20110304 Lent, News, and Evangelizing Moral Therapeutic Deists

The USB Symbol: a Sign of 
Ukrainian Orthodoxy’s

Global Influence!!!

Shownotes for 20110221


Lenten Epistle of the Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops beyond the Borders of Ukraine

[Musical Interlude is the Lenten Prokimen “Turn not away Thy Face”, available here by St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in San Anselmo, CA.]

Mail Call:
Question from a new reader/listener:  Why doesn’t God answer our prayers?  Does He only answer if the prayer is in accord to His will? 

First, an aside.  When we speak of God answering prayers, it is very difficult not to anthropomorphize and judge the God who is beyond being and the source of all goodness.

Now let me take a swag at this:

It easier to answer this in the negative (apathetically) than it is in the positive.  Orthodoxy is not part of the “name it and claim it” camp (prosperity Gospel is one manifestation of this nonsense), nor is it the case that our degree of saintliness grants special powers (i.e. we don’t believe that if we were better then God really would give us what we wanted).  There is a connection between holiness and what looks like the granting of prayer requests, but it is not automatic.  And yes, I suspect that part of the correlation comes from what you suggest: holy people live according to God’s will and thus work well within His parameters.  Part of it though really is that “the prayers of the righteous availeth much”!

But there is another answer that provides the deeper answer.  The sorts of things that we mean WRT this question are not the selfish sorts of things that the vain ask, but regard the alleviation of suffering (and generally the amelioration of the terrible things that result when a world “groans in sin”).  And as you know, that is the complete purpose of Christ’s ministry, incarnation, passion, and resurrection!  So in this time where the restoration of creation is incomplete, He comforts and sustains us.  But He has also solved the very problem we want Him to: the alleviation of suffering!  So we are like the boy with his arm in a cast, hates the itching and inconvenience, then wonders why the doctor is not doing anything to heal his arm.

But in the meantime, we ask for His comfort, His strength to endure, and thank Him for granting the greatest solution to our pain.

Question:  Do you really think that the problem with single women is that they are [like the article describes]?  What about the men?  
No, that is part of the problem, but only 1/3 of the difficulty.  Another third is with the “men”.  Another third is with the attitude our culture has about marriage.  Sorry I wan’t clear on that!

Question:  How do you (or actually your Pani Matushka) deal with fasting and the family?  I assume your young children don’t fast.

Orthodoxy is all about balance, even the balance of seemingly incompatible things (Three and One, God and Man – you get the picture!).  Alas, while God is both Three and One, it is hard for us to both fast strictly and relax the fast. 

I will give you the same general advice we were given: we go through seasons. I can honestly tell you that it is a greater challenge to eat things we don’t want to (our of charity to others) than it is to strictly follow the fast.  When we approach it that way (as a different sort of asceticism), then it  helps some with maintaining the ascetic intensity level.

As for specific advice:  Pani Tina usually lets me fix my own meals during Great Lent.  That takes something off her plate (so to speak) and allows me to prepare for services and the like the way I want.  As for the “family” meals, she makes a vegan entree or two (e.g. some sort of vegetables and some noodles/rice) then an extra one for the non-fasters.  Like I said, while she isn’t always comfortable with it, she allows me to pick from the entrees and/or fix something myself.  Men are funny sometimes and need to indulged a bit. 🙂 

Question:  Why do you spend so much time on the news?
This was one of the most effective things I did as an intelligence analyst/advisor for the war in Afghanistan.  Now, I pray that the same approach will be useful for the spiritual war for your soul.  Through showing how an intelligence analyst deals with news, I was able to both keep commanders informed and teach junior analysts how the world works and how to use that knowledge to understand and frame events.  I hope to do the same for you, but as an Orthodox Christian and with regard to deeper reality.  Plus it’s fun!

Remember: you can e-mail me at father.anthony@yahoo.com or call and leave a voice mail at 401-405-116!

