Sunday, September 27, 2020

United with the Uncreated

 Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD) was a Byzantine Christian monk and poet who was the last of three saints canonized by the Eastern Orthodox church and given the title of "Theologian.” "Theologian" was not applied to Symeon in the modern academic sense of theological study; the title was designed only to recognize someone who spoke from personal experience of the vision of God. 

One of his principal teachings was that humans could and should experience theoria (literally "contemplation," or direct experience of God).

How Ignorance Obscures the Sense of Christ
Discourse XV-2
by St. Symeon the New Theologian

But he who imagines that he knows, even though he knows nothing, were he even to see an angel from heaven (Gal. 1:8) coming down to him, yet he would send him away as though he were an evil demon. Even if it were an apostle or a prophet of God, he would turn him away like another Simon Magus. What utter obtuseness that a blind man should consider the seeing man to be blind, and that he who talks nonsense should think that the words of the sensible man are nonsense! The blind man disbelieves those who tell him at night that the sun is not shining, and in his disbelief thinks that there is light, or at night that it is dark, and in his doubt sends his informants packing. So those who sit in the darkness of passions and whose minds are blinded by ignorance, or, rather, those who have not acquired “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), think that he who has the mind of Christ is foolish, and that he who has it not is sensible. Of these the prophet David rightly states, “The ignorant and foolish perish together” (Ps. 49:11). Therefore such men twist the whole of Scripture according to their own desires (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3, 16) and corrupt themselves in their own passions. But it is not divine Scripture that suffers from this, but those who disfigure it!

You, then, who have a right judgment of things, tell me how will the blind on their own rightly discern the thoughts of the light if they by their presumption refuse to be taught? He who is blind in his eyes, how will he read the letters that are in the light when he does not see the light? He who is blind in his mind and has not the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) in himself, how can he consider the thoughts that are stored up in the light of Christ? Even though he reads their visible record thousands of times with his physical eyes, the record that has been committed to writing, yet I do not think that such a person will ever be able to contemplate things that are spiritual, immaterial, and full of light in a place that is material and in darkness.

The following passage comes from Symeon’s Hymns of Divine Love:

And I lamented and sorrowed and burned in my core and lived like one removed in spirit. But he came at his own will and, descending like a bright cloud of mist, seemed to surround my head entirely, so that I cried out in consternation. But he, flying off again, left me alone. And when I laboriously sought him I suddenly came to know that he was in myself, and in the center of my heart he appeared like the light of a sun, round as a circle. When he had revealed himself thus, and I had recognized and received him, he put the whirlwind of demons to flight, repulsed my cowardly dread, put strength into me, stripped my soul of earthly thoughts and reclothed me with the thoughts of the spirit. From the things that are seen he severed me, and with those that are not seen he connected me. He permitted me to see the uncreated and to rejoice that I have been sundered from the created, from the visible, from that which swiftly passes away, and am united with the uncreated, the immortal, which has no beginning and cannot be seen by anyone. Such is mercy.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Back to the Country

 High among the countless blessings in my life is having been born and raised in the Carolinas when rural culture was still sound and vibrant.  And I am thankful, too, for knowing people born in the 19th century, rural people who knew rural people who remembered life during the Civil War era.  “Living in the country” meant June bugs, red bugs and lightnin’ bugs… blackberries and scuppernongs…blue jays, whippoorwills and mourning doves.  Happily, I came along in time for all that and much more.

The poet John Charles McNeill (1874 – 1907) was from Scotland County, North Carolina.  He practiced law, kept a pet possum and fished the Lumber River.  The countryside he conveyed in his poems is the same place I knew.  Honestly, I don’t know if it is a place where you can go today, or if it exists only in memory.  If the latter, I thank McNeill for helping to keep it alive.  



I have not been among the woods,

Nor seen the milk-weeds burst their hoods,


The downy thistle-seeds take wing,

Nor the squirrel at his garnering.


