Friday, September 16, 2016

Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother …

The Balm for Job's Wounds: Part Two

Having, as it turns out, given this matter of suffering and punishment no small degree of thought in my years and having been concerned in those years over its regard in the venerable tradition of my beloved Orthodox Church, I confess in this sequel to the previous post on Lasseter's Lost Reef that commenting like this on the blogs of others on the World Wide Computernet vexes me a bit.  There are, you see, a great many more things I would say if I were writing about this independently here on Lasseter's Lost Reef rather than merely commenting in reply to this or that on some blog in the blogosphere, as indeed I am again below.  Some of us leave comments from time to time.  An inscrutable recreation, I suppose.

In any event, and concerning the work criticized below, I surely have no truck with any kind of "touchy-feely" view of God that is entirely opposed to reality, and I think that trembling before the possibility of condemnation is a healthy thing, but I surely too cannot defend some of the "fundamentalist" nonsense about hell that I have witnessed.  I suppose to at least some pitiable degree Benjamin Corey and others who are "Formerly Fundie" are just reacting to nonsense that was instilled in them earlier in life.  Shame how they react, but count it as among the evils of such churches as they likely grew up in: these parishes either convince their members that the folly they teach is true or drive those members to leave the first folly and subscribe to a second that, while opposed to the first, is equally false.

Well, anyway, my commentary on Dr. Corey's blog a couple of days ago (The Balm for Job's Wounds, generated an interesting but misguided reply from one Phil Ledgerwood, who, the Disqus comment platform informs us, is a Patheos moderator (but of course not the author of that blog).  I heartily recommend that you go over there and read the post and Mr. Ledgerwood's reply to me.  Here is my evening's contribution to it:

Forgive me for the delay.  I was quite ill yesterday and not up to commenting on the "social media."  Let me offer a brief reply now.

What the Apostle John intended in his "God is love" discourse can be discerned from the architecture of it.  At the start he writes, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another," and at the end: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments."  The statement "God is love" is not a definition whereby we constrain or define God: it is, rather, one by which we are told how we should be in this world based on the love that God has revealed to us and permitted us to comprehend.  If we understand this as any kind of analogy, the analogy is one that instructs our behavior in the temporal world, not one that reveals any aspect of God's love that He has not revealed to us.  To think that we can take our earthly experience of love and thus ascribe a limitation of God's eternal nature or deeds is to interpret the Beloved Disciple's commentary in the reverse of its actual direction.

Consider this central paragraph from Dr. Corey's essay:
When we correctly view love as being the core essence of God’s identity, holding to a traditional view of hell becomes difficult to do unless one radically redefines love. One would have to explain why perfect love would create a hell in the first place, why perfect love would make it a place of punitive torment instead of loving restoration, and why perfect love would subject that vast majority of people who have ever lived to such unimaginable, unending torture. Most of all, one would have to explain how being tormented in flames for all of eternity is actually loving for the individuals being tormented.
Why, one wonders in this analysis, even bother reaching the unseen matter of hell?  If we view love as we are able in our mortal minds to understand and exercise it, one has just as hard a time explaining a hurricane, the suffering of animals, violent crime, cancer in an infant, and so forth.  God has ordained a great many sufferings that no human being, acting in love, would himself ordain.  Again, the "God is love" discourse is not instruction on understanding God's love any further than it has been revealed to us: it is instruction on how we must love, and that instruction is plainly stated as keeping God's commandments.

It is worth noting too that in the Gospel according to the very same St. John the Theologian cited above Christ Himself says that, while He has not come to condemn anyone, those who reject Christ (which, as the Apostle John notes earlier in his first epistle, means to reject God's commandments) are condemned already.  John 3:18.  Condemned, that is, by themselves.  It is perfectly righteous to hope for the salvation of all.  I commend anyone who does.  But to state that we must by reason and our mundane understanding of love conclude that God must save everyone (that is, to suggest or state outright that it should be doctrine) cannot be answered by mere reference to love as we are able to know it.

