Words

Life

Category: Buddhism

ommm

by Andrea Elizabeth

Alone is George’s and my new addiction. We’re 3 episodes into the survival show that put 10 guys about 10 miles apart in a cold, soggy, bear, wolf and cougar infested forest on Vancouver Island to see who could last the longest. Before one guy found fresh water he talked about how becoming upset elevates your heart rate and blood pressure, so he kept calm on purpose. It is interesting how one can somewhat regulate one’s bodily responses to stress.  It takes a psychological toll though, which usually catches up with you. I’ll call it Pelagian Buddhism. It is manufactured peace without grace*. Graced peace is effortless. Perhaps manufactured peace can become a habit and be effortless too, but I wager it is not as good. We have a stress response on purpose. It enables us to flee or fight. To stay in a dangerous situation and basically ignore your impulses can be a Buddhist feat and impress people at parties, and can sometimes save your life, such as not gasping and gulping while still partially submerged under water, but there is a time to gasp and gulp, flee and fight.

Several people in the show obviously were letting themselves panic. They were not expecting the conditions to be as bad as they were. Expectation has a lot to do with peace. One needs to know what they’re in for to prepare themselves. I’m very interested to see who can cope with the isolation and imminent danger. I sympathize with the ones who have already “tapped out”, but they do seem a little babyish. They aren’t handling disappointment very well. They seem to feel betrayed by the show letting things be that bad.

Back to keeping calm on purpose. I don’t think this works very well if one is resenting their conditions. One needs to be convinced that they are in the right place to have genuine calm. I remember going to get my 5 year old vaccinations. I was hysterically fighting against them. I did not believe shots were necessary to sustain or improve my life. I felt betrayed by society and my family. I have learned since then to not fight or flee many situations I do not like. However, I’m not very easily convinced the situations are depriving me of necessary conditions for my life. Sometimes I just feel powerless and that it’s useless to fight or flee. Sometimes it’s blind faith that God will work it out in the end. It’s also a pretty stubborn belief that I don’t need a lot of what society tells me is necessary. I am pretty minimalistic about and question a lot of customs. I think it is better to learn to live only by grace from God instead of things we normally think of as necessary, like food, water, clothes, shelter, and certain types of community. But for the uninitiated to do without them cold turkey with a stoic attitude alone, that’s not going to last very long. The desert can destroy people. The ones it doesn’t know its secrets and have gradually conditioned their bodies to withstand deprivation.

You can tell the guy who cut down all those trees depleted himself too much too soon. He’s not in his right mind right now. I hope he eats some slugs, has some salt with his water, and rests for a while before calling it quits.

*I can’t say for sure Buddhistic peace is without grace. Maybe God doles it out based on intention. And maybe there is grace in being one with God’s naturally graced creation without acknowledging him.

Speaking of understanding

by Andrea Elizabeth

from today’s Prolog of Ohrid:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; on your own understanding rely not” [Proverbs 3:5).

If all the mountains would move toward you, would you be able to push them back with your hands? You could not. If darkness after darkness of all the mysteries in the heavens and on the earth rushed to the small taper of your understanding would you, with your understanding, be able to illuminate the darkness? Even less! Do not rely on your understanding for, from the perishable matter which you call intellect, a greater portion of it is nothing more than dead ashes. O man, do not rely on your understanding for it is a road over which a mob rushes a hungry, thirsty, motley and curious mob of sensual impressions.

O man, trust in the Lord with all your heart. In Him is understanding without end and all-discerning. The Lord says: “I am understanding; mine is strength” (Proverbs 8:14). He looks on the paths on which your blood flows and all the crossroads on which your thoughts wander. With compassion and love He offers Himself to you as a leader and you rely on your darkened and perishable understanding. Where was your understanding before your birth? Where was your understanding when your body was taking form, when your heart began to beat and flow with blood, when your eyes began to open and when your voice began to flow from your throat? Whose understanding was all this while your mind was still sleeping as charcoal in a coal mine? Even when your understanding awoke, can you enumerate all the illusions which it has delivered to you, all the lies in which it has entangled you, all the dangers which it did not foresee? O my brother, trust only in the Lord with all your heart! Until now, He has rescued you numerous times from your own understanding, from illusions and its lies and from danger in which it has pushed you. A blind man is compared to the man who can see, so is your understanding compared to the understanding of God. O blind one, trust in the Leader. O brother, trust only in the Lord with all your heart.

