Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wriggling in the Crushing Grip of Reaason (an aside by Bill Watterson)

On academia:

Romance and Reality (as explained by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

One of the reasons I like Chesterton is that he treats spiritual reality as if it were real. For him, God and all that He is and promised are not abstractions but concrete realities that we walk amongst and through and in every single day of our lives. That life is a story "written by the finger of God" was no mere pleasing maxim; for Chesterton, it was the deepest and most fundamental philosophy.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

(The following is excerpted from his book Heretics, p. 143.)

Romance is the deepest thing in life; romance is deeper even than reality. For even if reality could be proved to be misleading, it still could not be proved to be unimportant or unimpressive. Even if the facts are false, they are still very strange. And this strangeness to life, this unexpected and even perverse element of things as they fall out, remains incurably interesting.


People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple: it is merely that the novel is more true than they are. Life may legitimately appear as a book of science. Life may sometimes appear, and with a much greater legitimacy, as a book of metaphysics. But life is always a novel. Our existence may cease to be a song; it may cease even to be a beautiful lament. Our existence may not be an intelligible justice, or even a recognizable wrong. But our existence is still a story. In the fiery alphabet of every sunset is written, "to be continued in our next."

Philosophy of Stories: Characters (as explained by an orthodox rebel)

A common point of instruction in most modern creative writing classes is "Write people, not ideas." There is a truth here as well as a lie. The truth is that your story needs to be populated with believable people, not cardboard cut-out allegorical mouthpieces. The lie, however, is that there is no way to write "people" without also writing "ideas," because people are ideas; or better yet, people have ideas, and those ideas are what move them forward in any story.

Many people (especially in secular circles) are apt to forget that we are all philosophers. We are all believers. Even if we have no immediate idea what we believe in because we haven't thought about it enough to adequately put it into words, we all have a particular view of our world and our circumstances. That view (whatever it may be) creates desires, which in turn create actions. And action (of any sort) is the kindling for drama.

All this is the meaning behind other (absentmindedly wise) instructions from modern creative writing classes: "Follow the pain" or "Give them a want." A person without even implicit beliefs feels no pain, because they hold nothing dear or precious. A person without even a subconscious philosophy has no wants, because they hold nothing to be desirous or worthy of effort. Treat a person like a blank slate of random activity, and you will create doldrum. Treat a person like a believer, and you will create bedlam. And bedlam is always dramatic.

Do not fool yourself into thinking that a person's philosophy needs to be complicated. It could be as simple as believing that water is good and thus wanting a glass very, very badly. It would still prove the point. Drama springs forth from human activity, and no human activity was ever done for nothing. Even those strange few who claim to base their actions on "nothing" still see that "nothing" as a something upon which (if they've thought about it enough) they could elucidate.

The point is that when your are writing your stories, remember that no human exists in a vacuum. Even if they're alone, they're not alone. They always have their self. The wishing, wanting, hoping, fearing, failing self, our very heart. And out of the heart a man speaketh. Out of the heart are the issues of life.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Minor Aside (a small note of encouragement from an orthodox rebel)

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matt. 16:18

"He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'" Matt. 16:23

Even the rock of the church was not above becoming a stumbling block, to himself as well as others. It is important to note that although Peter was not Satan, he was exhibiting the satanic mind and mood: "you are not setting your mind on the things of God." At bottom the satanic mind and mood is simply a matter of looking to something other than God, whether it be circumstances, peers, or ourselves. For Satan, he looked to himself (Is. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-19). For Peter, he looked to his fellow man and their ideas of what Messiah should be. He rebuffed Jesus for His claim to death, and thought that he was doing the right thing, and therein lies the snare. The satanic mind is more often than not good intentions about completely wrong things, and only a divine rebuke can snap us out of it.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Necessity of Darkness for the Brilliance of Light (as explained by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following excerpts are from Chesterton's book Heretics (pp. 69 & 128). They tie into the thoughts found in this other post. There is a tendency in conventional Christianity to dismiss visions of darkness and evil as antithetical to true Christian thought and character. What Chesterton here points out is that remembering the vision of the dark (1) is a matter of humility in that it (2) makes us fall on our knees before all that is good (esp. the God who is Good). This has rich implications philosophically, theologically, and (even more so) artistically. If evil isn't truly evil, then what's the point of heroes? If sin isn't exceedingly sinful, then what's the point of the Cross? It becomes much ado about nothing.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth is, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised." The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth.

Until we realize that things might not be, we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. Until we can picture nonentity, we underrate the victory of God and can realize none of the trophies of His ancient war. It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing until we know nothing.


