takes tragedy in our lives to bring about real healing and growth. Ironically getting back to the topic of the article, it takes violence. Of course nobody wants this in their lives. There is another way. You can do violence to yourself.

    You can tell yourself that you won’t treat those neighbors on the “other side” as villains. This tactic will, of course, have only limited success. So you will need to get violent. Against strong objections within yourself, do something nice for one of them. Go out of your way to get to know them. Think about what you would do for someone on “your side” – and then go even beyond that.

    It will be an internal tug-of-war initially, but a battle fought on the inside is often a crisis averted on the outside.

  68. Simon,
    I wouldn’t make it into a conditional sentence. It is a reciprocity – but that is like the whole He became what we are that we might become what He is. It presumes that we are in Him and He in us and treats this endurance as natural to our state as Christians, but reminds us that God has His place within it as well in this mutuality of life that we have entered.

  69. Paula,
    You raise an interesting question. The background is cut out. I presumed it was Judas, partly because of the distorted way the kissing man is drawn, but also because there appears to be a hand gripping Christ’s shoulder. The juxtaposition of these facets suggested to me Judas. The appearance of the hand indeed parallels so much of this discussion about control and exertion of power over others.

    Thank you for your question Paula. Honestly it is indeed better to ask questions than to presume, as I did.

  70. Also, I’m not sure why I think this might be important, but I’ll add that I also assumed the “kisser” is male, as he does have short hair, but he has no beard.

    Thank you so much Ananias and Drewster2000. Your words have helped me so much today. I’m so grateful for your inspiration, because I was in desperate need of it on more levels than I knew when I first wrote. It is as both of you say that the food addiction aspect is an idol, in that we have put our appetites first. The very act of pushing away what we think we want feels like a form of suffering, which in this culture we are encouraged to push away suffering instead.

    To say “I won’t”, is indeed hard. More often I hear myself saying “I hope I don’t”.

    Thanks again Ananias, regarding your words about being ready to get up again, and not to disparage ourselves in our failures. Drewster , I had to laugh at myself, for the “Keep your head down and keep peddling”– this saying almost sounds like “in sports language” a way of saying the Jesus prayer. I’ve been doing a lot of ‘spinning my wheels’ lately. Leaving where I’m heading up to God is such a relief. I hope I hold on to these helpful words you have all shared.

  71. Dee,
    Actually, the picture got my attention. At first I thought it may be St. John, you know, putting his head on Christ’s chest…but that is not actually what is shown. The look on the man’s face is intense…that struck me. So I did a search and one of the results mentioned Judas. It was an odd website…but still, Judas made sense, especially, as you say, based on this discussion and especially the title of the post. I can’t think of a more violent act than to betray Christ. A deeply troubling story to reflect on.
    I thought to ask the question though, as I wasn’t sure if it was him.
    So, no…I didn’t just figure that out on my own! I’m not that ‘quick on the uptake’ !!
    Thanks Dee.

  72. Father, is it not true that when a figure in an icon is shown in profile that indicates someone who is not of goodness?

  73. Yes the full face depiction indicates a full person (face and person are the same word in Greek – πρόσωπον ). You cannot really find any profile depiction of , (not even in sideways Deisis, both eyes are drawn) of saints.

  74. Thank you, Father and everyone else,

    We are in need of reveletion on this matter. Father, at different points during the discussion, you have said, “We are not commanded to…” Michah 6:8 comes to mind, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

  75. Jeff,
    Think with me. The verse says, “Do…love…walk.” This does not say “make the world a better place.” It says that we should behave in certain ways. We do this because we love God and our neighbor and it is His commandment. What will be the consequences of “Do…love…walk?” We don’t know and He doesn’t say. You can do justice, love mercy, walk humbly anywhere, even as the world around you crumbles into dust. The outcome of history is in the hands of God.

    We have had the mantras of modernity so drilled into our heads that we hear it being said where it is not. The life of a Christian is not about a better world but about the Kingdom of God which is coming into the world. I’ll share something I recently put on Facebook:

    On Not Making the World a Better Place: A distinction I am making is that the “Kingdom of God”” does not mean “improving the world.” The Kingdom of God is complete and whole and enters the world as a finished thing. It is a “raising of the dead.” Modernity’s philosophy is about making the corpse look nicer. When we keep the commandments rightly, it is the entering of the Kingdom of God into the world – the world is not the locus of our life – but the Kingdom of God is. The Kingdom is “better” than the world, though that’s like saying “God is better than a dead man.”

    Modernity suggests that this world, this secular order, is the right and proper focus of our lives. It doesn’t mind if Christians help out a bit and improve things. But we’re doing something far different. The Kingdom of God is an entirely different order of existence. The saints are a revelation of life in the Kingdom.

    This world cannot become a “better place” in comparison. But this world is the place where the Kingdom of God is coming.

    I have written: “Jesus did not die to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.” By the same token, Jesus did not die in order to make the world a better place, but to inaugurate the coming of the Kingdom of God.

    This world is about death – rearranging death – trying to put off death – trying to keep other people from dying while putting others to death before their time. The Kingdom of God smashes death and tramples it down. When we love our enemies, we are not being nice or well-behaved. It is an act of radical obedience, an action of the soul that says that because Christ is risen, I can forgive everything. The resurrection of Christ is the end of the world. You cannot improve that which has ended.

    We have the task of proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and, because we are in Christ, living in the Kingdom. The saints live among us as ambassadors of the Kingdom. Their very existence is proof that this world is passing away and the Kingdom of God is come.

    That’s the point. Hope that helps those struggling to understand why I say, “You cannot make the world a better place.”

  76. Father,

    Thanks for sharing your FB post. It was well said. This was my golden nugget from it:

    “The Kingdom of God is complete and whole and enters the world as a finished thing. It is a “raising of the dead.” Modernity’s philosophy is about making the corpse look nicer.” (bolding mine)

  77. There is an icon of the Theotokos which is in profile. It was saved by a woman in Russia during the Communist era and was smuggled out secretly. It’s new home is now at the Holy Assumption Monastery in Calistoga. However, it is definitely not the norm.

  78. Can it be properly said, “The entire earth is a white washed tomb, full of dead bones. The Kingdom of God does not come to give a fresh coat of paint on the tomb, but to give life to the bones”?

  79. Father,
    that’s sensibly succinct! Such gems are worth memorising and recalling when besieged by secular delusion…

  80. Making the world a better place is the highest road that secular people can trod. And, of course, they aren’t to be slighted for doing their the best they can with what they have. But, at the end of the day, making the world a better place is phenomenological whereas the kingdom of God is ontological. Even if humans were to achieve a utopia for all…that isn’t God’s kingdom. Flourishing and well-being are worthwhile. But, what are their sources? Do they come from within or from without? I don’t know that I would argue very strongly for this, but if flourishing and well-being come from without, then these are phenomenological. If they come from within, then they are ontological. I guess one could argue that mindfulness meditation and self-help can produce remedial effects. But, again, this is int’t ontological. A good tree doesn’t produce good fruit because it wakes up in the morning and says “Today I am going to work hard and producing good fruit.” It does it entirely by virtue of its nature. It isn’t a volitional act. It is an act that emerges naturally from its ontology. And that is more or less what I hear Fr. Stephen saying. As was said earlier ‘Don’t put a fresh coat of paint on the tomb, but to give life to the bones.’

