Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thales of Miletus, the Follies of Online Orthodoxy, a Violin Teacher, and Φιλότιμο

As I noted in my final hours on the Twitter, those who are inclined to argue about "serious" topics are always welcome (indeed invited) to do so right here with the vast length afforded by my comment platform on any topic that I write about on Lasseter's Lost Reef, rather than offering inadequate replies in the 140-character limits of the Twitter or simply "subtweeting" (as the tiresome parlance goes) those whom they disagree with but whom they lack the guts or in any case the inclination to confront directly.  As I noted too in my recent essay A Further Note on the Piety of the Religious Internet (http://lostreef2.blogspot.com/2016/08/a-further-note-on-piety-of-religious.html), we tend to argue rather self-servingly and toward ends meant to bolster our wished-for social statuses but not with any intentions of actual argument.  So I offer you the following two comments of mine, which were made in reply to one who did think well enough to speak here on Lasseter's Lost Reef.  Of course you should read the posts themselves, indeed especially to see those remarks that I was replying to.  Let the following discourse be a lesson that intelligent commentary may take place in locales that are not limited by one hundred forty characters and in a spirit that is not entirely consumed by the desire to promote one's own pathology to an audience of like-minded pathological souls.

I note again too (as I did in my last hours on the Twitter), I welcome disagreement in the comments on Lasseter's Lost Reef.  I have had the good fortune thus far of receiving mostly favorable comments, as indeed we can see in the links below, but I am perfectly capable of and indeed quite willing to respond to serious disagreement.  I am, after all, a lawyer.  As long as your comment does not constitute a crime, chances are pretty good it will remain published and receive a response.

Both of my following comments are in reply to my friend Eloise Hellyer (1 Teaches 2 Learn), an accomplished musician and violin teacher who is the author of the Violin Teachers Blog (http://www.violinteachersblog.com/en/), which you should all subscribe to and read.  This first was on my essay Oliver is up there waiting for me (http://lostreef2.blogspot.com/2016/08/oliver-is-up-there-waiting-for-me.html), an essay concerning both the rights of animals and the Orthodox dogma of how human beings are commanded to treat them:

Thank you, as always, Eloise.  Your brief remark is on the mark.

Let me too add for emphasis in my reply this observation that I pray no reader overlooked in my essay.  The consumption of animal blood is explicitly forbidden in Holy Scripture for both Christians and Jews, and that proscription is further affirmed in the Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church and the rest of the tradition of Orthodox Christianity.  This is what made it vexing to me in that especially, let us say, parochial way: to think that fellow Christians or even specifically Orthodox Christians may have thought well of this father for instructing his eight-year-old girl to take a bite out of that poor and just deceased deer's heart (and I do not doubt that a good many thought precisely that).  It is a celebration of death, as you iterate, that should trouble anyone.  It also happens to be a violation of God's commandments, which should at least trouble those of us who are of the Christian faith.

This second is from the above mentioned Further Note on the Piety of the Religious Internet (http://lostreef2.blogspot.com/2016/08/a-further-note-on-piety-of-religious.html), an essay further lamenting the "club mentality" of online discourse:

You will know, my friend, from my reply to your comment on Oliver is up there waiting for me that I particularly chide my fellow Orthodox in matters such as these, and as a supplement to my reply to you over there let me further note that, while my fellow conservatives and Orthodox are quite zealous to criticize, say, Rachel Held Evans (or, you name it, this or that other "progressive" Christian) for picking and choosing among the commandments of Holy Scripture and Tradition, what have fellow conservative Christians to say about those matters that are secularly conservative and yet contrary to the commandments of Holy Scripture and Tradition? The love of animals is no modern thing in the Orthodox Church, and, as that other essay noted, the consumption of blood is a sin: but, we see, such a matter is "liberal" or "progressive" to the modern mind (and indeed most conservatives have unambiguously modern minds), and so such a truly conservative and traditional consideration of the souls of animals (by the way, the Holy Canons state unambiguously, as Scripture does too, that all animals have souls) is irrelevant. Just as irrelevant, indeed, as the rigorous argument of anyone who is of no social importance, such as your humble author here.