And yet I know that, up to God,

The mute month holds her goldenrod,


That clump and copse, o'errun with vines,

Twinkle with clustered muscadines,


And in deserted churchyard places

Dwarf apples smile with sunburnt faces.


I know how, ere her green is shed,

The dogwood pranks herself with red;


How the pale dawn, chilled through and through,

Comes drenched and draggled with her dew;


How all day long the sunlight seems

As if it lit a land of dreams,


Till evening, with her mist and cloud,

Begins to weave her royal shroud.


If yet, as in old Homer's land,

Gods walk with mortals, hand in hand,


Somewhere to-day, in this sweet weather,

Thinkest thou not they walk together?


-         - John Charles McNeill

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A Georgia Volunteer

"Who but a coward would revile an honest soldier’s dust?"

A Georgia Volunteer

Far up the lonely mountain-side

My wandering footsteps led;

The moss lay thick beneath my feet,

The pine sighed overhead.

The trace of a dismantled fort

Lay in the forest nave,

And in the shadow near my path

I saw a soldier's grave.


The bramble wrestled with the weed

Upon the lowly mound;

The simple head-board, rudely writ,

Had rotted to the ground;

I raised it with a reverent hand,

From dust its words to clear,

But time had blotted all but these--

"A Georgia Volunteer!"


Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson's men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!


I saw the toad and scaly snake

From tangled covert start,

And hide themselves among the weeds

Above the dead man's heart;

But undisturbed, in sleep profound,

Unheeding, there he lay;

His coffin but the mountain soil,

His shroud Confederate gray.


I heard the Shenandoah roll

Along the vale below,

I saw the Alleghanies rise

Towards the realms of snow.

The “Valley Campaign” rose to mind;

Its leader’s name – and then

I knew the sleeper had been one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.


Yet whence he came, what lip shall say--

Whose tongue will ever tell

What desolated hearths and hearts

Have been because he fell?

What sad-eyed maiden braids her hair,

Her hair which he held dear?

One lock of which perchance lies with

A Georgia Volunteer!


What mother, with long watching eyes,

And white lips, cold and dumb,

Waits with appalling patience for

Her darling boy to come?

Her boy! whose mountain grave swells up

But one of many a scar,

Cut on the face of our fair land,

By gory-handed war.


What fights he fought, what wounds he wore,

Are all unknown to fame;

Remember, on his lonely grave

There is not e'en a name!

That he fought well and bravely too,

And held his country dear,

We know, else he had never been

A Georgia volunteer.


He sleeps – what need to question now

If he were wrong or right?

He knows, ere this, whose cause was just

In God the Father’s sight.

He wields no warlike weapon now,

Returns no foeman’s thrust;

Who but a coward would revile

An honest soldier’s dust?


Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson's men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!


- By Mary Ashley Townsend (1832-1901) 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

New World Disorder

Who would have thought that a coffee commercial could be so creepy?  How about Lavazza’s “New Humanity” ad campaign?

The sentiments, on a superficial level, have a certain appeal for some, much like the lyrics from John Lennon’s “Imagine.” (Biographer Albert Goldman called Imagine "a hippie wishing well full of pennyweight dreams for a better world.")  But the humanistic, one-world, Communism-Lite agenda is unmistakable. 

The melodramatic delivery by Charlie Chaplin is disturbing for another reason.  The words come from the “Final Speech” of The Great Dictator, Chaplin’s cinematic parody of Adolph Hitler. 

 After mocking Hitler over the course of the movie, Chaplin wanted to end things on a “positive” note.   For whatever reason, the Little Tramp recognized the evils of Nazism, but was blind to the evils of Communism. 

Of course, none of this posturing is new.  No good Leftist could resist the charms of Alexander the Great’s Pledge:

Now that the wars are coming to an end, I wish you all to prosper in peace.

From now on, may all mortals live as one people, in fellowship, for the good of all.