  81. To wrap up my thought, theosis is ontological and compassion for others is part of theosis. But making the world a better place is not a part of the askesis of theosis. Attend to theosis and we will do by nature those things that are ameliorating, remedial, and compassionate without a defined project or stated goal. We will produce good fruit that is good because the tree is good.

  82. Esmee, I haven’t seen this icon before, nor did I know about it’s history. Thank you for sharing this picture, it evokes a serene response in the heart. The link works.

    Simon, I enjoy your provocative thoughts. There’s a lot to “chew on”. Sometimes I can get a little lost in the meaning of the terms “inner” vs “outer”. I think this might come from my cultural background, I don’t know.

  83. Esmee,

    I cannot help commenting that, that icon (I did see it through the link you provided, thank you) is certainly not of the Orthodox style anyway. It is a deeply western-influenced depiction – not just stylistically clearly too…

  84. Dee, I don’t know that I understand what your struggle is with the “inner” vs “outer” language…but I have struggles with it, too. I mainly use it because there is something of an intuition about what it means, but I’m not sure that intuition has any useful meaning at all. Prior to my encounter with Orthodoxy I was endeavoring to eschew any talk about “inner” vs “outer” or “good” vs “bad”, you know, all the sloppy, polarizing language we use so carelessly. On the one hand, any time I hear someone use the words “good” or “bad” I hear very ambiguous language: ‘The meal was good’ (vs ‘The meal was delicious’) or ‘The movie was bad’ (vs ‘The movie was too violent’). In other words, I can always think of something more precise to say. I have a tendency to think that same way about “inner” vs “outer.” On the other hand, Jesus on several occasions is reported to have said “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.” This kind of expression “that those who enter may see the light” indicates to me that there is some sense in which we must enter within in order to find the illumination we are seeking, for that which is hidden to be revealed. What does that mean? I haven’t the slightest clue. But this verse among a handful of others, a handful of people, and a handful of very subjective experiences constitute my tether on the faith.

    I imagine that the lampstand is the “heart”, the light is the illumination of God, and to enter within means to turn one’s attention to the “heart” the mercy seat of the soul.

  85. Yes Dino, I agree, it is very Western. I’m not sure what year it was written, but I know that it was in a Russian Church and saved by a Russian woman who emigrated to the United States and gave it to the Monastery prior to her death. It is quite beautiful in real life.

  86. Simon,

    I find that to be human is by definition to be limited/obtuse/simple in our ability to comprehend – at least in our current state. This seems to be why most people most of the time use terms like ‘good’, ‘inner’, etc. We are groping around in the dark trying to understand the world we live in – including ourselves. Add to that just how exhausting this can be at the best of times. And then add another layer when things aren’t going so well. I try to keep this in mind when communicating something. Often it must be done on the level of the lowest common denominator – which seems to be very low indeed.

    But of course this leads to over generalizations, like calling the meal, the results of a big sports event, and the creation of the human being all just “good” – within the span of 5 minutes. I have found my general reaction to this phenomenon is to stop commenting as much. Since I don’t have appropriate words to describe something – and if I do there is often no one around to receive it – then maybe I should simply say nothing at all.

    I also find that God is good and gracious. He meets us where we’re at and often accepts it when we call things good or bad just like when a child says the sun is crying as a way to understand thunderstorms. My belief is that the child’s explanation may end up being much more accurate than the adult scientific one involving the rain cycle, and that’s why He doesn’t fret too much over our gross inaccuracies. But we’ll see.

  87. Drewster, I say “The sun sets” all the time even though I know it is grossly inaccurate. But, it adequately if not perfectly describes my experience.

    The only reason I went on the tangent was to think about the language we are using to describe our spiritual experience. More or less it was a direct response to Dee’s comment. Fr. Stephen notes that “two-story” language to describe the kingdom of God is often problematic because it reflects a mind that has dichotomized the world. Language that invokes things that are “good” and “bad” can be equally problematic if not more so. One, it is dichotomizing language and 2) it is ambiguous. So with the “inner” and “outer”. Are there any problems with this language. I think so. But, much like saying ‘the sun is setting’ it may be inaccurate, but it may also perfectly describe how our experience.

  88. Father,

    Thank you for your response. I realize now that I should have been more clear. In quoting your “We are not commanded to…”, I should have said that I completely agree with you. And I should have clarified that by quoting Michah 6:8, I was attempting to show the veracity of your assertion that, indeed, we are not commanded to “give an opinion;” or be involved in politics, etc., but that yes, we are commanded to behave in certain ways in order to love God and our neighbors (and *not* in order to make the world a “better” place). In so doing, we are responding to God’s invitation to himself and to whatever he wills.

    Your posts on this subject have been a balm to my heart that has long suspected these things to be true, but did not even have the language to identify the suspicion, let alone articulate it. Let’s just call it longing. And now, what’s been longed for is incarnating in word, as I read these posts, and in deed as attempt to honor God with tangible actions, as delineated in your list.

    But pray for me, as I am often reminded of Paul’s words recorded in Romans 7. I do that which I don’t want to do, even though I seem to understand what I should do. And then I fall into a modernist mind set, wanting to measure myself in hopes of declaring “victory” (the “better”), but often conceding defeat, because *I* have not made myself “better.” And even as wobble away from him, God quietly and patiently urges me back into his embrace, gently intoning, “Jeff, walk with me, I give you mercy to love, and I give you justice to do. I have, and am, all you will ever need. You are mine, and me you have your being.”

    Father, bless

  89. David,

    I very much agree with the need for accuracy with our language, but (as you seem indicate above) there is a place for different levels of it. I think of St. Paul talking about being all things to all men. As it pertains to this discussion, in some arenas we would say that the sun has set and in others we would talk about the rotation of the earth and our location on it.

    When I go from one setting to the next I try to dial it up or down as needed to fit the situation. I’m reminded of my father-in-law who owns a service business. He says that these days some customers refuse to communicate by any method other than texts. So he has to make the choice of texting with them or losing their business. There isn’t a question of getting them to change. That’s where I’m coming from on this.

    On a related note, someone commented here awhile back saying that English tends to be a shop language. It is built for transactional efficiency and not for loquaciousness, beauty or descriptional accuracy. You can say anything you like as long as you work off this list of 10 words. Very limiting. Sometimes people get creative but it’s not a mystery why so many inaccurately use terms like “bad” and “like” and “inner” in such a blanket fashion.

    The only way I’ve found to truly help supplement – or better yet, transcend – English is through relationship. You and I are looking at each other during our conversation. Someone reading the transcript of it would not catch a lot of its meaning, but you and I understand because we were there and communicated using body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and other methods simply not captured on tape or paper.

    hope this helps

  90. A good tree doesn’t produce good fruit because it wakes up in the morning and says “Today I am going to work hard and producing good fruit.” It does it entirely by virtue of its nature. It isn’t a volitional act. It is an act that emerges naturally from its ontology…. theosis is ontological and compassion for others is part of theosis. But making the world a better place is not a part of the askesis of theosis. Attend to theosis and we will do by nature those things that are ameliorating, remedial, and compassionate without a defined project or stated goal. We will produce good fruit that is good because the tree is good.