O Lord, All-seeing, Eternal and Infallible Understanding, deeper than the universe and more radiant than the sun, deliver us, even now from the errors of our understanding.

Fr. Loudovikos in A Eucharistic Ontology also criticizes philosophy’s reliance on thinking. “Thus Heidegger in his testament entitled, ‘The end of philosophy and the task of thought’, talks directly about the end of philosophy, understood as the end of metaphysics or ontology in our times (these having anyway been swallowed up by the sciences), and locates the only future for thought in the free mythopoetic quest for truth through thinking; and he does not seem bothered by the fact that the linkage of thinking and truth is a survival of the same essential identification of thinking with being” (page 5). This reliance on thinking is very egocentric and subjective even though it opens itself to the unknowability of the other and ultimately one’s own annihilation, the end result of complete kenosis. Thus also destroying reciprocity in love, dialogue and gift giving which are the essential components of the Liturgy.

Back to being

by Andrea Elizabeth

2/3 through Bleak House and I spoiled it by watching the miniseries. 2/3 through The Hunger Games books, a little after starting the third, and I got tired of Katniss’ attitude as well as how important she was to the two factions. Fiction started seeming too presumptuous and non fiction too dry. Cross stitching is still king.

I don’t know what got in me yesterday, however, when I picked up a Christmas present from George and found myself getting into the language of, brace yourself, A Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor’s Eschatological Ontology of Being as Dialogical Reciprocity by Fr. Nicholas Loudovikos. Sounds right to me. The first seven pages are definitions of these terms, and how close to then how far from the truth modern philosophers like Heideger, Derrida, and Levinas came.

Here’s my take on the truth: instead of their Buddhist hyper negation of self and our ability to know the other, we should simultaneously say “I know you, I don’t know you”. This acknowledges that beings actively seek to reveal themselves and that we have a capacity to understand while being sadly and blindly limited in our understanding.

So why keep reading? Because it reminds me to open myself and seek. The challenging language makes it seem like the truth is richer and deeper somehow. It makes me want to work harder to discover “the association of eschatology with the doctrine of the uncreated logoi of beings that forms the Maximian ontology.” (page 4)

Beyond darkness

by Andrea Elizabeth

Both Laotse and the NeoPlatonists described in Dr. Bradshaw’s Aristotle East and West talk about the One who is beyond being and knowing. The Orthodox talk about God being knowable through His Word, the Son, whom we experience through His divinized humanity. It’s like we learn of Him through His explanation, but that we are still blind to Him, like someone trying to understand color through words only. When I think of being made in God’s image, I now think of being made in the Incarnate Christ’s image, according to His humanity, not His divinity, not that they are in conflict or are opposites.

Since I relate more to literature than technical philosophy, I am finding these explanations foreign. I tend to want a story to be able to describe it. Genesis begins with a description of creation, but leaves the uncreated pretty much in the pre-existent darkness. While Aslan sometimes walks among the Pevensies in The Chronicles of Narnia, the Father-type is never seen, but is vaguely referred to as the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. In Till We Have Faces, the God-like character remains in darkness as well.

Darkness has a connotation of being cold and lonely, but I suppose we have to get over that and think of it as being beyond fullness.

Book 1. The Character of Tao

1. On the Absolute Tao

The Tao that can be told of
Is not the Absolute Tao;
The Names that can be given
Are not the Absolute Names.

The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the Mother of All Things.

Therefore:
Oftentimes, one strips oneself of passion
In order to see the Secret of Life;
Oftentimes, one regards life with passion,
In order to see its manifest forms.

These two (the Secret and its manifestations)
Are (in their nature) the same;
They are given different names
When they become manifest.

They may both be called the Cosmic Mystery:
Reaching from the Mystery into the Deeper Mystery
Is the Gate to the Secret of All Life.

