Thursday, June 21, 2012

Intervene? In a Word: NO

It is truly disappointing when commentators and experts (I use that term sparingly and only for those who I feel deserve the label) I usually enjoy reading and respect come out with an opinion that runs counter to my own. Lately, it is over the Syria crisis that I've found my latest disappointment. Conrad Black, a former British Parliamentarian and respected authority on matters of state and politics, and Clifford D. May, the head of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, have both recently come out in favor of US military intervention in Syria to unseat Bashar al-Assad. Both openly advocated direct military action to rid the country of a man they describe as a brutal dictator and to install "democracy" in Syria.

Here's my question: Have they learned nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan?

Truth be told, I supported (and still support) the action in Afghanistan. I supported our action in Iraq, although lately I have come to question some of our decisions within that country. But the overall result of these has been to unseat a dictator or radical political group and to install corrupt "democracies" all the while ignoring custom, tradition, religion, and history in these two countries. The end result was the governments we installed have largely become critical and ungrateful bunches of worthless, sand-bitten ingrates and petty thieves who spend more time blaming us for their problems than trying to do anything about it. We read the writing on the wall in Iraq and got out, leaving the Iraqis to sort it out on their own. We will soon be doing so in Afghanistan, or at least that is the hope. I get the feeling that our troops, while they do their duty, are getting sick of being blamed for everything and are tired of the Middle Eastern ingratitude. Do we really want a repeat of the same on an even greater scale in Syria?

Here's some facts: number one, we and Israel may not like al-Assad, but he has more or less kept the peace on the border at the disputed Golan Heights, in spite of Hezbollah and Hamas. Second, he is a secular leader, like his father, and has crushed Wahhabi extremists in his own country with a brutality that while shocking is not unwelcome while at the same time protecting minorities in Syria, such as his own Alawite people, Syriac Christians, Druze, and Circassians. And third, what makes Black and May think that the Syrian opposition will be any better? From all that I have seen, while Assad is bad, the Salafists and Wahhabis in the Syrian opposition (see Muslim Brotherhood) are a damn sight worse than he is. If they gain control, don't be surprised when Syria becomes a little Arabia, with morality laws and morality police to enforce them. Public beheadings, implementation of burkha laws, etc., will be the norm. And also expect them to give safe-haven to radical Islamist groups terrorists and to be hostile in the extreme to America and Israel.

Intervene? WHY? To replace a bad egg with a whole batch of utterly rotten ones? Where is the sense in that?

If a nation is to come into its own, it must deal with its issues on its own. Could we have won the Revolution without France's help? I believe we could have. Horatio Gates won Saratoga and Greene won Cowpens without French help, and when Washington crossed the Delaware, he did it without French help. Washington broke out of New York and cornered Cornwallis at Yorktown. While he may have had help at Yorktown, that was at the end of the war when the hard work had already been done. Every other nation in history has had to deal with its own problems, alone, for it is ultimately their future that they decide, for better or worse.

Whatever happens in Syria, it must be done by Syrians. We would do well to stay out of a nasty situation and leave them to choose their own path. It must be this way. History demands it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

YORO and the Modern Malaise

YORO: You're Only in Russia Once.

That is the motto of a group of Americans I met here in Russia. And it is a perfect example of all that I abhor.

Mind you, I love these guys. They are some of the only friends I have here and are great to hang out with and talk to. They come from a wide variety of places and backgrounds and are all too happy to let you into their group. I cannot thank them enough for the camaraderie.

But there is another side to the story. They go out every night (yes, EVERY NIGHT) and party. They get drunk. They smoke cigarettes (never having done so before) and hookahs. They get wasted and stumble home at ungodly hours. And they justify it by shrugging and saying "YORO".

Some of you will be asking, what's wrong with that? Others will be thinking "And CowboyPhilosopher is surprised by this?" Actually, I'm not surprised, just disappointed.