By the way, whoever conjured up that pseudo-Aristotle quote, I offer you this challenge: what is the provenance of this: "Philotimo [Φιλότιμο] to the Greek is like breathing. A Greek is not a Greek without it. He might as well not be alive." It is very widely attributed to Thales of Miletus, but I have never found any citation to any ancient author quoting him as having said that. If you have any clue, I shall be in your debt further than I already am.

And I put it to all of you dear readers, not just Eloise, if you have any citation proving the origin of that φιλὀτιμο quote, you shall have done a greater service than I could ever have dreamed of receiving for having begun Lasseter's Lost Reef on this here World Wide Internet.



Sunday, August 28, 2016

On the Twitter Caliphate and Why I Fled It

A couple of days ago I deleted all but five of my 47,000 tweets on the Twitter and put a note on my profile that I would not tweet any further, but that does not mean I might not stop by and look from time to time, and so this evening I happened to see the following retweeted, I am sad to say, by a friend of mine, and it may very well typify why I decided that any effort to discuss or even tweet links to any discussions of "serious" topics on there was a folly:


It comes from a chap fairly popular among conservative religious and especially fellow Orthodox folk.  Now let's just think about this tweet briefly.

On the one hand, he states a general view of those in Islam who become martyrs for their faith: they go to heaven.  On the other hand, he states Orthodox pastoral guidance from the Holy Canons indicating that one who has killed in warfare and yet has himself survived must abstain from the Eucharist for some period of time (let us bear in mind too that the Holy Canons are not laws that must be adhered to strictly in every instance but are, rather, matters for priests and their bishops to consult and follow as particular conditions may require).  To any intelligent view, these are not like situations (in one a soldier dies and in the other a soldier lives), and yet they are presented as though they are in parity and thus as though they indicate a clear distinction between Islam and Christianity.

It is a well-known bit of artful Orthodox understanding that those who become martyrs for the Christian faith before having had the opportunity to be baptized are considered baptized by the blood of their martyrdom, and in all cases martyrdom for the faith of Christ is an assurance of eternal life.  Is this really so different from the belief concerning paradise for those in Islam who die for their own faith?  The "Caliphate" half of the tweet by the "Byzantine Ambassador" does not concern anything other than dying during a cause regarded as holy by Islam, and the "Byzantium" half nothing other than what one must face if one survives after shedding blood in warfare.  The disparity between these two halves is so plain that it hardly warrants any further redundant commentary.

This is much of what is wrong with the Twitter.  A serious and honest apology in defense of Christianity and in criticism of Islam could be a fine thing.  Several Orthodox saints, including some who were held captive in Muslim lands, have offered such apologies.  What we find from the "Byzantine Ambassador," however, is just inflammatory and dishonest.



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Oliver is up there waiting for me

It was especially poignant upon the recent death of John McLaughlin, the host of the long-running television program The McLaughlin Group, to read that just a couple of years ago he said on his program that he hoped to be reunited in Heaven with his beloved and departed dog Oliver.*  The topic of the eternal or moral lives of animals other than man is one that a good many Christians either dismiss peremptorily or hem and haw about to no coherent moral or spiritual assertion.  On the one hand, these animals are beasts made not in the image or after the likeness and therefore ours to do with as we please with some few and typically ill-defined restraints, or, on the other hand, they are creatures made not in the image or after the likeness and yet deserving of some welfare or charity, albeit a charity that no one can clearly define while still denying that they have souls or rights or any intrinsic, immutable, or eternal worth: and indeed both of these hands have a great deal more in common than likely any of the persons gesticulating with either hand would care to admit.