(The Wisdom of Laotse p. 41,42)

books and coffee

by Andrea Elizabeth

My daughter wants to be a librarian crazy cat lady (her words) when she grows up. Her favorite outing with friends is to go to a bookstore and then have coffee. Saturday I drove them to Denton’s Recycled Books Records & CD’s. The blue-trimmed, pink building says Opera House as it faces the awesome Denton courthouse (just a few blocks from Matushka Michelles‘ parish of St. Maximus. see Church Photos at the bottom of this page).

St. Maximus is planning to build a larger Church, but I think the courthouse could be converted rather easily instead. See, it already has domes. In Sitka, Alaska, the Church is in the center of the square instead of a courthouse, demonstrating that the Russians had their priorities straight.

This is the ground level of the bookstore. It’s about 1/4 of what’s available. There are shelves and shelves of every book category imaginable. Except for only half a shelf devoted to Eastern Orthodoxy after the two aisles of Catholic books. I suppose Orthodox like to keep their books.

They had a large eastern philosophy section – I didn’t find the western philosophy section because I became immersed in the east. I decided to purchase The Wisdom of Laotse (1948) because of C.S. Lewis’ and Father Seraphim Rose’s interest in the Tao, and because a brief skim showed the contents to be peaceful. For the latter reason, I also purchased Essential Sufism (1997). I wonder if William Morris inspired the cover. I do not plan to become Buddhist or Muslim, but I would like to see what we have in common.

To the right and upstairs of the main floor is the classics section. My personal goal in coming to this bookstore was to buy some Charles Dickens. I ended up with illustrated 1903 and 1904 cloth Imperial Editions of Barnaby Rudge and Dombey and Son published by the Gresham Publishing Co. in London. Fr. Seraphim Rose enjoyed The Pickwick Papers, so I picked up a leather looking 1997 copy of that too.

After the science adventurer friend was finished with that room, we began looking for the other girls. We’d heard they were downstairs, so we went to the lower level where the records and craft books are, and then down the stairs to the children’s and education sections, but no luck. Finally, we found another set of stairs, which lead to a surprisingly large series of catecombs in the basement. There was a whole wall full of French history, half a wall of Russian studies, a huge Civil War section, and a huger psychology section that made me terribly depressed. So much so that I parked in front of the circus section with a book on the history of carousels to perk myself up while waiting for the found girls to finish.

After they did, we decided we had just enough time before Vespers to walk down one of the streets of the square to window gawk at an amazing assortment of medieval weapons and musical instruments on the way to the Jupiter House coffee shop, in which I bought a 12-hour cold-brewed iced coffee. Yum.

Consciousness

by Andrea Elizabeth

In Orthodox meditation, one seeks to direct one’s mind toward God. One does this by using one’s mind as a tool or a muscle to descend into one’s heart where God and the cosmos dwells. The mind is a focusing agent to observe others. Asceticism is used to direct the mind away from onesself. My impression of Buddhist meditation is that not only is one directed away from onesself, one gives up on knowing God and the cosmos too. I believe Buddhists teach that there is a means to do this through contemplating nature, but nature isn’t the end either.

The passions are distractions that make one focus on one’s feelings and appetites. When these are mastered, with the help of redirecting thoughts through repetitive Liturgical prayer, one learns to train one’s mind on God. I say mind because it is the heart’s love which makes one choose to think on God over onesself. The Prayers and Readings inform the mind on who God is and what He has done and what He desires. It is important to get this right or one will become unbalanced and not be able to advance as far towards communion with Him. For example, if one believes that God hates the unelected, one’s heart will be too warped to attain likeness to God, and one will not see Him as He is.

The hard part is what to do with one’s sense of self. If one is denying self and focusing on God, where does that leave one? The purpose is to be filled with the energies of God, or uncreated grace. One delights in the Other. Delight is unselfconscious, but an awareness of enjoyment is entailed. When one focuses on the enjoyment, one can lose focus, similar to St. Peter’s looking down at the water and thus starting to sink. When one thinks of being in love, one is focused on the object of one’s affection, and can feel a sense of their presence in one’s heart. One can get lost in this feeling. Yet one is aware that they are happy. Through this experience we can see that thinking is accompanied by feeling.