Yes, I'll admit upfront that I am a serious guy. Yes, I like to laugh and I love to hear jokes of both the clean and baudy type. I love to be happy. I love...well, Love. Is that not what Christ asked us to do? But on the whole, I'm a pretty serious guy. People have told me either that I'm a 40 year old in a 20 year old body, or that I was born in the wrong era. Perhaps, but I think not.

For those of you that don't know or haven't figured it out yet, yes, I am conservative. Very much so. I'm a Republican, I support the troops, I want smaller government, I love guns, I love God, and I love the free market, for all its flaws. I love the Flag, the Plege, the Declaration, and the Constitution. I also love the Cross (more than all before, for there was my Freedom sealed in Holy Blood). But I also love ideals. I love the American Ideals, the Christian Ideals, the Noble and Chivalric Ideals and also the Ideals of Liberty and Freedom. I despise excess, I despise dishonor, I abhor decadence, I recoil from abject sin (in as much as I can, since I too am a sinner). I dislike drastic change (one of my own quotes-of which I am quite fond of-is "Change for the sake of change is folly"). And what I have seen here and elsewhere has convinced me that modern American and Europe have totally forgotten the ideals of those who made them great.

We are immersed in a world of decadence, excess, sexuality, and dishonor, and what virtue remains is really only a shadow of what was once recognized as the standard against which men were judged. What, I ask, are our standards now? Lady Gaga (wretching noises)? Justin Bieber (don't care if I misspell his name)? Though I like some of his music, is Lil Wayne a standard against which we judge the quality of a man? What happened to nobility and virtue of men? Men used to be judged against men such as Winston Churchill, Edmund Burke, George Washington, George Patton, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and the Apostles. We used to hold loyalty, honor, piety, humility, voluntary service, duty, love, and intelligence as the great virtues of Man made in the Image of God. What happened? Where is our virtue now?

The truth is, we have none. In much the same idea as Friedrich Nietzsche said "God is dead"-and by that he meant that we, the modern society, the modern man-killed Him by destroying our ability to seek Him and understand Him and obey His laws-we have destroyed the Divine Spark within us by seeking pleasure over piety, excess and depravity over virtue and nobility. We have, in my opinion, become less homo sapiens and more homo cavae, or "hollow man". We have nothing in us, and so we seek something, anything, to fill our empty selves. This is the Modern Malaise. And we fill ourselves up with what Satan is all too happy to provide: hollow drink and food and pleasure that  are just enough to satisfy for the moment but leave us begging for more. Thus we become slaves to our lusts, and, ultimately, slaves to the Darkness.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Between Scylla and Charybdis: The Greek Tragedy Plays Out

To reach his home and beloved wife and son, perhaps the most dangerous obstacle the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses) had to overcome was the two fold danger of the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. The former was a multi-headed snake that ambushed sailors and ate them from the top of a great cavern. Sailors would have to survive this monster only to face the more dangerous threat: a living maelstrom called Charybdis that swallowed whole ships.

One cannot help but cynically recall the great Greek epics and tragedies when viewing the current Greek fiasco. Greece has but two choices: exit the euro or stay in it. Despite the threats of the ultra-Left Greek political parties to simply ignore the EU's earlier deals because "they won't go on without us" is stupidity in its most blatant form, not to mention insufferable arrogance. The Germans will certainly let Greece go: why would they want to bail out (again) a nation that simply refuses to change its ways? If I were a German, I would refuse to allow my tax money to go towards bailing out a country that, to the rest of the world, is full of tax-dodgers, rioters, and corrupt bureaucrats? I'm sure that the Germans are not the only ones who feel this way; I imagine the Poles, the Czechs, and several others will not be sad to let the Greeks leave or collapse.