    Wonderfully stated, Simon. Thanks for these thoughts.

    I agree, it is very Western. I’m not sure what year it was written, but I know that it was in a Russian Church and saved by a Russian woman who emigrated to the United States and gave it to the Monastery prior to her death. It is quite beautiful in real life.

    Russia went through a period where they embraced Western “realism” in their icon making. My understanding is that they are not too proud of that, although they do not denounce the icons themselves (which is proper, I believe).

  91. Simon, thank you for your elaboration, I believe I understand better. Your added reflections about the lamp stand helped me. I think sometimes I might have a problem, as you indicate, understanding these words in an Orthodoxy context when we are inundated with the language of the ‘two story’ universe. Despite my background, with the modernist (i.e. two story) cast over everything including my own thoughts, I get tripped up. I’ve managed to disentangle by saying the words I live ‘in’ Christ, and Christ lives ‘in’ me. But where I still get tripped up is with the words, that as Christians we do not live in the world, or something like that. The words suggest to me in some literal sense that I should fall off the planet–silly I realize–but descriptive of the effort that I need to apply to understand.

  92. I’m reminded of my father-in-law who owns a service business. He says that these days some customers refuse to communicate by any method other than texts.

    I basically had to get a “smart phone” for this reason. Not business related; my friends wouldn’t call me–they communicate almost solely via text now! Crazy.

  93. Dee,
    In John 15:19 Christ says we are not “of” the world. We are certainly “in” it…” in the world you will have tribulation.” A couple of my favorite passages of Scripture are found in Hebrews. One is 11:37,38, speaking of OT believers who suffered for their faith, some martyred. The other is 11:13. OT believers (we too) are called ” sojourners and exiles.” Other translations use “pilgrims” and “strangers.” These all get to the sense that Father uses. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are “resident aliens” as it were. Our hope, our commonwealth is in heaven. I love our country. Yet I feel a stronger bond to my brothers and sisters in Russia and Greece, etc., than to many of my fellow citizens here. Why? Because we all are “in” Christ, fellow heirs of the Kingdom of God. It is said that blood is thicker than water. Well, being one in Spirit trumps them all!

  94. Byron, I’ve learned recently that email is ‘old school’. I’ve got a Twitter account but I don’t tweet. I might not be the birdie type 😊

  95. Thank you Dean! I appreciate the emphasis on the words ‘of’ vs ‘in’. In all likelihood I probably mix up these meanings as well. The additional descriptors help— particularly sojouners. And the place of our sojourn might be in our parish— again as a ‘ship’ or boat in this world. Falling (sin) is like falling off the boat. With Christ/ and fellow brothers and sisters pulling us back on board. I realize that I might be overdoing the metaphors. But using such ‘concrete’ language helps me.

  96. Thanks you Father,
    Interesting how this inheritent violence interplay with modernity’s obsession with safety. Safety is enthroned as the chief criterion of what is considered good: sex is good if it is safe, ‘making fun’ is good if it is safe, society is good if it is safe.

  97. The goal of humanism is to make everything safe for the sake of our own hedonism.

    The goal of Christianity is life “and that not of ourselves”.

  98. Byron,
    I totally agree.
    I would put it another way:
    The goal of humanism is to keep whitewashing the tomb while forbidding people to look inside and to pretend the bones aren’t dead.
    The goal of Christianity is to bring life to the dead men’s bones.

  99. Ostap
    Great comment!
    Here in NZ Safety is Worshipped
    A typical greeting is ‘Keep Safe! and schools have signs out during the vacation wishing everyone a Safe Holiday

    At the same time we have the worlds worst youth suicide rate . . ,

  100. Ostap Ronzhyn,
    We either have the Safety of the true God, or we need to seek elusive safeties when we try to be gods bereft of God. It is worth noting that the patristic wisdom often seems to be saying that “the more we try to control (people, things, nature, situations), the more we end up being controlled”.
    He who does not fear God fears everything whereas one who fears God fears nothing it also says.

  101. Hello Father Stephen;

    I have a technical problem: It seems I can never access “Newer Comments”. When I press that ‘button’, it does not display anything. I have had this problem for at least a year. Do you know if this is a problem others have mentioned? Do you know of a fix?
    Apologies for the off-topic comment. You dont have to post this comment.

    On topic, I have thought a lot about the inherent violence of living a life. It has been part of the ‘maturing’ of my Orthodox understanding of nonviolence. Somehow “do less/the least violence” does not seem the correct answer. Certain kinds of violence are prohibited (killing people), other forms of violence are permitted but are put aside by the transfigured (I think of saints who let insects feed on their blood, or of St Silouan’s disapproval of Blessed Sophrony’s hitting at grasses while on a walk).
    My spiritual father looked at the intended harmony in the garden- to be friends and partners with animals, and so he would not “impose his will” to kill anything that resisted this (seemed against God’s intentions.). Plants, seeds, fruit: these are gifts that do not resist our gathering and eating them.

    I continue with such gratitude for your work here on the blog, when I am privileged to read it.
    -Mark Basil

  102. Dino thank you for your comment to Ostap. —Very helpful words for me too.

  103. Mark Basil,
    Others have said the same. When I’ve logged out and gone on the site (so that it just sees me as a user), and go down to the bottom of the page of comments – it has that newer comments button, which, when you push, takes you nowhere. But it’s apparently because all the comments are already visible. That’s how it was for me.

  104. I would disagree with one thing Father, modernity is not about making the corpse look better. Modernity is about making corpses, feeding off them and claiming that is life. All philosophies of modernity are fueld by destruction claiming that as progress.

  105. Michael,
    Yes. The reports on the improvement of the world are always based on a very carefully selected bit of data. Last year, someone on Facebook was trashing my work, but offered a great summary (they thought they were very clever). The summary was:

    Freeman’s work is full of existential despair and moral futility. My first reaction was to think that they had confused me with Dostoevsky! But, I think that modernists (even the Orthodox ones) confuse my take on modernity (or anything in this world) as “existential despair” because I point out that it is nothing but death. It can be nothing but death. Improved death is still death.

    The moral futility comes from the fact that a well-behaved corpse is still a corpse. It does not “improve.”

    The theological problem is the failure to understand the preaching of the Kingdom of God and the nature of what Christ is doing in the world. It is a new creation – not an improvement of the old one. The old things are passing away, behold, the new has come. This theological failure is the essence of secularism. It locates life as the thing that is dead and is working death.

    I scratch my head sometimes about all of this, marveling that people who read the Scriptures do not see all of this being shouted at them from every page! I think that they treat as literal things that are not, and fail to treat as literal the things that are.

    A preacher’s frustration.

  106. Simon,

    To make a word or phrase bold or italic, put b (for bold) or i (for italic) in between the less-than and greater-than symbols at the beginning of the word or phrase, then do the same at the end but with a forward slash added between the less-than symbol and the letter.

    Hope this helps.

  107. Ok thanks Matt here goes:

    Fr Stephen’s bulleted points succinctly express Christ’s commandments in terms for us to remember and live out in our daily lives. But the hardest might well be the tenth point:

    “be thankful for everything, remembering that the world we live in and everything in it belongs to God.”

    Living out that last point is indeed a radical departure from the modern project.