The curse that came before all history [, i.e., the Fall] has laid on us all a tendency to be weary of wonders. If we saw the sun for the first time it would be the most fearful and beautiful of meteors. Now that we see it for the hundredth time we call it, in the hideous and blasphemous phrase of Wordsworth, "the light of common day." We are inclined to increase our claims. We are inclined to demand six suns, to demand a blue sun, to demand a green sun. Humility is perpetually putting us back in the primal darkness. There all light is lightening, startling and instantaneous. Until we understand that original dark, in which we have neither sight nor expectation, we can give no hearty and childlike praise to the splendid sensationalism of things.

The New Imperialism: Multiculturalism's Origins and Cause of Death (as explained by an orthodox rebel and reported by an American conservative)

The following article was written by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., for The American Spectator. It ties into the thoughts of this other article I posted in regard to multiculturalism. What I like about this article is how Mr. Tyrrell ties multiculturalism's beginnings with the rather well-intended yet ultimately nefarious field of study known as "post-colonial studies".

When I studied post-colonialism throughout my collegiate years, I came to the rather odd (yet I believe correct) conclusion that post-colonialism (and its bastard child, multiculturalism) was merely a new form of imperialism: whereas the old imperialism created a discourse that made the colonies hate themselves so that they would assimilate into the empire, this new imperialism creates a discourse that makes the so-called "old empires" hate themselves so that they would assimilate into the multicultural utopia. In the old system, colonists feared dissension from the discourse for fear of being labeled disloyal traitors. In the current system, those dubbed as the "old empires" fear dissension from the discourse for fear of being labeled racist bigots. 

In either case, resistance was futile.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Now the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has joined the chorus. The other day he said, "My answer is clearly yes, it is a failure."  The "it" was multiculturalism, and he was on French national television. In pronouncing multiculturalism defunct, the French president joins German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia's ex-prime minister John Howard, Spain's ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar, and, most recently, British Prime Minister David Cameron in heaving a failed policy into history's dustbin. The question is, what will replace it? Or actually another question: how did multiculturalism ever become a policy of these European countries anyway?

"If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France," explained Sarkozy. "Of course," he explained, "we must all respect differences, but we do not want…a society where communities coexist side by side." Actually they have not existed side by side in recent years. Certain cultures were deferred to by the Europeans, namely Islam. Others were not. If your culture entertained cannibalism, you could not sit down to a nice leg of neighbor. Yet if your culture was Muslim, and you wanted to arrange a marriage for your daughter, authorities looked the other way. If you were the village atheist, you could not say God is a monstrosity and Allah is an impossibility. That would be a "hate crime," and you would be in hot water. On the other hand, you could say "Allah akbar," and no one was offended other than the village atheist.

Now the European leaders are giving this sort of tolerance of intolerance a second look. Prime Minister Cameron has called for a "more active, more muscular liberalism," one that requires the active promotion of democratic values, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and equal rights. In a recent speech in Munich he argued that, "under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream." The result is alienation and occasionally jihadism.

So how did the Europeans end up with multiculturalism, a multiculturalism that seems to favor Islam over other cultures? The Germans have outlawed Nazi culture. The Italians are not particularly hospitable to fascism, and as I have already pointed out the French are appalled at cannibalism and do not even have a good word for McDonald's  or Kentucky Fried Chicken. I think it started with the way they teach their history. Militarism, colonialism, and racism are all prominent ingredients of European history books, particularly British history. For that matter, American history stresses these ingredients also. I have been reading American college history texts and they present an alarmingly ugly view of the Western past.

By presenting the West as repugnant and the other civilizations as our prey, particularly during colonial days but also in modern times, we encourage such social pathologies as jihadism. President Sarkozy says he is not going to tolerate the kind of fundamentalism in France that leads ultimately to jihadism. How is he going to achieve this without calling for a fundamental reform in how French history is taught?

Then there is another matter. All the aforementioned statesmen and women are democrats and espouse democratic values, but there are fashions of thought in the West that do not like democratic values. For want of a better term, they are fashions of thought that follow political correctness. The politically correct do not like free speech. For that matter, the adherents to political correctness do not like many of the values of the West. What are Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Cameron going to do about them? They are going to be even trickier to deal with than the practitioners of jihad.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Homily 23: Missing What Matters (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." Matt.16:3b

A necessary consequence of Pharisaical idolatry is spiritual blindness. Look at this incident between the Pharisees and Jesus. Their conception of God (formed by their own traditions and considerations) had so blurred their spiritual vision that when God Himself came walking amongst them in the flesh they could see neither him nor the things that He had done. Jesus had performed many signs already; some individually (e.g., Matt. 8:1-17), some before thousands (e.g., Matt. 14:13-21), and none in secret. There was nothing hidden, and yet the Pharisee could not see. Their natural vision was fine, but their spiritual sight was blocked, perhaps even seared shut by their concept of what God ought to be. Likewise, our self-constructed conceptions of God are always blinders to our souls, and the only hope of knocking them off is by a visitation from the God who is.

