Wordplay, 3/22/23

“Import substitution” — the heinous crime of a wretched, ungrateful colony producing goods the colonizers wanted to sell it. (H/T Edward Goldsmith, Development As Colonialism)

As a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who lacks sense.

Proverbs 11:22

An author’s first duty is to let down his country.

Brendan Behan in The Economist The world in brief for March 20, 2023

When people talk about “the kind of worship I like” (or similar sentiments, whatever the words), what in the world do they mean? Do they think that worship is primarily to please themselves? What kind of god, then, do they “worship”?

Why is “you’re not photogenic” an insult while “your pictures don’t do you justice” is a compliment? (H/T Kevin D. Williamson)

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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.

Gregory Palamas Sunday 2023

Losing Passion

As I age, I find I’m ever slightly improving in my ability to, as my internal dialog has it,

Let it go. You can’t change it, either because you don’t know how or because your superannuated and faith-informed voice is inaudible to the powers that be. If it’s to be changed, someone else, someone younger, someone more fluent in the desacralized argot of the day, must take the initiative.

To some extent, this is just an appropriate response to my stage of life. I said four years ago, as I passed threescore and ten, that I’d passed my “Sell By” date. Eternal matters feel even more urgent.

But there’s a sense in which anyone who wants truly to follow Christ needs the same attitude. So teaches my tradition, pretty consistently.

It’s a hard admonition to heed.

I therefore take it that Orthodox politicians, varying from to Justin Amash to Barbara Mukulski, are rather like soldiers, doing what needs to be done but risking or incurring a lot of soul-harm in the process.

Is that why we’re admonished to pray for those in authority?


Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.

Proverbs 4:7

Making a virtue of one of the great vices

What the Fathers decried as schism is now regarded as normal church growth. So long as the new church does not make a point of denying the Trinity, it remains a part of the una sancta.

Fr. Lawrence Farley

Myth and Tradition

In Japan, the old myths broke down after the war, and people needed a new way to understand our place in the universe. So because it is impossible to go back to the old myths, we will have to make new ones.

Quoted by Andy Couterier, The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan

This reminds me of when my high school Headmaster announced that we were starting “a new tradition.”

That I didn’t have great regard for tradition at the time may have what made it sound weird to me; that I have much respect for tradition now makes it sound no less weird.

Not Just Another Pretty Face

Raquel Welch, to my surprise, died a traditional Presbyterian Church lady in a small church outside Beverly Hills:

Outside Beverly Hills, the starlet found a small church “on the way to Pasadena, where the pastor and congregation were very devout and really knew their scripture. I had come there because I’d heard the pastor speak on the radio, and it sounded like he might be a good source of information. That turned out to be true. Apparently, even inept, awkward prayers are answered.”

Welch described the congregation as modest, unassuming, and friendly. “The people in this church weren’t Hollywood types,” she reported. “Even so, when I entered the chapel on that first day, I felt quite tentative. Maybe I didn’t belong among these people who actually practiced their faith. I didn’t look like them, sound like them, or act like them. I stood out like a sore thumb.” She sat in the back of the chapel.

“By the time the sermon was over, I felt remarkably comfortable sitting among these parishioners; not one of them gave me a second look,” recalled Welch. She found the members refreshing. “Not a superficial bone in their body.”

Without divulging the name of the congregation, Welch had found a spiritual home. “This is my church now. I have become a member of this parish and its people are my brothers and sisters in faith,” she wrote. “Together we form a fellowship where I can reaffirm my beliefs and worship every Sunday. When I’m in their midst, I’m just Raquel, not anybody special.”

This may have been the only location in Southern California where Raquel Welch was “not anybody special.” Counterintuitively, that must have been sweet liberation for a woman who had spent a lifetime under intense scrutiny and critique.

If she had joined a megachurch, we surely we have known about it.

Ravi Zacharias

The Ravi Zacharias scandal and corporate complicity have bothered me a great deal, if only because Zacharias seemed even to skeptical Orthodox me like a serious and devout guy.

Oddly, a court decision in a lawsuit against Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Inc. has helped me get my facts a little straighter, to lessen my impression of a pervasive coverup, and to appreciate how damaging it would have been to allow the class action lawsuit to proceed. (Don’t be intimidated: this link is to a blog summary of the decision.)

Who can theologize?