But if the Greeks can't ignore Brussels, then they have to choose between the two options I stated above. I personally would advocate that they leave before it can get any worse. And now I can hear the howls and baying of the bleeding-hearts of the Left who smell blood on the wind. "But what about the people, the widows, students, the children? What about the homeless? What about the common man?" HA! Don't make me laugh. If the Greek government had cared about the "common man" then they wouldn't have pursued social-democratic welfare state policies in the first place. Instead they looked to line their own pockets, and convinced the Greek people that they didn't have to work and could live the good life while the grim and frugal party-crashers up north (see Germany) toiled away. Here's the riot act: LIFE IS NOT A PARTY. There is a price for everything. For all men to have a chance to be saved, God sacrificed His own Flesh and Blood on the Cross. So, for their own mistakes, the Greeks must learn the hard way. They must (if they choose to) leave the eurozone and grow up the hard way. They must begin a new sovereign currency, liberalize their market and laws so that business can be done easier, and the public pension systems must be reformed from top to bottom. They must also get rid of the rampant corruption in their government and make tax evasion harder. It will be tough, it will be painful, and not everybody will come out happy in the end. But this is what it means to learn and grow from mistakes. In short, get over it.

But what if they decide to stay in the Euro-Zone? What if they do agree to go along with Brussels (or Berlin-it's a little difficult these days to know just who's in charge of Europe)? I would not advise it. The Euro is in its own death-spiral and probably will last maybe two more years at maximum, and that's if it can survive the end of this year. If it does collapse, then Greece will have to do the same thing I said it should do above, but with the second option it WILL have hit rock bottom. If, by some miracle or, more likely, deal with the devil, the Euro-Zone does survive, then Greece will reform some but little will change. It will continue to die a slow, painful cultural death, where the glories of Athens and the martial legacy of Sparta, the legacies of Pericles, Thucydides, Leonidas, Euripides, Aristotle, Socrates, and even of the Greek Saints and Church Fathers and the Byzantine Emperors will slowly be lost to time before the culture-killing plague that is modernism and it's cohort, socialism.

Greece is truly between two monsters: the fiscal Charybdis and the little by little torture of the modernist Scylla. Pray for a miracle for Greece, because only God can save them now.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Undone: A Song for Our Times