News from the Sartyr’s Trident (was the Onion Dome)

  • From Fr. Vasyly: “‘Is outrage!  You cannot compare the truly granted independence of the ROCOR from the Patriarch of the Third Rome to that of the Ukrainian Autocephalists!  The one was granted by a saint, and the other was claimed through the use of a saint’s dead hand!  Of course we are ambivalent about that of the OCA as we cannot accept – except by extreme charity – any of the actions of the Orthodox Church of the KGB in 1970.  ‘Is outrage!”
  • From Fr. Mykola  “This is incredible!  You cannot compare the autocephaly of the UAOC – which was done in economia because of the lack of reasonable alternatives – to the autocephaly granted to the OCA by the godless communists.  The case of that ceded to the remnants of the Russian tsarist empire in exile by Patriarch Tikhon would be comparable, were it not for the complete lack of canonicity of the entire Moscow Patriarchate!”
  • [This is not funny – so why is this good satire?  People who have learned about autocephaly from the publications of the OCA will have a hard time accepting the comparisons.  To them, the OCA’s autocephaly seems natural and right.  But others doubt it.  Why?  Does it matter that it is not “fair”?  As a saintly mentor used to say of such things; “Where is Christ in all of this?”  The point I was making was how pride is bolstered by our own propaganda.  The leaders of the UOC-USA and the ROCOR were able to overcome this, empty themselves, and guide their flocks for the sake of Orthodox unity.  May God grant the leaders – and flock – of the OCA this same strength and humility!  While I’ve got you – please let me apologize for making a joke out of waterboarding – I was not condoning torture.  Torture is impermissible on both moral and practical grounds.]