[T]he overintellectualization of religion has contributed to the belief that anyone can theologize. Our Western culture, which itself is a by-product of the Renaissance, Reformation, and so-called Age of Enlightenment, influences us to focus on the intellectual aspect of Orthodoxy.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

The Gospel of Progress

In these latter days, the masters of machines and money have imagined themselves to be “building the Kingdom” (Blake’s Jerusalem) with plans, intentions, goals, and utopias. [Such language was the bread and butter of public speech in my time among the Episcopalians]. The plans generally seemed to involve the rich helping the humble and meek so they would no longer need to be humble and meek. With every success they became even greater strangers to God. Their Churches stand empty, their children having forgotten God and looked towards other dreams.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Gospel of Progress – and the New Jerusalem

Attempted aphorism

A Christian who Pastors himself has a fool for a parish.

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Sunday, 3/5/23

God the creator

As Peter Geach puts it, for Aquinas the claim that God made the world “is more like ‘the minstrel made music’ than ‘the blacksmith made a shoe’”; that is to say, creation is an ongoing activity rather than a once-and-for-all event. While the shoe might continue to exist even if the blacksmith dies, the music necessarily stops when the minstrel stops playing, and the world would necessarily go out of existence if God stopped creating it.

Edward Feser, Aquinas. I view Aquinas as a notable landmark on the path of Western Christian decline, but if this comment by Mr. Geach is accurate, and especially if the minstrel versus blacksmith image is Aquinas’ (not Geach’s), then I for once applaud him.

Another misrepresentation is the not-uncommon assertion that any kind of evolutionary theory is completely alien to the patristic understanding. An evolutionary scenario was, admittedly, unavailable to the Fathers on scientific grounds, which is perhaps why few of them suggested it. We should not forget, however, that some of them did hint at the possibility of a gradual unfolding of the potential of what God had created “in the beginning.”

Christopher C. Knight, Science and the Christian Faith

Aquinas again

This difference between Aquinas and the voluntarists is related to the reasons for which Aquinas’s position is, as we saw in chapter 3, immune to the famous “Euthyphro objection” to religiously based systems of ethics. The objection, it will be recalled, is in the form of a dilemma: either God wills something because it is good or it is good because he wills it; but if the former is true, then, contrary to theism, there will be something that exists independently of God (namely the standard of goodness he abides by in willing us to do something), and if the latter is true, then if God had willed us to torture babies for fun (say) then that would have been good, which seems obviously absurd. Ockham essentially takes the second horn of the dilemma, but for Aquinas the dilemma is a false one. What is good for us is good because of our nature and not because of some arbitrary divine command, and God only ever wills for us to do what is consistent with our nature.

Edward Feser, Aquinas.

Instrumentalizing Christianity

People who take an instrumental and political view of Christianity, however well-meaning (Dennis Prager is an example of this kind), sometimes argue that only “Judeo-Christian religion”—and there is no Judeo-Christian religion, nor are there “Judeo-Christian values” in any meaningful sense—provides a possible basis for a sound moral life, including the moral basis of national political life. This is, of course, what T. S. Eliot called the “dangerous inversion,” i.e., the argument that we should accept the supernatural claims of Christianity because they are useful for fortifying a moral sensibility when we should, instead, derive our moral sensibility from the truth of Christianity, if we believe it to be true, or from something else that we believe to be true rather than merely convenient. In a sense, the non-believer who sympathizes with Christianity is more of an enemy than is the frank atheist who hates Christianity—because the “cultural Christian” trivializes Christianity. The cultural Christian believes that Christianity is false and that this does not matter, while an evangelical atheist such as the late Christopher Hitchens believes that Christianity is false and that this does matter—that it matters a great deal.

Some of you will be stuck on the fact that I wrote that there are no Judeo-Christian values in any meaningful sense. I know that this flies in the face of the conservative catechism, but I think it is true. Christianity and Judaism are very different religions, but they have a great deal in common when it comes to moral prescription—but they have this in common not only with one another but with many other religions and with the moralities of many other cultures. With apologies to my learned Christian friends who sometimes insist that it is otherwise, Christianity is not especially radical as a purely moral position. Those Christians who take a view of life based on “natural law”—which really means only that we can use reason to discover how it is we should live—should not be surprised to find that Christianity is not a moral outlier, inasmuch as the ancient Greek philosophers and Hindu sages and Confucian scholars had fully functioning powers of reason, too. It is not that there is nothing at all distinctive about Christianity, but even its most radical moral demand—that we should love our enemies—would not be alien to a pagan Stoic.