Ever since I became a fan of theirs nearly five years ago now, the metal band Five Finger Death Punch has never ceased to instill in me a purpose with their music. I’m not entirely sure what it is about the music, but it strikes a chord in my soul every time I hear one of their songs. Some are enraging, some are solemn, some are sorrowful, some are reflective, and yet others are haunting. For me, the most haunting is “Undone”, a song that was released with their 2008 “War is the Answer” album’s special edition only. The message is one that almost perfectly reflects the problems with society and culture today.
“Sometimes the things get so jaded
Still my heart slowly beats
Sometimes life gets complicated
Still the world around me sleeps”
The lyrics of the first verse, to my mind, reflect the situation of one lost in a dream; nay, a nightmare.  When I look out at the world, except for the few bright spots where hope still struggles on, I see nothing but a seething torrent of hate, ambivalence, apathy, and blind arrogance disguised as naiveté. And yet, in spite of seeing and knowing what the problem is, right before their eyes, most people go about life as normal, not bothering to look around. As Aldous Huxley rightly pointed out, we are being led into an existence of complacency, decadence, and obliviousness, where existence and gratification are the only things that are real.
“Sometimes the things get so faded
How is it that you can't see?
Sometimes life seems overrated
Makes my heart slowly bleed”
The second verse is the reaction of those who do see the darkness closing in but, in spite of their efforts, they cannot stop it and, worse, cannot convince the mindless sheep (ahem, masses) to stop their march to the pyre of history in their quest to feed their lusts, which leads to self-immolation. For those defenders, the center cannot hold. Too few reinforcements, the slow passage of time that eventually claims even the mightiest of them, and the darkness, which seems unending, grows ever stronger. Slowly but surely, the line will break, and the barbaric darkness will again rule the minds of men.
But the most heart-wrenching and soul-tearing part is the chorus:
“I'm ashamed, not to blame
don't wanna think about it
Who I am, what I've done
How do I carry on?
Wanna change, turn the page
don't wanna think about it
How do I undo what's done?”
For me, the lyrics and the accompanying instrumentals tear at my soul and ravage my mind. This is the final phase of the defeat of the golden light of civilization: despair. Only now do they realize where they road they have tread has lead, and now there is no way out. Some will frantically try to deny their involvement, some will seek to try and go back the way they came, but the way is shut. Some are ashamed but all the same will try to ignore their situation, and yet others, the majority, will recognize the fate of the damned and will resign themselves to it.
What is the cause of this? Again, Huxley hit the nail on the head: humanity stopped seeking the transcendence found in seeking God, stopped trying to live out the virtues and morals of their forefathers, stopped thinking of the future generations and stopped reflecting on past lessons. They focused only on fulfilling their lusts and base nature, feeding the beast they had unleashed. They fed the madness, and now, the entire world is mad. Mad…and ultimately damned.
Is there a way out? Can the defenders of civilization shore up the defenses and man the walls long enough for the Relief? The Darkness is desperate and, thus, doubling its efforts to crush the Light. If we are to save our nation, our civilization, then things must change. Edmund Burke once commented that change is the one constant, but that doesn’t mean in the sense that we think of today. Change, he emphasized, must be synonymous not only with improvement, but with preservation. It doesn’t mean change everything in ways they were not meant to be changed, but to improve upon what already exists, much like how the prejudice (accumulated knowledge and wisdom of humanity) grows more acute with every day from the new experiences and lessons of individuals. Upon the ruins of the Roman Empire arose the Church and the kingdoms of Medieval Europe; upon Judaism was built Christianity; upon the legacy of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, and London was born the experiment called “the United States of America”. If we stand firm, preserve what is good and purge what is evil and base, then perhaps we can hold the line.
Another lyric (from 5FDP) to consider is this:
“If I fall, I’m dragging everybody down”
As the “last, best hope for humanity”, if we fall, then so goes our civilization…until our Help cometh.
Note: The Huxley comments are drawn from the following source. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On Ideas and Consequences

In my last post, I bemoaned the fact that throughout the Twentieth Century (and before), the world has suffered a deplorable lack of prudence (read "sound judgement") on the part of ideologues, politicians, economists, social engineers; in effect, the people who are expected to lead our nations and guide them through the good times and bad have ultimately failed us over the course of most of a century. I want to explore this topic more in depth in this post.

As we have seen with numerous examples over the last century (I examined the Habsburg fiasco in my last post, but there are others, including-and it pains me to say this-the recent Iraq War) where good intentions and even noble causes have, in the end, produced disastrous results. In the case of Iraq, I agree that our cause was noble: to free the Iraqi people from the oppression of a cruel dictator and give them the ability to decide their own fate is not a heinous goal. But our attempt to install a democracy in a land that has never experienced it (and never will, I might add) was folly. Too often our Western ideologues focus only on the idea and how good it sounds on the ear and tongue. To consider the effects of the idea never occurs to them, for that would require dropping their naive optimism and actually using their brains. That is why they are ideologues: they are immersed in the idea, and never have the prudence or foresight to consider what comes next. In Iraq, our idea to disband the Iraqi Army in the effort to "de-Baathitize" the government, while ideologically laudable, paved the way for the insurgency by putting hundreds of soldiers out of a job and leaving no law-enforcement or peacekeeping force in Iraq besides the Coalition troops, primarily Americans. I do not question the integrity or sincerity in the efforts to get rid of the remnants of an oppressive regime, but I do question the attempt to try and keep law with perhaps 300,000 combat troops in a country of 26 million. While Iraq may one day experience prosperity and democracy, and I stress "maybe", it is unlikely. As much as I hated Saddam Hussein and his thugs and all like him, keeping a few of his cronies around to control their troops and keep order, particularly the Republican Guard and SpecOps, would have saved us the trouble of having to send in a surge.

