Holiness and Wendell Berry

Brad East has a great line at the end of a short post about holiness.

What I am convinced about is that, e.g., the moral vision of Wendell Berry is both good and beautiful and not sufficiently converted to the gospel. And if some forms of Christian political theology don’t recognize that, then so much the worse for them.

Reading those final sentences, I had a familiar experience where I thought, “Hey, I think that’s been a blind spot in the way I’ve thought about X, and I think it explains some of the intuitive, though mostly subliminal, hesitation I may have had about it.” Maybe Berry’s work isn’t Christian enough, which is an odd thought if you’re at all familiar with Berry. Read the rest of Brad’s post to find out what “not Christian enough” might mean.

Social Conditioning

Alan Jacobs:

I don’t think we reckon with this phenomenon often enough, or seriously enough. The major social-media companies have been conducting for the past decade an implementation of B. K. Skinner’s principles more massive than anything we can truly imagine. They have found ways to get billions of people to volunteer for the experiments and devote sometimes hours a day to pursuing them. Operant conditioning at this level works. And its effects are difficult to undo.

One way to see this: often when people get sick of Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and find some other online venue, they simply bring with them to their new location the habits they learned in the previous ones: the snark of Twitter, the rants of Facebook, the posturing of Instagram. It’s like the old line about travel: wherever you go, there you are. It’s hard enough for people to leave Facebook or Instagram or Twitter behind; what’s almost impossible to leave behind is the person that those sites’ algorithmic behaviorism turned you into.

Having recently deleted my Twitter account, I’m officially off social media. And I can tell you, Jacobs is not wrong. The withdrawal symptoms of FOMO (fear of missing out) and a general disorientation about where and what to give my attention to online are powerful forces that make me wonder if I made a poor decision. I’ve been conditioned a) to expect the internet to behave like a social media site, and b) to find the deluge of information that floods a social media feed comforting.

It’s probably too soon for me to make a true assessment of this decision. So, I plan to stick to it for a while. In the meantime, I’ll try to hang around here a little more as I work through the withdrawal symptoms.

How We Spend Our Days

I’ve been trying to keep a daily log this year. It was start and stop at the beginning, until I finally switched over to a small moleskin planner. I was trying to keep a log in a regular journal, but it quickly became too messy.

After writing out Sunday’s entry (9/1), I was overwhelmed with the sense that I had experienced an almost perfect day:

Sunday, September 1, 2019

LAZY Sunday–hung out in front of Whole Foods with J and C eating pizza, shooting the breeze, and watching C learn how a bottle cap works.

This is the stuff I want to remember when I’m old and how I hope to spend the majority of my days.

Fighting Sin

My wife and I are reading Saint Theophan the Recluse’s small book Raising Them Right, subtitled, A Saint’s Advice on Raising Children. Theophan’s work has been recommended to me in the past, so I finally decided to buy a copy since I have a nine-month-old son.

We recently read this passage which hit me like a ton of bricks. Quick context: in this section, Theophan explains how parents influence the spiritual life of their infant child.

When a child’s powers begin to awaken, one after another, parents and those who are raising children should double their attention. For when, under the influence of the means which have been indicated, the longing for God will grow and increase in them and draw the powers of the child after it, at this same time the sin which dwells in them also does not sleep, but strives to take possession of these same powers.

The inevitable consequence of this is inward warfare. Since children are incapable of conducting it themselves, their place is understandably taken by the parents. But since this warfare must be conducted through the powers of the children, the parents must strictly watch over the first beginnings of their awakening, so that from the first minute they may give these powers a direction in harmony with the chief aim towards which they must be directed.

Thus begins the warfare of the parents with the sin that dwells in the child. Although this sin is deprived of points of support, still it acts, and so as to find a good resting place for itself it tries to take possession of the powers of the body and soul. One must not allow it to do this, but must, as it were, uproot these powers from the hand of sin and give them over to God. (31)

*All italics are my emphasis*

The idea that I am responsible for fighting the powers of sin that would attempt to settle in the heart of my child overwhelms me. Make no mistake: I alone am not sufficient to beat back the powers of sin; it is the power of Christ in me. Theophan is always careful to emphasize that the most important aspect of raising a child is to ensure that they regularly attend church and partake of the grace God extends to the world through the holy mysteries (i.e., sacraments).

Nevertheless, I have a part to play in the spiritual growth and trajectory of my son. I had never understood my role in the way Theophan describes it here, but it helps explain the indefinable dread that sometimes accompanies my experience in the day-to-day of parenting. That I should be entrusted with such a task is more than I deserve and only possible through the grace of God.

How Does Christ Save Us?

