Friday, March 21, 2003

And so it begins. Before too much time passes, I wanted to post an addendum to my last post. While I am not exactly comfortable with some of these statements by the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, I am humbled and my hawkishness chastened by the dedication to peace evinced by the bishops, priests, deacons and laity who have signed the statement. This war is only justified in the slightest because it seeks to save life--to establish a truer peace than has existed in Iraq for many years, and to increase the security of the United States and the entire world.

With that said, I would like to point you to one more Orthodox statement on the war, this time from the Holy Eparchial synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This official encyclical exemplifies the position of the Church on any war: a recognition of the reality of this fallen world, a cautious support for those in service of the country, intense prayers for a swift and bloodless end to the conflict, and, most of all, for the salvation of all.

Amen and amen. Kyrie eleison.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Much has been written of war and peace in this small circle of the internet by many with a far better knowledge than I of history, philosophy and the fine line where theology must weigh in on political matters. I hesitate to disagree with the prevailing opinion that Bush is committing a heinous crime against the people of Iraq, that his war is a sin against God and against humanity.

The sheer volume of evidence and argument both for and against war is such that I find myself completely at a loss to condense it all into a convincing argument that this American president is acting as he ought, or at the least as he must. Nor can I reconcile the apparently inevitable clash between the moral and the necessary for this president. Before I venture to pass judgement on him, it seems I ought to come to some conclusion regarding the interaction of morality and necessity; I would far rather state an absolute moral rule (Thou shalt not kill) which forever subordinates the necessary to the moral. But I find myself unable to escape one simple fact.

George W. Bush is the leader of the United States of America. He carries directly on his shoulders the burden of millions of lives. For these four years, his sole concern is the safety and security of the American people. In that capacity, he will inevitably be forced to kill�worse, to order others to kill.

This is an office which I could never dream of seeking for myself. I have no desire to be bound by duty and necessity to decide for myself which imperative I hold higher. And yet it seems that the office is necessary to human society�necessary, indeed, for the sake of peace. All I can hope is that he who rules also bows before a higher Ruler and will not abuse the power given him�and that he will also hold sacred the trust given him, and will not unnecessarily risk the lives he has sworn to protect.

For, after all, one can always find hope for peace�that hope can never be killed if one is determined to find it, to never fight a war until every chance for peace is exhausted. Such determination, however, binds one to fight only defensive wars. Moral theorists�who do not rule, who do not bear the burden of a hundred million lives�can commit to this. A ruler cannot.

Especially in these sad times, such means accepting as a matter of course that anyone who chooses can have one good crack at killing your people before you act against them. With nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, millions could die. A good ruler has no choice but to act first. And again, the people he rules can only hope that he has the wisdom to see clearly who must be dealt with.

In theory, I think Bush is doing well. His policy of preemption is far from universal. It simply redefines those actions which the United States will�and I say must�view as attacks upon its people. If a nation supports terrorists, Bush will view it as an act of war. So too with pursuit of so-called weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps my only objection is to his choice of first target. Saddam Hussein simply does not appear to pose a threat comparable to that of North Korea.

And yet I have little doubt that Bush feels himself bound to do as he now does. Every decision he has made since September 11 has been one he found necessary to his task of preserving American lives. For all it appears hasty at first glance, there is no way for him to turn back now. Consistency, reputation and strength are all, unfortunately, necessary considerations for a ruler.

Yes, pride is a sin�but what if humility were to show weakness that would jeopardize a million lives. Vengeance is a sin�but what if turning the other cheek might end with a mushroom cloud over Chicago? So many sins�so many duties�small wonder rulers are so seldom saints.

May God have mercy on them.

Incidentally, the matter of the Orthodox bishops of the world, the majority of whom condemn this war in no uncertain terms. I fear that they are right--the deaths of civilians that will inevitably result from an American attack on Iraq are blood that will rest upon the heads of Mr. Bush and the American people. But I would that they were more hesitant to condemn Mr. Bush when they do not wear his shoes. And I remain grateful that, whether Mr. Bush be right or wrong, the Orthodox people of this nation will continue to pray for him and for all those in service of this country, both here and around the world. And, indeed, for all men, for those who love us and those who hate us. Including Saddam Hussein.