See the whole world as your homeland, with laws common to all, where the best will govern regardless of their race.

Unlike the narrow-minded, I make no distinction between Greeks and Barbarians.

I am not interested in the origin of the citizens, or the race into which they were born.

I have only one criterion by which to distinguish them: their virtue.

For me, any good foreigner is a Greek and any bad Greek is worse than a Barbarian.

If disputes ever arise among you, do not resort to weapons, but solve them peacefully.

If needed, I will arbitrate between you.

See God, not as an autocratic despot, but as the common father of all so that your conduct will be like the life of siblings of the same family.

I, on my part, see you all as equal, whether you are white or dark-skinned.

And I wish you all to be not only subjects of the Commonwealth, but members of it, partners of it.

To the best of my ability, I will strive to do what I have promised.

Let us hold onto the oath we have taken tonight with our libations as a Contract of Love”.

You could imagine the pretty abstractions of these honey-dripping lines coming from the mouth of Barry Soetoro, among others. (The Smithsonian has even held a seminar on “Alexander the Great: Charismatic Founder of a New World Order.”)  But Alexander’s actions didn’t quite match his words. He had consolidated an empire by wielding political and military might - he was not altogether benevolent.  Alexander the Great made his Pledge in 324 BC. The following year, at the age of 32, he died in Babylon under mysterious circumstances.

I wonder if President George H. W. Bush was aware of Alexander’s Oath when he delivered his speech, “Toward a New World Order,” before a joint session of Congress on September 11, 1990:  

Until now, the world we've known has been a world divided—a world of barbed wire and concrete block, conflict and cold war. Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. In the words of Winston Churchill, a "world order" in which "the principles of justice and fair play ... protect the weak against the strong ..."  A world where the United Nations, freed from cold war stalemate, is poised to fulfill the historic vision of its founders. A world in which freedom and respect for human rights find a home among all nations.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Mullahs of Woke-ism

Five years ago, I had a sense of where “political correctness” would take us.  On September 11, 2020 Ayaan Hirsi Ali described the current status of the nightmare foisted upon us by the Left:

What Islamists and ‘Wokeists’ Have in Common Adherents of both pursue ideological purity, refuse to engage in debate and demand submission. Wall Street Journal.

There were many American heroes on 9/11, but the greatest were the passengers and crew of Flight 93. Not only did they avert what al Qaeda planned—a direct hit on the White House—but they also embodied Patrick Henry’s credo “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

Do those words still have a meaning in the America of 2020? For two decades, I have opposed the fanatical illiberalism of those strands of Islam that gave rise to al Qaeda. I broke with my Somali family and ultimately with their faith because I believed that it is human freedom that should be sacrosanct, not antiquated doctrines that demand submission by the individual.

So implacable are the proponents of Shariah that I have faced repeated death threats. Yet I have always consoled myself that, in the U.S., freedom of conscience and expression rank above any set of religious beliefs. It was partly for this reason that I moved here and became a citizen in 2013.

It never occurred to me that free speech would come under threat in my newly adopted country. Even when I first encountered what has come to be known as “cancel culture”—in 2014 I was invited to receive an honorary degree at Brandeis University and then ungraciously disinvited—I didn’t fret too much. I was inclined to dismiss the alliance of campus leftists and Islamists as a lunatic fringe.

But the power of the illiberal elements in the American left has grown, not just on campus but in the media and many corporations. They have inculcated in a generation of students an ideology that has much more in common with the intolerant doctrines of a religious cult than with the secular political thought I studied at Holland’s Leiden University.

In the debates after 9/11, many people sought materialist explanations for the attacks. American foreign policy in the Middle East was blamed, or lack of education and employment opportunities in the Arab world. I argued that none of these could explain the motivations of the plotters and hijackers, who in any case were far from underprivileged. Their goal was religious and political: to wage jihad against their kin if they didn’t accept a literal interpretation of Islam, to denounce Arab governments as corrupt and their Western allies as infidels, and ultimately to overthrow the established order in the Middle East and establish a caliphate.