Paranormal News

  • Ray Villard of Discover News thinks that finding ET would pose a special problem for Christians because 1)  according to Genesis “the entire universe is cursed because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve.   [An alien] might not take too kindly to this idea; and 2) “the essence of Christianity is redemption through God’s sacrifice of his only son.  Because aliens are not descended from Adam and Eve must they be separately saved too?  Or did they pass the Apple Test?”  Of course, we spent several episodes on this, but just to remind you, an Orthodox Christian response replies by pointing out the universal character of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, affirming the point that the Orthodox revelation is anthropocentric (we have no revelation for angels or aliens – the Truth is universal, but it is framed for us as humans), and, most importantly, TRUST IN GOD.  That is why we don’t worry about the challenges the future brings: we trust God, His Love, and His Truth.
  • Sometimes prelest can be comforting.  But it is still a lie.  Dr. Elisa Medhus lost her 20 year old son Erik to suicide.  Now she is compiling and publishing all the wonderful things that he is sharing with her through mediums and psychics from beyond the grave. You shouldn’t be surprised that the resulting insights are pablum.  Last week I praised Huffington Post’s willingness to print so many articles on religion.  The downside is that some of it – like this – is diabolical (but Orthodox Peace Fellowship leader Eric Simpson is really on a roll: his essay on unconditional mercy is wonderful!).
Science News
  •  The Living Hell approaches:  Michael Chorost’s new book “World Wide Mind:  The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet” says that two developments will lead to a kind of global “hive mind”: increased individual connection to the internet, and their increased connection to computers.  As he writes: “If human minds could work directly with the Internet, two grand unifications could happen at once. First, humans would become more closely connected with each other. …we would have entirely new ways to sense each others’ presence, moods and needs… Second, humanity and its tool, the Internet, would become a single organism with entirely new powers. Not just a mere hybrid, but a new species in its own right.”  This article attempts to diminish our fear by pointing to our concerns about the telegraph and telephones, but it is interesting how the telegraph had strong occult connections.  Regardless, a “hive mind” would be an icon of hell – a mockery of the unity that is offered through Jesus Christ.  Expect the exponential and unpredictable growth of wickedness to ensue.  
  • We really need to get a hold on the moral implications of certain technologies.  
    • In this interview, Ben Goertzel interviews researcher Alexandra Elbakyan on brain-machine interfaces, distributed intelligence, and the consciousness singularity.  After arguing that there are thought processes and perceptions that occur below our notice, she describes how implanted computer chips could be used to augment our consciousness: “we can (I hope) develop a chip that would “contain” visual qualia. Being connected to the brain, such chip will feel like a third eye, expanding our visual field to include pictures from the connected camera. This camera can be attached to one’s back — providing a 360-degree panoramic worldview — or it may be connected to the Internet and project to the consciousness pictures from remote places. And implants with visual qualia will surely be helpful for blind persons, too.  But visual consciousness is by no means the only modality of consciousness: there are also sounds, smells, thoughts, and so on, and every modality is unique, very different from all others. Probably, within a chip we can even engineer absolutely new kinds of conscious modalities — but how is it possible to imagine what these modalities will feel like?”   
    • And when it comes to the collective consciousness that comes from through technological telepathy, she imagines three options for how that would feel; “First of all, there’s “Borg-like” consciousness. This will feel like our experience, knowledge, and worldview have been tremendously expanded. We will have access to one another’s memories, feelings, and expertise, and therefore will be able to think more broadly, make better decisions, and generate better ideas.  Then there’s what I call “Background” consciousness. In this option, we will experience several simultaneous streams of consciousness, but these streams won’t influence each other in any way. We will be aware of several contradictory viewpoints (coming from different brains) at the same time, but still won’t be able to make decisions or generate ideas that take into account each of the viewpoints (unless connected people will discuss with each other, of course).  Finally – and most excitingly – there’s “Emergent” or “higher-level” consciousness. This one comes out of the idea that a group of people may itself constitute some kind of an organism. Just like biological cells, collected together, constitute a human being with higher levels of intelligence and consciousness than possessed by any individual cell, similarly a group of people can constitute yet another kind of being, that is capable of its own thinking and experience.  Actually, recent research has shown that collective intelligence within a group of people is actually present and irreducible to the intelligence of individual group members — this IQ arises from interactions between them. It is very possible that collective consciousness arises when people are brought together, too — and we may potentially experience this higher level of consciousness by physically connecting our brains through BMI (brain-machine interfacing)…”  
    • And on how this will grant defacto immortality; “If new technologies will enable us to somehow rise to this higher level of (emergent) consciousness, then we’ll ultimately become not only much more free, but essentially immortal, as a bonus. We will live as long as society exists. Just like replacing individual neurons in our brain doesn’t affect our existence as a whole, similarly we won’t be affected by the mortality of individuals anymore.”  
    • And on the moral implications of this development; “Yes – and if you think about it, the Consciousness Singularity, is indeed the ultimate liberation of the immortal human soul… In our present state, as relatively individualized minds, our freedom is greatly constrained by the society we live in. Engaging in social interactions always applies some constraints on our freedom, often very significant ones. Belonging to society makes us obey various laws and traditions — for example, not too long ago every woman had to be a housewife, and alternate careers were prohibited. Most women had nothing to do but submit to the constraint. However, the society itself as a whole was still “thinking” — in form of political debates and revolutions — on the topic of women rights, and finally got to the conclusion that set the women free. You see, individual women were not free to decide their career for themselves, due to social pressure; but society as a whole is free to think and make decisions on what it would want to look like. Hence, emergent consciousness has more freedom because it has nobody else around to set rules and constraints.”
    • But cheer up – this will take a few years, and we’ll likely run out of food by then anyways
  • Malcolm MacIver, a scientist who is active in the singularity discussions, makes a good point: the obsession regarding transhumanism results in large part from secularists creating an opportunity to talk publicly about things that used to be talked about in religious fora.  It gives them the chance to explore subjects like death, the afterlife, and personal identity using their chosen worldview.  I think he’s right about that; but the answers would be more accurate if they did it where the answers really reside.  Until then, we need to make sure we do what we can to help.