  108. And then Jesus said unto them,

    Happy are those that use HTML formatting to get their point across

  109. Yep, that’s what Jesus meant to say, but his disciple was distracted by the baby when he recorded it.

  110. “God cares about His world, and has given us instructions on the right way to live. He did not command us to fix the world or manage the outcomes of history. He commanded us to keep the commandments. If we did that, we would not have slaves, or apartheid, or oppress women, etc. Nor would we build a world on ever-increasing violence.”

    Thank you, Father, for the peace and serenity I have gained by learning this lesson. God is truly King. Glory to Him forever.

  111. Dear Fr. Stephen,
    It has been a very interesting thread of conversations to follow.
    (I almost posted something in response to Simon regarding abuse being a control issue, but it would have been too personal again).

    The more recent comments about wishing for comfort and safety reminded me of an article I read online recently (I am trying to educate myself a little about what is going on in Russia and Ukraine, close neighbors of my home in Poland) about issues there. The article described how some Ukrainian pilgrims to Mt. Athos asked the Elders of a monastery there about when their problems and suffering will end.

    The Athonite Elders had a very sobering answer for them (I don’t remember who exactly).

    Their answer was that there are three major (may have been more but these were discussed) “sins” from which the whole country must repent:

    1) formal and superficial relationship towards the Faith.
    2) worshiping of wealth (money) and comfort, and
    3) calumny/slandering of the Church (and even just silence when the Church and Christ are slandered).
    Those three, combined with sexual immorality and especially the issue of wide spread abortion, are the reasons there is no peace in the land. Until the people come to their senses and offer first their personal, and then more communal, repentance, nothing will change and the suffering will continue.

    In a different comment I read, it was pointed out that when the Enemy wants to make us loose God’s favor, he focuses on taking away our Faith in God and on convincing us that the sexual promiscuity in no-big-deal, our right and privilege… Many point out that this is how the West conquered Russia, not with weapons and in wars but with “chewing gum, Coca Cola, jeans and pornography”… The article of Dr. Patitsas touched upon that… I am still in shock from reading it…

    May God grant us His Joy, trust and peace. And remove from us “sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk”, but secure us in “chastity, humility, patience and love”…
    Somehow this prayer is suddenly the most appropriate to pray, even in the global context…

  112. As we see our society cracking and crumbling around us, I am reminded of what Francis Schaeffer wrote in the late 60’s early 70’s. He noted that as violence becomes more and more prevalent people will be willing to give up more and liberties for “peace and security.” After tragedies such as the recent one in Texas ( we lose track since there are so many) we see calls for exactly this. I recently got a Senior Citizen ID card with the federally accepted seal on it so that I can fly domestically or enter certain federal buildings in 2020 . Yes, perhaps?? more security in travel and in public buildings but at a loss of certain liberties. I would not have envisioned an America like this 40+ years ago. The Christian author Schaeffer did.

  113. Dean,

    Don’t forget the more hopeful side of that. 911 was a lot of evil, but on the other hand it prompted SO many acts of kindness and woke up SO many people to the need to truly live for something they actually believe in – like their neighbor. St. Paul said, “Should we then sin that grace may abound? Of course not!” But as Fr. Stephen said, when tragedy strikes in our lives He is right there asking us if He can use this event to transform our lives.

    As America (or anywhere) grows darker, the truth will only shine brighter and draw more (cf. St. Seraphim’s quote on inner peace). The great multitude who presently sit on the nominal fence will begin to choose sides – and many for the good than we can currently even dream.

  114. Drewster,
    That would be wonderful Drewster, that the many choose the good as things get darker. Father Stephen has mentioned that nature bears its own weight, and that it pushes back on attempts to change it…such as the early on failures of the Bolsheviks when attempting to transform the family. Perhaps we will see the same type of thing eventually take place here with all the social and biological tampering going on. God, through nature and other means, can do far more, and faster, than any feeble attempts we may have on the Internet, on the streets, etc. Think only of how quickly the Soviet Union came apart. I watched it and could hardly believe what I saw occurring.

  115. Matt Z,

    HTML sounds like Word Star raised from the dead….I hope you are old enough to get that…..

  116. Dear Fr. Stephen,
    Much gratitude for your words and illustrating your point through the example of education. As an educator, I can testify to this type systemic, profit-driven, dehumanizing approach to children as widgets. The pervading culture of “reform” and experimental pedagogy has resulted in a dearth of the more creative arts and disciplines in favor of mechanistic learning. “If it can’t be measured, how can success be assessed?” We hear educators wrestling with this idea. I see it with my own children. The essence of “play” and the joy of learning have been diminished. I hadn’t thought of it as a form of “violence” until I read your essay.

    Our Western culture seems so set on quantifying everything, we’ve lost a real passionate sense at qualifying what makes our lives better. It’s toxic and consumptive as you seem to suggest. After 20 years of teaching, I fear there’s been a great degree of spiritual death among adolescents. Cultivating passions, encouraging community, and having honest discourse have fallen by the wayside for strict material and individualistic gains. The ongoing threats to the institutions of family and faith have sped up the decline. Some suggested it’s wrong to politicize why we have a shift in random acts of violence we see in schools and in public spaces, but the political response has only made it worse. Feuding talking heads on every news network have made it about winning and being right, rather than finding a common ground for love and tolerance.

    I may not be able to explicitly teach the Beattitdes or the St. Francis prayer in public schools, but I can abide by their underlying principles and values. I wish families would be more empowered to do so at their end. The violence so often begins as being self-inflicted, mainly out of fear and abandonment.

    Peace and God bless!

  117. I am thinking about how violent shame is and how we dress up shame in so many ways. All in the name of progress.

  118. This post and the supporting comments have strongly reinforced my opposition to the annual March for Life and other attempts to make abortion illegal. I am opposed to abortion. It is homicide, As Father has said, it has now reached the level of genocide. Because of my opposition to abortion, I spent time researching the best methods for reducing the abortion rate. I discovered that making abortion illegal does not work. To the contrary, it sometimes makes things worse. The way to reduce the abortion rate is to provide a loving and caring environment for the unwed mother and her newborn. Few women want to abort. They abort because they believe they will be unable to care for their child and themselves. Cultures that provide the care and support the mother and child need have fewer abortions than those that make it illegal. Medical and social science research has demonstrated this again and again. Trying to make abortion illegal is the Modern way. I would argue that providing the loving acre and support needed by mother and child is the Christian way.

    My two cents worth.

  119. Esmee’ , I do not know about many Orthodox endeavors but I do know of one, The Treehouse here in Wichita. It began as an effort of prayer by two women. It is a vital ministry. Two lay Orthodox women with jobs and families without overt qualifications started it. They labored for years. If such an endeavor is important to you and the Spirit moves you, it can be done any where.

  120. David Waite,

    I was intrigued by your comment. It reminded me of Dr. Gabor Mate speaking about the social experiment Portugal is doing. They made all drugs legal. Then they took all the money traditionally allotted for the typical “war on drugs” and put it toward solving all the problems that caused people to turn to drugs in the first place, i.e. affordable housing, occupational training & placement, nurturing environments. From my understanding at least 10 years have passed since this began and their overall rate of drug use has gone way down.