The same idea exists in the radical ideologies, particularly socialism. As conservatives, I and others like me take into consideration history, culture, society, and political systems when evaluating before hand. Socialism does not: it has no respect for culture, society, history or, in particular, religious attitudes. It sweeps all before it in its attempt to "remake" the world. Hence the particularly disastrous results of the socialist and communist experiments the world over. And even those proponents of "democracy" sometimes morph into the ideologues they say they abhor. "Democracy", to the conservative, in particular the "social-democracy" so prevalent these days, is just as bad as communism because it preaches a dependence on the state. The welfare state sounds good on paper, but, as we can see in the present Euro-Zone crisis, it breeds a false sense of security, and ultimately is the long, slow death of culture. Fashionable ideas give way to unintended consequences, which few if any "modern" thinkers take the time to consider before implementing their agendas.

Do I think that Karl Marx had an ulterior motive when he penned his vision of Socialism? Perhaps he did, but I do not think offhand that he did. But I do not think, to be frank, that he considered the effect his ideas would have upon the world. His intentions may have been good at first, but those with less honest intentions have twisted and bastardized his ideas so badly that they cannot and will not work at all. I do not even think that his ideas, though eloquently written, were even that well thought out. "All history is the story of class warfare?" What history was he reading? Where did this absurd idea come from? The man, in my opinion, was a philosophically-unstable old fool who came up with half-baked ideas and had a heck of a marketing plan. We've reaped the whirlwind of his ideas ever since.

Remember my rubric of just ends and means? "The end justifies the means if and only if the means are worthy of the end." This may come out as a fallacy, but I do not think so. To be honest, I have always thought that just because a conclusion my meet the criteria of "fallacy", does not necessarily make it true. So it is with this rubric. And as I stated in my first post, the means of achieving socialism and its conclusive phase, communism, are not worthy of the end, and both the end and means should be abhorrent to the lovers of our Republic, our Liberty, and of the Natural Rights, inherent as children of God.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Death of the Habsburg Eagle: A Lesson on Sound Judgement