Crunchy Culture News

  • Part of being crunchy con is developing a closer and healthier relationship with creation.  Another part involves personal and collective responsibility.  This sense of responsibility (and our society’s rejection of it) is a frequent source of commentary here on OrthoAnalytika.  You don’t have to agree with my conclusions, but I think that all Christians have to agree that we need to be more intentional, especially when it comes to fiscal responsibility.  We lost our minds when it came to credit card debt; we lost our minds when it came to the housing boom; and we have lost our minds when it comes to our public debt.  What should be do about it?
    • Diana Butler Bass thinks that the social gospel trumps fiscal responsibility, pitting Scott Walker’s (Governor, Wisconsin) faith-based commitment to balanced budgets now and in the future against the pressure and opinions of Roman Catholic authority and the mainline social justice tradition.  I like the way she juxtaposes the idea of sole competence against the idea of deference to religious authority, but she goes to far when she condemns Walker (and President GW Bush) for having convictions.  If she is right and people decide they don’t like what he does, then his career will last as long as another committed politician’s did: Edmund Burke’s career was cut short by the unpopularity of his idealism.  Democracy is designed for this.
    •  Brian D. McLaren is right; “Budgets are Still Moral Documents.  Jim Wallis of “Sojourners” has started a campaign called “What would Jesus Cut“.  They admit that “living within our means is a financial necessity, and long-term deficit spending is stupid and short sighted.” So the question for them is, “what is moral to cut?”  The answer is that we should simply “increase taxes on things we want less of” and “reduce taxes on what we want more of”.  I like this idea, but think that I would probably implement it differently than Bass et al would prefer.  First, they did not say “spend money on all the the things we want more of”.  We have to keep in mind that any money spent doing good makes things better than they would have been were nothing spent – the comparison is doing nothing, not doing everything the situation seems to warrant.  Second, I would look deeper than them: they would tax the rich to remove inequality (make the rich poorer and make the poor richer) whereas I would balance a desire to help the needy with a recognition that this may require inequalities.  Moreover, they cite Eisenhower’s warning about the growing influence of the military-industrial complex.  I think they should go further: the growth of every governmental bureaucracy carries enormous costs and risks.
    • House Speaker John Boehner also called for “moral responsibility” to reign in the federal debt.  He points of the trade-off between current sacrifices and future pain.  We have commited a grave sin is satisfying ourselves at the cost of future generations.  I’m old fashion on this: austerity may not seem as efficient as playing games with money, but it will really help bring healing (and not just because pain is correlated with the feeling of absolution).
    • The Democratic Mayor of Providence – a former RINO Republican Senator fired all the public teachers.  Is this to break the back of the union?  Or is he trying to solve a difficult problem with the limited tools available?  What do you expect public education to look like 10 years from now?  Public services?  Health care?  Regardless, there will be an increased need for family and community autarky.  Our parishes have to be ready to take up the slack.  We can do this by focuses on Christ and getting our affairs in order.  Ditto for our family life.
  • While I’m not a fan of bureaucracy (or of politicians who don’t recognize its inherent costs), I like what the First Lady has been doing: using her popularity to take on obesity.  It’s obviously political pandering that leads anyone to oppose this (e.g. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rush Limbaugh).  I even like it when she talks about the benefits of breast feeding.  Kudos to Republicans Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie for supporting her efforts.  When you look at how we treat our children, is there really any doubt that this world is in desperate need of healing and salvation?
  • There’s no need to take Lithium to lengthen your life.  Exercise can keep you young (if you’re a mouse)!
  • And I’m not the only one in love with non-hydrogenated, cold-pressed coconut oil.  So is the New York Times!
  • The U.S. government is no longer going to enforce the law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

