Friday, July 06, 2007
What strange, strange people.
America: People buy health and life insurance to protect themselves from great financial difficulties.
Our icon embodies this philosophy. Gazing in her mirror, she sees the world and herself as they really are. She is also a reminder that, in our increasingly faceless world, we are a company with a personality and a heart.
There is no limit to the ways in which we listen, and no limit to the ways in which we understand, anticipate and deliver the products and services that cater to the needs of everyone, everywhere.
What kind of sadistic, scrambled brain came up with this? Let me see if I can understand.
She gazes in the mirror. She sees, one would safely presume, herself. According to the philosophy of Prudential Asia, she also sees the world, reflected, perhaps in her own eyes. She sees them for what they really are, for the mirror does not deceive; it does not incorrectly represent reality as does our memories.
Now, we witness her gazing at herself and the world in the mirror. She is beautiful, I guess. She has a face, personhood. She is real.
Somehow this is connected to the next paragraph. We are all things to all people. Our real, personal, beautiful face is wonderful to all. She listens, she understands. Is she money? She delivers the stuff that everyone, everywhere needs.
I'm no good at this. She scares me. Like some primitive god of Southeast Asia:
Saturday, December 09, 2006
happy:1340, "lucky," from hap "chance, fortune" (see haphazard), sense of "very glad" first recorded c.1390. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead "wealth, riches") and gesælig, which has become silly. From Gk. to Ir., a great majority of the European words for "happy" at first meant "lucky." An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant "wise." Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing "dazed or frazzled from stress." Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour "early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d'oeuvres at a bar" is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tidewhen it can't be dug up and eaten.
Happiness, it seems, has little to with what one does but what situations, conditions, circumstances or life in which one finds oneself. I’m so happy! Let’s see how you feel in a few hours. I’m so happy! Great, but let’s not go basing your life around this feeling. I like the sense of happiness merely being lucky, that good fortune has accidentally fallen upon the one who is happy. But the good part of happiness seems unnecessary, if just for the happening, the chance and fortune of it. It seems that one to whom great misfortune has fallen is also happy, in a sense. The prophet of suffering, Job himself, is happy if we ignore that the designs of God and satan in the story are the cause of that suffering. But how can we do that—isn’t that what the story is about? Not really, for Job could just as easily have put his circumstance up to chance and fortune, calling himself unhappy. But he knew that things do not just ‘happen’; rather, they come from God.
There is a dual stupidity in the word ‘happy.’ Secondly (most recently), we use the word as if it is a state we could attain by our own power. Once I get that mortgage paid off, I’m going to be happy. That is a lame example, but you get my drift.
Firstly (do you like how I’m going backward here?), happiness is a false understanding of the world, as we see from the example of Job. One who is ‘happy’ might just as well be one who lives each day on the vicissitudes of his decrepitude, or whatever. This idea of happiness is the opposite of the ridiculous modern understanding as expressed in the first paragraph: “Whatever makes you happy.” One leaves his care to the winds of fortune. He seeks his meat from his fellow man, i.e., he is a beggar. This possibility sounds in fact God pleasing, but if so his ‘happiness’ is an illusion; God is providing for him. If not for him, then why not for all? Let us look to the example of Jesus—the birds of the air have their nests, the beasts of the field have their dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Oh, you will feed me—OK. Was the Son of Man happy? Was Jesus happy, I ask my Sunday school children. (I don’t have any Sunday school children). No, he wasn’t. Was he unhappy? No. The word is irrelevant and meaningless in His case. Did he just happen to be crucified?
In Greek the word for happiness is eudaimonia, meaning ‘having a good daemon.’ Socrates was eudaimonic in that he had a demon that told him whenever he was approaching falsehood. If we understand the word ‘demon’ in a Christian sense, however, the word happiness has a very negative meaning indeed. One is tempted by earthly gifts and false securities in order to be enslaved for the devil.
This word eudaimonia is rightly contrasted with the Christian euangelion, trans-literally ‘evangelism,’ but more accurately ‘having a good angel,’ or a good ‘messenger.’ The daemon comes from… who knows where; it represents fortune, luck, ambiguous direction, but certainly direction and guidance, known by the man (in the case of Socrates, which is entirely different—his daemon may even be the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth) or unknown (most cases). It is ‘good,’ but perhaps only seemingly, or in a human understanding. An angel, on the other hand, is a direct message from God, proclaiming clearly some good news. Christians do not place their hope in being happy, in having a good demon, but in being the recipients of the good angel on Earth. The path of a Christian is clear, definite and unshakable, having no concern for the follies and fortunes of this life, not placing any hope in such things but always having faith in God. Happiness is human, and irrelevant.