Devoted readers of Lasseter's Lost Reef will know that the topic of animal rights is one that this journal has not addressed, and some few other folk will know both that I choose to avoid arguing the controversy in all my dealings (not just online) and also that I have been a vegetarian for most of my life.  Certain more discerning readers—most especially, I should hope, those who are also Orthodox—will also know that I am devoted to the dogma of Orthodox Christianity, and such readers will therefore understand that I would never propose that God's commandments be altered to require all Christians to be vegetarians.  Love of all animals is most dear to me, but I have understood for a good long while that, while killing any living creature is repugnant, God permits us to get away with a great many repugnant things, and I am not in the business of challenging God's commandments or pretending to invent new ones.  May all of the following men's memories be eternal: my American grandfather, Donald, was a hunter and a fisherman, and my Greek grandfather, Χριστός, and his two boys, my uncles Θόδωρος and Ιορδάνης were butchers, and I love them all dearly, I know that they were Christians, and I hope, should I be granted eternal life, to see them again.  I cannot condemn any fellow Christian for eating meat or even indeed for having no coherent opinion on the souls of animals: I should indeed direct my attention much more to condemning myself for my own many sins, and in any case I know that God has chosen not to require vegetarianism of us.

He has, however, placed at least some restrictions upon our treatment of animals, and so another recent news story quite sadly caught my eye and made me wonder, how do fellow Christians regard the following tale of a hunting father who boasted of his daughter's first killing of a deer and the consequent bite she took out of the deceased deer's still "warm quivering heart" (be warned, this article, as well as many others you may google on this story, contains a gruesome photograph of the very moment when the young girl took a bite out of the deer's heart): New Zealand hunter posts grisly photo of daughter, 8, biting the 'warm quivering' heart of freshly killed deer (Laura Bult, New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/new-zealand-hunter-posts-photo-daughter-8-biting-deer-heart-article-1.2764107).  As some of my Protestant friends might hear if we were discussing this in their ordinary services, "Open up your Bibles to Acts fifteen, verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine."  It is well known that the vast majority of dietary restrictions in the Old Testament are not placed upon Christians, but a couple of them are, and the consumption of blood is one of them.  (Cf. also Genesis IX:1-4, a command iterated elsewhere too in the Old Testament and that the Council of Jerusalem explicitly affirmed.)  As some of my Orthodox friends might know ("Now would you open up your Rudders …"), the tradition of the Orthodox Church and its Canons unambiguously affirm this.

No doubt, some of my readers who are irreligious or readers who are heterodox may find these Orthodox Christian axioms lacking in compulsion, and I cannot chide any of you for that, but surely you can simply consider the deed of the hunting father objectively and without any need of supernatural claims, canons of the Church, or references to Holy Scripture.  A living creature was killed for food.  That much, in this world where any one life must be sustained largely by the decimation of other lives, may very well lack outrage to most.  This creature, however, was not only—indeed not even primarily—killed for sustenance, and hunting of this variety in our current age has the unavoidable quality of pleasure taken in the hunt wholly unnecessary for survival.  No one needed to kill that deer in order to sustain his life: that hunt was done purely for gratuitous reasons.  But in any event what of the celebration?  What of the eight-year-old girl taking a bite (with a smile, no less) out of what her father happily described as the "warm quivering heart" of a creature whom she had just killed?  Is the death of a living thing not an inherently sad occasion?  What has that celebration to say of our regard, not just for the soul in the life's blood of an animal (as our Orthodox Christian teachings would tell us), but for the sorrow and evil of death itself, its unending presence in this world, and our participation in it?  I leave it to the reader simply to consider these questions, which are not entirely "rhetorical," and I plan to revisit this topic, which I have so adamantly eschewed for decades, in some future essay on Lasseter's Lost Reef.

Besides what I may say to my various unbelieving friends, by the way, I must wonder too: how many of my fellow conservative and religious folk (Orthodox or otherwise) think that this chap in New Zealand was just being a good daddy of some old-school variety and thus iterating some venerable hunting tradition by having and celebrating this grisly, blood-drinking moment with his eight-year-old daughter?  My fellow Christians of whatever stripe, as I have noted many times—including earlier in this essay—my sins are greater than those of any other man, but what that man had his daughter do (and what he did himself as her publicist) was a pagan deed.  It was a sin.



