What a normal human being looks like

The monasticism of the desert fathers is a major influence in Orthodoxy, and the Apophthegmata Patrum—the sayings of the fathers (and mothers) of the desert—range from remarkably practical advice to a startling sense of participation in the divine. Take these two selections, from Benedicta Ward’s translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian Publications):

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Note the words, “the old man.” The idea is preserved in the Greek word for “an elder”—geron—still used of wise monks and spiritual directors, the idea being that it takes time and patience to get there.

At one moment, my friend pointed to where a group of young converts were sitting — all men and women in their twenties — and said to me, “Do you know why they are all here?”

“No,” I said, mindful that he had spent a lot more time talking to them than I had.

“They’re here because they came and found something deep, and real. They all came from Protestantism, which is falling apart. They were looking for something that they could stand firm on, that wasn’t going to collapse. They found it here.

“Look at me,” he went on. “Why do you think I’m here? Well, my wife and I came because you invited us, but we kept coming because we saw the same thing that they saw. That’s why we’re Orthodox. It’s real, more real than anything we had ever seen before.”

Rod Dreher, Abba Joseph’s Fingers (paywall likely)

Note: Abba Joseph is extraordinary only by the low standards fallen humanity has set. Sub specie aeternitatis, he’s normal — what God intended humans to be. It’s just that the rest of us are severely disabled.

The real irony of this past century of innovation is that the modern innovators are perplexed by the outcome which they themselves conditioned. The global pandemic has exposed the irony. COVID is surging and the conditioners cannot understand why people will not simply listen to the experts. Of course, they have ignored the simple question: which experts ought we to listen and why ought we to listen? You cannot derive an ought from an is. The entire foundation of their worldview is instinct, and they have built an entire ethic upon it. However, instincts are the “is” and they desperately want for us to derive from instinct their desired “ought.” Their answer to the question, why, is the paternalistic response, “because I said so.”

We decry the rise of QAnon and wonder aloud why people can no longer think critically. The conditioners built a system which rendered useless the very critical thinking for which they now plead. If there is no universal objective value, then by what measure do we think critically? We have access to endless facts and no mind with which to critique them. How can a student solve a math problem if conditioned to believe that 2+2 has no solution which is transcendent of and objectively discoverable by the pupil’s mind? Universal subjectivity of all truth has no limiting principle. In Lewis’ day, the conditioners came for language. The deconstructionists finished in the 70’s the work begun by Lewis’ contemporaries decades before. Now, the conditioners have come for everything. Subjectivity in biology. Subjectivity in mathematics. Each man is to follow his instincts. Each man has become his own epistemological center. Perception is reality.

Lewis foresaw this inevitability nearly 80 years ago. Now, in the midst of political polarization, rampant conspiracy theorizing, a global pandemic, racial injustice, and economic uncertainty, our conditioners make demands of the polis which they themselves have made impossible. “Follow the science!” “Trust the election officials!” “Do not fall prey to conspiracy theories circulating on social media!” C.S. Lewis provides the response to such demands, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

James Ranieri, The Restoration of a Thinking Polis Has but One Solution: Classical Education, Part One

Similar agencies of deceit, militarism and imperialism now robustly use this same branding tactic. The CIA — in between military coups, domestic disinformation campaigns, planting false stories with their journalist-partners, and drone-assassinating U.S. citizens without due process — joyously celebrates Women’s Day, promotes what it calls The Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Officers (ANGLE), hosts activities for Pride Month, and organizes events to commemorate Black History Month. The FBI does the same.

It’s so sweet that one is tempted to forget about, or at least be more understanding of, all the bombing campaigns and all the dictatorships they install and prop up that repress and kill the very people that they purport to honor and cherish. Like the GCHQ, how menacing can an intelligence agency be when it is so deeply and sincerely supportive of the rights of the people they routinely spy on, repress and kill?

Again, this does not make the CIA perfect — sure, they make some mistakes and engage in some actions that are worthy of criticism — but to combat real evil, you do not go protest at Langley. They are engaged in important work combating homophobia, racism and misogyny. Thus, real warriors against evil look not to them but instead go searching online for the Boogaloo Boys and boomers on Facebook who post Q-Anon and other problematic memes. That is where your focus should remain if you want to root out the real threats.

Large corporations have obviously witnessed the success of this tactic — to prettify the face of militarism and imperialism with the costumes of social justice — and are now weaponizing it for themselves.

Glenn Greenwald has quickly become one of my indispensible Substack subscriptions. He’s got a fabulous crap detector (sometimes it almost seems like a death wish), and you can’t even distract him by playing “woke” on liberal groin pieties.

Greenwald puts all the big-name media to shame with their lazy facilitation of diversionary tactics by woke capital and governmental power centers. They’re too busy chasing stick figures and, increasingly, simply making stuff up, to really speak truth to power.

What a piece or work Andrew Cuomo is! Revisiting Governor Cuomo’s Hostility Towards Orthodox Jews In Light of His “Fucking Tree Houses” Comment – Reason.com.

I wish the difference between him and me was one of kind rather than of degree. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Band-aids for boo-boos

I referred, in a recent blog about about “homosexuality” (a disputed 19th century coinage), to the dubiousness of “purging sick people from the hospital” — i.e., outing closeted or discreet “LGBT” (a disputed 20th century coinage) people in the Church.

Social Justice Warriors would no doubt object to that phrasing. “There’s nothing sick about being LGBTetc!” I can almost hear.