But there are some good religious blogs out there, on one of which I found this marvelous piece on Christian "respectability. Here's a quote:
"Leave your umbrella in a suburban Catholic Church today (an ugly-on-purpose cinder-block affair, self-consciously tricked out in that tell-tale conjunction of low kitsch and middle-brow minimalism) and somebody in nice knitwear, wearing a strange facial expression known in Protestant circles as a SWEG (Sickly Weak Evangelical Grin) will make a point of handing it back to you. It makes me sick to my stomach."
Hilarious. Now, I don't know how much Christians should praise themselves on their sinfulness, but they should on their honesty. Smarmy worshippers of secular freedom and private property can be Christians only half-heartedly. An indication of honesty is that the followers of Holy Mother Church of Rome call themselves "Bad Catholics," while the rebel scum are "good Protestants." The Orthodox I know probably fall somewhere toward the latter end. If they talk about such things. Why be so chirpy and terminal as to make such pronouncements? Rambling on, the umbrella reference originally comes from an old quip about where one is likely to have his left-behind rainshield nipped. The answer: a Catholic (and not a Protestant church), thus indicating that the Catholic faith is real and alive, because the dirty poor scum who would need to steal your umbrella are to be found there. Or something. Maybe I missed the point entirely. Salyer, did you convert to Catholicism as a standing symbol of your commitment to Southern agrariangism? Because they'll let you smoke a drink whiskey? Granted. But don't you think the distinction between venial and mortal sins is arbitrary and irrelevant? (Vultures somewhere in the middle of a desert, circling a near-corpse. The corpse is this paragraph. All right, you vultures, come to the banquet.)
I especially liked The Ochlophobist's response:
"Do umbrellas fall into the category of private property? I thought the rule was that one grabbed the nearest umbrella available at signs of wet weather. Fuck the bourgeoisie."
Damn straight. I feel redeemed-- vindicated after having been rebuked in my nascent adult life for having such little respect for 'other people's things.' Sorry, I didn't know that we all had precious worlds of things with which to defend ourselves. Tell me, how do I brush my teeth? I am used to cutting sarcasm and clever wit for my sword and buckler, but fine. Suit yourself. If there's one person from college who shared with me this total disregard for personal property, it was Mr. J. Gannon, probably soon to become 'Brother Ambrose' or something. Maybe there is some sort of relationship between said approach and holiness, or the pursuit thereof. Maybe? Who am I kidding-- of course there is. Kant, take your morality and shove it.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
This may seem like a stupid question with obvious answers, but for many Westerners, it is a challenging question and one worth answering. Many political libertarians with otherwise sensible views see all religious beliefs as basically equal and equally inferior, differing only inasmuch as they interfere with the ‘true’ work of politics. Likewise, anarcho-capitalists, general secularists, and weak liberalized theists are inclined to see the religion of Mohammed and the Body of Christ as belief in the same God with differing worship traditions—traditions that we must respect.
The “Convert or Die” symposium featured one Muslim apologist, Mustafa Akyol from Istanbul, and three men who are very clear about the danger of radical Islam: David Aikman; Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch; and Andrew Bostom, an associate professor of medicine and oft-publisher of Islam commentary, including The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims.
What is up for debate is not whether the West faces a danger from radical Islam; it is clear that it does. Having understood this, it seems merely academic to decide the real question: Is the religion of the Mohammedans inherently, traditionally and theologically violent? Is jihad merely a spiritual war or the defense of the faith, as the modern Muslim apologists claim, or is it and has it always been bloody war and persecution of infidels? The specific question of this symposium was: does Islam condone violent conversion, as of the two Fox News reporters Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, who were forced to confess Allah? In the video I have linked here, the men, speaking the words they have been given, make the claim that Islam is a peaceful religion, that there is no compulsion in Islam, etc. We do not need to see this video to hear this claim. It is made in our country. It was even made by President Bush, who was been called to embrace Islam (or die). But is it true? We need to answer this question because the answer will teach us how to respond to the threat.