Some ascetic practices require one to deny one’s feelings. One cannot always trust one’s feelings. We can desire wrong things, or be deceived as to the nature of these things. Even if one senses that one feels the presence of God, one can be wrong and should not completely trust these feelings. One can also sense the rightness of things that are taught about God. I suggest that ultimately we do have to trust some of these feelings or one will have to deny everything, which may be the Buddhist way.

If there is one way, as I believe there is, and that it is Orthodox (which includes physical communion, not just mental), then to me everyone should have this innate sense of rightness about it. Skipping over arguing this point, does that make everyone fundamentally the same and put this sense of feeling the rightness about Orthodoxy on the level of human nature? I think so. What about individualism? Why isn’t everyone Orthodox? Because they are denying themselves. Why would someone do that? They must hate themselves, or at least they are distracted from themselves. So to become Orthodox you must learn to love yourself and quit ignoring yourself. But isn’t Orthodoxy about denying yourself and taking up your cross? Yes, in order to find yourself in Christ. You have to love Him more. So losing yourself to Christ is the way to find yourself? Yes, because He wont let you disappear. You can let go of yourself if you trust Him to keep you.

A form of Godliness

by Andrea Elizabeth

This passage gives me peace about how everyone is made in the image of God, while maintaining the distinction that we do not worship the same God as other religions.

Having presented [in Fr. Seraphim’s book, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future] the testimony of three Orthodox Christians confirming that the Orthodox do not at all have the same God as the “monotheists who deny the Holy Trinity, and that the experiences and powers provided by the pagan “gods” are satanic in nature, Fr. Seraphim wrote by way of disclaimer: “All this in no way contradicts the words of St. Peter, that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him (Acts 10:34-35)…. Those who live in the bondage of Satan, the prince of this world (John 12:31), in darkness which is unenlightened by the Christian Gospel- are judged in the light of the natural testimony of God which every man may have, despite this bondage.” (Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works p. 677)

But let not peace be my only guide,

In Chapter Four, “Eastern Meditation Invades Christianity,” Fr. Seraphim examined various attempts to develop a syncretism of Christianity and Eastern religions, particularly in the area of “spiritual practices.” He began by looking at the books Christian Yoga and Christian Zen. In the former, the author described how the “Christian Yogi” becomes relaxed and “ready to tremble at the touch of the Holy Ghost… ready to be taken, to be seized.” From his knowledge of Patristic sources, Fr. Seraphim identified this state as a form of spiritual deception, characterized by a striving for “holy and divine feelings,” a mistaking of self-intoxication for a “state of grace,” and an incredible ease in becoming “contemplative” and “mystical.” (p.678)

“Zen is probably the most sophisticated intellectually, and the most sober spiritually. With its teaching of compassion and a loving ‘Cosmic Buddha,’ it is perhaps as high a religious ideal as the human mind can attain – without Christ. Its tragedy is precisely that it has no Christ in it, and thus no salvation, and its very sophistication and sobriety effectively prevent its followers from seeking salvation in Christ. In its quiet, compassionate way it is perhaps the saddest of all the reminders of the ‘post-Christian’ times in which we live.”

[…] In connection with Zen, Fr. Seraphim spoke of the “pragmatic fallacy” which had been mentioned earlier by the Orthodox convert from Hinduism. This was the non sequitur, found in many Eastern religions, that “if the practices work, they must be true and good”; that is, nothing need be taken on faith – experience is the criterion. “Without any theology,” Fr. Seraphim wrote, “Zen is no more able than Hinduism to distinguish between good and evil spiritual experiences; it can ony state what seems to be good because it brings ‘peace’ and ‘harmony,’ as judged by the natural powers of the mind and not by any revelation – everything else it rejects as more or less illusory.”

These comments are reminiscent of what Fr. Seraphim had written over a decade earlier on the “cult of experience.” Now, however, he was speaking openly about the danger of demonic manipulation. “When experience is emphasized over doctrine,” he observed, “the normal Christian safeguards which protect one against the attacks of the fallen spirits are removed or neutralized, and the passiveness and ‘openness’ which characterize the new cults literally open one up to be used by the demons.” (p. 679, 80)

Finger Pointing

by Andrea Elizabeth

When I protest, I am seeking revenge on the one who hurt me. I want them to get in trouble. But didn’t they learn to hurt me from being hurt? This is why they truly know not what they do. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, the serpent blamed God. God announced consequences to all three, but then He sent His Son to suffer the ultimate consequences to ultimately stop their suffering. We must stop protesting against grace.