"How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?" (Matt. 16:11a). It is not necessarily the Pharisee that lets their self-made opinion of God blind them. Even the disciples did not understand what Jesus was after or about. The difference, however, is that when the God who is confronted the God of their own minds, they chose to follow the God who is despite the confusion of their minds. They did not understand Him just yet, but they did believe in Him (Matt. 16:16), and eventually they came to understand Him (Luke 24:45). That is always the way it is: we must go through the confusion and fog of our misconceptions, clinging for dear life to the God revealed in scripture and in Christ, even if there are whole areas that we do not understand yet. Our blinders are being taken off. It may take time (depending on our obstinacy), but if we stick to it and go through the dark with the God who is, we shall emerge closer to Him than we were before. For those lost in illusion, reality is always a confusion. Once we are brought through it all to the other side, however, then the illusion drops from our eyes like scales; and where once we were blind, now our eyes see Him.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The First and Final Response (as explained by an orthodox rebel)

"Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person." Matt. 15:17-18

One of the greatest and most consistent misconceptions about evil is that it is primarily an outer affliction. Remnants of Freudian psychology remain with the lot of us, and we consequently see a human being as the product of their environment, with all inner realities resulting from outer causes. Thus the source of blame is always deferred to environmental and circumstantial factors. This absurd practice continues to this day. Whenever there is a public display of heinous evil, every "expert" and media pundit is quick to blame everything except the actual perpetrators. So Jared Loughner was merely a emblem of harsh political rhetoric. So the Columbine killers were the victims of video games and bullies. In every case, tastes in books, movies, music, and hobbies are rigorously analyzed, as are the immediate circle of friends and peers. Meanwhile, the individual who actually committed the act is ignored, as though they are merely a mystical vessel or medium for a legion of outer stimuli. In the end, our understanding of evil never increases, and our responses to it grow more ridiculous.

Jesus (per His usual tactics) reveals our foolishness and turns our categories on their heads by pointing out that the origins of individual evil come from within, not from without. Outer elements perhaps play a small role, but they are not the primary cause. The primary cause is that men and women are sinners, i.e., born into sin and prone to sin (John 8:34 & Rom. 3:9-20). Jesus said that "out of the heart" comes all of our evils (vs. 19). Our problem, then, is not an environmental problem; it is a heart problem, and that problem can never be solved by media analysis, government legislation, or psychotherapy. The best that those things can do is act as a tourniquet. They can never close the wound or cure the disease. The only true solution is the gospel, i.e., the atoning work of Christ on the cross. It is the only thing that can touch the very foundation of our being and alter it (John 3:3-17; Rom. 3:21-25a, 5:6-11). Unless the gospel is our first and final response to the ills of culture and humanity, the world will whirl on in its absurdities as it stumbles further and further from the real problem and the real answer: we are great sinners, but Christ is a great savior.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Place of Incredulity in Faith (as demonstarted by the apostle Peter and as lectured by an orthodox rebel)

"And Peter answered Him, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.'" Matt. 14:28

Here Peter demonstrates the fundamental incredulity and demand for true knowledge that real faith requires. Peter did not blindly follow anyone (except, perhaps, himself). He was not completely credulous. Listen to his own words: "Lord, if it is you...." His actions were conditional on certain facts. If it was Jesus, then He would come out onto the water. He would not go for anything else, neither ghost nor angel. Such an attitude of incredulity is common sense. Peter was a fisherman. He had sailed a boat many times. He knew what water was, that it was not a solid walking surface. The key to his actions in this verse is that he also knew who Jesus was (Matt. 16:16). Peter did not step out of the boat because he had a primitive misconception about the laws of physics. He stepped out because he had a right conception about the man called Christ. When he began to sink, and Jesus saved him and said, "Why did you doubt?" (vs. 31), the implication is that before he sank, Peter had faith, not in the sudden solidity of the water, but in the power and presence of the Son of God.