Kevin D. Williamson, Who Are These ‘Cultural Christians’?

So what?

[I]f you did convince an unchurched young American to go to services, what would they encounter? Wonder? Enchantment? Or dull bourgeois ceremonial, mixed with greeting-card uplift or political exhortation, either left or right?

Rod Dreher

This invites me to reveal my “heresy”: I’m surprisingly ambivalent about the “revival” at Asbury University. I don’t think anyone’s fibbing about it, but the form of revived Christianity is terribly problematic from the perspective of historic Christianity.

The longing of all the nations

It is a strange yet incontrovertible fact that, when God did take flesh, He in many ways (though certainly not all) revealed himself to be closer in spirit to the Tao of Lao Tzu then to God as conceived by the Hebrews at that time, even though the Hebrews had the revelation of Moses. This might be difficult to accept by those who are accustomed to thinking of Christ as the fulfillment of the expectation specifically of the Hebrews. Ancient Christian tradition, however, holds that Christ satisfied the longing of all the nations.

Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao

New American Religion

[W]e ended our Disney World visit in the Animal Kingdom, going through the Avatar-themed rides (drenched in pantheism, like their source material) and then heading out as dusk fell over the vast (artificial) Tree of Life at the center of that park, its trunk carved with a bestiary and its leaves suffused by colors for the park’s magic-hour light show.

There was a big crowd gathered near its rearing shape, watching both the lights and the images of the natural world projected on the trunk — a show called “Tree of Life Awakenings,” though I didn’t know that at the time. And there was a different vibe there than at the fireworks show; less celebratory and boisterous, more meditative and awe-struck, with people in a lotus position or taking other pious-seeming postures toward the tree, the show, the lights, the visions of the natural world.

It felt a little different from the rest of Disney World — more reverent than the other quasi-religious elements, less nakedly commercial, more distant from Disney’s 20th-century origins, an intimation of a 21st-century paganism or pantheism slowly taking over the Mouse Cult from within.

Ross Douthat

Poetic Wordplay

I am the singular
in free fall.
I and my doubles
carry it all:

life’s slim volume
spirally bound …

R.S. Thomas

I was vicar of large things
in a small parish.

R.S. Thomas

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Saturday 3/4/23

Emotionally right

Don’t hold your breath for an apology from those who pooh-poohed the lab leak theory. Those smeared as conspiracy theorists will remain smeared as such. The people in charge will remain in charge, and the journalists will keep going, smug, content to be wrong but to have always been, most importantly, emotionally right.

Suzy Weiss

Fox News, again

The revelations about Fox news’ amplification of Trumpist lies about the 2020 election obviously elicit some “Whataboutism.” Is Fox on the Right really worse than, say, MSNBC? Andrew Sullivan thinks so:

The great and obvious flaw in the political right’s legitimate criticism of mainstream media bias is that the most dishonest, cynical, postmodern, post-truth, “everything-is-power” media enterprise is Fox News.

Fox News president, Jay Wallace, remarked that “the North Koreans do a more nuanced show” than Fox Business did. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things,” Fox news exec Bill Sammon agreed. And he’d know.

And the topic they were lying about was not some minor culture-war controversy, or some genuinely vexing congeries of electoral glitches that could be aired out. It was the core foundation of democracy itself — the basic public legitimacy of our elections, the charge that the fraud was “massive” and comprehensive and that democracy was over.

The usual counter to what seems to me an open-and-shut case of grotesque corruption is as follows: well, they all do it. Fox’s lies are no different than MSNBC’s or the NYT’s or NPR’s lies — and because most media are now captured by a faction of the far left, some response from the right on the same lines is appropriate. 

To which I’d make three responses. First, of course two wrongs don’t make a right. You will never get ethical journalism by practicing unethical journalism, just as you will never get rid of racism by discriminating on the basis of race. Second, if this is your view, please be consistent and condemn Fox as well as the others (and you usually won’t). But third, I do honestly think that the corruption at Fox is different. 

[Whereas liberal media have actually ceased believing in objective reality, Fox hasn’t] abandoned the tradition of objective fact in favor of moral narrative. They still privately believe in empirical reality; they will just happily trash it in public if they think it will lose them viewers and thereby money. The core principle is money. Not truth, money. Not ethics, money. Not even obeying the law. Money.