    I believe this is wisdom and it is the way God seems to deal with us, but it is counter-intuitive to the religion that most of us have been thumped over the head with, which aligns more with the slogan, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

  121. Amen to that, Michael. We have a local program that began when one woman saw a younger, pregnant woman going through withdrawal in a hospital. She was so moved that she took the young woman into her home. Mother and baby are now doing well, as are many others who have also shared in the blessing of what has now grown into a residential facility for unwed, drug addicted young mothers. One woman, reaching out to one, desperate, unwed mother has saved the lives of dozens of babies. It works, one mother and one child at a time.

  122. Drewster2000,

    Thanks. Compassion and understanding works.

    Let me hasten to add, however, that, as much as I admire the program you describe, I am not advocating any social or political program. All I am advocating is actual love of neighbor, as in real physical touching, listening, feeding, housing, and healing. As per my response to Michael, doing this for one person can work wonders, or, rather, allow God to work His wonders through us.

    Ask Mother Teresa,

  123. Thank you all for these recent comments. They have brought tears of gratitude.

  124. David,

    It seems to be a human thing. One woman reaches out to a pregnant mother and does a wonderful thing, is Christ to her. But this is a fragile arrangement in our North American society, which seems detgermined to institutionalize everything. Sooner or later someone will insist that the woman get a license, build an extra room onto her house, request an exception to certain zoning laws, have a wheelchair ramp constructed, and so on.

    Having said that God seems to insist that His way remain fragile. It is the stripped-bare situation that allows for genuine relationships, true healing, the soul of one person ministering to another one. I marvel at this. Given a chance to do it over again He would always choose Moses. Jesus would always hang out with the prostitutes and tax collectors. He would always build His church on the disciple who denied Him – and call him “the Rock”. It is a mystery to me. It is a wisdom I know nothing about. I can imitate His behavior sometimes but I can’t understand it – not in my heart – not yet.

  125. David,

    In regards your comments on abortion, I agree; however, I don’t think that that’s the whole picture. There are many women who would not accept such help because they don’t see the decision to abort as a struggle, but simply as an inconvenient medical condition that just requires a routine operation to take care of, like a benign tumor. They don’t see it as a child. Our culture constantly screams that it is “your body, your choice” (and we have to keep telling ourselves that because it is so utterly contrary to the truth).

    The problems in our culture go much deeper. It’s the worship of self through consumerist choice as the means to “salvation”. I don’t have answers, just prayers.

  126. I was always dismayed by the TV coverage of the March in D.C. against abortion, pro-life (though I shouldn’t have been knowing who massages the news). At times more than 200-300 thousand marched, often in bitter winter cold. But the way the multitude was cropped, it always looked like a handful of thousands, or less. A few hundred would march pro-choice. But with the adept editing the crowds looked about the same size. So much for “news.” Think I’ll stick to the only truly Good News!

  127. It works, one mother and one child at a time.

    This is the essence of what Father has been teaching for some time here on the blog: pray, give alms, love the person in front of you. The commandments of Christ.

    Sooner or later someone will insist that the woman get a license, build an extra room onto her house, request an exception to certain zoning laws, have a wheelchair ramp constructed, and so on.

    Institutionalism is a method of control, primarily by the State. The reason this happens is that the forces of our society now worship the State–the centrality of a controlling power. So everything must be under it.

  128. Adam N,

    In regards to your comment, “There are many women who would not accept such help because they don’t see the decision to abort as a struggle, but simply as an inconvenient medical condition that just requires a routine operation to take care of, like a benign tumor. They don’t see it as a child.”

    I knew one such woman, over 40 years ago. I have encountered many women with “problem pregnancies” since then and I can only think of two other women who did not seem struggle with the decision. The fathers did. They both opposed the decision to abort and they both grieve to this day. The mothers may have struggled as well. I was not close enough to them to know.

    So I guess I have two things to say in response to your comment. The first is that I doubt that the decision to abort is, for most women, as easy as you say it is. Even when it appears to be an easy decision, there are often family and other pressures that we don’t know about. Appearances can be deceiving.

    The second thing I would say is please do not ignore the fathers. They usually are ignored and I think that is a great mistake, They need our love, understanding, care and support as well, especially since they often have no say in the decision whether to abort.

  129. David
    With years of Sidewalk counselling in front of abortion clinics, I agree with your premise that the best way to approach mothers seeking abortion is with compassion and help. However, I also agree with what Adam N said about many of those seeking abortion do not see anything wrong with what they are doing. Some are being forced into by parents or boyfriends too. Some see themselves trapped by being pregnant and are looking for the easy way out. I do know that the abortion mills tell people that an abortion is a simple procedure and that the baby is only a lump of tissue and not a person. High School Biology classes teach falsehoods about human development in the womb. As such I can see why so many are as Adam says. It is easy to tell what women think when they react to a compassionate approach as you suggest . Some are open, but most have rather harsh language for us. A few respond positively to our offers of help.

  130. Stephen – Thank you for your comment. I respect and defer to your more extensive experience. I especially appreciate what you said about the fetus being nothing more than a lump of tissue I think this points to the deeper problem, which the law cannot touch. The problem is cultural. We are losing all respect for life. This leads to abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and a violent and cruel penal system. I might add drug addiction to the list. Changing the law will not change this culture. The law merely reflects the culture.

    You say that a few women responded positively to your offer of help. Thank God for the lives you saved.

  131. Stephen,

    I agree with your assessment concerning many women not seeing anything wrong with abortion and not having a problem with it – at the time. But I also believe that reality cannot be ignored forever. I’ve heard several stories of such women going through depression years after the fact, often having no idea why, and coming to discover it to be a delayed mourning over the loss of their child.

    Even when this doesn’t occur, ignorance does not trump reality. I’m reminded of when cartoon characters would be half-asleep and walk over a cliff – but keep walking on a horizontal plane because they were oblivious to the fact that the ground had disappeared beneath their feet. It makes a great cartoon moment but never happens in real life. You can’t lose an arm and not go through a process of loss and grieving. Neither can you let a human being die – especially one so intimately a part of you – and not be impacted by it. That impact may manifest itself in different ways, but it will still manifest.

  132. David,
    You do make a very salient point about law. Law does not and cannot change behavior. All it can do is punish behavior. We all know what a speed limit is, the maximum speed that one can travel on a given section of road, but we all go faster than that. Our punishment comes as a ticket/fine’increased insurance premiums etc. Let’s not fool ourselves and think that abortions did not happen prior to Roe V Wade nor let us think that overturning that Case Law will stop abortion. Only the change of the human heart will bring it to and end and the only way to elicit change in human hearts is compassion. That you for bringing this to light.

  133. Drewster,
    It isn’t always years later. The statistics for psychological impacts of abortion on women is frightening and covered up by Banned Parenthood and the government. Women who have an abortion have the following: 93% suffer from lack of trust and have severe trouble forming normal human relationships. 76% suffer from persistent depression, 68% suffer from PTSD, 56% become suicidal, and 53% suffer addictive behaviors. Add to that the physical consequences such as a woman who has one abortion is 119% more likely to die in child birth later when she desires to have a baby. For three previous abortion the rate is 191%. Often a woman becomes sterile after an abortion as well.