American policy makers preferred the materialist explanations, as they implied actions to solve the problem: invasion, regime change, democratization. It was unpopular to suggest that the terrorists might have unshakable immaterial convictions.

Nineteen years on, we see a similar dynamic, only this time it is within our borders. Naive observers explain this summer’s protests in terms of African-Americans’ material disadvantages. These are real, as are the (worse) socio-economic problems of the Arab world. But they aren’t the main driver of the protests, which appear to be led mainly by well-off white people.

Their ideology goes by many names: cancel culture, social justice, critical race theory, intersectionality. For simplicity, I call it all Wokeism.

I am not about to equate Wokeism and Islamism. Islamism is a militant strain of an ancient faith. Its adherents have a coherent sense of what God wants them to achieve on earth to earn rewards in the afterlife. Wokeism is in many ways a Marxist creed; it offers no hereafter. Wokeism divides society into myriad identities, whereas Islamists’ segmentation is simpler: believers and unbelievers, men and women.

There are many other differences. But consider the resemblances. The adherents of each constantly pursue ideological purity, certain of their own rectitude. Neither Islamists nor the Woke will engage in debate; both prefer indoctrination of the submissive and damnation of those who resist.

The two ideologies have distinctive rituals: Islamists shout “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to America”; the Woke chant “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.” Islamists pray to Mecca; the Woke take the knee. Both like burning the American flag.

Both believe that those who refuse conversion may be harassed, or worse. Both take offense at every opportunity and seek not just apologies but concessions. Islamism inveighs against “blasphemy”; Wokeism wants to outlaw “hate speech.” Islamists use the word “Islamophobia” to silence critics; the Woke do the same with “racism.”

Islamists despise Jews; the Woke say they just hate Israel, but the anti-Semitism is pervasive. The two share a fondness for iconoclasm: statues, beware.

Both ideologies aim to tear down the existing system and replace it with utopias that always turn out to be hellish anarchies: Islamic State in Raqqa, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle. Both are collectivist: Group identity trumps the individual. Both tolerate—and often glorify—violence carried out by zealots.

This Sept. 11, then, let’s dismiss the fairy stories about the enemies of a free society. Their grievances aren’t merely economic and they won’t be satisfied with jobs or entitlements. Their motivations are ideological and they will be satisfied only with power.

I cling to the hope that most Americans are still willing as a nation to fight and, if necessary, to die to preserve our freedoms, our rights, our customs, our history. That was the spirit of Flight 93. It was the spirit that ultimately defeated al Qaeda and Islamic State. But it is not the spirit of today’s “woke” protesters. And it is time that we all woke up to that reality.

Ms. Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and founder of the AHA Foundation. She served as a member of the Dutch Parliament from 2003-2006.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Saint Isaac the Syrian

Isaac of Nineveh, aka Isaac the Syrian, lived from about 613 to 700 AD.  Regarded a saint in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, he is best remembered for his writings on Christian asceticism.  As a physical object, The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian is one of the most beautiful books in any library.   And even better, you can open to any page of the book and be blessed by the wisdom that remains as fresh and relevant today as it was 1300 years ago.

According to one brief profile of the theologian, “administrative duties did not suit his retiring and ascetic bent: he requested to abdicate after only five months [as bishop of Nineveh], and went to the wilderness of Mount Matout, a refuge for anchorites. There he lived in solitude for many years, eating only three loaves a week with some uncooked vegetables.”

Following are some short passages from Ascetical Homilies:

“A mind that has found spiritual wisdom is like a man who finds a fully equipped ship at sea, and once he has gone aboard, it brings him from the sea of this world to the isle of the age to come. In like manner, the perception of the future age while in this world is like an islet in the ocean; and he who approaches it toils no longer amid the billows of the appearances of this age. “

“Do not pass through the streets of the hot-tempered and quarrelsome, lest your heart be filled with anger, and the darkness of delusion dominate your soul.”