Christianity has its own share of shameful episodes. Of course, the Crusades are the obvious example. But Christians make the claim that because Christians do bad things does not mean that Christianity is wrong (See The Worth of Christianity and the Unworthiness of Christians by N.A. Berdyaev). In the Roman-Catholic church especially, we see the argument made repeatedly that no matter what the condition of the priest’s soul, it is still the Sacrament that he administers. The Pope himself could be in the clutches of the devil, but the Church will survive. Somewhere under all the filth is the True Church.
Is it the same with Islam? I am inclined to agree with Aikman, Spencer and Bostom that jihad has always been about violent destruction of non-Muslims, an act considered by these people to be a holy duty. As quoted by Bostom, in the words of the 14th century saint Gregory Palamas, who lived as a captive amongst Muslims: “they live by the bow, the sword and debauchery, finding pleasure in taking slaves, devoting themselves to murder, pillage, spoil… and not only do they commit these crimes, but even—what an aberration—they believe that God approves of them.”
But how to show that this is what true Islam is? Perhaps to find a continuous Islamic tradition of love, charity and mercy toward non-Muslims would be sufficient? But we cannot find this. Public outcry from the Muslim community when atrocious acts are committed ‘for the glory of Allah’? Examples of this are disingenuous, smarmy lies, and obvious ones, only created as sound bytes for the gullible Western media. When do we see real anger from the Muslim community? We see them on the occasion of peaceful remarks from Pope Benedict, in an academic speech at Regensburg where he quoted an ancient conversation. I say the words are peaceful not because he was not accusing the Muslims of violence—he certainly was—but because they were an invitation to dialogue, and they were not spoken in anger. What was the universal Muslim response? You say we are violent? How dare you? DEATH TO THE INFIDELS! It would be funny if it weren’t the occasion for the taking of innocent life in the name of God.
This is Islam because there is no tradition that disputes it besides modern apologist scholars like Akyol who make plausible arguments that sound nice but have no historical basis. Christianity has much violence in its past but it has always been condemned by Christians. There is scholarly and theological tradition down to the present day, and a continuing monastic community that preserves it. Similarly, the Koran cannot be dissected and interpreted in a vacuum, as the fundamentalists Christians do with their Bible, but must be seen in the light of the life of Mohammed, the Suras, the laws, their scholars, and all the unholy tradition down to the present day. And if when we have examined all this, we conclude that Islam is a demonic religion and Mohammed a man tempted by devils to pervert the truths of Judaism and Christianity, there is nothing to be done but destroy the idols.
Of course I hope that this can be done without war. We should fight the evil presence in men, and love the men themselves, not thinking that they are evil, but rather under a demonic delusion. For we ourselves have often suffered delusions. Muslims are convinced that they are believers of the true faith—as humans this is a godly desire. We cannot rectify the delusion by adding further lies about the meaning of Islam. This only adds fuel to the fire of so-called ‘radical Islam,’ i.e. traditional Islam. The same result is achieved when we attempt to replace the deep desire for spiritual righteousness with an empty secularism. The only substitute is an equally fervent Christianity, so that so-called Muslims may love men with greater force than they have hated them. At present we give them only the destruction of their identity.
This must seem to them as an inevitable death on the one hand, and on the other as a call to arms. The more we dismiss the apocalyptic nature of this conflict, the more it incites those minded toward apocalypse. Some respond by embracing the comforting, somnorific call of secularism, maintaining Islam only as symbol, in the Western post-Enlightenment sense (strange how Enlightment came to mean the dimming of the intellect—though the nonsense about symbols came much earlier). Many more, however, respond either by the suicidal destruction of human life, the systematic large-scale destruction of it, or the calculated misinformation of the enemy, through their tragically confused Ministry of Information, i.e. News Corp/etc.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
When Brent and I formulated the theory of the three levels of irony, we based its coherence on the tripartite sublimation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Absolute Spirit. And yet, here was Kierkegaard, whose dissertation on Socrates and irony is apparently the refutation par excellence of Hegel’s “System” and its “trilogy” of subsuming concept groups. However, our own system was not a response to Hegel, but merely a co-opting of his way of knowing in order to describe irony in some accurate manner. Hegel had finally given us the tools with which to understand. We never considered that Hegel (and/or the Hegelians) would fall somewhere else besides the third-level understanding.