    I know from first hand experiences that these stats are fairly accurate. Many women suffer from these issues and do not connect it to their abortion . I wonder about the Hollywood elites who tout their abortion. I would if their Coke addiction and their tripos to rehab are just indicators of their real state of mind. I also personally know an unfortunate soul who did take her own life three weeks after she went ahead and had the abortion. My wife talked to her for over three hours before the woman went in anyway. It broke my wife’s heart when the woman called her weeks later crying out for help and despite our best efforts to get her help, she went ahead and killed herself.

    Its a terrible business and 3/4 f the victims of abortion are women. (half of the babies killed and all the mothers who suffer the after affects are female).

  134. Stephen,
    “Women who have an abortion have the following: 93% suffer from lack of trust and have severe trouble forming normal human relationships. 76% suffer from persistent depression, 68% suffer from PTSD, 56% become suicidal, and 53% suffer addictive behaviors.”
    Speaking as a woman, and one who knows personally this tragedy, it has been my experience that the lack of trust, trouble forming normal relationships, persistent depression, etc. are not the result of abortion but are already at work previously. The decision to abort is then another tragedy among tragedies. And I tell you, it then goes to inflame those preexisting conditions. The shame intensifies and you withdraw further and further into darkness.
    I think this scenario is more accurate.

  135. Paula,
    Perhaps it does, but I know many a woman who was fine before and troubled after with no sign of the issues. I know one who at age 15 had an abortion because her High School sweetheart’s father wanted to get rid of the problem so his son could go to college. It was the first year of Roe V Wade and the young girl was not a troubled person before hand and yet suffers to this day with many of those issues. She was 48 before she even knew the source of her issues.

    Having been in Pro Life for years, I know many women personally who are post abortive and come to the clinics to share their stories with the arriving mothers. I have talked extensively to them and almost universally they see the abortion as a watershed moment in their life. I cannot deny that some people have these issues before abortion but it stretches imagination to think that those percentages of women are already in that state before an abortion. The unifying factor in all of these is the abortion. One does not just have PTSD. One has to experience traumatic stress to have Post Traumatic Stress and the tramatic stress the women I know speak of is the abortion.

    Many of the women we see arrive at the clinics have been living self destructive life styles before they got pregnant so there may be some connection to a latent condition but certainly over half the women who do show up for an abortion have not in the past entertained thoughts of suicide or attempted it, so it seems there is a connection with that traumatic act.

  136. For all,
    The nature of the violence in our society and its destruction can never be easily isolated one way or another. So many things impact our lives that in hindsight, we ourselves are not always sure how to separate the strands.

    What is clear is that the violence of these decisions or the violence within relationships, and even just the violence surrounding the rampant injustice in modern culture, all contribute to the destruction of persons. My experience has been that this destruction falls heaviest on the weakest – children, the poor, women (in many situations), etc.

    Our prayers and compassion need to be directed towards all. No sinner, in my experience, is ever solely responsible for their actions. That, I think, is not the teaching of the Church. I prefer Dostoevsky’s Elder Zossima, “Each man is guilty for the sins of all.” Only in this manner can we learn to love. Christ did not hold Himself apart from us or our sins, but willingly took them upon Himself, not pleading His innocence, but pleading for our forgiveness.

    This is the way of the Christian. The violence of modernity (like the violence of so much else) walks about like a roaring lion seeking to devour us. May God protect us. May the Mother of God shelter us beneath her compassion!

  137. Father & others, you may appreciate this article about the Amish attitude toward technology.

    https://qz.com/1275194/the-amish-understand-a-life-changing-truth-about-technology-the-rest-of-us-dont/

    Here’s a quote:

    ‘At the beginning of the age of the automobile, nobody said, All right: 30,000 people a year are going to die. Is that a decision we want to make? What did happen is a very intense discussion about whether a car should be allowed on the road and who should be at fault when a car drives over a four-year-old in the street.
    ‘In the 1930s, we ended up as a society deciding that four-year-olds should be the one to blame. We began to train people even before they began to speak about how to cross the street and how to avoid it in the street. We redesigned our world to be safe for automobiles and dangerous for children.’

  138. William, great article! Many thanks!

    The Machine Stops is one of my favorite short stories.

  139. Byron, glad you enjoyed it!

    I have yet to read The Machine Stops, but it’s on my reading list for the week.

  140. William, all technology changes us. We always redesign our lives to fit it. Computers have changed the way we think but the ground work for computers was laid by Hegel with is binary, souless approach to history. Computers epitomize the two storey universe and counterfeit connections.

    Artificial intelligence — how will that change us? No one knows, most do not care. Should we be Ludites?

    Lord grant us wisdom and forgive us.

  141. Father your phrase ” the violence surrounding the rampant injustice…” causes a bit of cognitive dissonance for me in light of the rest of your comment and the overall tenor of the entire blog as I have experienced it.

    As a statement of existential reality it can easily become the rallying cry for “change” and even greater violence. Justice is a tricky word and concept as we human beings are so easily moved to great destruction in prusuit of it, never thinking for a moment that I am the source of injustice-my passions, judgments, desires and other sins create injustice.
    The law is incapable of restoring proper order, instead it usually magnifies injustice by it’s essential violence especially where everybody has “rights”.
    Our Lord is not “just” as St. John’s Paschal Homily clearly points out. Yet He restores justice by His Incarnation and sacrifice on the Cross and His Ressurection. These are the actual parameters of our existence not anything less.
    Human justice always demands blood-figuratively at least but often literally.
    So I find your reference to it quite strange.

  142. Michael,
    By “injustice” I mean the many and varied forms of an imbalanced distribution of power, wealth, debt, etc., as if many generations in Israel had ignored the Sabbath and Jubilee laws. When I force someone into a deep and almost endless debt – there is a violence. If there were a Jubilee – or simply Christian behavior in these matters – there would be less injustice. God will ultimately set things right in His Kingdom – and in a cosmic manner. But injustice in this world still has a meaning and still works according to the principles of justice/injustice.

    I’m not advocating a fix everything now approach – you’re right – those things are usually just another form of violence. But when looking at the examples of those who are in trouble – women, youth, etc. – we cannot understand their plight without reference to the violent injustice that they endure. That violent injustice is a sin in which we all have a share. Let’s not give up the term “injustice” to those who would use it wrongly. It’s a bood Bibical word and deserves a place in our vocabulary. We’re used to hearing justice described only from those demanding it for themselves – their “rights.” But the gross inequalities of our system and our land and our history – have given us a deep legacy of violence and injustice. Ultimately, only mercy can treat such things and it is mercy that God teaches our hearts.

    I have recently been speaking of justice/righteousness as “right-setting,” as in the Jubilee. When we extend mercy, there is a “right-setting” that takes place – and even more abundantly. I think this is consonant with what I’ve written before.

  143. Thank you Father. Thank you for your kindness and compassion.
    I can hardly endure how some men speak past us (women) as if they know exactly what is happening and how to fix it. It takes all that is within me not to explode. After 63 years, I have had enough.
    I look at our Blessed Mother, how She endured in silence the swords piercing Her heart. I have never prayed to Her as much as I do now.