(Emphasis added)

A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.

Kenneth Tynan via The Economist

Sunday of The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

Just sayin’

‘Modern Islam,’ as the scholar Kecia Ali has put it, ‘is a profoundly Protestant tradition.’

Tom Holland, Dominion

Wicked good

Petey the Parrot served twenty-one months
On a rap for indecent exposure.
His Bishop paroled him and gave him a perch
On his pear-wood episcopal crosier.

He scolded the skeptics who labeled the bird
Unsuited for pastoral placement:
“I’m giving him charge of the CCD staff
And an office in Barney Frank’s basement.”

Hide the eggs, Gwendolyn, hide the eggs, Tom! 
Hide the eggs, Kate and Kareem!
Petey the sinister Young Adult Minister’s
back on the pastoral team!
With an aawk! and a squawk! twenty months and you walk,
back on the pastoral team!

Petey was therapized, pampered, prepared,
Pronounced cured by professional weasels
Who shortly thereafter were found to have died
From a sorrowful shortage of T-cells.

The cops nearly nabbed him at Cock-à-Two’s Bar
But Petey was just enough quicker
To fly through the window, and home, where he found
He’d been named archdiocesan vicar.


When the parents complained that his ministry style
Included non-standard relations,
The kindly old bishop asked Petey to screen
First his phone calls, and then his vocations.

It didn’t take long for the entering class
To grow from near thirty to—zero.
Now Petey’s a bishop himself, don’t you know,
And described as “The NCR’s hero.”

Paul Mankowski, ‌The Ballad of Petey the Parrot (2006), via Jerry J. Pokorsky

Explain this if you can

I did not recall this anecdote from Iain McGilchrist, and the full context is the whole book:

At a Benedictine monastery in the South of France, chanting was curtailed in the mid-1960s as part of the modernisation efforts associated with the Second Vatican Council. The results could not have been more disastrous. The monks had been able to thrive on only about four hours sleep per night, provided they were allowed to chant. Now they found themselves listless and exhausted, easily irritated, and susceptible to disease. Several doctors were called in, but none was able to alleviate the distress of the monastic community. Relief came finally, but only when Alfred Tomatis convinced the abbot to reinstate chanting.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

East versus West

According to Bernard of Clairvaux,

Christ became human because “he wanted to recapture the affections of carnal men who were unable to love in any other way, by first drawing them to the salutary love of his own humanity, and then gradually to raise them to a spiritual love.” This is a fascinating statement. According to it the Incarnation is not about God’s assimilation of humanity to His divinity, resulting in the prospect of man’s deification. It is about creating the basis for man’s emotional relationship to God. The fourth-century Athanasius had stated that God became man so that man might become God. It seems that for Bernard, God became man so that man might sympathize with God.

Fr. John Strickland, The Age of Division

Is there room in Scotland for Kate Forbes?

Lent began this week with a rehearsal for a crucifixion. On Tuesday, SNP leader hopeful and devout Presbyterian Kate Forbes was faced with something she must have known was coming: a challenge from journalists about her views on gay marriage, womanhood, and children being born out of wedlock. She did not flinch from spelling out what she thought. By Ash Wednesday, several of her backers within the SNP had publicly recanted, running scared from the ensuing furore, and Forbes was said to be taking “a break from media commitments”.

… Perhaps unaccustomed to the sight of a principled act of conscience from a Scottish politician, our modern-day Pharisees — otherwise known as newspaper columnists — swung into action to make sure it would not happen again.

As is their wont, several commentators pretended to be taking the room’s temperature while actually turning up the thermostat. …

[W]hat we have here is a clash of two religions. One of them is full of sanctimonious, swivel-eyed moral scolds, rooting out heresy and trying to indoctrinate everybody into their fantastic way of thinking. The other is a branch of Calvinism ….

Kathleen Stock, The crucifixion of Kate Forbes

He opponents may not be able truly to refute her, but they’re higher in the pecking order, and they buy their ink by the barrel, so they can cancel her.

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Sunday of the Last Judgment

Full Lent is just a week away for us Orthodoxen. And my Bishop will be at my Parish to begin with us!

A long-favorite passage

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19. That this has been a favorite passage for more than 50 years may explain why, after 30 years, I embraced Orthodoxy readily.