I shall simply iterate once more, what mortal human being would allow the vast pain that there is in this world?  And yet our God, Who is Love, does precisely that.  And we do not understand why, just as we cannot constraint the nature or duration of hell by reasoning from an experience and understanding of love that cannot explain such things.
Comment by your humble author on: Benjamin L. Corey, Would A Righteous God Torment People In Hell For Eternity? 14 September 2016, accessed 16 September 2016,

This weekend, health permitting, you may expect, by the way, a publication of the promised discussion of No Country for Old Men's villain, a sequel to Τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια; (  In fact, it shall be two posts: one on Lasseter's Lost Reef Αʹ and one here.  I sometimes wonder, indeed, how many of you know there are two companion journals here.  (It is not good for the journal to be alone, you know, so each has a helper suitable to it.)  Anyway, stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Balm for Job's Wounds

If you were to task your humble author here with having to say which of the many controversies of the World Wide Christian Intersphere vexes him the most, it would be no small challenge, but some of those kerfuffles most often discussed thus far here on Lasseter's Lost Reef might find themselves having to take a back seat (or at least the passenger's) to one I have a special place in my heart for: the doctrine of hell.  No small number of Evangelical Protestants, mostly of, let us say, the "ex-fundamentalist" variety, as well as a few others (including, I am sad to say, one or two Orthodox Christians) are quite obsessed with this.  I myself think the whole controversy is a folly.  And so I offer you the following comment, which I have left this evening on the blog of Dr. Benjamin L. Corey (Would A Righteous God Torment People In Hell For Eternity? 14 September 2016, accessed 14 September 2016,

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Know ye not

Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.  What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.  But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.
I Corinthians 6:15-17 (KJV).

I just happened upon an excerpt from Rachel Held Evans's book Searching for Sunday, which she posted on her blog last year and that begins:

“The church is a whore, but she is my mother.”  The quote is attributed to St. Augustine, but no one’s really tracked it down. I’d venture to guess it originated with a man, though, and an unimaginative one at that.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment—that despite her persistent wanderings and betrayals, the church births us and feeds us and names us children of God—it’ s just that when we leave men to draw all the theological conclusions about a metaphorically feminine church, we end up with rather predictable categories, don’t we?

Virgin. Whore. Mother.
(Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday Excerpt: “Body,” accessed 13 September 2016,  She then goes on to suggest some images of feminine strength, weariness, life-giving, worry, self-doubt, perseverance, and so forth, all of course towards the end of presenting a flawed but nevertheless admirable woman whom we should embrace.  That Rachel Held Evans has any issue with "the church," besides of course being the lion's share of her popularity as an author, surely does necessitate such a contemplation, most especially because she is a Protestant of one stripe or another and is never really referring to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in any visible and dogmatically unified sense.  To anyone reflecting on the latter, however, (such as your humble Orthodox author here) the reference by someone almost certainly not Augustine to the Church as a whore is troubling.  Augustine has his detractors in Orthodoxy (some of them a bit over-the-top in their censure), but he did write some smart enough things, and, while the quote may sound like some crass rendition of his ideas, to my ear it does not sound like anything at all that the man would have said: at least not something, after a moment of thought, he would have really found meritorious and wanted to be remembered for.

If we turn to Holy Scripture, we do see the Prophets of the Old Testament chastise the waywardness of Israel, and she is therein likened to a whore, but what of the New Testament?  Is there any passage there that compares the Church to a prostitute?  If Christ has not accomplished the redemption of His body from such a comparison, then are we not of all men most miserable?  Consider too the only instances (besides literal references to prostitutes) of whores in the New Testament.  To the Apostle Paul, a harlot is one whom he explicitly says is not the Church, and in the Apocalypse given to St. John the Theologian the Whore we find is quite clearly an enemy of Christ and His Church.  We have no prophets in the strictly Christian half of Holy Scripture chastising the Church as a whore.  Quite the contrary, whereas Israel strayed, we find in the New Testament the new and heavenly Jerusalem, which is to say the Church, as a pure creature or an unblemished habitation (see, for instance, Galatians 4 and Revelation 21), and this in stark contrast to any entity or city that is likened to a whore, a term now reserved for those in enmity with God.  Indeed, in Christ we have the New Adam, and in the Theotokos as we have the New Eve, and this is a defining matter of Christianity: that the sins of disobedient Adam/Eve/Israel are no more in Christ.

