Monday, October 25, 2010

Calvinism as Anti-Romance (as argued by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

I do not agree with Calvinism, but neither do I agree with Arminianism. I feel like they are two opposite extremes that have lost the considerations of the other and have thus gone mad. Not that Calvinists are mad. On the contrary, my church is staunchly Calvinist, yet they are neither rabid nor arrogant, and I would not trade them for anything. However, just as the Arminian has failed to convince me of his position, so too has the Calvinist. Thus, the following excerpt (from pp. 129-30 of Chesterton's book What's Wrong With the World) caught my eye. I will not call it an argument as much as a  statement expressing a sentiment, a sentiment that I share.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

The difference between Puritanism and Catholicism is not about whether some priestly word or gesture is significant and sacred. It is about whether any word or gesture is significant and sacred. To the Catholic every other daily act is a dramatic dedication to the service of good or of evil. To the Calvinist, no act can have that sort of solemnity, because the person doing it has been dedicated from eternity, and is merely filling up his time until the crack of doom.

The difference is something subtler than plum-puddings or private theatricals; the difference is that to a Christian of my kind this short earthly life is intensely thrilling and precious; to a is confessedly automatic and uninteresting. To me these threescore years and ten are the battle. To the...Calvinist (by his own confession) they are only a long procession of the victors in laurels and the vanquished in chains. To me earthly life is the drama; to him it is the epilogue. [Calvinists] think about the embryo; Spiritualists about the ghost; Christians about the man. It is as well to have these things clear.

Homily 15: Life as Art (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not...." Daniel 1:8a

Life is like art: it involves drawing the line somewhere. The construction of ourselves and the shaping of our souls entails making true choices that result in solid stances. Going "with the flow," as an ultimate principle of life, is never a good idea. We can "flow" with peripheral issues, but at the center we must be stable. Without that central stability, we are no better than a wave caught in the winds (James 1:6).

Now, by "peripheral issues," what is meant is circumstances. In one sense, we can and should "flow" with circumstances in that we have no control over them: only God does. He constructs what we go through; what is left to us is how we go through it. It is that latter part that is central: when it comes to our environment, we must be as easy as a breeze; when it comes to the moments of choice, of character and holiness, of Christ-likeness (especially in the moments that we do not expect), we must be as solid as a rock.

Look at Daniel: He flowed with the peripherals of life. When the Babylonians came and took him as a child, he did not resist, nor did he fuss at being made a part of the king's court. However, he was solid on the essentials: "Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself." This instance is not unique. Look at Joseph: He did not resist his servitude and imprisonments, but he still fled from Potiphar's wife. What we see in these stories is a very difficult yet liberating truth: being a man or woman or principles does not mean a life of paralysis and petrification. On the contrary, without sure and settled principles, choices and actions are impossible. Without a fundamental understanding of where you stand and where you will and will not go, there is no possibility of any movement whatsoever. If the basic lines of your life are not set and stable, the there is no possibility of a picture.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

On the Errors of Optimism and Pessimism (a Gamgee philosophy explained by an orthodox rebel)

"Let the high praises of God be in their mouths and a two-edged sword in their hands...." Ps. 149:6
Christianity is neither optimism nor pessimism. It is neither naive nor cynical. It believes in goodness and worships the One who is Good. It also believes in evil and abhors the one who is Evil. There is never a case of extremism in this view. There is nothing of that obnoxious optimism, reeking of superficiality and ignorance, that reads so much good into everything that it sees nothing to fight about. And there is nothing of that pernicious pessimism, reeking of childish and condescending angst, that reads so much evil into everything that it sees nothing to fight for. Because such doctrines do not line up with reality, Christianity denies them both. The truth is that there is good in this world, and it is worth fighting for.

The world is growing weary of jesters and snobs. It grows tired of the infantile laugh of the optimist and the corrosive sneer of the pessimist. This is because the world is starving for Reality, for what is real and true, and neither optimism nor pessimism is either real or true; they do not deal with things as they are. Consequently, they have neither sword nor song for their journey, and such a lack will haunt them in the end. When the dark falls like a curtain and threatens what is true and good, they will have no means to engage it. Likewise, when the light shines like diamonds and beautifies all that it touches, they will have no means to express the fact. Only Christianity, treating both good and evil as true realities at their full capacities, puts a song on our tongues and a sword in our hands.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Philosophical Fringe (a cultural engagement by an orthodox rebel)

The TV series Fringe is definitely the new X-files (except it's not as dark, and its lead character doesn't have the personality of a plank of wood). Since I'm more of a movie/animation man, I don't really watch it. My family does, however, and thus my DVR queue is plagued with various episodes of Abrams' and Carter's love child, robbing my of the pure aesthetic delights found in Whose Line is it Anyway? and Teen Titans. But I digress.

The current season has the main character, Olivia Dunham, trapped and confused in a parallel version of Earth. Due to a series of unfortunate and convoluted events, Olivia and her parallel self have switched universes: her alternative self works reconnaissance for her parallel universe boss while Olivia has been brainwashed into thinking that she is her parallel self and goes about living her (that is, the alternative her) life. Got it?