Wrong question

Fr Alexander pointed to the adverse results of that confusion:

In my opinion, the Orthodox, when discussing the problems stemming from our present “situations,” accept them much too easily in their Western formulations. They do not seem to realize that the Orthodox Tradition provides above all a possibility, and thus a necessity, of reformulating these very problems, of placing them in a context whose absence or deformation in the Western religious mind may have been the root of so many of our modern “impasses” And as I see it, nowhere is this task more urgently needed than in the range of problems related to secularism and proper to our so-called secular age.

Healing Humanity: Confronting our Moral Crisis

Adam’s sin

Christian readers at least since St. Augustine have tended to see in Adam the archetypal sinner who passes sin on to his physical progeny. This, however, is not the way Adam was seen within the Second Temple period that formed the background for the New Testament texts. Adam was seen rather as the one who brought death to the human race. He is not so much seen as the origin of human sin as the origin of human mortality.

Fr. Stephen DeYoung, Religion of the Apostles

Self-evidently true

At the level of the church, we must abandon practices adopted from the secular marketplace that trivialize our faith, and instead return to traditional church practices that encourage contemplation and awe before a transcendent God.

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

I say this is self-evident, but somehow people ignore it or (at best) interpret it differently than I do.

When thinking gets in the way

I’m always struck by the fact that so many of the great saints were completely unlettered. St. Porphyrios is one of my favorite modern saints. He ran away from his parents at the age of twelve, went to Mount Athos, never went to school. He was a great saint because he didn’t ever think about God in that theological way. These people  know the Gospels intimately, they understand the church, but they’re not academics. They’re not sitting around with their big left brains, trying to dissect the faith. It never occurs to them to do that. I think it’s partly because they haven’t gone through fifteen years of Western-style education, which you later have to unlearn. I feel like I’ve spent the last twenty years progressively getting rid of stuff I thought was the way to gain knowledge. I mean, it’s a way to gain certain kinds of knowledge, but if you want to engage with a spiritual path, or with Nature, or with any of the stuff that matters, it gets in the way. I’ve found that repeatedly.

Paul Kingsnorth via Rod Dreher

Remembering Benedict XVI

All that said, I believe that when future historians look back and write about modern Catholicism, Benedict XVI will be remembered less for what he wrote (here I respectfully differ from Cardinal Müller) and more for two acts of ecclesiastical governance that will have consequences for a long time to come.

The first was the 2007 papal directive Summarum Pontificum_,_ which liberalized rules concerning the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. By this act of administrative fiat, Benedict XVI entrenched the celebration of a rite that had defined Catholicism for centuries before Vatican II. It was a concrete expression of his view that the Second Vatican Council must be interpreted and implemented with a “hermeneutic of continuity.”

The ongoing celebration of an ancient liturgy has no direct logical implications for our interpretation of Vatican II’s teaching on dogmatic topics, nor does it bear upon moral theology. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental truth often repeated by the Church Fathers: Lex orandi, lex credendi—the law of prayer is the law of belief, or more colloquially, as we pray, so we believe …

The present pontiff has issued his own executive order, Traditionis Custodes, which reverses Summarum Pontificum. Pope Francis backs up his new restrictions with the strong language of censure. But this pontificate has failed to curtail celebration of the old rite. The reason is simple: We live in an era that champions permission and ignores prohibition…

No doubt the Bavarian pope, who coined the memorable phrase “dictatorship of relativism,” knew that in the twenty-first century permissions granted cannot easily be rescinded. Benedict granted capacious permission to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass, in all likelihood knowing that once the “yes” gained a foothold, only Herculean efforts by ecclesiastical authorities would eliminate the new freedom. The consequences are wonderful. Benedict’s “liberalization” of rules concerning the Latin Mass has created and will continue to create a barrier to theological, moral, and liturgical programs of discontinuity, which means that liberal Catholic dreams of reinventing the faith to make it more congenial to our present age will not succeed. Benedict XVI was a church politician of greater wile than he let on.

R.R. Reno.

I quote this mostly to plant a seed: Lex orandi, lex credendi. A Church that “worships” with drums, guitars and synthesizers at 90db doesn’t believe the faith of the Orthodox Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. A Roman Catholic Church that forbids the traditional Latin Mass does not, it seems to me, practice the same faith as a Church that celebrates it.

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Just what the world needs?