I myself, as is well known from these journals, have been burned by a parish belonging to my beloved Orthodox Church, but the thought never would have occurred to me to attribute the faults of a church with a lowercase 'c' and an indefinite article to any faults in the Church with a capital 'C' and the definite article.  A parish may have sinned, but the Bride of Christ did not.  If I should take a brief glance into the history books, I'm sure I could easily cite for you entire episcopates that have strayed like harlots from Christ and His Church, but is that not the entire point here: that the Bride of Christ is not any of those apostate, heretical, or even simply callous persons or associations.  Ms Evans referred to the pseudo-Augustine quote as "unimaginative."  I myself am right on the edge of calling it just plum heretical.  Does Christ join Himself to a harlot?  God forbid.

Of course "the church" is an exceedingly vague term to most who are not talking about the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church with a capital 'C' (and a few other capital letters thrown in for good measure), and so of course then also the meaning of the Church as the Bride of Christ and a whole lot of other related stuff becomes vague as well.  Beyond being vague, though, the term used outside of its Orthodox meaning is also wholly mundane.  This creature who is irregular, beaten up, sometimes sick, and yet also resilient, capable of giving birth, and so forth, as Ms Evans characterizes her, is an earthly woman looking in the mirror trying to salvage her self-esteem.  The Bride of Christ, on the other hand, is a creature of Heaven.  To compare her to a prostitute is simply incomprehensible to me, as I should hope it would be to any other Orthodox Christian as well as it should be to any child to say such a thing about his mother.  Much the same, short of calling mom a whore, even just saying she has faults and blemishes and so forth makes me uncomfortable, but, again, I'm talking about the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, not some imaginary and vaguely specified dame.

I doubt that anyone will connect the dots and put that quotation firmly into Augustine's hands (because, again, I think he never said it), but I ask my readers, if you know of any of our Church Fathers or any venerable theologian in Orthodox history who has compared the Church to a harlot, please leave a comment with the citation.  I myself, mere layman that I am, would be shocked.  But I am merely a layman, and a layman can use a good shock now and then.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What Better Way

So the news is that Miracle Mattress, the company behind the advertisement above, has temporarily closed down its business after the outrage expressed about the ad on the "social media."  A brief search of the Internet will yield various major outlets referring to the commercial as "incredibly" or "absurdly" offensive and so forth, and countless ordinary Internet users have of course blasted the company for the ad as well.  In the midst of this controversy, however, what strikes me about the advertisement is how, rather than incredible or absurd, the offense of this commercial is quite mundane in both the commercial itself and the reaction to it.  Of course the advertisement is insulting to the memory of those who died in the terrorist attack, and quite obviously the piece is devoid of any sensitivity to that or to those who loved the departed, but it is also devoid of any animosity or malice.  Of course it is hurtful and offensive, but the offense is that of a foolish child or a garden-variety simpleton with no idea what he is really saying.  It is in poor taste and on a very sensitive matter, but the poor taste itself is utterly ordinary.

Even more ordinary, though, than the social ineptitude of the ad is the outrage: we are always (and by "we" I mean everyone of every political or cultural leaning and of every generation) in need of something to find outrageous.  I wonder if, because this world is in fact comprehensively unfair and full of evil, this is merely a deeply held sense most of us have, one that most of us scarcely think about and yet almost all of us act upon.  The tendency to have our bad feelings and disordered emotions triggered and the readiness to be offended may have a reputation these days as a phenomenon of the generation so young that 9/11 is either an early childhood memory or no memory at all to them, but I don't think it's anything even close to unique to that generation.  Our current times may have transformed the "trigger" into a new kind of political or cultural weaponry (that too is arguable, which is why I say may), but this folly is really a folly as old as mankind.