For further reading:

Kitty (http://lostreef2.blogspot.com/2015/12/kitty_64.html)
This do, and thou shalt live, (http://lostreef.blogspot.com/2013/08/this-do-and-thou-shalt-live.html)


* The Mclaughlin Group: Library, 12/26/2014, The McLaughlin Group, accessed 25 August 2016, http://www.mclaughlin.com/transcript.htm?id=1042 (transcript) and http://www.mclaughlin.com/video.htm?i=1042 (video).



Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Further Note on the Piety of the Religious Internet

A few days ago I left the following comment on Un-Orthodox, a blog by my friend E.D. Watson.  The comment stands well on its own, but you should also read her post for further context: What Does it Mean to Be a Christian? (https://un-orthodox.net/2016/08/21/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-christian/).

My friend, please forgive me for having been inattentive to Un-Orthodox for a few months. It is no slight to you. It is merely that I was paying no heed to any of the blogs or columns in my reader for several months, a deficit I have just recently been trying to remedy. So, while I have not been paying attention to your journey away from or back to or uncertainly in the midst of Orthodoxy or what-have-you, and while I don't know nothing 'bout no Enneagram, let me offer you this.

In accepting an honorary doctorate from the Department of History at the Ionian University in Corfu, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana quoted Ioannis Kamiris: "Not only Christians but also non-Christians, infidels and Gentiles can become ‘fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 3, 6) through the Church to which the Gentiles and heterodox can belong invisibly on the basis of the strength of their own faith and the saving grace granted to them by God."

Now, the Apostle Paul did tell the church of Corinth, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." (I Corinthians 15:19, KJV.) As Christians we do believe in certain supernatural claims. But this is a matter, not just of why anyone who chooses to do so should call himself a Christian: it is also a matter of the hope that Christianity affords, quite regardless of whether this soul or that is cognizant of the hope. I myself have never had any truck with those folk who like to say of this progressive person or that controversial figure, "professing Christian," which of course means by the folk saying that, "not a Christian at all." If a person calls himself a Christian, I have no problem accepting that, and let God judge how worthy a Christian he is. If one does not call himself Christian, let God judge likewise.

His Beatitude's entire set of remarks, by the way, are worth your time. They have been compiled in a three-part series entitled Multi-Faith Europe and Orthodoxy:

http://pemptousia.com/2016/08/multi-faith-europe-and-orthodoxy-part-i/
http://pemptousia.com/2016/08/multi-faith-europe-and-orthodoxy-part-ii/
http://pemptousia.com/2016/08/multi-faith-europe-and-orthodoxy-part-ii%ce%b9/

It grieves me, I confess, something sore to see many fellow Orthodox on the "social media" deriding Islam and other religions (but, let's face the facts, Islam gets the brunt of it these days), arguing with progressive Protestants (who, to be sure, are horribly misguided, but who are also nonetheless incapable from the perspective of their ongoing arguments of caring about any Orthodox rebuttal), and generally condemning all who are not members of a faith most of them only just joined ten seconds ago. Yes, they are (and they don't like it on the rare occasion I point this out) mostly converts. You, however, at least have the advantage as a convert of not being one who pretends she has acquired an Orthodox φρόνημα and must therefore be on a mission to instruct the heretical masses. You know well you and I disagree on a good many things (including, for instance, your misgivings about Orthodox services not addressing contemporary news every Sunday), but at least (and this is no small credit to you), you don't stand in judgment of all who have not yet consciously found the faith you happened to discover—even if, indeed, you are now uncertain of whether to hold onto that discovery.