From Father Thomas Hopko’s podcast, Speaking the Truth in Love:

What seems to be the teaching — and here we each have to read the Scriptures and follow the Church teachings and the councils and the Fathers to try to understand this properly — what seems to be the teachings is that he loves perfectly, he fulfills all righteousness, he fulfills all aspects of how we ought to relate to God properly. When we are fallen into sin — and God gives us the Law of Moses that is a pedagogos, a teacher to the coming of Christ — he fulfills all of the teachings of the Torah of Israel. He’s born into the world, he’s offered in the temple, he’s circumcised on the eighth day, he keeps the Law perfectly. It’s his perfect keeping of the Law, which is ultimately perfect love for God and neighbor, that is what redeems us. That is what is going to remove the wrath of God from us, because, if you have an Adam, a real Adam, a real human being, who really is God’s Son and lives like God’s Son, which we were all created to do — Adam and Eve, they were created to be children of God. Adam is called Son of God in Scripture. He was created to be really what God is by grace, and he failed through sin. But when he fails through sin, the way he gets forgiven and redeemed is not by offering sufficient punishment and pain according to the sins he has committed, it’s, rather, that he is saved by one who keeps the Law, who does the commandments. And it’s interesting, that in Orthodox Church Holy Week, over the tomb of Jesus, when he lies dead in the tomb, is the 118th/119th Psalm, the real long one about the commandments, the ordinances, the statutes, the words, the laws of God that are kept by Jesus that then save us and redeem us from the curse of the Law.

Because the curse is lifted for what reason? Not because sufficient punishment was made, but the curse is lifted because righteousness has been effected. You have a sinless life. You have a sinless messiah, taking on himself the sin and curse of the world, so that God’s wrath would not directed against us again, if we offer it to God, and he offers himself on our behalf to God, and we say to God, “Lord, we’re sinners. We’ve broken all the commandments, but our messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has fulfilled all the commandments. He has done this for us and for our salvation.” That’s why he came into the world.

So, Jesus on the Cross is the perfect lover. He’s the perfect human being. He’s the absolutely sinless man and therefore he is that one man, that new Adam, who comes from heaven to fulfill the Law of God in our place, so that in and through him and by faith in him God will consider us righteous before himself, because we do finally have a human being, an Adam, that we can live according to him and therefore be delivered from the curse of the Law and the wrath of God.

I’ll be mulling this over for the foreseeable future, but this view of the atonement–which I hear primarily coming from the Orthodox quarters of Christianity–makes a lot of sense to me. Punishment in and of itself is arbitrary. The idea that Christ is someone who came to earth in order to take our place for the corporate punishment God had been inflicting on humanity does not fit well with the nature and effects of sin.

As I understand it, sin is a fundamental disordering and deteriorating force within the human person. (I’m getting this idea from Dante and  Athanasius…among others). Death is the natural consequence of sin, not an imposed punishment from God. God doesn’t place people in hell the way parents will place their kids in timeout for breaking a rule. Sin goes to the heart of the individual, making them disposed to self-destruction.

If, as I believe it is, this is an accurate way of describing sin and its effects, then no amount of substitutionary punishment will resolve the problem of sin. I can imagine, for example, my brother willingly receiving the timeout punishment in my place, even though he didn’t break the rule about eating ice cream right before dinner. But what does it matter? My appetite is already ruined and my parents remain disappointed in what they perceive to be my brother’s behavior. No redemption of any kind has taken place. Sin continues to reign in my own heart even though I’ve escaped the punishment.

So what’s the alternative? Something like Hopko’s description of the atonement. In Christ, humanity itself is revitalized. We are shown a way forward, secure in the knowledge that salvation is possible thanks to the trail blazed by Christ and his ongoing intercessory work on our behalf.

Maybe I’m overstating the significance of this difference and/or maybe I’m wrong–Lord knows I’m not a professional theologian by any stretch of the imagination. But given the condition of human nature and the effects of sin, any understanding of the atonement–specifically how it works–requires a careful explanation that complicates and supplements the idea of Christ-as-substitute.

No More Quirky Internet

A brief essay from Dan Harvey published in Warren Ellis’ email newsletter (Orbital Operations) this week:

This is why our once quirky, random, charming web has devolved into one colossal attention harvesting mechanism. The Internet is chock full of “commercial junk” in the words of Tim Wu. At the centre of all this are “data factories” and “attention merchants” like Facebook and Twitter. They are all attempting to capture your most scarce resource — your attention — and take it hostage for money. Your captive attention is worth billions to them in advertising revenue.

Being away from most forms of social media (no Facebook, no Instagram) and attending more to newsletters and blogs has confirmed, for me, Harvey’s observation. Long live the quirky, random, charming web!

Paradise is Somewhere

“I mean,” he said with increasing vehemence, “that if there be a house for me in heaven it will either have a green lamp-post and a hedge, or something quite as positive and personal as a green lamp-post and a hedge. I mean that God bade me love one spot and serve it, and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries, that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything. And I would not be so very much surprised if the house in heaven had a real green lamp-post after all.” (109)

-Innocent Smith as quoted by Louis Hara in his letter about having met Smith in the Sierra Mountains in California.

 

Source

Chesterton, G. K. Manalive. 1912. Dover, 2000.