Thursday, March 13, 2003


Now this is funny. The cafeteria for the House of Representatives decided it was going to be patriotic, replacing old mainstays with "freedom fries" and "freedom toast." The idea (and it is very stupid, I opine) is to boycott France in every way possible. Ridiculous.

Cut to Louisiana, where signs welcoming visitors to the state are written in French and the language is actually spoken by a significant number of natives. There, Elaine Clement, president of the Cajun heritage group Action Cadienne, objected to the congressional name change with this pithy query.

"Are they going to change French kiss to freedom kiss?"

A probing question indeed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

I am tired of posting political junk to this blog. Political arguments annoy me. In an effort to avoid argument and limit myself to the facts that actually matter, I have created another blog (you laugh that I don't sufficiently update ONE blog, much less two--I nod in tired concession to your biting point).

Called Pilate's Question, it is intended to be a place for bare facts, indeed (hopefully) truth. As such, the idea is to keep my opinions out of the way, but post only those "facts" of whose veracity I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt. The idea is also to figure out precisely what place politics play in the Christian life. I fear that they must be addressed in some manner, but hesitate to wade once more into the mess I got myself into with my speculations about the best manner in which to address nuclear proliferation. So once again, welcome to my self-searching musings.

From my presentation at Fairfield Society here at Hillsdale College last month, here at last is the final version of my argument that movies damage the human soul.

First, allow me to refer you, dear reader, to this article by Wes Moore of . Although his argument is scientific, and mine is not, it nonetheless serves as a good jumping off point for me, for they run roughly parallel to my philosophical objections to the medium�that it serves as an escape from reality, an addictive sating of base passions. Even more importantly, we are agreed that, regardless of its artistic quality, television, and, by extension, movies at large, by their very nature, have a vegetative effect on humanity.

My argument, of course, is much more difficult to establish than a scientific study asserting that the brain is not as active while watching television. I must convince my readers that entertainment is, by its very nature, spiritually destructive. My own belief that this is the case is based in personal experience and a degree of intuition�that is to say, I�m following my gut. Being a more-or-less rational human being, I am trying to determine if my gut is right in this situation, reasoning my way through various arguments to try to explain why precisely I am so certain that movies are destructive. In my search for the Logos behind my rejection of entertainment, I think I can at least rule out subliminal manipulation by television�no television advertiser, movie director or book author would have an interest in causing me to completely reject their products. Although, of course, as a child of the �80�s, television and movies played a significant in the formation of my personality and character, I think the examination of how precisely that relates to my current rejection of the medium is a matter for another to research. A perverse, sick devil would such a one be, but I digress�

In examining such an issue, dealing with matters destructive to the human soul, let us go back to the beginning and look at the nature of God and the nature of man as created in His image and likeness. If something is destructive, it will run counter to man�s telos.. I take my text (not that I�m preaching or anything) from the first epistle of St. John the Theologian.

�Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.� (I John 4:7-8) God is Love, three distinct persons in one essence, existing in eternal communion of self-emptying love. Hence man, created in the image of God, is created to love. This is the sum of all good, the very purpose for our existence. I call attention to Matthew 22:36-40: ��Teacher, what is the great commandment in the law?� Jesus said to him, �You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.��

And what is love? Love is communion. Let there be no confusion on this point. There can no Love without communication, relationship, communion and unity, without knowing another so well that you set him above yourself, willing even to die for him. Seeing another as he truly is is fundamental to Love. �Beloved, now we are children of God; and it is not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.� (I John 3:2) And such knowledge means that our life, our very existence, becomes tied up in the other�s�in some way, we begin to dwell and have our being in one another. �Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us His Spirit.� (I John 4:11-13). John is saying that, even though God has never been seen, through love for one another we may abide in Him and actually come to know Him truly.