It is not, as you can readily surmise, the kind of comment that will win one any popularity contests on the zealous Orthodox Internet.  It was also, you should be interested to know, written shortly after I had revisited my January 15 essay A Brief Note on the Piety of the Religious Internet (http://lostreef2.blogspot.com/2016/01/a-brief-note-on-piety-of-religious.html) and after I had asked journalist and Orthodox convert Terry Mattingly whether he would ever respond to that essay or publish the comment I had left on his Web site.  Please consult the essay for the whole story, but the long and the short of it is that Mr. Mattingly was instantaneous to respond to the most perfunctory of criticism from someone at CNN and indeed to alter a post of his in order to satisfy the complaint from a journalist at CNN, and yet he had nothing to say to the commentary of an ordinary nobody and fellow Orthodox Christian and chose not even to approve (and thus make visible) that ordinary nobody's comment on his Web site.

As the confluence of observations from folk who do not know one another would uncannily have it, Oliver Willis recently remarked over on the Twitter:



The club mentality is an age-old human folly.  It is no surprise to observe that it infects the press.  One must nevertheless be troubled to see that the club of secular association and prestige is more important than the "club" of faithful religious affiliation and so more important also than that of human personhood (a club faithful religious affiliation, to be sure, should help one honor one's membership in).  Even indeed at lesser levels than CNN this is so: we all prefer to salute our brethren only and have some rather devilish ways of identifying our brethren.  The issue—and the keys to success and notice on the religious Internet, notice even indeed that one exists—is not whether one shares a church with other believers or whether one has anything intelligent to say: it is principally whether one can be used to advance another's agenda or whether one is significant enough to embarrass another's agenda in any way material to that other person's chosen social sphere (and thus to require a reply).  (So then too we get the many instances of persons with higher social standing responding publicly to idiotic remarks by ordinary zeroes: doing so, that is, for the sole reason that mocking idiotic remarks is an easy means of making oneself look superior and thus reinforcing one's social standing.)  And indeed this transcends the Internet.  Any long-time reader of Lasseter's Lost Reef will know that I have written of experiencing the club mentality in face-to-face relations with fellow believers and pagans alike.  It becomes perhaps a tiresome and certainly a repetitive complaint, but the repetition of course flows from, besides vexation, how age-old and innumerably repeated the folly is.  It gets the iteration here because we are talking about Christians.  Those of us who call ourselves that ought to try to act towards one another as Christians, rather than as card-carrying members of or rejects from our various earthly clubs.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Punchline to a Joke Nobody Understands Anyway

When I was a young boy of about four or five years of age, I told a youthful and harmless joke to a man whom my father was conducting business with one day.  I do not recall what the joke was, but I am sure it was something like, "Why did the man put his car in the oven: because he wanted a hot rod!" or "Why did the boy stick his father in the refrigerator: cos he wanted a cold pop!"  This middle-aged fellow, encouraged by my good humor, then chose to share a joke with me too.  His own quip began, "What's the difference between a pizza and a Jew?"  When he said the punchline, he laughed hysterically, and I, wishing to seem mature, laughed along with him, even though I had no idea what the joke meant.  During that business transaction, by the way, my father was carrying things between his van and the man's garage, and he was not near the van with us at the moment of our hysterics, so I do not think that Dad heard the man tell me his little joke.  As I reflect on it now many years later, I hope indeed that Dad did not overhear.  If he had, he should have scolded the fellow or just plum punched him in his face, I reckon.  For a short while after that day I repeated the joke from time to time, mostly to other children, in some effort to seem a sophisticated adult, before someone who actually was an adult finally explained the horrible meaning of it to me.  And so, after having unwittingly brought shame upon myself for some time, I was made aware of the shame.  A harsh but charitable lesson, to be sure.