    Religious News

    • Last show we talked about how Scientology points to the need to be discerning when it comes to religion (they are not all the same, even on a secular level!).  Now we have news that the “Guru’s trial over Arizona sweat lodge deaths starts“.  I’m afraid the real trial will involve dealing with the spiritual damage these nutcases and charlatans do.  
    • In a related story, I have talked about Hancock’s books “Supernatural” and “Entangled”.  I recently listened to a FutureQuake podcast where they interviewed Adam Elenbaas, the author of “Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest“.  Lord have mercy.  He joins others in basing a theology on drug-induced visions.  Parmacia was condemned by God in Old Testament times, a ban that remains in effect.  This is because it leads, at best, to delusion and, at worst, to interactions with the enemies and forces of the air (Ephesians 6:12).  
    • Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission completes its work.  Their “work” requires anonymity for major decisions, so by “completes its work” should not be construed as meaning anything actually got done. Among important things that still remain undecided is how churches become autocephalous.  This makes the Chambesy Process problematic and may lead some parties away from committing to it.  Given the size of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s dominance here in the United States, the transitory step for us will probably be the autonomy of our “Council of Bishops” under it.  People who don’t like this will be hesitant unless there is a reasonable expectation that such a status would be a temporary step to full autocephaly.  But given the importance of the GOARCH to the EP and the lack of clear rules regarding the granting of autocephaly, does such an expectation exist?  Personally, I think being an autonomous Church of the EP would be just fine for quite a while.  After all, it will take some time for us to really developing the sort of institutions that would make autocephaly beneficial to anything but our pride.
    • Metropolitan Kallistos Ware did a GREAT interview with John Maddex on Ancient Faith Radio.  Subjects covered included the state of Orthodoxy in Europe, the existence of grace outside the canonical bounds of the Orthodox Church, the ordination of women, and same-sex marriage.  Wow.
    • Presvatera and Dr. Jeannie Constantinou talks about the witch of Endor in Part 3 of her discussion of Saul and David.  Her Bible study is EXCELLENT, and the earlier episodes on the Passion of Our Lord are a fantastic way to prepare for His Pascha.  Her point about Saul’s encounter with the witch is wonderful: she uses St. Augustine to sidestep the whole discussion of “was it really Saul” to make the point that we should not mess with spirits and that we NEVER to trust what they or their mediums say (even when their words are factually “true”).
    • Scientists have found that the “Benefit of Religion is Limited to Fervent Believers.  People with less commitment “are actually less happy than those who do not ascribe to any religion”.  This was based on a large sample.  This coverage of the article claims that it is because luke-warm believers don’t get the placebo effect because they suspect it is a placebo.  I think it’s because God is vomiting them out of his mouth (Revelation 3:16).  Check out the condescending way the article ends; “The bottom line for churchgoers: If your faith is strong and you take comfort in being part of a community of like-minded people, you’re probably doing yourself some good. On the other hand, if you’re standing in a large, drafty building listening to a message that doesn’t really resonate, it might be best to respectfully take your leave.”  Social scientists are occasionally good at finding meaningful correlations, but, at least when it comes to religion, they are awful when it comes to the mechanism.