Everybody is talking these days about the decline of the West, and with good reason. Some people think that Christianity should have something to say about this: that as the faith was the rock on which the West was built, so the faith should rebuild it again, or defend it against its enemies. We need a Muscular Christianity! they insist in the comment sections. Bring on the Christian knights! they shout on YouTube. But I don’t think this is how it works. When the last empire collapsed, the Christians of Europe weren’t trying to build, let alone defend, some construction called “Christendom.” They didn’t plan for the dome of St. Peter’s or the Battle of Lepanto. They were just trying to do the humblest and the only thing: to worship the true God, and to strip away everything that interfered with that worship. They took to the deserts to follow Christ and to battle the Enemy. Their work was theosis. They had crucified themselves as instructed. What emerged as a result, and what it turned into—well, that wasn’t up to them.

In a time when the temptation is always toward culture war rather than inner war, I think we could learn something from our spiritual ancestors. What we might learn is not that the external battle is never necessary; sometimes it very much is. But a battle that is uninformed by inner transformation will soon eat itself, and those around it. Why, after all, were the cave Christians so sought after? Because they were not like other people. Something had been granted to them, something had been earned, in their long retreats from the world. They had touched the hem. After years in the tombs or the caverns or the woods, their very unworldliness became, paradoxically, just what the world needed.

Paul Kingsnorth, A Wild Christianity

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Sunday of the Prodigal

Irish Saints are special

My favorite story about [St. Colman Mac duaghis, who lived in a cave as a hermit for seven years] concerns his wild companions. The saint, the legends tell us, somehow befriended a cockerel, a mouse, and a fly, and trained them to help him out. The cockerel’s job was to crow when he needed to get up in the morning to pray. The mouse’s role was to step in if Colman didn’t feel like getting out of bed: It would nibble his ear until he roused himself. As for the fly, Colman trained it to walk along the lines of his Bible in the dim light, so he could follow it as he read. A new stained glass church window in the nearby town of Gort portrays the saint with his three animal companions rather sweetly.

Nothing lasts, of course, especially the life of a fly. It wasn’t long before Colman’s companions died. He confided his sadness in a letter to another Irish saint of the time, Columba. His friend’s brief reply distilled the unworldly essence of desert spirituality: “You were too rich when you had them. That is why you are sad now. Trouble like that only comes where there are riches. Be rich no more.”

Paul Kingsnorth, A Wild Christianity


A new Terry Mattingly article for the Acton Institute, The Evolving Religion of Journalism reminds me to share some wise words from Alan Jacobs:

Wondering how to decide what to read? Here’s a simple but effective heuristic to cut down the choices significantly. Ask yourself one question: Does this writer make bank when we hate one another? And if the answer is yes, don’t read that writer.” Americans have these wildly distorted views of people whom they perceive to be their political enemies because so many journalists and talking heads enrich themselves through stoking hatred. Those people should be utterly shunned.

Avoiding them will do wonders for your blood pressure. More importantly, it’s a pre-condition for healing your soul.

Sometimes the application of the heuristic is awkward: I read Rod Dreher’s “diary” on Substack but stopped reading the bile he’s paid to produce for the American Conservative.

And I pray for him to unite his divided mind.

Clive the Convivial

Clarke and Lewis eventually met, perhaps around 1960, as Francis Spufford has narrated: “Clarke contacted Lewis and they arranged to meet in the Eastgate Tavern, Oxford. Clarke brought Val Cleaver as his second; Lewis brought along J. R. R. Tolkien. They saw the world so differently that even argument was scarcely possible. As Orwell said about something completely different, their beliefs were as impossible to compare as a sausage and a rose. Clarke and Cleaver could not see any darkness in technology, while Lewis and Tolkien could not see the ways in which a new tool genuinely transforms the possibilities of human awareness. For them, machines at very best were a purely instrumental source of pipe tobacco and transport to the Bodleian. So what could they do? They all got pissed. ‘I’m sure you are very wicked people,’ said Lewis cheerfully as he staggered away, ‘but how dull it would be if everyone was good.’ ”

Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943

Dystopians: Orwell < Huxley < Lewis

On the flight over from Budapest, I almost finished Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength, which is really terrific. I would have done, but the plane landed with two chapters to go. I’ve been saying for a while that the totalitarian dystopia we are living towards is much more like Huxley’s Brave New World than Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it’s really and truly like Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. I kept thinking, as I read along, how eerily on the nose Lewis was in 1945, when he published it, about how things are today in our creepy technocratic anti-human society. The technocratic conspiracy that runs the Britain of the novel manages to manipulate the media to manufacture consent and approval by the population, in ways that bring to mind the way the US Government manipulated social media outlets to control the Covid message. On the hopeful side, the brave little band of Christian warriors in That Hideous Strength are humble and frail, but heroic. One wants to be like them, when the time comes. One also wants a kindly bear called Mr. Bultitude.