This childhood episode came to mind recently after Donald Trump joked about "Second Amendment people" doing something about a President Hillary Clinton Supreme Court nomination (by which Mr. Trump clearly suggested, among other possible interpretations, that something violent be done to a Supreme Court Justice or to the President) and after I read Jason P. Steed's related commentary on the social function of humor.  Zack Beauchamp wrote about it and collected Dr. Steed's remarks on the topic in an article for Vox: Anyone who thinks Trump was "just joking" about shooting Clinton is missing the point (http://www.vox.com/2016/8/9/12417100/donald-trump-assassinate-hillary-clinton-joke), which is worth a moment of your time.  Dr. Steed focuses, and rightly so, on the division that humor brings between in-groups and out-groups, but my own reflection on it calls to mind one further aspect of "just joking," and that is contempt.  As Dr. Steed's tweets note, in such jests there is a crucial aspect of assimilating some listeners and alienating others, but I think in particular that this alienation will often amount to a curse: scorn cast upon the alienated person or group, as indeed the word contempt literally means.  Having a jolly good laugh concerning the murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust is, I should hope, something that the vast majority of my readers will find depraved, but do we not also exhibit lesser degrees of contempt—lesser, that is, than we may exhibit over mass murder or genocide—over a great many things that we regard in our friendly circles as polite or amusing?

Several months ago, I began to do a bit of research and prepare for an article on the panoply of transgender controversies that have taken over some corner of our discourse, but I soon stepped away from this effort in despair flowing from two sources.  For one, to consider the sorrow of those who believe that they inhabit the wrong bodies as well as to consider those whose bodies are morphologically or hormonally ambiguous (which is, in these last two adverbs to say those who are intersex) is to consider an abiding confusion and misery that constitutes no small burden to anyone who seriously thinks about it—and suffering far worse to any who must live through it.  In addition to this, however, one must also in our discourse contend with the callousness of those who oppose some of the initiatives of transgender activism.  I myself do not follow, for example, the popular blogger Matt Walsh on the social media, but many whom I follow in these places do, and so I see his remarks often, and I am reminded of how often he, among others, but surely a salient example, decries with unmitigated contempt that transgender human beings are mentally ill and dangerous: there is no hint of pity to his remarks that I have seen.  And some whom I follow also quite directly themselves use such terms as trannies and so forth in open contempt.  Indeed even those who simply say that transgender persons are mentally ill oversimplify the topic (overlooking, for instance, the intersex physiological abnormalities that contribute to cases of sex reassignment surgery or gender dysphoria) without even going to the trouble of issuing any vulgar pejoratives, as, in any case, too many do issue.

This is all an example—and it is also some indication of, I shall confess, the lull that Lasseter's Lost Reef has again fallen into—of how toxic our discourse is.  Note, by the way, that I say is and not has become.  There is no new thing under the sun, as Solomon would remind us.  We have been rational and callous beasts to one another since time immemorial, and so we are now.  Lasseter's Lost Reef is also, it must be noted, the journal of an Orthodox Christian, and its author thus agrees in full with the dogma of the Orthodox Christian Church.  This therefore entails, for instance, an opposition to any procedures or perspectives that deny the inherent and intended male and female personhood of human beings, but it does not entail having no sympathy with those who struggle in their sexual identities or with those who have been marred by physiological abnormalities that make a clear male or female identity a great strain or perhaps an impossibility for them in this life.  These are not matters to make stupid jokes about, and this leads to the main purpose and merciful conclusion of this brief essay.

When we ridicule those who suffer (as Mr. Walsh, for instance, seems to take no small delight in)—and even when we ridicule those who are so ingenuous or materialistically rational and enslaved to the times to such an extent that they honestly advocate for evil ends that seem in their dim view to be fair—are we not telling them, as Dr. Steed would point out (although of course I cannot pretend he would agree with the Orthodox view of this commentary) that they are members of the out group?  And, if we are, then to whom are we speaking?  Our in group?  Well, what good does that do any of us?  We are too often, it seems to this humble author, arguing for some dim hope of agreement from those who dimly agree with us while simultaneously arguing for the ongoing antagonism of those who disagree and in at least some significant number of cases whom we give no reason or chance to do otherwise.  To be sure, a good many of the souls who do not share our views will reject those views or us personally outright for the mere superficial appearance of disagreement—a too typical human foible—but in merely ridiculing them as reprobate and haw-hawing about it among ourselves, which is to say, in not simply putting the argument to them plainly and then letting them be charitable or contemptuous towards it without our inviting the latter, what are we accomplishing?  What other, that is, than a disgusting punchline to a joke that some dumb kid doesn't even really understand?