  144. Michael,
    A little extended thought…

    I’ve been working a lot recently with the Sabbath/Jubilee and its relationship to the Kingdom of God. It is in those terms that I’ve found the notion of justice (things set right) as helpful. God in His mercy will set things right (making it just). But I’ve also, in these terms, thought much about the violence associated with injustice. For example, a family that has been locked in poverty for generations – because a society lives unjustly, endures a great deal of violence as a consequence. They are sicker, less educated, die younger, and suffer many ills brought on by their poverty. It is just a way of looking at sin. Thus, when I think of a young woman, who has been left deeply vulnerable and abandoned in many ways – particularly by a culture whose answer is a quick abortion – she is as much a victim as anything. It has been a series of violent actions that left her in that position.

    This is not the whole of a situation – but injustice does great harm – which is why God gave Israel the Sabbath system in the manner that He did. A society that has no mechanism for addressing the generational results of rather natural imbalances increases the burden of that imbalance to a place of deadly consequence over time.

    We are not in charge of the outcome of history – but we do rightly to speak the truth and describe the world as it truly is. Sometimes, even Ninevah repents.

  145. Michael, that’s a fascinating connection you made: the Hegelian dialectic with computer technology. I’d love to read more about that…

  146. Michael,

    I second William’s request for elaboration. Calling computers Hegelian and the epitome of the two storey worldview sounds like hokum, but I’m willing to listen.

  147. Well, I sometimes expand my imagination into the land of Hokum but when I look at the dialectic process and all of the philosophies surrounding it I see a form of binary thinking which dove-tails nicely with binary code that powers basic computing.

    Now there is certainly a lot of nuance I am skipping. That does not bother me. It has been a long time since I have read any Hegal though. Still as I chase the connections of the type of thinking that is at the foundation of modernism, that is one connection possibility that is worth investigating.

    There is one common denominator in it all — an Incarnate God is either unecessary or impossible. The fact that without an Incarnate God, there is no humanity is lost in the process. History is a force in and of itself powered by the dialectic process.

    Back in 1979 Time Magazine did a piece on Artificial Intelligence and interviewed several top people in the field. One of them said out right that his goal and the goal of many was to create the next dominate life form on the planet. The will to power. Here there is no longer a second storey even.

    My main point though is that our technology changes us — we do not just use it.
    Technology is not a tool. Computers have a unique capacity to existentially redefine what a human being is considered to be. A new synthesis of man and machine.

    It seems self-evident to me but then I was introduced to a one storey way of thinking in great nuance and complexity by my parents. They thought and acted that way even though they could not quite make the leap into full recognition of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Logos–they knew someone was there connecting us all and offering us a opportunity to experience His life but who that was they could not quite get to. They had drunk too deeply of bad theology which they knew was wrong and had no one else to guide them. They left the rest of the journey up to my brother and me–both Orthodox by God’s grace.

    The dialectic and computers have this commonality: they are dead things masquerading as living things. They are useful if we remember that. They are dangerous if we do not.

    Everything is connected. I may have this particular connection wrong but there is still a connection and that is not hokum–that is the way creation is.

  148. Michael,
    One aspect of computers that occurs to me, reading your thoughts here, is that they are always a simulacrum – just binary, digital approximations of a world that we can say is more analog. In that sense, it creates a great artificiality – a “real” world that is inherently “not real.”

    We increasingly have people with not real experience. Living on the internet, they have “google knowledge,” which is only a digital summary. They don’t read books, much less have real encounters. It becomes a sort of “anti-sacrament.” The word becomes “flesh-like” but never flesh.

    When I was visiting Mt. Athos, one of the most striking things was its sheer palpability. I was seeing things that I had seen pictures of many times – and it’s not at all the same thing.

    Those are a few thoughts – not certain where to go with it…

  149. Father and others, I have been working on a project of my own lately that some of the threads here are touching on and sparking. A look at various philosophies of history and how they form an inter-linked matrix of modernity. This is a summary of what I have been studying and contemplating since my first conscious encounter with our Lord 50 years ago but with a conclusion I have never had before. So I suspect some of my replies are a bit cryptic. Right now they cannot be much more than that. Still in outline form and I have never put it all together in such a coherent form before.

    Your questions are good. They help me to clarify. Please bear with me.

    Father as far as your use of the word justice–it makes perfect sense. I was looking at it too much in the modern capricious understanding. I get it now-perfectly.

  150. Michael and Father,

    I think you’re onto something. ‘[D]ead things masquerading as living things’–makes me think of the zeitgeist, the ghost of the age. This might fit with Schmemann’s proclamation (Christianity’s proclamation, really) of Christ as the End of all things, in the sense that any geist other than the Heiliger Geist can only be death tarted up as life.

  151. Father – You said, “When I was visiting Mt. Athos, one of the most striking things was its sheer palpability.” I can say the same thing about the Eucharist. Thanks be to God. May His Name be forever praised.

  152. Paula,
    I am still thinking of your last 2 comments. Yep, we guys can sometimes be real louts! My wife is so very different than me…thank God! The feminine touch is so needed and welcome in our lives and church…thank God for our blessed Mother Mary and all women saints! I’ve been enriched so with girls/women in my life…4 sisters, 2 daughters and a precious granddaughter. Anyway, know others think of you as you’re there on your farm (caring for all your animal buddies) beginning this hot season…especially around Tucson!

  153. Michael, Father,

    Thanks for the thoughts. I certainly agree that computer technology has had a lot of negative impacts on society, especially the way people choose to interact and spend their time. But I have to push back a little bit. Focusing only on these things is reductionist.

    I am sorry; I don’t really buy the dialectic connection to computers. The reason computers represent data in binary is for pragmatic engineering purposes—it’s much easier to design a machine that only needs to differentiate between two states of something, and the circuits for doing arithmetic on numbers represented binary are very simple. Maybe you could argue that people thought of engineering computers in binary because of Hegelian dialectics, but that just seems like grasping at straws to me. You could just as easily and arbitrarily assert that computers are Daoist because Daoism teaches that the universe is a balance and interaction between two opposing sides. That magnets have two poles is not Hegelian or Daoist. That binary arithmetic is easy to engineer is not Hegelian or Daoist. Of course, I might just be too literally-minded.

    And as far as computers facilitating artificial relationships, that is certainly true, but not of all computers. A smartphone with all the latest social networking applications pre-installed, for example, is engineered and often used for that purpose, but I don’t see how a supercomputer used for automated theorem proving or an embedded system in a medical device does this. And of course, computers are required for people to use them as a substitute for real experience, but that does not mean that computers therefore equal or epitomize this two-storey artifice. The eugenics of the last few centuries may not have occurred without biology, but biology is not therefore reducible to eugenics.

    Maybe as a computer scientist I have a bit of a different perspective, but I don’t see computers as “dead things masquerading as living things”. My basic idea of a computer is a machine that computes, which we have implemented as an electric device that stores and performs basic arithmetic on Boolean values. If your ideas of what a computer is are from observing modern consumer electronics and how they’re used (e.g. people “living on the internet”), without knowing much of how they work, they may very well seem like magic boxes that pretend to be alive, or an artificial world that pretends to be real. But they’re not mystical for me. If you’ve ever tried to program anything you’ll quickly learn how dumb computers really are. They at best only ever do exactly what they’re told, but quite often screw up somehow and cease to function entirely.