I recently came across several articles discussing and commenting on the dissolution of the Habsburg (a.k.a. Austria-Hungary) and the profound effect it had on the history of central and eastern Europe. Indeed, it is the opinion of the authors (and my own view, personally) that much of the bloody and brutal history of this region could have been avoided had the men of Versailles taken a less radical approach and ideology in their zealous vengeance on the Central Powers after the First World War. Having studied the partitioning of Hungary and its descent into darkness following the Dual-Monarchy's defeat, I am all too familiar with the history involved.
In my research paper, I concluded that the rise of the fascist Arrow-Cross Party and, indeed, the rise of fascist and communist movements in Hungary and the former Habsburg nations were the direct result of the progressive West's radical ideology of "freedom" and "self-determination" and their successful efforts to divide up the Monarchy. Instead of paying attention to the culture, history, and the actual benefits inherent in keeping the Dual Monarchy alive, they blindly ripped apart Hungary and Austria and fed the radicals within Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Croatia, and even the Romanians with greater territory. If the Allies had kept the Dual Monarchy together, it could have prevented the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
I must be admitted that the Dual Monarchy had inherent problems: unrest in the provinces, a lack of real political leadership, and the overbearing shadow of the German Empire to the north proved to be difficult problems to deal with. However, there were three important bright spots in the situation that, had they been exploited properly and with sound judgement, could have prevented the next world war just twenty years later: the respect (nearly universal) of Kaiser-Konig Franz Josef, seen as an almost grand-fatherly figure, and the example of the Compromise of 1867, which gave the restive Hungarian state and minority (the largest minority in the Empire) near equal status with the majority Germans. Also important was the linguistic link provided by Austrian German, particularly in the intelligentsia, academia, and military.
The Dual Monarchy could have been kept together after the war not only as a buffer to any further north-German aggression, but also as a kind of "Habsburg League" or "Federation", with all minorities given equal status and opportunity to rise in Habsburg society, the peoples left to manage their own affairs with nominal governance from Vienna (unless of course a threat to the league arose, and then all would provide their own troops to the defense). The people could speak their own language and practice their own culture in their own lands, but the linguistic link with the rest of the "League" would be Austrian German. The Emperor Charles (or Karl) who took over after his father's death in 1916 (or '17), could easily have made a settlement in 1917 with the Allies, which could have ended the war earlier, and more or less left the realm intact.
Instead, the Habsburg realm became the victim of a lack of sound judgement, or what Edmund Burke called "prudence", on the part of the victorious Allies, especially by that ideologue Woodrow Wilson and his infamous "Fourteen Points", which gave radicals everywhere the ammunition they needed to achieve their goals at Versailles. Blinded by progressive, egalitarian notions and ideas, they allowed the radical and rapacious minorities in the realm tear it asunder and creating small, squabbling states infinitely weaker than they had been under the Dual Monarchy. The acts alienated not only the Austrians but also the Hungarian Magyars, and thus both fell victim to their respective radical fringes-Austria the Nazis, the Hungarians suffering a Bolshevik revolution and then a anti-communist counterrevolution and reprisals. It cannot be forgotten that Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian regent from the partitioning of Hungary until his overthrow by Nazi collaborators in the fascist Arrow-Cross Party in 1944, was a former Habsburg admiral, a war hero, a defender of Hungarian Jews and a Habsburg sympathizer.
Thus we see the effects of the lack of prudence and sound judgement that is still evidenced today by progressive politicians. No matter where one goes, one will see how radicals, then and now, do not practice prudence or prejudice (and by that I mean a respect for the accumulated wisdom of generations of humanity, as laid out by Burke) but are forever guided by abstract notions and failed ideas. How much could have been saved, what calamities prevented, if these ideologues and their followers had stopped and considered the consequences of their actions? Richard Weaver's seminal work "Ideas Have Consequences" could not be more accurate. Too often, radicals are blinded by the idea and pay no mind to the consequences, and then maddeningly argue that the idea is sound in theory and would work if put into practice correctly. Was it not implemented just as you wanted the last twelve times you tried? And did it not fail every time? How much death, poverty, and injustice will you coldly observe before you are convinced of your folly?!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Beauty You Won't Find In a Protestant Church: Cathedrals and Churches of the Old Tradition