Sunday, July 24, 2016

The wisps of smoke from Fuji yield to the wind

title
Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797–1858)
The Poet Saigyo’s Hut at Shigitatsu March in Oiso
from Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido series, 1855


No smoke arose from Mount Fuji now, and I wondered what the poet Saigyō had seen yielding to the wind.

Poem 1613 of the Shinkokinshū: "The wisps of smoke from Fuji yield to the wind and lose themselves in the sky, in emptiness—where go the aimless passions too that through my life burned deep inside." Translated by William LaFleur.

Karen Brazell, trans., The Confessions of Lady Nijō [Towazugatari]
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1973), 184, 280 note 5.



title
ILLUSTRATED SCROLLS OF STORIES ON SAIGYO (Saigyo Monogatari Emaki, vol 4), detail, by Tawaraya Sōtatsu. Calligraphy by Karasumaru Mitsuhiro, dated 1630, 33.5 x 1874.8 cm. Important Cultural Property.



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Holy and Unholy Masters and Advocates




Parents and children, as well as their rights, are not just moral axioms or servants-by-nature to them, and proper legal argument that can accomplish anything more compelling than hifalutin chitty-chat is not something you do by just quoting a code section, United Nations resolution, or Wikipedia article.  The whole thing calls to mind a phenomenon that has become especially pronounced in human affairs and that of course plagues the World Wide Internet: people very often talk with vain authority about subjects they know little about, and they typically do so with a falsely scientific approach to proving their claims, aided in no small measure by the deception that human reason alone (or at least far above all else), sometimes wielded upon some research or experimentation, governs the logic that leads to truth.  So, within Christianity for instance, we wind up with such things as trying to demonstrate by scholarship and argument the historicity of the Resurrection of Christ, which is a matter crucial to Christian dogma, or "science" that is employed to prove interpretations of Holy Scripture that are of no dogmatic importance whatsoever, and in the larger world of matters important to Christians but also everyone else we get, for example, such absurdities as research that "reveals" that children whose homes are intellectually impoverished or whose schools educate them poorly don't turn out to be as smart or, gee whiz, well-educated as those who are taught well or raised intelligently.  And here I thought that this "research" had been adequately conducted, oh, a few thousand years ago and consistently affirmed ever since, but leave it to the modern scientific mind to reveal the truth to people who are, no doubt, unable to figure it out in any useful way by such unscientific means as normal experience and long-standing and proven tradition.  In reality, no one—and I mean absolutely no one—has a life governed by reason, and very few believe what they believe for the reasons they will give, if asked.

What can I say?  I loves me some Twitter hijinks.


Nobody knows as much as he thinks he does, and to whatever extent anyone bases a decision on facts, the facts are always incomplete.  For example, when I was in the ninth grade, I had problems with my music teacher, the late William Appling, and it ended in unfortunate results, largely on account of poor information and my pretty much complete ignorance of my ignorance.  My parents wound up coming to the little boarding school I attended, so that they and Mr. Appling and I could deal with the problems, which flowed from incidents in Music Theory and Piano.  In the Music Theory class one day, Mr. Appling said of a piece we were analyzing, "It just doesn't sound intelligent," and I then steered the class into a lengthy discussion about whether music could be classified as intelligent or objectively evaluated in any substantially similar way.  My position (of which I would some time later repent) was that it could not.  In my piano lessons, I suffered from having been a product of inept teaching prior to beginning with Mr. Appliing.  I had a bit of talent (he would not have struggled with me as he did, if he had regarded me as hopeless), but, alas, my prior teacher of several years had been a perfectly charming and kind-hearted woman who gave lessons out of her living room and was utterly incompetent to teach piano in any serious way.  Faced with my poor sight-reading ability and piecemeal approach to the musical score, Mr. Appling, God bless his sweet departed soul, got on all fours in his studio one day and proclaimed, "You're crawling!  I want you to stand up and walk!"  I, of course, was an impenetrable fortress of the youthful arrogance of notable gifts combined with lousy education.  A stubborn little brilliant twit I was, and these two matters, intelligent music and sight-reading technique, were going to make or break my studies with William Appling.