It feels kind of good to get angry about something one deems offensive.  It feels kind of good to assert, tacitly or outright, one's moral superiority.  Of course, like the vast majority of offenses that trigger such reactions, this good feeling is exceptionally transient.  It won't be long before no one remembers the incredible and absurd evil visited upon America by Miracle Mattress, and much sooner than that the satisfaction of having been angry about it will have disappeared too—indeed for many that satisfaction, such as it was, has probably disappeared already.  No doubt, though, it has been replaced again by that quiet inner sense most of us don't think much about but feel nonetheless of this life's unfairness and evil and the madness of dealing with it by finding something to be upset about.  As the woman in the advertisement asks, "What better way …?"

Friday, September 9, 2016

Let's just blame it all on the Nights on Broadway

The relations between the various arts can be edifying enough and worth the while of any reader that I shall recommend the following essay, from my friend E.D. Watson: Booklab: Book vs. Movie (, and as enticement I offer the first paragraph of her piece:
It’s a cherished notion among book lovers that the book is always better than the movie  — always. But is this just snobbishness perpetrated by people who prefer one art form over another? After all, movies have things that books don’t have. Soundtracks, for example. And Robert Redford. But we’ll get to him in a minute.
And as further enticement, I offer these comments between Ms Watson and me:

Virgil T. Morant SEMPTEMBER 8, 2016 at 11:53 AM09

Someone should do a movie based on music versus the music it is based on competition. Very few contenders come to mind, but I remember anyway from my youth how some musicians detested Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Some just despised Leopold Stokowski, while others thought it was simply perverse to translate such great music into cartoons. I myself always thought very highly of the film. I do think it was fair enough of such folk as Stravinsky (whose work was in the movie) to object to alterations to the scores (not, as it happens, unlike the elisions and other changes that invariably happen when a book is made into a movie), but the objections that classical music should not be made into animated feature films always struck me as foolish. History is replete with examples of one source being translated into another source anyway.

EDW SEMPTEMBER 8, 2016 at 11:53 PM09 Anyone who doesn’t like Fantasia is too much up their own butt to be any fun. I fell in love with classical music as a child BECAUSE of Fantasia. And even now whenever I hear the Rite of Spring, I see in my mind those poor, doomed dinosaurs, plodding across the parched earth with their tongues lolling, nudging miserably at sticky pools of mud.

I’m sure that isn’t what Stravinsky had in mind when he wrote the ROS, but that’s art. You can’t control how it affects and/or inspires others. Film is an interesting medium precisely because of its collaborative nature.

Out of Africa, by the way, has a wonderful soundtrack by film composer John Barry. Very sweeping and sunlit; it makes you feel just how you’d imagine flying over an African plain in a small aircraft might make a person feel. Especially if that person were in a plane with Robert Redford. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Virgil T. Morant SEPTEMBER 9, 2016 at 11:53 PM09
Come to think of it, I seem to have known my share of those folk with their heads in the nether regions. Back when Fantasia came out in a wonderful LaserDisc box back in the early '90s, I showed it to some friends, and nobody liked it: one chap even fell asleep. Odd. I'm reminded too just now in reflecting further upon classical music and movies about some I knew in my youth who thought ill of Stanley Kubrick's use of classical music in his films, such as his synthesized renditions of Beethoven. Unfortunate.

Well, I've seen The Rite of Spring in concert two or three times, including one recent performance with the Joffrey Ballet and the Cleveland Orchestra, and the nature of the work does require some level of interpretation. Every choreographed performance will have its own idiosyncrasies (not unlike those of an animated film). Nevertheless, I do sympathize with Stravinsky's concerns, to the extent he had such concerns, about the editing of the score that was done to fit the animation. I suspect, though, that the stories of his displeasure (even indeed if he was quoted about it late in life) are at least a bit exaggerated.

And permit me to agree completely about John Barry's Out of Africa score, even though (and this is a terrible omission in my cinematic viewing) I have never seen the film. I have long enjoyed a good many of his film scores, many to films I have never seen. I recommend his score to Somewhere in Time as well, if you ever have the chance.

