Monday, October 17, 2016

God in the Old Testament

Fr. Lev Gillet, an Orthodox monk
Among those who wrongly reject God, it seems that there are many who do so for the right reasons - no god but a loving, just god is worthy of our adoration. They simply fail to see such a god in the Old Testament. But to look for Him through a literal reading is often like trying to find the root of a plant without looking beneath the earth.

"God is a devouring fire. But what kind of fire? A fire of anger, of punishment, of destruction, of vengeance? Certain passages in the Bible seem to tend towards this interpretation, but they are anthropomorphisms; they are human - excessively human - figures of speech. The whole of the great spiritual tradition of Christianity - that of the New Testament, of the Fathers of the Church, of the saints - sees in this divine fire, in the fire of the Burning Bush, in the fire which seems to have a passion for self-communication, the incandescent charity of the Lord, the incandescence indeed of his love."

- Fr. Lev Gillet

Friday, October 14, 2016

Reflections on Millennials After an Annoying Exchange With a Student

On one extreme, some self-righteously judge this generation as if they'd necessarily behave differently if they were born into it. On the other extreme, some overlook the serious problems of this generation for fear of being seen as old and out of touch.

I want to avoid both extremes. In many ways, America's future seems bleak because of this generation. However, I've long said that, since every generation is influenced by the one preceding it, older generations bear some of the responsibility for everything we judge about the Millennials. In most cases, a child who is narcissistic, materialistic, and disrespectful has similarly awful parents. What is true of individuals is, I think, true of generations.

So, here's my advice to fellow non-Millennials: Yes, let's humble ourselves. However, let's also recognize that we're totally doomed (okay, I was being semi-facetious with the last statement).

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Monasticism and Escapism

I was recently asked the following concerning monks: Isn’t the monastic life simply a form of escapism? Isn’t it better to be in "the world" and overcome, rather than hide from, its many temptations? While these seem to be reasonable questions, I’ve come to believe that it is the world that is guilty of escapism. It has escaped reality – the reality of life’s purpose; the reality of mortality. I'm more guilty of this than anyone else. All the time, I catch myself living as if my existence is limited to my earthly life; this is reflected in how I spend my leisure time, and in the trivial things that I value. Nuns and monks are merely heeding the Christian call to deny themselves (Matt 16:24), to pray ceaselessly (1 Thess 5:16), to renounce possessions (Luke 14:33), and so on. Such pursuits are anathema to a world that has separated itself from true life.

Friday, September 23, 2016

7 Facts Concerning the Tragic Death of Terence Crutcher (Updated)

1.) Terrence Crutcher abandoned his SUV while it was running.  According to a 911 caller, he believed that it was "gonna blow up."  The car did not seem to give any indication that it was going to explode, which lends credence to the caller's suspicion that he was, indeed, "smoking something".  As we'll see further below (see # 4), there is an additional reason to believe that drugs may have played a role in his apparently bizarre behavior.

2.) According to Officer Shelby, Crutcher was refusing commands. This is a credible claim; if officers have their guns aimed at him, it means that they perceive him (rightly or wrongly) as a serious potential threat, and thus they'd presumably want him to remain in place (as opposed to returning to his SUV). Consider, also, comments from officers in the chopper who were observing the event from above: "He's got his hands up" "This guy's still walking." These imply that he refused earlier commands to put his hands up and stop walking.

3.) According to an officer in the chopper, Crutcher looked like a "bad dude". This is a pretty dumb comment, as it invites the charge of racism. That said, if he was in fact refusing commands, he was certainly acting like a "bad dude".

4.) PCP was reportedly discovered in Crutcher's car. This doesn't necessarily prove that he was intoxicated at the moment (the toxicology report hasn't been released yet). However, his apparently uncooperative behavior (see # 1) suggests that he might have been.

5.) There's disagreement on whether Crutcher's window was rolled up at the time. One attorney presented an enlarged photo appearing to show that the window was up and smeared with blood. A source in the Tulsa PD says that it was at least partially rolled down. Either way, what I believe really matters is whether Shelby had a reason to suspect that it was rolled down (it's possible that she couldn't have known for sure, given where she was standing).

6.) Crutcher did not seem to have his hands up at the moment before the tasing and shooting (watch the full video for yourself). It's unfortunate that we're led to believe that he did.

7.) Officer Shelby reportedly has a "history of drug abuse, domestic disturbances." The drug part is utterly irrelevant (she smoked pot twice, apparently). However, she and an ex-boyfriend filed restraining orders against one other (which were later dropped). She also had a protective order filed against her by her ex-husband's new wife (which was denied), as well as two excessive force complaints (which were held to be unfounded).

My conclusion: Shelby is a possibly unstable officer who, at the very worst, exaggerated the threat posed by an apparently uncooperative man whose identity as an African-American has not been proven to be relevant, despite the media's thirst for sensationalism. "That may be why the charge is only manslaughter," a friend of mine remarked after I expressed these thoughts.  However, my concern is not with the legal charge, but with the "public charge" leveled on her.  Incidents like the shooting death of Walter Scott are obvious cases of police abuse; this one isn't as clear-cut.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Overrated Auroville: Critical Reflections on an Experimental Community in India

This morning, I came across a video praising a township in India that "lives without politics, religion, and money."  Although I admire the town's economic philosophy, the video overlooks some serious reported problems with the Auroville experiment.  A writer for Slate argues that, despite "innovative stuff" happening there, there is a "limited supply of water, an unsustainable economy, tangles of bureaucracy, secreted money, and no way to keep record of it all."  Even more disturbing is a BBC report on allegations of sexual exploitation of children.  Says one local, "They are allowed to get away with whatever they like, including paying our children to have sex with them, and we are powerless to complain."

But it's not just crime, corruption, and pedophilia that concerns me about this aspiring utopia.  There are also problems with the concept of a "religion free" community.  It seems to me that such a community (at least one that allows for procreation) is an oxymoron. Those born into it will eventually ponder the "big questions".  Some will conclude, on the assumption which is so characteristic of modern society that anything that transcends human comprehension must be false, that all religions are nonsense.  Others will humbly reject this arrogant assumption and may be drawn to a particular religion.  The latter will not experience the community into which they were born as free, but to some extent as repressive.  They will recognize that a "religion free" community is as absurd as one that is "meaning free", "peace free", "happiness free", and "freedom free".  Of course, I am not aware of the extent to which religion is discouraged in this community.  However, a place that explicitly markets itself as being "above all creeds" doesn't appear to be a very hospitable place for sincere religious seekers.