A brilliant little twit of a lawyer I was too, as I displayed some of the more unseemly tendencies of my future profession at that conference with Mr. Appling and my parents.  It was no mean distance my parents had been called to attend that meeting (and, I shall permit myself to mention in passing, no small inconvenience to them for reasons that would soon spell the end of our family), and he fought with me about the whole business.  The man cared.  If you drop music, he asked, what's next?  Algebra?  Biology?  I, the little arrogant barrister, responded without missing a beat, That's absurd!  Algebra and Biology are required courses.  Music is an elective.  I couldn't drop Algebra or Biology if I wanted to, but I have a choice with Music!  So, after some bizarre combination of bickering and complacency, I was given "permission" by my parents, and I dropped the music classes.  A year-and-a-half later, amidst other troubles, I dropped out of prep school.  A few months after that I dropped out of school altogether.  I may be an educated man now, but I was a truant back then (and I have the lack of a high school diploma to prove it).  The logic of my argument to drop the music classes had been unassailably reasonable.  It had also been wrong.  In ways that very likely even he had not realized, Mr. Appling had been right on all counts.

The man got hosed pretty badly himself, and he wound up leaving that dung heap of a private school several months before I did, forced out in some way that trickled down to the student body in unseemly tales of an administration that everyone already knew well was heartless and rife with corruption.  After having served some twenty-five years he, along with his assistant, was suddenly gone.  His students wore black turtlenecks (a fashion the man himself perpetually wore) in quiet protest.  I think they did it one day a week for about a year afterwards.  I did not take part in the protest myself, but not long after some of my own further trials, and after I too was gone from that place, I came to look back upon the man with some warmth and admiration.  I regret that I did not take the benefit of his considerable abilities as a musician and teacher.  As we say in Orthodox prayers for the departed, May his memory be eternal.

Nobody knows as much as he thinks he does, and, when one bases a decision on the facts, the facts one knows are always incomplete, so what are we left with?  "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them," David Hume famously wrote in his Treatise on Human Nature.  (T 2.3.3 415.)  One may have atrocious or marvelous parents, or one may have brilliant teachers or attend a corrupt academy (whose corruption, no doubt, will readily see brilliant teachers discarded—as well as promising students), and who can know why the Lord in His infinite Wisdom plants a soul in this family or that, allows one to move through this corrupting or that edifying set of circumstances?  All the while, we reason in service to the masters of our experiences and our motives.  We don't know all the facts, but we are part of larger traditions of factual knowledge and wisdom derived from it, and there is also something of God-given intuition—that is, the voice that talks to us when things are terribly wrong, a voice we can easily defy or reason away, of course, in service to our unholy masters.  As a certain prophet famously reminds us, Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord (Isaiah 1:18, KJV), but thus it is said to a people who eschew reason, and, what is as important or more so, the Lord's reason is able to take into account everything, whereas the rational faculties of man can perceive only an infinitesimally smaller body of knowledge.  So we must rely on our God-given faculties, our Divinely permitted circumstances, and the earthly stewards we wind up with over our lives.  Pray, then, that they are good ones—innate gifts, circumstances, and masters.  If they are not, then, Lord, have mercy! may you have an Advocate to heal the heart they have broken and to free you from your captivity.





William Appling
3 November 1932 - 29 August 2008

You can find a nice biography of Mr. Appling here:
http://www.muzen.com/williamapplingbio.html



Originally published as part of a larger article on Lasseter's Lost Reef on 30 September 2013