Of course, our stalwart (and rather lovely) hero can't stay trapped forever. Her old self keeps trying to break through, making her do little things that her alternative self wouldn't do. On top of that, her old life keeps visiting her in the form of hallucinations shaped like her friend (and new love interest) Peter Bishop. If your keyboard isn't soaked with the drool of intrigue by now, then that means that you still have a soul.

During one of her hallucinations, Peter tries to tell Olivia that she is not a part of this world and that she knows it. Olivia gives the typical denial response of "You're not real." To which, the quick-witted hallucination replies, "Reality is a matter of perception." That, apparently, is his metaphysical slam dunk, because Olivia has nothing to say back. End scene. End episode. I wonder what's gonna happen now, kids.

I really wish that Peter hadn't said what he said, because he didn't mean it. How do I know? Because if he meant what he said, then he wasn't making any sense. What he said was, "Reality is a matter of perception." What he meant was, "Reality is a matter of fact. Illusion is a matter of perception."

You see, Peter is trying to convince Olivia that what she thinks is real is not so; it goes against the facts, facts that are true and immutable. Her current "reality," however, is not based on the facts. It is based merely on her perception, which has been twisted and distorted, and thus is producing illusion. He is trying to get her to wake up from the illusion and back to reality.

Think about it: If Peter really meant what he said, then Olivia is doomed. If reality is only a matter of "perception," then reality is merely a matter of the mind perceiving it, which is to say that reality is only a matter of the individual mind. The source of reality (the logos, if you will) is your own mind. This kind of reasoning is called solipsism, and it is extremely dangerous. If reality is merely a matter of your own personal perception, then you are never in touch with reality (i.e., the facts); you are only in touch with your perception of it.

Furthermore, if you are only in touch with your perception of it, then you can never get outside of your perception to view actual reality and measure it against your perception to see if your perception stacks up to it. Thus, there is no way for you to know if your perception is the truth, i.e., if it conforms to the facts. You could very well be trapped (forever, I might add) in a world of self-created illusion. That is why it would spell doom for Olivia. There would be no escaping her perception, because she cannot escape her own mind.

Mere nitpicking, you say? Hardly. Peter Bishop is advocating reality over illusion. He is (in a sense) a visual demonstration of a solution to solipsism: if you are totally trapped away from reality, then the only hope for you is if reality comes to you. There are all kinds of philosophically Christian considerations in such a solution (viz., the Incarnation), as well as all kinds of virtuous thoughts (viz., reality is good and reality is attainable).

All of those thoughts and considerations, however, are lost under a pile of slip-shod writing. "Reality is a matter of perception" positively reeks of  post-modern sentimentalism and sloganeering. It communicates nothing of the hardy and proper philosophy that Peter is actually trying to convey. That is what annoys me. Something true and good was being presented, but it was lost. Its communication failed. In its place was an extremely noxious notion that exalts illusion to primacy and banishes reality to the fringe.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Salvation by the Sword (as written by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following is the September 24th entry in the Oswald Chambers devotional Daily Thoughts for Disciples. It is taken from Chambers' book The Philosophy of Sin. Here he says (in far better and simpler language) what I tried to say in this post.

The first thing in salvation is the element of destruction, and it is this that people object to. With this thought in mind, recall what our Lord said about His own mission: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." Our Lord reveals Himself as the destroyer of all peace and happiness, and of ignorance, wherever these are a cloak for sin.

It sounds like a startling and amazing thing to say that Jesus did not come to bring peace, but He said that He did not. The one thing that Jesus Christ is after is the destruction of everything that would hinder the emancipation of men and women. The fact that people are happy and peaceful and prosperous is no sign that they are protected from the sword of God. If their happiness and peace and well-being and complacency rest on an undelivered life, then they will meet the sword before long, and all of their peace and rest and joy will be destroyed.


Homily 14: On the Wilderness and Faith (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"To Him who led His people through the wilderness...." Ps. 136:16a

The wilderness is not a fun place to be. It is the strenuous and expansive dry patch between the explosive bookends of the Exodus and the Promised Land. There are no  obvious mountaintop experiences; just meat and manna at the moments of crisis and unbelief. Patience will dry up like waters in the desert. A terrible restlessness and fear will strive to shake your soul apart: perhaps God made a mistake? Perhaps we should have stayed in Egypt: better to be in a stagnant stability than this howling emptiness. Therein lies the many dangers, toils, and snares. You are beset on every side by strange fire and foreign mistresses, tempting you with false hopes and homes. The vision of the Promised Land, so clear at one point, now feels like it was a generation ago. You're not even sure what you're doing anymore, and you are afraid. No, the wilderness is not a fun place.

It is also, however, an inevitable and necessary place. No high and holy vision or calling of faith comes without the suffering of its birth, and that suffering will always entail the testing of that faith. God will see your calling come to fruition, but only after you learn to fully let go and trust in Him, learn that things are only done by Him (Zech. 4:6), you can do nothing without Him (John 15:5), and it is He that will complete the work (Phil. 1:6). You cannot face the Promised Land with all its wars until you firmly stand upon the solid truth that says, "God is God and I am not." If you cannot trust God in the wilderness, then where can you trust Him? Certainly not when the pressure is on and the crises culminate into climax. We must let the wilderness take its toll. We are not fit for the future until we do.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010