So I did finish it, in London, and the conclusion was deeply moving, but not just at the emotional level. I felt like I had glimpsed a deeper truth — the kind of truth that moves the world. I won’t spoil it for you, don’t worry. I can say, though, that at the end, the “Director” — a sort of Gandalf figure directing the resistance to nation-destroying evil — explains to his seemingly feeble band of conspirators why despite appearances, the plain work they did vanquished great evil in an apocalyptic spiritual battle.

Rod Dreher

I agree with Rod: Orwell < Huxley < Lewis


What is it that craves? It is your ego—your created sense of a permanent ‘self’—and it craves because it believes that if it can have what it craves it will stop suffering. This is the story of our civilization, and we are discovering the hard way that it doesn’t work.

Paul Kingsnorth, Savage Gods. This was written while Kingsnorth was a Pagan or a Buddhist or something — not yet Orthodox Christian — but he wasn’t wrong.

Our barbarism and superstition

Sometimes it is difficult to exaggerate how strange, barbaric, and superstitious an age ours really is.

David Bentley Hart, Therapeutic Superstition.

I don’t much care for Hart these days, but I much enjoyed the essay he concludes thus.

Don’t think about this

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee 2023

What to do when there’s nothing left to do – I

In both of the spiritual traditions in which I have immersed myself over the last decade – Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity – this spirit of necessary detachment, this sense that to tie yourself too closely to the churning affairs of the world is to invite destruction, is the precursor to the work. To a Buddhist, the ongoing effort to ‘detach’ yourself from created things is the only way to sidestep the first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths: that ‘to live is to suffer.’ From an Orthodox perspective, to live after the Fall is also to suffer. The work of the Christian who wants to find the way home again is to ‘die to the world’: to rid himself of the ‘passions’ of worldly attachment as the essential prelude to walking the narrow path which leads to theosis: union with God.

The theologies of Zen, Orthodoxy, Mark Anthony and Robinson Jeffers differ wildly, and yet they alight, all of them, on this same reality. So does every other religious tradition I know of. To watch the great fall, to say goodbye to Alexandria, to accept that nothing gold can stay: this is the task of people who find themselves living through the falling years. It is the prelude to doing anything useful with our time. If we spend that time lamenting the fall, or trying to prevent it, or stewing in bitterness at those we believe responsible, we will find ourselves cast into darkness. If we ‘degrade ourselves with empty hopes’ of some form of technological or political salvation yet to come, the darkness will be just as deep.

No: the only way out is through. To dance with the way things are moving. To watch the great fall, accept its reality, and then get on with our work. What that work might be, in the age of the Total system, will differ for each one of us. Rebellion, restoration, protection, the building of new structures: I’m going to explore each of these in coming essays. But before anything can happen, we have first to get our inner house in order.

Paul Kingsnorth, Watch the Great Fall

What to do when there’s nothing left to do – II

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens


Hindus who used words such as religion, or secular, or Hinduism were not merely displaying their fluency in English. They were also adopting a new and alien perspective on their country and turning it to their advantage.

Tom Holland, Dominion

Science & Faith

Coincidentally, as I approached the end of Fr. Christopher C Knight’s Science and the Christian Faith: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Uncommon Knowledge podcast featured Michael Behe, John Lennox, and Steven Meyer arguing for Intelligent Design against Darwin.

It’s astonishing how differently Knight and the Intelligent Design proponents treat Darwin. Knight:

The question of how miracles are to be understood becomes a very different one than that usually assumed if we abandon the notions of the “supernatural” that are now prevalent in discussions about miracles … [M]iraculous events represent, not the “supernatural” action of of an outside agent, but an anticipation of the character of the “world to come.” The state that these events unveil is above nature only in the sense that it is above the subnatural state in which, because of the fall, we now find ourselves. Miracles represent the true nature of the world intended by God in his creation of it.