True faith has never been about blind adherence to anyone or anything. Faith is about trusting that which you know. You trust the chair that you are sitting in right now because somewhere in the back of your mind you know that either chairs in general are well-made or that your chair specifically is well-made. You trust an individual because you know that either people like them in general are good (like police officers) or that this person specifically is good (like a friend or family member). In any and all cases, faith is about trust, and trust is about some kind of knowledge in regard to the thing trusted. It may or may not be complete knowledge, but it is enough to garner trust. Likewise, the Christian life (which is a life of faith;  Romans 1:17, II Cor. 5:7, & Heb. 10:38) is not about blind adherence to creeds or the mere power of an unknown God. "This is eternal life," said Jesus, meaning that here is the Christian life, "that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). The Christian life is about knowing God, and on that knowledge we trust Him.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Homily 22: Your Little Foothill (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"And they took offense at Him." Matthew 13:57a

Have you ever seriously considered Jesus' rejection by His hometown? Those who supposedly knew Him the best ("Is this not the carpenter's son?" vs. 55) did not know Him at all ("because of their unbelief," vs. 58). They had a preconceived and well entrenched conception of Jesus, and they had grown quite familiar with their conception. Thus, when the real deal came thundering into their lives, they were "astonished" (vs. 54) and offended. How dare Jesus step outside of our conception of Him! How dare He defy our notions and self-made expectations! How dare He indeed.

There is a saying that "absence makes the heart grow fonder," the inverse implication being that familiarity makes the heart grow stale. That is not true in regard to God. If our heart is growing stale, it is not because we have grown too familiar with Him. Rather, it is because we have grown too familiar with what is not Him, with some cheap imitation and concocted notion. Christ and the scriptures reveal God to be the fountainhead of infinite Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, the summation of all perfection, the source and aim of all desire, and the author of salvation. No heart can ever grow stale by going deeper and deeper into His presence. Staleness doesn't come because we know God too well, but because we have grown comfortable with what is either not Him or less than Him. In this way, we indeed fall short of the glory of God.

The real danger, however, is manifested in Jesus' hometown crowd. It is one thing to grow familiar with a false or incomplete image of God. It is quite another thing to grow fond of that image, so fond that when the real God comes bursting through your life and upsets your misconceptions you become offended by Him. How dare God not be what I want Him to be! This is the same trap that the Pharisees fell into. They stood in the tension between the God they wanted and the God who is. Blinded by their own conceptions, they rejected the God who is. When unbelievers do this, they damn their souls. When believers do this, they stunt their sanctification. They come to a certain spot in their relationship to God and say, "There can't possibly be anything higher than this," and so they take the foothills over the summit, an unfortunate state of affairs that only a God-sent avalanche can cure. Are you small enough in your own eyes to see God for the mountain that he is, or will He be forever your little foothill?

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Categories of (Un)Believers (some thoughts by an orthodox rebel)

There are three categories of people when it comes to knowledge in regard to reason and faith. Some people fit perfectly into one of the categories, but most of us are a patchwork of two or all three. The questions to ask yourself are: Where do you think you fit in this scheme? Why? In what circumstances/state of mind do you find yourself sliding from one category to the next? Again, why?

Unhealthy agnosticism

This category has absolute uncertainty at the center of existence. It does not believe that there has been, is, or ever will be true revelation of true knowledge of any kind. It doubts whether truth is knowable, or if it is even there at all. It deifies (perhaps unconsciously) ignorance and lauds in a total skepticism, disregarding all claims to true knowledge as mere fiction, misconstruction, and arrogance (as well as ignorance to the human condition).


This category has absolute certainty at the center of existence. It believes that all answers to all possible questions have been given, known, and explained. It doubts that there is any mystery to life, any problem that cannot be explained by the established doctrine/creed/rubric/party-line. It deifies (perhaps unconsciously) the human mind and position in the universe in order to justify a total credulity. It disregards all claims to ambiguity as mere fear, faithlessness, and ignorance (as well as arrogance to external authority).

Healthy agnosticism

This category has absolute certainty at the center of existence with pockets of uncertainty hovering throughout the peripheral like mists or fog. It believes that some answers have been given but not all answers, not yet. It knows and believes that there has been true revelation of true knowledge of a limited kind. It knows and believes that the truth is knowable, but not all at once, i.e., there is plenty of truth that is still hidden, but it does exist and can (and will) be known. It quite consciously sees humanity as capable of real knowledge but still limited in the extent of that capability. It disregards all claims to either entire knowledge or no knowledge as extremities with opposite intentions and yet equally flawed conclusions that both suffer from arrogance and ignorance.

Again, it will be interesting to see where/when people fall into these categories.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Desolation and Glory (words of wisdom and whimsy from an original brit)

The following is the first two stanza's from Matthew Arnold's poem "Morality":

"We cannot kindle when we will
The fire which in the heart resides;
The spirit bloweth and is still,
In mystery our soul abides.
But tasks in hours of insight will'd
Can be through hours of gloom fulfilled.

"With aching hands and bleeding feet
We dig and heap, lay stone on stone;
We bear the burden and the heat
Of the long day, and wish 'twere done.
Not till the hours of light return,
All we have built do we discern."