“Conquer men by your gentle kindness, and make zealous men wonder at your goodness. Put the lover of justice to shame by your compassion. With the afflicted be afflicted in mind. Love all men, but keep distant from all men.”

“A humble man is never rash, hasty or perturbed, never has any hot and volatile thoughts, but at all times remains calm. Even if heaven were to fall and cleave to the earth, the humble man would not be dismayed. Not every quiet man is humble, but every humble man is quiet. There is no humble man who is not self-constrained; but you will find many who are self-constrained without being humble. This is also what the meek humble Lord meant when He said, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ [Matt 11:29]  For the humble man is always at rest, because there is nothing which can agitate or shake his mind. Just as no one can frighten a mountain, so the mind of a humble man cannot be frightened. If it be permissible and not incongruous, I should say that the humble man is not of this world. For he is not troubled and altered by sorrows, nor amazed and enthused by joys, but all his gladness and his real rejoicing are in the things of his Master. Humility is accompanied by modesty and self-collectedness: that is, chastity of the senses; a moderate voice; mean speech; self-belittlement; poor raiment; a gait that is not pompous; a gaze directed towards the earth; superabundant mercy; easily flowing tears; a solitary soul; a contrite heart; imperturbability to anger; undistributed senses; few possessions; moderation in every need; endurance; patience; fearlessness; manliness of heart born of a hatred of this temporal life; patient endurance of trials; deliberations that are ponderous, not light, extinction of thoughts; guarding of the mysteries of chastity; modesty, reverence; and above all, continually to be still and always to claim ignorance.”

“Whoever does not voluntarily withdraw himself from the causes of the passions is involuntarily drawn away by sin. These are the causes of sin: wine, women, riches, and robust health of body. Not that by their nature these things are sins, but that nature readily inclines towards the sinful passions on their account, and for this reason man must guard himself against them with great care.”

“If you give something to one in need, let the cheerfulness of your face precede your gift, and comfort his sorrow with kind words. When you do this, by your gift the gladness of his mind surpasses even the needs of his body.”

“Be free, though you are bound in a body, and for Christ's sake show forth obedience in your freedom. But also be prudent in your simplicity, lest you be plundered. Love humility in all your activities, that you be delivered from the imperceptible snares that are always found outside the pathways of humble men. Do not reject afflictions, for through them you will enter into the knowledge of the truth; and do not fear temptations, because therein you will find precious things. Pray that you enter not into the temptations of the soul, but with all your strength prepare yourself for those of the body. Without these you cannot draw nigh to God, because divine rest is laid up within them.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Tyranny of Socialism (1894)

Nineteenth century criticisms of socialism are especially relevant and enlightening in these days.  The following excerpts are from The Tyranny of Socialism (1894) by the French politician and economist Yves Guyot (1843 – 1928):


 What is it Socialists demand? The suppression of competition.

Their ideal— is depressive political economy: based upon envy, jealousy, coercion, the violent destruction of privileges, the breaking up of the nation into classes, intent on snatching some rags of fortune by the aid of power (politics being regarded only as an instrument of plunder), upon contempt for the individual and his subjection to combinations of despotic and irresponsible cliques….

This ideal of mere competence, in place of the ideal of development, is pursued by Socialists when they wish to impose a uniform rate of wages; and they arrive at this result: the strongest and cleverest workmen do not earn what they ought to earn. They carry the feeble workmen on their backs. And at the same time even the weak man does not receive any advantages from this position: because he does not find any work.

It is all very well to talk, in a charming way, of the protection which the strong owe to the weak. But for this protection to be efficacious, the strong must begin by being strong. Every combination which has as a result the sacrifice of the strong to the weak is a check to the development of humanity.