If we know that we abide in him because He has given us His Spirit, let us look at the descent of the Spirit. �When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in the same place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing might wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit�� (Acts 2:1-4)

They were there with one accord�that is, they were unified in love. And at that moment, the Holy Spirit descended on them with power, elevating that formerly motley crew to the heights of human existence, enabling them to be sons of God in the image of Christ Himself�men as men were created to be. To love is to be in one accord, to commune one with another in a unity without confusion, in oneness without any loss of distinction. Human love is to be divine�in our love for one another we imitate and reflect God Himself, who is three persons united in one essence without confusion and without loss of distinction. Such love, such communion and such unity are the fundamental reason for our being.

Movies and all entertainment are all diametrically opposed to this. This seems self-evident to me�it is not possible to really get to know anyone while watching a movie. The screen takes all of your attention. And, of course, it is even less possible to pray, to commune with God, at the same moment as one seeks fulfillment, happiness and rest from mere pictures on a screen. In so doing we turn away from Him, the source of all good, seeking mere gratification of our desires.

Not that our desires are bad�God created us with them, and, fallen or not, they are, at root, good. But they are intended to draw us closer to one and another and to God. The perversion of television, movies and most entertainment is that they offer at least some degree of fulfillment of those fundamental human desires without requiring the work inherent in any relationship. Even when we watch them in company with others, they isolate us in our own desires. We can just sit down, relax, and get a quick fix for our desire for romance, for example. No need for sacrifice, no need to open ourselves to anyone, no need to risk being hurt. We just enjoy the story, feel all the emotions, get the endorphins to release, and we�re done. It�s like mental masturbation.

This sort of thing is murder on the soul. It isolates us, confuses our hearts, messes with our sense of reality, and skews our expectations of the real world. It works to enforce our culture of instant gratification�I can feel good right now and experience anything I desire without having to put any work into it, without risking hurt, without any danger�so why should I put the work into getting to know my friends, why should make the effort to pray? I�m happy enough alone, so why do I need anyone else�.and so it goes.

Some may say that movies and their like help us to better understand our culture, enable us to better relate to people�some may say that they are a necessary and edifying tool to integrate us into our society. I do not necessarily deny this�they are a human creation, and thus, without exception, inherently contain a germ of truth and show us something of the image of God in man. But then, so does pornography.

St. John Climacus relates a story about this sort of thing:

�Someone told me of an extraordinarily high degree of purity. He said: �A certain man (NOTE: St. Nonnus, Bishop of Heliopolis), on seeing a beautiful woman (the harlot Pelagia), thereupon glorified the Creator; and from that one look, he was moved to the love of God and to a fountain of tears. And it was wonderful to see how what would have been a cause of destruction for one was for another the supernatural cause of a crown.� If such a person always feels and behaves in the same way on similar occasions, then he has risen immortal before the general resurrection.�

(St. Nonnus� tears, of course, were shed in shame that this harlot spent all her energies in beautifying herself for her customers, yet he himself, the beloved of the Lover of mankind, was so lazy in his zeal to please Christ the Bridegroom.)

This demonstrates rather well the fact that even in the most vile thing on this earth there exists the possibility for redemption and edification. All is but a perversion of a creation that was once perfectly good, and if you can see through that perversion, you see something of the Divine. But still, who among us will seek out pornography as an aid to bring us closer to God or our fellow man? Or movies, for that matter? The reality of life should be more than enough for us�after all, it was created for us. In creating for ourselves artificial means of fulfillment, happiness and rest, we will in the end only destroy ourselves.
Here are two excellent pieces on the impending war with Iraq: one by Richard Cohen and the other by Philip Bobbitt. Between the two, they outline what are to my mind the bare essentials of the Iraq issue. In many ways, this is what I have been trying to say so badly over the past few weeks. This is why I support the war on Iraq. For the rest of Bush's pre-emption strategy--I'll have to see. I certainly see his point. I think the policy's detractors overestimate both the success of former strategies and the probable problems inherent to Bush's ideas. And with that, perhaps I can make myself leave this issue be.