    As far as AI goes, I don’t really care what a magazine reported some expert as saying in the 70s. I’m sure his response was exactly the kind of one they searched for until they got, because it’s radical and sells copies. AI is just the study and use of algorithms that change (“learn”) according to their input. That people seek to use it for trans-humanist and other blasphemous purposes does not taint the entire field. Some people study medical science in essence to find life and achieve some kind of “immortality” (or as close as they can get to it) apart from God, but that doesn’t discount medical science as a whole.

    But again, I’m sure I’m biased and have a slightly different perspective since computer science is my field. And I do tend to think too literally (I’m working on it). Everything is indeed connected.

  154. “Then, as now: follow the money. The American project, as it now exists (and has for quite some time), is about making a number of people and corporations rich. Everything else is largely about pacifying a population and making them think that we’re about something else. The State is about power – and money is power. The Church is about power – but its power is Christ crucified. That is why the most subversive and dangerous thing we can do is lay down our lives for the world.”

    YES Father!! A thousand times YES to this comment!

  155. “Trying to make abortion illegal is the Modern way.” Sorry, but this is flat out wrong. Modernity is what gave us abortion on demand. Since modernity can’t be opposed to itself, it follows that modernity is not about trying to make abortion (murder) illegal. But hey, nice try.
    Frankly, I’m tired of this red herring lie that Christians don’t help single mothers and that’s why the lie needs to be called out. There are countless Christian based organizations in the US that do exactly that.
    You claim that outlawing abortion wouldn’t help. Of course that is just your opinion. Riddle me this: In January of 1973, what % of pregnancies in the US ended in abortion? What is that % today?

  156. Alan, David W
    Better a good law than a bad law. It is very difficult to turn back the hands of modernity. Russia has been working on dialing back Soviet-era abortion laws. They have done so slowly, with the help of the Church, and are having some impact. The Church has formally asked for its eradication. Of course, in many respects, the Russian state is functioning in certain non-modern ways – particularly in its present relationship with the Church and with a spiritual understanding of society. It is not trying to create a secularized world – but a Russian world and a Russian world that would be unimaginable apart from Orthodoxy.

    Everything about living in a modern democracy tends to be modern. But, it’s not a reason not to work for good laws. We just have to understand that good laws will not necessarily make good people. Laws help discourage us from being as bad as we could be. Bad laws (such as the present statutes concerning abortion) actually help destroy virtue and fail to protect the project of nurturing virtue – something essential to every civilization.

    I would always work for good laws – even recognizing the limits of what it might accomplish. I would add that Christians should not become Machiavellian in their pursuit of good law.

  157. Alan,
    I’m always grateful for scientists participating in this blog, where their participation provides us with perspectives that might help us grow deeper into the faith. Such growth comes to us in many ways. And I think discussion is helpful, as long as it is respectful and compassionate.

    I really enjoyed your synopsis about your field of computer science and appreciated your thoughts about how someone’s opinions in the field can be misused for sensationalist purposes (referring to your thoughts about AI questions).

    I will state this upfront, I’m Orthodox and abide and live the life of Christ as much as I can, a sinner as I am.

    In your last comment, you have spoken to someone you referred to as “you”. I didn’t know who that was, and like Fr Stephen, I had to scroll up the comment line to find to whom you were speaking. It seems that more often than not the most outspoken, and I would add politically strident, voices I hear tend to come from men. I was very grateful for David’s and Simon’s (I also add Fr Stephen’s) courage to speak in ways far different from that. I’m sure there are women who are very openly and vocally strident and antagonistic in their views against abortion as well. But I don’t hear such a tone among them as often as I hear such a tone among men. A few posts back, Fr Stephen wrote an article about the sins of the nation. With some chagrin, it wasn’t a surprise to me to read comments initially pointing to abortion were coincidentally males. Ironically also, my own first thought was to think of ‘white men with guns’ when I thought of the sins of the nation. I’m bi-racial, female and a scientist in physical chemistry (and btw chemical education). In the context of such questions about the sins of the nation, I’ve become aware of the fact that when I first think of the sins of the nation, I have a tendency not to look at my own sins. This immediate knee-jerk behavior I’ve been taught is not indicative of the Orthodox, and Christ’s way that we would live.

    In your last comment you ascribe to someone else that they speak from their own opinion. You brought out a question about numbers of infant deaths through abortion pre-and post abortion law. Such a question as far as I know can’t be answered scientifically from within your field as far as I know. And therefore by raising the question it seems you have an agenda outside your field. (which is fine–I’m just noting it and observe that you too have an opinion that you wish to express.)

    I too have a question about numbers. When you raised a question about ‘before and after’ law, I too had a question about ‘before and after’ law. But my question was quite different from yours and rather than just throw out a question, I decided to take a look at what the science in the medical field of maternity might show.

    My question was how many pregnant women die from self inflicted abortions, killing themselves and their infants. Here is one answer I found:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2709326/

    As far as I can tell from such data, a law prohibiting abortions will not stop this from happening, but a law that does not prohibit abortions might.

    This country and its culture is not Russia. The ‘good o’ days’ in this country have been deadly for many people. It is for this reason I’m grateful for men in this culture, who dare to consider more carefully and compassionately the hearts and souls of women, children, and others (Fr Stephen’s comment at 12:30pm May 30).

  158. I apologize Adam!
    I thought you and Alan were the same person. Didn’t read the names carefully. My deepest apologies.

  159. Dean,
    Sorry to respond so late…I just now noticed your comment.
    It is so interesting that the most tender-hearted men will be the first, if only, ones to respond to a seemingly anti-male statement. You, of all people…I am not surprised ! Dean, I just want to clarify, I am by no means anti-male. What I am trying to describe is similar to the situation of racism. Blacks rightly say whites do not have any idea what it is like to be black in this nation. Neither does a male know what it is like to be a female. There are subtleties that the one discriminated against picks up on. It can be anything from a facial look, eyes, brows, mouth, body posture, tone of voice, to a condescending manner of speech, to outright implications of ‘you are just not as smart as I’ and what you say is not really important, for “I” know better. Then there’s the sexual issues (no need to go there). That’s all I’m saying. And after 63 years you’d think I’d be used to it. Because, you know, I have my own flaws.
    No, I am not anti-male at all. I am just very keen on a woman’s place in this world. And I am not a feminist in the least. Not even near!
    And thank you so much for your kind words for the women in your life and for remembering me on the farm! Dean, the women in your life are blessed, very much, to have you!

  160. Dee,
    I really appreciate you. You pick up on the subtleties too, and so eloquently state what you see. I try to state my case nicely, but there comes a point when I loose it.
    What I’m trying to say is I love your scientific mind! And your compassion. What a great combination! I can imagine what you have encountered working as a scientist and being a female and bi-racial. We’d like to think of ourselves as having overcome the discrimination of the past, but we have not. Father is right. Laws don’t change a thing.
    Regarding the post about the sins of a nation, you mentioned you tend to see the sins of others before your own sins. I do that too. But I think you, like myself, quickly remember the truth that we are all sinners and we’re all culpable. The last thing I want to do is blame. I think it best if we can be honest when we encounter oppression and attempt to address it. Dee, I vote for you to be a spokesman! I’m way too blunt and rough around the edges!

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