Moreover, who are the feeble? By what signs do we know them? Are you going to grant a privilege to idleness and apathy, so as to get as much as you can out of those who valiantly undertake to bear the burdens of life themselves, instead of passing them on to their neighbour? But if we maintain these feeble creatures of whom these good souls take so much care, we condemn them to remain in their state of debility….

Every institution (or legislative, governmental, fiscal, or administrative measure) is injurious which has for its object the restraint of the intellectual or productive activity of man.

At the present time, we may place in this category restrictive laws on commercial societies, on labour contracts, or on contracts of exchange. And here we put our finger upon the mistake made by the Protectionists and Socialists, who are all advocates for the intervention of the State in economic relations, the former to promise monopolies, to guarantee profits to the workmen or to the manufacturers, and incomes to the proprietors, by shielding them all from outside progress, the latter to defend the indolent, the idle, and the unskilled against the competition of the more industrious or more skilful.

The proprietor, manufacturer, or tradesman who has obtained Protection, thinks he has achieved a great victory. Instead of occupying himself with the perfecting of his means of production, his thoughts are intent on arousing the intervention of the public powers in defence and augmentation of the Protection  "which he enjoys." But he falls asleep under the shadow of this Protection. It is his manzanilla tree; and it will cause his death, if he be not torn away from it.

That workman, instead of his ideal being to become a capitalist himself one day, or to make his son a capitalist, by means of work and increased effort, asks for Protection, eight hours' work, a minimum wage, a monopoly of certain trades, and the restriction of the number of apprentices.

He sets himself and his children in a mould. He aims at resignation as little work as possible, the earning of a competent salary, but under hard and fast restrictions. He himself shatters the mainsprings of all his activity. We have an example of this in the mines of the Pas-de-Calais and of the Nord, where, from the new dread of personal initiative and taking responsibilities upon himself, the workman now prefers to remain in the ranks.

The Socialists voluntarily repeat a stereotyped formula of M. Victor Modeste: "The poor are becoming poorer." But how has M. Victor Modeste established this? By proving, through the registers of Public Aid Societies that it is always the same families whose names are to be found there. Surely this is a decisive argument against Socialism; for it proves that the assistance given to these people, instead of helping them to develop and rise in life, has converted them into a society of paupers; and it will be the same with every measure which, by having for its object the reduction or suppression of the struggle for existence, diminishes man's efforts.

By analogy, biology shows us that every species of vegetable or animal which is protected against competition—against the difficulties of existence, is condemned to atrophy, and to perish. Darwin proved how poor and limited were the flora and the fauna of the Islands of Oceania; and why? Because they are isolated, that is to say, protected. It is only through effort that organisms, whether plants, animals, or men, can develop themselves; and the universal experience of things and of centuries warrants us in saying:—

Every institution is pernicious which has for its object the protection of an individual, or a group of individuals, against competition; because it has as a result the apathy and atrophy of those whom it is sought to protect.

On the contrary, every social or collective action which aims at the development of the courage and strength of the individual, and attains thereto, is of a progressive character, and should be approved. Of this nature, for example, are the educational laws due to the Republic.  They give worth to understandings which would otherwise remain uncultivated. They prepare man for more effective activity in the surroundings in which he is called upon to live. They should give him dignity, develop his powers of initiative, his readiness to make personal decisions. We add this last conclusion:—

Every institution is useful which has for its object the development of the aptitudes of the individual for the struggle for existence and his ability to act in the environment in which he must live.

In reality, there is a complete contradiction, starting from their very title, between the pretensions of Socialists, and their real character; because, as we have shown, they are anti-social. They pretend to be the advocates of equality, and they employ all their efforts in constituting inequalities. They demand liberty for themselves, but with the object of oppressing others and, reciprocally, themselves. They pretend to be "advanced," and the measures which they propose come very near to arresting the development of those to whom they apply; and the ideal which they offer us is retrogression towards the civilisations of the past.