Sunday, 1/23/22

In ways I probably have described elsewhere, a re-reading of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce played an important role in my embrace of Orthodox Christianity (versus Roman Catholic or any flavor of Protestantism) 25 years ago. Here’s an evocative excerpt (which may make less sense if you don’t know the basic story line):

…beyond all these, I saw other grotesque phantoms in which hardly a trace of the human form remained; monsters who had … come up to the country of the Shadow of Life and limped far into it over the torturing grass, only to Spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred their envy and (what is harder to understand) their contempt, of joy. The voyage seemed to them a small price to pay if once, only once, within sight of that eternal dawn, they could tell the prigs, the toffs, the sanctimonious humbugs, the snobs, the ‘haves’, what they thought of them.


He opens his book with an arresting anecdote based on an interview he did with the Catholic novelist Graham Greene. Cornwell visited him a year or so before his death in 1991. Cornwell questioned him on the nature of his Catholic faith, and found that Greene didn’t believe in much: not in heaven, not in hell, not in the devil, not in angels, and so forth. So why did he still call himself a Catholic? Because, Greene said, that he also doubts his disbelief.

Rod Dreher on a John Cornwell book, Powers of Darkness, Powers of Light


I don’t know a statement more indicative of the character of our moment than this by J. D. Vance: “I think our people hate the right people.” It’s what almost everyone believes these days, isn’t it? That they and their people hate the right people. And it seems to me that that is a pretty good definition of a post-culture: a society in which people have no higher ambition than to bring down those they perceive to be their enemies. I couldn’t agree more with my friend Yuval Levin that our moment is A Time to Build, but when you’re only concerned with hating the right people, who has time to build anything?

There are a lot of people out there doing good work to expose the absurdities, the hypocrisies, and the sheer destructiveness of both the Left and the Right. I myself did some of that work for several years, but I’m not inclined to keep doing it, largely because that work of critique, however necessary, lacks a constructive dimension. There has to be something better we can do than curse our enemies — or the darkness of the present moment. If I agree with Yuval that this is indeed a time to build, then what can I build?

Alan Jacobs, The Homebound Symphony


[T]here is one way that leaving Twitter has benefited my life and my mind. The times when I checked Twitter were often the transition points in my day: when I sat down to work or I finished a task, waiting at a light or in line or to pick up my kids from school, going to the bathroom, the few minutes before I fell asleep. Freeing up those small, seemingly inconsequential moments has been transformative. These moments of quiet and emptiness throughout the day are nothing I really considered before. I don’t schedule them in my calendar, and I didn’t notice their departure when I began going online. But leaving these small moments of my day unfilled changed how I walk through time.

My new motto born of this experience is: Guard the margins — those seemingly unimportant parts of our day and time. Margins on a page can seem like wasted space (wouldn’t it save trees if we wrote or printed across the whole page?), but all that blank space helps us to read and take in information. We need the blank spaces. We need moments when we get no input, no news, no videos, no memes, no opinions. We need moments when we space out, daydream, when our minds go blank.

Tish Harrison Warren, ‌How I Freed Up Time to Daydream


St. Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335–395) wrote that secular education is “always in labor but never gives birth,” and St. Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 330–390) said, “We theologize in the manner of the Apostles, not that of Aristotle.” Orthodox hymnography regularly contrasts the mentally darkened philosophers with the wise fishermen.

‌Anti-Western Bias and Anti-Intellectuallism in American Orthodoxy

Some of the anti-Western bias is related to how differently we "do theology":

Orthodox dogmatic formulation, especially in its conciliar expression, is primarily a pastoral response to heresy, not an opportunity for codifying speculation or systematic imagination in doctrine. Orthodox dogma never claims to expound the whole truth about anything, but only delineates the borders of the mystery.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy.

Coming to Orthodoxy from Calvinism, this may have been the biggest, and most pleasant, of my slow surprises. It’s not that I crave the latitude to flirt with crossing the boundaries, but that it evidences the epistemic humility of the Church (also reflected in its strong tendency to apophatic theology).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

One thought on “Sunday, 1/23/22

  1. A priest teacher of mine once said “If it weren’t for heresy the Church wouldn’t have any theology.” I’d probably refine that to say “If it weren’t for heresy we wouldn’t have theological statements.” The Church’s theology is implicit in her worship; her theological statements exist to deal with problems.

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