_______

I just wrote the above. While I was writing I was thinking about other signified(s) – the hurt, the hurters, God. I was pointing to them, utilizing my signs to make a point about the signified. Derrida says on p. 12

“This revelatory power of true literary language as poetry is indeed the access to free speech, speech unburdeneed of its signalizing functions by the word “Being”…It is when that which is written is deceased as a sign-signal that it is born as language… since it ceased to be utilized as natural, biological, or technical information, or as the transition from one existent to another from a signifier to the signified. And, paradoxically, inscription alone-although it is far from always doing so-has power of poetry, in other words has the power to arouse speech from its slumber as sign. By enregistering speech, inscription has as its essential objective, and indeed takes this fatal risk, the emancipation of meaning-as concerns any actual field of perception-from the natural predicament in which everything refers to the disposition of a contingent situation.”

I don’t know where to stop quoting, but I think he’s saying that writing does not always achieve the status of poetry, but that is its goal. Elder Porphyrios says we must all become poets. Poetry gives meaning to creation. May it even be true that poetry deifies creation by becoming itself deified, when it is unburdened by, facilitated by Being, and could this Being be the Other – God? I’m not sure how he would work in his anti-logocentrism here. But still poetry reveals the poet’s relationship with creation, made possible by God. The poet and the subject achieve something new in the poem through the power of beauty, love, and meaning – energies of God. The words introduce this relationship. I also like that he said the words have to die, become deceased. This is how deification occurs, through death, then resurrection. The resurrection comes to the attender, the words are a seed that must die to spring to new life in the hearer. (I want to someday come back to why he focuses so much on writing instead of other works of art like painting, music, or dance).

I think Derrida is combating the idea of gnosticism instead of promoting it.

That it can always fail is the mark of its pure finitude and its pure historicity. If the play of meaning can overflow signification (signalization) which is always enveloped within the regional limits of nature, life and the soul, this overflow is the moment of the attempt-to-write. The attempt-to-write cannot be understood on the basis of voluntarism. The will to write is not an ulterior determination of a primal will. On the contrary, the will to write reawakens the willful sense of the will: freedom, break with the domain of empirical history a break whose aim is reconciliation with the hidden essence of the empirical, with pure historicity. The will and the attempt to write are not the desire to write, for it is a question here not of affectivity [I’m calling affectivity gnostic, platonic, idyllic, romanticism] but of freedom and duty [grounding reality]. In its relationship to Being, [relationship/dialogue, not absorption] the attempt to write poses itself as the only way out of affectivity. A way out that can only be aimed at, and without the certainty that deliverance is possible or that it is outside affectivity. To be affected is to be finite: to write could still be to deceive finitude, and to reach Being [gnosticism] – a kind of Being which could neither be, nor affect me by itself – from without existence [reminds me of Buddhism, which I think he’s speaking against]. To write would be [wrongly] to attempt to forget difference: to forget writing in the presence of so-called living and free speech.

In the extent to which the literary act proceeds from this attempt-to-write, it is indeed the acknowledgment of pure language, the responsibility confronting the vocation of “pure” speech which, once understood, constitutes the writer as such. Heidegger says of pure speech that it cannot “be conceived in the rigor of its essence” on the basis of its “character-as-sign” (Zechencharakter), “nor even perhaps of its character-as-signification” (Bedeutungscharakter).

Does not one thus run the risk of identifying the work with original writing in general? Of dissolving the notion of art and the value of “beauty” by which literature is currently distinguished from the letter in general? But perhaps by removing the specificity of beauty from aesthetic values, beauty is, on the contrary, liberated? Is there a specificity of beauty, and would beauty gain from this effort?