Interestingly, it is not in irony that I coincide with Kierkegaard sympathetically; it is in honesty. For as I just came to realize, it is not irony that especially characterizes him, but honesty. For his main critique of Hegel’s System is that it is dishonest. It seeks to integrate Christianity into the Borg, to comprehend it and yet transcend it. Kierkegaard contends that the Hegelians have not understood Christianity at all, and their pretending actually to be Christians in some enlightened way is disingenuous and despicable. It is even an act of cowardice to assume such a proposition in this way in the hope of removing its offense. For this reason Richard pointed out that Kierkegaard would perhaps admire Nietzsche, whose response to Christianity was one of horror—he was entirely honest about its offensiveness.
For me, honesty is the greatest of the intellectual virtues, and dishonesty my greatest complaint about the academic world, extending deeply into the seminars and tutorials of St. John’s. For Kierkegaard, such a proposition as The Paradox of Christianity requires more than the mere mental exercise of assent or dissent according to reasonableness. Such a Paradox requires the complete involvement of the imagination, the passions: the whole human person. When St. John’s students treat such things lightly and fail to engage real philosophical and spiritual problems, their dismissal is usually due to that offense—Christianity’s “sinfulness”—and passed off as logical incoherence, structural inconsistency, or aesthetic disagreement. These are usually dishonest responses, and I abhor them. They represent most responses to Christianity.
The great dishonesty of academia today is Marxist deconstructionism, a further perverted form of Hegelianism. Such doctrine does not presume any intellectual freedom but rather claims that we are all slaves to our time and place, mere products of the particular art and culture characterized by the owners of the means of production. It presumes we are servants and speaks to us as if we are servants. (As opposed to Biblical works, Plato, Kierkegaard and others, who strive to uphold our freedom as readers). This understanding is not limited to the pseudo-disciplines of Feminist Studies, Race Studies, Sexual Preference Studies and the like, but penetrates most deeply into Art, Literature, History, Philosophy, and most painfully, Religion. No matter what it is, we are compelled by the World-Borg-Spirit and not the divine or transcendent—the Spirit of God.
On the other hand, such study, i.e. reading the Bible with a feminist perspective, while entirely ridiculous, is mostly harmless. Hegel’s Zeitgeist-doctrine was dishonest, but it was also incredibly compelling.
There is an important difference between the intellectual dishonesty of the Hegelians and that of intellectuals today: the former claimed to have understood Christianity and given its proper place in the order of thought, while the latter claim that Christianity is stupid, an inferior meme marked for extinction. In this way ours is more an “age of honesty” than the “age of irony” it is sometimes dubbed. On the other hand, one often gets the feeling that those arguing against Christianity push the points about which they care the least—historical reality, the lives of actual Christians, etc.—and not what truly offends them: the idea that they are sinners. It seems to be that the response of the Hegelians, in claiming to be Christians, is far more dangerous.
Monday, October 23, 2006
2nd level: Death trumps everything, including irony.
3rd level: Life defeats death.
2nd level irony proclaims that something is to be taken seriously, namely death.
But Christianity, as third level irony, teaches that death is a consequence of sin and thus alien to the human condition. Christ, being God, freed mankind from the condition of death. This, in opposition to everything taught by worldly wisdom. For Christ may raise Jairus' daughter, whom He says was only sleeping, but He is too late, they tell him, to raise the already stinking Lazarus. Even then, no man can defeat his own death. But of this-- the Resurrection-- we have constant need of reminder. God is more powerful than death.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
I don't know if I want to fight for the redefinition of irony within the narrow circle of Christian intellectuals of which I am a part only in spirit. If so, I can still do this without giving the inaccurate picture of my blog that the title "The Irony Files" conveys. There is something awfully dead about that phrase. I do not wish to pick out things that are ironic in a first-level way and present them on this page; that is not what it is about. I am writing about the philosophic concept of irony, with reference to other philosophical and religious concepts. Thus, analogion: analogy, words in comparison. This is not really a 'blog' in the sense that I am keeping a log of things in my life, news events, or issues affecting the Orthodox world today.
As such, I have added a 'description,' from the Book of Proverbs, Ch. 1, Vs. 6. This is in a sense a mission statement-- the mission of my life, whatever form it will take. It is almost like an objective for a resume-- there is my dream job.