[O]ur scientific picture of evolution through natural selection arose originally from Charles Darwin’s observations of differences between closely related species and subspecies. It was later reinforced and refined, however, both by fossil evidence and by genetic insights quite unknown to Darwin himself. These genetic insights were themselves later underpinned by biochemical insights that arose through the work that followed the discovery of the structure of DNA, and by technical advances that now enable us to look in detail at the genetic makeup of all living things.

The robustness of the present scientific consensus means that those Christians who insist that their faith is incompatible with that consensus often present an enormous barrier to those who are scientifically literate but who might be willing to explore the Christian view of the world.

Though Darwin’s achievement was a magnificent one, it was only later, through the integration of genetic insights unknown to Darwin himself, that his evolutionary theory could be regarded as robust from a scientific perspective.

In contrast, the ID guys (who I can’t directly quote because it was a podcast, and I wasn’t interested enough to try to write down quotes) all spoke as if accumulating evidence against Darwin is growing more irrefutable every day.

I have no need of that hypothesis.


My attitude is that there is no AI. What is called AI is a mystification, behind which there is the reality of a new kind of social collaboration facilitated by computers. A new way to mash up our writing and art.

I frequently found myself trying to dissuade people from buying NFTs in 2022. They were often working folks without a lot of money to spare. When I would try to explain that only a very few, very early people made those fortunes you hear about, that by now there’s no one left to buy your NFT for more than you paid; when I said those things they looked back at me like cult members, eyes full of hope. Sure, people have been falling for get-rich-quick schemes forever, but this was something more. There was also religion. NFTs were a cross between a lottery and the prosperity gospel, which holds that wealth and godliness are the same thing. When I tried to save people from getting ripped off it was as if I was attacking their religion. They weren’t angry; they pitied me.

Jaron Lanier

No comment

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Zacchaeus Sunday 2023

We know Lent is coming when Zacchaeus Sunday arrives. It has arrived.


Every sacrament of the Church is about union with Christ, or union with another human being (marriage). It is predicated on the possibility of true communion and participation.

The claim that this is true and possible distinguishes Orthodox Christianity from virtually every form of contemporary Christian believing. It is the foundation of the sacramental world of the Church.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Communion of Friends

The (occasional religious) wisdom of David French

It’s one thing to yell at the culture, “Get back to church!” It’s another thing entirely to make sure your religious community is worth coming back to.

David French

I enjoy David French on the law quite a lot, but there’s a wide gap between his Reformed Christianity (in which I’d have been quite at home 30 years ago) and Orthodox Christianity. Hence the parenthetical in the title.

Science and the Christian Faith

After a 25-year hiatus, I am reading again about Science and the Christian Faith. What drew me back was that this book is by an Orthodox Christian — a priest and astrophysicist. Apparently there have been others, but this was the first to come to my attention.

The difference from other Christian treatments is material, as I fully expected it would be. I may have more to say later — or I may not. Some of it’s getting pretty deep.


Observing Orthodox practices is no more a guarantee of salvation than abiding by all the decisions of the pope and the magisterium, or speaking in tongues, or saying the “sinner’s prayer” and acknowledging Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

Adhering to Orthodox practices to the letter is legalism, and legalism distorts the entire spiritual life. True Orthodoxy is devoid of a spirit of legalism.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

I can think of a very prominent person, widely judged to be evil, who knows and practices much Orthodox choreography.

Evangelical guru lightened up in Italy

Italy was where they proved themselves to be so much more than their fundamentalist beliefs. It was as if they wanted me to somehow grow past the constricted world they had fallen into.

Frank Schaeffer, of his parents Francis and Elizabeth Schaeffer, in Crazy for God.

I quote this with my usual caveat: Frank Schaeffer was an angry Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist and now he’s an angry Orthodox Christian. I don’t like or trust anger, even if I tend toward it myself.

That said, this is an uncommonly gracious observation, almost out of context in the overall book.

A pairing

Ultimately, theology is not a set of definitions or theories. Theology is mystery since it transcends the rational mind and attempts to express the inexpressible. In schools of theology and seminaries, theology is indeed an academic subject and, as such, it requires accuracy and embraces a certain “intellectual rigour,” as Met. Kallistos remarks. This does not conflict with Orthodoxy, since “we do not serve the Kingdom of God through vagueness, muddle and lazy thinking.”28 But he also notes that in other sciences or areas of investigation, the personal sanctity of the scientist or inquirer is irrelevant. This is not the case with theology, which requires metanoia (repentance), catharsis (purification), and askesis (spiritual struggle).

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.