Perhaps Derrida is saying no, but he goes on to say, “Rousset [a structuralist] believes so. And the structuralism proper to Jean Rousset is defined, at least theoretically, against the temptation to overlook this specificity. [Structuralists are] scrupulous about the formal autonomy of the work – an independent, absolute organism that is self-sufficient”… Rousset…circumvents the “objectivist” danger … by giving a definition of structure that is not purely objective or formal, “I will call ‘structures’ these formal constants, these liaisons that betray a mental universe reinvented by each artist according to his needs”. Structure is then the unity of a form and a meaning… as if it had no origin (or history). It is here that structuralism seems quite vulnerable, and it is here that by virtue of one whole aspect of his attempt… Rousset too runs the risk of conventional Platonism.

_______

So for my writing above to achieve significance, it’s internal history needs to be acknowledged, and this is done by grace. If I’m protesting against protesting, then I am seeking retribution against protesters. oops. So I have to quit protesting and receive grace/ God’s perspective on the protesters including myself. Then I quit pointing to them, and point to myself. God have mercy on me, a sinner. Christ did this when He defeated all sin in His body.

An Athiest’s response to The Great Divorce

by Andrea Elizabeth

This person perhaps named Ebon, seems to prefer the Buddhist approach which it is believed leaves no child behind in hell.

These two chapters [12&13], the last except for a brief epilogue, are the most heartrending of the entire book. George MacDonald and the narrator come across an angelic procession honoring a Spirit named Sarah Smith, who evidently saved many souls while she was on Earth. But while passing through the woods, this Lady (as Lewis styles her) comes across a Ghost who used to be her husband. Shrunken and dwarfish, and silent himself, this Ghost leads around a bizarre, ambulatory puppet like a ventriloquist’s dummy, which Lewis names the Tragedian, that speaks for him.

The Tragedian claims to have been worried about the Lady, distressed that she was there without him, believing she must have missed him terribly. But she denies this, explaining that “There are no miseries here” (p.115). She says that she has been perfectly happy without him. The Tragedian is badly shaken by this.

Me, AE: Way more sympathy for the self-absorbed misery monger than the lady who has finally found untouchable joy in the Lord.

Over the course of their conversation it emerges that, while they were both alive, the Lady loved this man because she was emotionally vulnerable and needed to be loved by someone else to feel complete. She apologizes for using him like this instead of loving him truly, for his own sake, as she should have done. But the Tragedian seems unfazed by this; what upsets him is her confident assertion that she is no longer weak and lonely, but now happy and strong, and no longer needs him. The Tragedian takes this as a personal insult and grows increasingly angry. He demands to know why she does not pity him, but her reply is that she will no longer accede to pity used “for a kind of blackmailing”, to “hold joy up to ransom” (p. 120), used by people who deliberately make themselves feel terrible so that others will feel sorry for them.

Me: Imagine that. Ebon is a Tragedian himself.

As he hears those words, the dwarf Ghost dwindles until he disappears entirely, and only the Tragedian is left. The Lady refuses to speak to him any longer, and with these words the conversation ends:

“You do not love me,” said the Tragedian in a thin bat-like voice: and he was now very difficult to see.
“I cannot love a lie,” said the Lady. “I cannot love the thing which is not. I am in Love, and out of it I will not go.”
There was no answer. The Tragedian had vanished. The Lady was alone in that woodland place…. (p.122)

And, alone, she walks away. The angelic choir accompanies her, singing joyously as if this ending somehow represented a victory. If this is a song of triumph, it is one that, to this atheist’s ears, sounded hollow indeed.Even Lewis’ narrator recognizes the incongruity of this, and has a long talk with MacDonald about it, a more detailed study than is given to any other theological issue mentioned in the book. “Is it really tolerable,” he asks, “that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?” (p.123). MacDonald replies that it is better this way, and in response to the narrator’s claim that “the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved,” responds, “That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it…. The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven” (p.124).

MacDonald explains that “every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured”, but “we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of someone who cannot abide the smell of roses” (p.125). In essence, he is saying, the good people in Heaven should not be troubled by the suffering and misery of the damned, because otherwise they would not be able to enjoy Heaven. This is an enduring problem for exclusivist Christians, but Lewis’ method of dealing with it is not inadequate. In fact, it is grotesque.

Me: I think he’s forgetting that the people who choose to go back to hell keep getting chances to come back to heaven. Though they probably get to so “hardened” a state that they quit coming.