I was reading Proverbs recently and realized that Solomon (or Wisdom) is not merely inveighing against harlotry—whether fornication, adultery, or prostitution—but he is describing the false, vain philosophies that oppose themselves to true wisdom. Just as Wisdom is personified as a woman (does Nietzsche take this idea for Beyond Good and Evil?), the lack of wisdom, or false wisdom, is personified as a prostitute.
What characterizes false wisdom? It is “wily of heart… loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait.” (7:10-12)
Falsehood is ubiquitous, just as sin, which is present in the street and in the market; always the devil sets traps for us.
Most of all, vain philosophy is overly simple. We find this fault among Christians as well. “How long, O Simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (1:22)
On simplicity, Proverbs has two branches. First: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7). In verse 7 we see that knowledge and wisdom are first grounded in a proper relationship to God—what we know is this relationship, where we stand with God. If we do not know this, we do not know anything. All wisdom is grounded in this understanding, this state of the heart. But what then is the culmination of wisdom or the road to wisdom? One is told first, to “hear…your father’s instruction.” Then we are told what to avoid, and what to pursue. The path of wisdom is a path of virtue, a right ordering of the passions.
This path, however, means different things to different persons:
…that prudence may be given to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth – the wise man also may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. (1:4-6)
While the man with five talents (the simple) will receive prudence from words of Solomon, the man with one talent (the man of understanding) will acquire the skill not of understanding base things (by burying his talent in the earth), but of understanding “the words of the wise and their riddles”: the parables of Jesus, the allegories and metaphors of the Old Testament, and the secret truth about God hidden in the darkness of irony.
For this is irony—to say a different thing to different men, and surely the Bible does this, the Book of Proverbs does this, and Jesus does it. As Socrates explains in the Phaedrus, saying the same thing to all men is the fundamental defect of writings. This is only transcended by certain types of writing—called esoteric-- wherein the person of the author is transcended. Instances of this include Plato’s dialogues and any divinely inspired writing, such as the books of the Bible.
When Truth itself somehow condescends to speak in human terms, Truth is saying less than He knows. Wisdom says less than She knows. This is also irony, to say less than one knows, and it is the particular irony of Socrates.
It may also be a sign of irony that one is aware of saying more than he knows—that his language is somehow a transcendent form of his knowledge. The ironic person knows that his words can only slightly depict wisdom but may by some allegory be launched to heights higher than his climbing, whereas the unironic person has an unyielding faith in the power of his words to simple convey his meaning unequivocally, just as he conceived it.
Monday, October 09, 2006
In a way I moved toward the Eastern Orthodox Church amongst all Christian churches because it is the most ironic and the least dorky. In this way I have given a working definition of dorkiness: it is the lack of a deep sense of irony.
First level irony, which is mere negation and is at its root destructive, characterize many who are unwilling to delve deeper into the human soul to find greater truth. Such is often found among the role-playing game type, who are content merely to play out their lives as something or someone they are not, but do not successfully transform this experience into deeper insight as to who they really are.
We find this in much of e-conversation, which often can only tear down arguments through negation, or dismiss them with sarcasm. The flood of sources and readily available contradictions lends the sense that everything can be defeated by something else, and nothing really means anything anyway.
It is disturbing to find such an attitude amongst Christians, with its great ironic tradition. This ‘dorkiness’ is manifest in a sort of religious bigotry, akin to nationalism and patriotism, only with soft modern edges. It claims Christianity merely to be the realm of the soothing and personal, and not the transcendent and stirring.
Other churches just haven’t been around as long; their truth is not enduring, only partial. The customs are not the meaning of the church, but it helps to have practices that are generations and generations old and will endure for ages. It helps to have a liturgy that does not make shameful allowances. It helps to have a true sense of awe.
A simple, undecorated church can be beautiful and transcendent, as can an ornate one. It is not merely a question of icons and chant; however, guitars and all that just seem like a big ‘ol helping of dorky. “Have you heard the Good News?” evangelism also seems dorky. Accepting Jesus Christ as your Personal Lord and Savior painfully smacks me of dorky. Worshipping should not make use of transience, and it is not easy. Evangelism cannot be that simple. Conversion is much deeper.