Tough luck. The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t define Christian doctrine or moral standards, and it deals only with treatment of a narrow slice of “psyche” while the real Church treats the whole thing (drawing on psychiatry as an adjunct at times).

So this blog unapologetically is about the implications of treating the whole psyche of those whose distinctive sins are (homo)sexual.

There’s been a burst of news stories on reparative therapy and various purported “gay cures” in the past few weeks, or so it seems to me. My position on those “treatment modalities” remains deeply skeptical, which is in accord with politically correct opinion on the topic.

I’ve been particularly adamant about supposed gay cures that turn people fully “functional,” never-a-flashback-fantasy heterosexuals. People who suggest that this is desirable and possible strike me not so much as factually mistaken as deeply deluded about the place of sex in a well-formed Christian life (“Christian” because the proponents of gay-to-straight conversion seem to me to be mostly Evangelicalish Protestants — the sorts of folks that pray not to die before they have sex and think you’re imputing some kind of perversion to the Theotokos when you add “ever-virgin”).

Here endeth the sucking up to the Zeitgeistst. Now the heresies begin.

I’ve never wavered in my opinion that same-sex attraction is a spiritual affliction (one of countless afflictions, most having nothing to do with sex) and that acting on it is sin (missing God’s mark). But I’ve felt no competency to elaborate on that until a recent mini-epiphany. I think I now have something worth saying, if only for discussion:

  1. I believe the testimony of most conscientious same-sex attracted Christians that multiple, varying attempts at reversing their orientation, or even of reducing attraction to the same sex, have consistently failed.
  2. I nevertheless believe that the whole soul can be healed, and that this is the work of Christ’s Church, not of psychiatry. (“Secular” psychiatry can be a part of it, however.)
  3. I believe that a near-complete healing of the soul will eliminate same-sex temptation.
  4. I doubt that a near-complete healing of the soul would restore opposite-sex attraction, or even that doing so would be a desirable goal. (This is not because I’m anti-sex. It’s because I’m anti-idol.)
  5. Souls that have been almost completely healed become acutely aware of their residual illness and would never brag “Well, at least I’m not gay any more! I got that one licked!” (I could have stopped at “Souls that have been almost completely healed would never brag.”)
  6. The preceding observation is by itself a sufficient reason to doubt the cure of anyone who trumpets his or her personal cure from same-sex attraction.
  7. Priests and Spiritual Parents who produce Saints don’t brag about their accomplishments.
  8. The preceding observation is by itself a sufficient reason to doubt the boasts of reparative therapists.
  9. If someone comes to Church or Monastery minded to cure only his or her same-sex attraction, I suspect that a perceptive priest or Spiritual Parent would say something along the lines of “We don’t know how to cure same-sex attraction as a discrete phenomenon. If we did know how, we’d be uninterested because we don’t do custom-tailored partial soul-cures, numbing and restoring self-esteem to a hell-bound soul (i.e., one that rejects full healing). It’s all or nothing here.”
  10. The preceding speculation is half the reason I’m skeptical of “gay cures.” The other half is that they are undertaken mostly or entirely by people who are not within what I believe to be Christ’s Church, and who have no idea what a complete soul-cure might be.

If I could put my mini-epiphany into 15 words or less, it would be something like “the Church has something much better than band-aids for sexual boo-boos.”

I heard a monk say recently that God has three answers to prayer: “yes,” “not yet,” and “I have something better for you” (yeah: I was expecting “no” as well). When I imagine the spiritual cure of same-sex attraction, I always picture someone going to a monastery, praying and laboring for decades, and becoming saintly in every way (including humility) — a combination of “I have something better for you” and “not yet.”

There are no before and after photos on the GayNoMore website. They don’t take the show on the road, charging admission like side-show freaks. The only Coming Out Ball for these newly-minted saints is the Last Judgment.

This view, I hope you can see, is incommensurable with reparative therapies as relatively quick and focused sexual fixes. It therefore seemed almost certain  to be misunderstood as bait-and-switch pandering had I said that the Church probably could cure same-sex attraction — as if that, instead of something better, were the focus.

Why should anyone be denied a chance for holistic healing? That’s why I object to purging sick people from the hospital just because their sickness is sexual, or homosexual, even though LGBT is uniquely scary to the Church at this historic juncture as it so threatens our ability to function unimpeded as the Church.

For me personally, this means that if someone at Church looks stereotypically gay or lesbian, I assume they’re taking the cure and that the current status of their treatment is none of my business — just as the current status of my treatment for different besetting symptoms isn’t their business. This isn’t speculation; this is Sunday-by-Sunday reality.

I’m not sure why they might feel a need to be publicly open and transparent about the sexual particulars of their sickness (versus open with a select few for purposes of support); I feel no need to be publicly open and transparent about the temptations I’m not going to name here.

Finally, since the complete spiritual healing I believe possible is a very long process, I assume that between sexual awakening and any complete spiritual healing, there’s going to be a lot of struggle, and presumably lapses, just as is the common experience of mankind with every other sin under the sun. Lapses are regrettable, but they’re nothing for others to get up in arms about.

Any more mature or knowledgeable Orthodox want to set me straight on any or all of this?

UPDATE: I noticed excessive dismissiveness in my third paragraph and revised it to  give a nod to the legitimate use of psychiatry — which I already had done in point 2. I did so because I point back to this blog periodically as my position on therapy for unwanted sexual attractions.

UPDATE 2: August 8, 2018, I posted a “Course Correction” on cognate topics.

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.