It is a complete contradiction in terms to say to someone that you love them and want them to be happy, but you won’t be hurt or troubled in the slightest if they reject your love or spurn your offer. It is part of the definition of love that it is a state where the happiness of another is equal to your own. Lewis’ Spirits are no longer human beings at all; they are more like bright machines, emotional cripples, lacking the fundamental human quality of compassion. They no longer care about anyone but themselves. (Reading his book’s descriptions of their behavior, I was reminded of this case…)

Me: Earlier Ebon says you can’t give a kindergartner free choice to choose health or illness. But God deals uniquely with each individual in this story. They are given the conversation partner that is most suited to their particular level of development to help bring them up. It is the person’s choice to reject what the joyful, loving person is saying. So until all people decide for Christlikeness, everyone should be miserable? And if this never happens? Then there is no heaven. It is quite clear that this woman worried for her husband while on earth, but there comes a time when you have to respect their decision. An age of accountability as it were. When they come to the crossroads and knowingly decide for the wrong one. Sometimes you have to let them go or else choose hell for yourself. And this is rejecting God which an atheist apparently has no problem doing.

The only justification Lewis offers for this appalling state of affairs is that the damned have chosen their damnation, and it would not be fair to allow them to use this as a weapon against the saved. But as we have seen, this is not so. Lewis’ damned have not freely chosen their fate; they have been deceived into making the wrong decision because they do not understand the situation they are in, nor the nature or the gravity of the choice they face. Meanwhile, the saved stand by and watch, in a state of dazed euphoria, unable to question or protest.

No, Lewis took great pains to show that the people preferred hell. They rejected that painful feet are required to find joy, which they rejected as well. Yes I believe in deception, but when the Truth comes along, we are given a choice. Ask to be shown the truth, and you shall receive. Then you must choose if the revelation is worth it. In my experience I’ve seen people look at sore feet, reject them and then will make all sorts of excuses because they are committed to comfortable feet which Lewis shows is indeed enough for them. They prefer the rain/darkness/a self-made world. They have their own version of happiness, and God in his mercy doesn’t endlessly pester them to try to get them to change their mind. Love respects the others’ choice.

All of the self-justifying ink Lewis spills cannot alter the fundamental immorality, the injustice, of this belief system. In the end, we are to believe, the damned will be lost forever, all because they did not understand the choice they were making, while the relative few who reach Heaven will immediately lose all concern for those left behind, and will pass eternity without even a thought for their loved ones who did not make it. This cannot be described as anything other than deeply selfish. (Why did the Ghost who was converted to a Spirit immediately ride away rather than stay behind to help his fellows? After all, he was one of them only seconds earlier; does he no longer care what happens to them?) And we are told that this is a good outcome.

God is love and joy, so choosing them is choosing God. Rejecting them is rejecting God. Putting another person before God is idolatry. And again, I think he forgets all the spirits who do come back for these people. But the newly illumined one is like a babe himself and needs nurturing before he can help someone else. Ebon is justifying himself and his choice to reject God and the Christians who have presented the Gospel to him. He rejects going to Church to become enlightened himself and expects everyone to turn their gaze from Christ to argue endlessly with him why Christ isn’t good enough for him. Stop it, come up right now! There’s still time for you. Quit rejecting joy in the Lord. Is that good enough for you? I doubt it. Prove me wrong, but I’m not going to hold my breath till I pass out over it as much as you would like me to.

As a counterexample, consider Buddhism. In this belief system, there is a class of beings called the bodhisattvas – human beings who have become enlightened and who have therefore won their freedom from the cycle of reincarnation, who no longer have to be reborn into the mortal world that is dominated by misery and suffering – but who freely choose to stay in that world, regardless, and help other beings escape it. Consider their vow:

“Never will I seek nor receive private individual salvation – never enter into final peace alone; but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the universal redemption of every creature throughout all worlds. Until all are delivered, never will I leave the world of sin, sorrow and struggle, but will remain where I am.”

Who would you consider a more moral, a more admirable being – the Buddhist who willingly takes that vow, or one of Lewis’ Spirits who blithely ignores the suffering of the damned because he is happy?