    Security News

    • The case of Raymond Davis keeps getting more and more interesting.  People see what they want to see in it, which is made all the easier by the fact that all such things are covered by both the “fog of war” and lots of disinformation.  My advice?  Don’t trust reports allegedly leaked by Russian Intelligence, no matter what they says.  Within the last few weeks, “researchers” have used such manufactured intelligence to claim that we had discovered a Vimana in Afghanistan (wasn’t that the plot of Daniel Myrick’s 2008 movie “The Objective”?!) and that we are supplying Al-Qaeda with WMD.  While it is certainly the case that our government has been a bit “proactive” in getting the drop on terrorists (some US operations look more like setups than real investigations and the mistakes made in drone attacks and the like are nothing short of wicked), that does not mean that our intell efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan are “false flag” conspiracies.  Trust someone who knows, there is more than enough wickedness already there for us to waste time manufacturing our own.
    • The division between information operations (designed to shape the battlefield) and public affairs (designed to develop trust and share news about what is going on) has always been a bit strange.  But who what kind of idiot attempts to use psy-op warriors in a war zone to influence visiting senators to provide more troops and funding for the war”?!   LTG William Caldwell, someone tasked with training Afghan troops, seems to fit the bill.  The good news is that they were probably about as effective on our own government as it has been on the Taliban (which is to say, not so much).
    • Speaking of ugliness in Pakistan, on the heels of the assassination of liberal politician Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province, comes the assassination of the only Christian member of Pakistan’s government, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister of Religious Minorities (3/1/11).  Both were killed for their opposition to the blasphemy laws, laws that are popular among conservative Muslims in Pakistan.  The Pakistani Taliban Movement in Punjab claimed responsibility.  Some Muslim leaders (and conspiracy-minded folks here in the USA, no doubt) still blame it on the CIA.
    • But wait, there’s more!  “A founding patron of the Taliban in Afghanistan [Brig. Sultan “Imam” Amir] died in the hands of a younger generation of militants in the tribal badlands of Pakistan in the last few days, a victim of the vicious forces he helped create, Pakistani officials said Monday.” This is the second hit the notorious “shadow ISI” has taken in the last couple of weeks (Gen. Naseerullah Babar did of old age a couple weeks ago).  Hamid Gul is still up to his usual nonsense, though.
    • And more!  Just in case you think that the Pakistan military is in league with the Taliban, let me remind you that this nuclear equipped military is dealing with an insurgency itself – and it’s more that just assassinations. I don’t know if you heard about this, but about a month ago (2/10/11) a 15 year old boy walked into the parade ground of a major military training school in northwest Pakistan and blew himself up, killing 27 cadets.
    • Given the faith people have in “COIN Doctrine” I could have put this one in the “Religion” section.  Bing West has written a powerful book (The Wrong War) – based in large part on his own experiences on the front lines in Afghanistan – on why this religion is failing to deliver the goods.  It assumes that if you treat people well, they will appreciate your efforts and start to do the same to you and one another.  But that isn’t happening in Afghanistan.  We spend money and lives while “the Afghans by and large stand by and do nothing to help.”  We have increased our investment in Afghanistan but are seeing no increase in return.  Remind me again why we didn’t keep our commitment and expectations low? [but there is some evidence that our “surge” is having an effect: some Taliban commanders are worn out, something that may be leading to tensions between them and their leaders in Pakistan.  These vertical tensions come at a time when NATO intelligence suggests there is discord among the top Taliban shura in Quetta.  Lt. Gen. Rodriguez thinks that we can succeed even if Pakistan isn’t able to control militants along the border with Afghanistan.]
    • But even if we mess it up, the Knights of Malta will still continue the crusade [sic].  Seymour Hersh is being ridiculed for describing the ties between U.S. Joint Special Forces Operations Command and the Knights of Malta.  I like Hersh – he is just sharing (and exaggerating; what does it mean to “support the Knights of Malta”?) the data and what it might mean.  Just google Boykin and Malta or Boykin and jihad or crusade to get a sense of what that story looks like.  I don’t think there is any conspiracy here, any more than I do that the Apollo 11 lunar astronauts were Freemasons; but group membership IS an indicator of motive, worldview, and preferences.
    • And in case you think that Islamist violence is confined to Afghanistan and the Middle East:  a Frankfurt Airport employee murdered two U.S. airmen and injured two others.  Early reports did not say much about the circumstances of the attack, but multiple reports now describe the murderer’s devotion to Islam.  Eyewitnesses describe him as having yelled “Allah uakbar” as he shot.
    Vol’ya Moment

    On evangelizing Moral Therapeutic Deists in the midst of their “Emerging Adulthood“.  Are the Next Christians to be celebrated, scolded, or ignored?