And thank you for permitting me this digression from the primary substance of your post. E.D.

But permit me now too to quote a letter I recently wrote to a friend of mine (in keeping with the Lasseter's Lost Reef spirit of including private remarks at the end of objective essays):
On the topic, for instance, of waste or travails or what-have-you, last night in a moment of self-pity I went back into e-mails from three years ago to remind myself how I had corresponded with two fellow members of the Orthodox parish council I was a member of (and was a lawyer for) and one other lay member of the parish. In our personal correspondence, I mentioned Lasseter’s Lost Reef and every one of them fell dead silent after I had done so. Bear in mind, this was the same parish that at that very time was doing absolutely nothing for me in the aftermath of the fire that had ruined my house, and yet I lingered briefly in membership and association and contact with them. The waste for our present concerns is perhaps that this week I bothered to return to that wretchedness (although indeed it was also a waste that I stayed on with that parish as long as I did when I saw how they treated me in the midst of a catastrophe), but I was reminded of it by how nobody from the Twitter has bothered to step over to Lasseter’s Lost Reef to find out how I am doing. You and [so-and-so] who have commented recently, do not count, because you were readers and commentators well before I left Twitter.

As it happens, I have received only one personal message on the Twitter about my departure, and it was from a cat. This was touching to me, but it also said something odd too. I suspect that the human person who runs that particular cat account is troubled in some cognitive ways, and I know, from what she has told me, that she has serious health issues. I also know that she is lonely. Perhaps my “likes” were some minor consolation to her. I scarcely think that such things can really be of great comfort, but perhaps they were almost all she got (her account was not widely followed, and she did not get many “likes”). So she noticed my absence. I’m not surprised. As for everyone else? Well, we know the answer to that.

I have watched my “fellow believers” share the ever-loving daylights out of all kinds of garbage, post facetious tweets of their own to an audience of yes-men, kiss the hindquarters of those who are popular and of like opinions, and who among them has every shared any of the numerous quite serious essays that I have written?

Take it as you will, dear readers.  I myself often have wondered in this transient age what a man, being a manly sort of man, you know, should express of his sorrow.  Make of my sorrow what you will, as my dear and beloved fellow believers did when my house was burned into wreckage some three-and-a-half years ago.  I do recognize that the World Wide Internet is not quite real life, but I often find myself at quite the loss to distinguish the difference between the two.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Driver's Fare

In recently revisiting Jean Sibelius's Valse triste (Sad waltz) I reflected on how, although it is now a stand-alone work, it began as music for the opening scene of a play and how in this it exemplified Sibelius's gift for the tone poem.  In the play, a young man sits at his mother's death bed.  Music begins to play, and ghostly couples appear, dancing to the music.  His mother rises from her bed and herself dances, trying in vain to communicate with the apparitions, who ignore her.  Her vexation grows, and the scene disintegrates.  Death then stands at her door.  All of this can be heard in Sibelius's waltz.  Have a listen to this performance kindly put on the YouTube by the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra:

This reflection inspired my fascination with the relations of mothers and sons in the art and myth of Nordic culture overall.  Sibelius, himself a Finn, also, for instance, composed the Lemminkäinen Suite, inspired by the Finnish epic the Kalevala.

Lemminkäinen's Mother
Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931), Lemminkäinen's Mother, 1897

Reflecting on that work (which I encourage you to look up) then took me to the works of two Norwegians the playwright Henrik Ibsen and the composer Edvard Grieg.  Grieg's famous Peer Gynt Suite was of course composed for Ibsen's play, and in that composition we find the very poignant Åses Død.

As a boy Peer and his mother Åse had pretended that the bed was a sleigh, and on that sleigh they would make believe that they rode to the castle west of the moon and east of the sun.  In the scene we see in the play, as Åse lay on the verge of death on that very bed, Peer replayed this childhood game with her.  She sensed her end, and he assured her that she would be welcome in heaven.  Upon her death Peer, the driver of their sled, closed her eyes and gave her his thanks, but he also requested thanks from her.  He then gave her a kiss and whispered, "There.  That was the driver's fare."