Seeking private salvation is hell. I didn’t see any spirit selfishly and ignoringly alone in the whole story. The spirits did leave a better existence for others, though I’m not really sure this is necessary. I think maybe they can keep ascending and intercede for others at the same time. Also being a Christian and choosing Salvation instead of hell are sort of selfish. But the paradox is that choosing hell is more selfish. It is rebellious, misery-loving though ironically comfort-loving, impulsive, short-sighted, self-defeating, obstinate, voluntary blinders on, self-justifying, self-choosing torment. Christians choose to obey Christ instead of themselves, but they are actually more true to their intended self which needs obedience to Christ to truly be fulfilled. Choosing emptyness is self-destructive and dysfunctional and will only bring others around you down. How selfish to want people who are willing to get their feet stabbed in order to gain Christ to reject Him for an atheist’s stubborn rebellion. If Christ says to let them go, let them go. There comes a point when a parent has to let their children go as well, though I would imagine they still pray for them. But there may be a time when we are out of love told to stop doing that too. His will be done.

But even granting Lewis the benefit of the doubt – even assuming that the Ghosts had freely and willingly chosen their fate – why should this be considered relevant? Why shouldn’t God, whom we are continually told has an infinitely greater perspective than that of finite human beings, make the right choice for them if they will not make it themselves? Why shouldn’t he tear down Hell and change all the Ghosts into Spirits? Would they be unhappy? Would they be ungrateful? If Heaven itself sang with joy for the conversion of one sinner, imagine the exaltation for a billion! All old wounds would be healed, all grievances set right at last; instead of having to be made invincible to the suffering of their damned friends and loved ones, the saved could rejoice to be reunited with them. There seems to be no reason why God should not enact such a plan – no reason, that is, except that Lewis is bound by his Christian beliefs to reject universalism. In fact, this book was written specifically to combat it, and to do this he concocts this bizarre, Kafkaesque Heaven where the saved are stripped of humanity and the damned are condemned for being offered a choice they cannot understand and choosing wrongly. In an ironic twist, Lewis’ effort to defeat universalism only goes to show how it would be a much better plan than the Christianity of the Bible.

Because God loves them too much to force them into happiness that they don’t want, and would indeed make them miserable. They are in heaven, but they hide from it, as you are doing. Stop it. (the feedback to Ebon’s site is by email only and I don’t want to give him my personal information that the email could lead him to, so I think I’ll decline inviting him to read this. Besides, if he rejected C.S. Lewis and Sarah Smith, why should he listen to me?)

And or or?

by Andrea Elizabeth

The Zen riddle is that if it is not I who made myself and it is not another who made me, then neither made me so I disappear into nothingness. The conundrum that is dismissed as ridiculous though in the Buddhist dialogue presented in Darrida for Beginners, is that I am both made by myself and by another. Is Eastern Orthodox Christianity the only belief that allows both/and? Coming from a Protestant perspective, the veneration of Saints is a very hard hurtle to get over because it seems impossible to a binary, either/or thinker that we can be saved both by God and by Mary, the Second Eve, for example. This is why the reformed have to do away with free will, so that they don’t have to take her, any other Saint, Sacraments, or any other other as a source into account.

But in God’s economy, he provided for plurality. Not in a Pantheistic sense because free will (still not sure how that differs from voluntarism) is necessary to be obedient to God and enter into His heavenly kingdom. “Thy will be done” as Mary said, can only be said by a person with free will. And it is this subjection of her will to God’s that makes her a source of our salvation, both by example, and because of the fruit of her will and her womb and her prayers.

I think that it is this both allowance that enables us to comprehend reality better. This is how we love our neighbor and ourself, it is also how we see Christ in everyone. The other person is Christ because he is made in God’s image and because he is united to Christ because his very life is based in inspiration. Yet he is not Christ because he does not have the same hypostasis as Christ who is a distinct Person with a divine and human nature. And he is not Christ if he sins.

Creation is both God and not God. Christ is God and a created human. I am saved by God and the Saints and by everything and everyone in the universe, including myself. In addition to learning more about Buddhism, I’m also trying to work through The Deconstruction of Buddhism to see how Derrida sees it – not sure yet. But he seems to seek the membrane between without saying neither side exists. That instead they supplement (both in completion and in addition) each other.