Devout readers will recall that this music was earlier posted in an essay on depression and ακηδία entitled In Tribute to Philipus Fabricius, Baron von Hohenfall (  Please do yourselves the favor now to consider the music in light of the remarks above about its background:

Monday, September 5, 2016

Looking to Popular Cultural Practices for Spiritual Guidance

My friend "Mercurius Aulicus"* and I have been having an interesting little exchange in the comments beneath the essay Oliver is up there waiting for me (, and it reflects, among other things, the recently discussed question of whether reading comments or, really, anything that anyone on the Internet has to say at all is worth the time.  Our exchange over on that page is a far cry from, say, the now almost six hundred insipid comments I continue to receive via e-mail (and ignore) from that unfortunate Federalist essay that I commented on.  The colloquy in any of our many gathering places is ordained by the motives of those who gather, and it seems that the more popular the locale or the more popularity one is striving for in it, the more unfortunate those motives and their blessings may be.

The last two of the comments in the exchange with Mercurius Aulicus.  See the post for the full context and some of the larger issues discussed (in both the rest of the comments and the essay itself).
Mercurius Aulicus Monday, September 5, 2016 at 1:14:00 AM EDT
All the Christian countries of Europe (including Orthodox Bulgaria) have dishes involving blood. My own English and Scottish ancestors would have been puzzled in the extreme if you had told them that Christians are forbidden to eat blood pudding. Any dietry restrictions regarding "eating blood" was pretty much as a dead letter in post-apostolic times in Western Europe.
E.g. The Pontifical Biblical Commission noted in 2008:

The other example is more delicate: “You must not eat any fat or any blood.” (Lev 3.17; 7.26; Deut 12.23–24); the New Testament takes up this prohibition unrestrictedly, to the point of imposing it upon Christians coming from paganism (Acts 15.29; 21.25).

From the viewpoint of exegesis the explicit reason for this prohibition is not exactly theological, it rather reflects a symbolical representation: “the life (nepheš) of all flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17.11, 14; Deut 12.23).

After the apostolic era the Church did not feel obliged to make this a basis for formulating precise rules for the butcher and the kitchen, and still less in our own times to prohibit blood transfusion.

The trans-cultural value underlying the particular decision of the Church in Acts 15 was a desire to foster the harmonious integration of the various groups, albeit at the price of a provisional compromise [The Bible and Morality].
(qtd in

Virgil T. Morant Monday, September 5, 2016 at 6:12:00 AM EDT
It's a bit odd that your authoritative source would be the Web site of a Roman Catholic referencing a Roman Catholic commission from 2008. It's a bit comical too, coming after your remark, "Any dietry restrictions regarding 'eating blood' was pretty much as a dead letter in post-apostolic times in Western Europe." One doesn't get much more post-Apostolic than a commission in the year 2008, amirite.

All hilarity aside, Canon 63 of the Holy Apostles expressly forbids the consumption of blood. The 6th Ecumenical Council (late 7th century), among others, later affirmed this. No lesser men than the saints John Chrysostom and Theodoret are cited in The Rudder's commentary on the canon, but in any case the canon as well as the commandment in Acts 15 are quite unambiguous.

It is no surprise if this country or that has popular dishes that violate this. I should scarcely look to popular cultural practices as much guidance in a religious matter such as this. And, of course, as an Orthodox Christian, I should scarcely look to a 2008 Roman Catholic commission to tell me that the Council of Jerusalem, the Holy Canons of the Church, and Orthodox Christian doctrine are mistaken. And I should hardly be surprised if this commandment is knowingly or unknowingly disregarded by a good many Orthodox Christians as well.

It's funny that we conservatives on, say, the topics of sexual morality will go on at some length about how clear Scripture is on these moral topics (which indeed it is), and yet a text that could not be clearer, the proscription in Acts 15, can be explained away with such ease. Indeed with an ease that makes any progressive Christian libertine look like the rankest of amateurs.

Thank you, as always, for commenting, my friend.

* Also known as @MyEarTrumpet on the Twitter (, where he is quite prolific.