Don't let the title fool you: I am of the Protestant persuasion, though every day I'm given new cause to be skeptical of modern Protestant thought. That, and most of the great reading I've been exposed to lately has been that of either Catholic or Orthodox persuasion, and despite my Protestant upbringing and frame of faith I find much to admire and even love in these texts.
But there is an aspect of Protestantism that, in spite of it's message of love and mercy and oneness with God (which I agree with and adore), leaves me rather cold: it is that of the austerity and blandness of Protestant churches. This is not to say that all Protestant churches are like this, but the modern Protestant churches are, to say the least, rather bluntly, bland. Hello? We're not Puritans or Quakers, people. And yet we seem to agree, even today, with the idea that a church should be austere. There is little beauty, save for the occasional stain glass window(s) to be found.
Perhaps, as some would suggest, the beauty is in the Message. I wholeheartedly agree. But the idea of the church should, I posit, reflect the beauty of the underlying Message. That is something that we Protestants have a hard time grasping. Catholics and Orthodox, on the other hand, understand this better, hence the great constructions of Christendom, from La Sagrada Familia still under construction in Barcelona to St. Peter's Basilica to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (I do not like to call it Istanbul; Constantinople, to me, has a much better ring to the ear) to St. Basil's on Red Square and St. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg. These cathedrals and churches are built with a kind of Spirit and enthusiasm and beauty that one will not find in the average Protestant church. For Catholic cathedrals, the very statues and doors themselves tell the Divine Story, their steeples and towers piercing the skies as if attempting, albeit in vain, to be One with the Pantokrator, the Creator of All Things. The windows, stain-glass, tell the Story as well, and the effort and care put into their creation reflects upon the belief and depth of love of those who built them, and the ever-present Cross, with our Redeemer shown in all His agony, is a stark reminder of the Cost of our Emancipation from Hell's grasp. In the Orthodox cathedrals and churches, the gold domes show the outward Glory of the Faith, while the inside is a solemn Refuge from the outer darkness of the world. The Icons of Christ, Mary, and the Saints and Angels are made in such a way that brings out fully the kind of devotion and faith of those that created them. The gold filigree and vibrant colors of the Icons, and the emotions of love and solemn purpose invoked in the eyes of not only Christ but the Angels and Saints as well, is moving in a way that no Protestant church could ever hope to mimic.
I will admit that the one thing that Protestant churches have (and something that brings tears to my eyes as I recall it) is the monopoly on hymns. I enjoy the meditation and inner reflection that is found in the Gregorian chant and its Orthodox equivalent, but there is nothing so stirring to my heart than to hear "Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah" or "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise" or (a personal favorite of mine) "Blessed Assurance". It is our own version of that Beauty which brings out the Divine that resides within us.
Too often, I think that we ignore beauty as a requisite thing in our culture. To our modern age, beauty is found in superficial things, in abstract, in the unanchored, anarchic, and ultimately, the barbaric. That sounds too much like Sadism, which the great author Dostoevsky spent a greater part of his life writing and fighting against. It is in his character Father Zosima that we find the true Beauty of civilization: it is in being anchored to God, to His Divine Order, in living in His Love and living AS His Love. We are called to be "like God", and if God is Love, as the Apostle John of Patmos maintains, then we, as contingent beings, are only free when we become part of that Incontingent Being that is Love Incarnate. I am not the only one that believes this: there is a wonderful lecture about Freedom and Authority in Dante's Divine Comedy that I recently heard and if it is possible, I will post it on MAT (Middle-American Thinker) and would greatly recommend it to those who are interested in such things.
I lay my proverbial pen down for now.

Friday, June 8, 2012

On Life Worth Living, or Why We Need God

Too often we in the post-modern era are held in thrall by tales of "soul-searching" and "finding oneself" in the world. We cheer and applaud and sing the praises of those men and women who advocate a "free" society bereft of the "bigotry" and "ignorance" of religion or morals. We are advised to fulfill our own desires and ambitions above all else, and that our lives cannot be judged against an overarching standard because everything is "relative."
To my mind, this is complete and utter nonsense: at best a post-modern naivete and at worst a demonic heresy. I can say from my own experience that the soul-searching is only half the journey; indeed, it is the preliminary step toward a larger Reality. The other half of the journey is the discovery not of oneself, but of that Higher Reality, that Objective Truth, of the Pantokrator and His Will. The sad part is that most people only get to the halfway point and then, exhausted and world-weary, they collapse and waste away at the crossroads. They never fully discover themselves because they never fully discover God. It is in Him that we discover our purpose and our life's meaning. Our path is the one paved and laid for us by Him, because I cannot conceive of a God that would create all the Universe and Man and then mock us by toying with us for all eternity. The Path, however, is only laid for us: it is up to us to take it, much like Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken". It must be our choice to follow that path.
And what is on that Path? All the noblest virtues of man and divine. Love, Mercy, Honor, Duty, Justice, Charity, Joy, Consolation, Freedom...these are to be found in God. Many modern philosophers object to this, saying that God and Christianity only chain man down in his search for perfection. They forget that we were once perfect, before we sowed are own damnation.
And yet many still reject the need for Faith. I question their sanity: why is it so hard to believe? No proof, some say. Does the fact that there is a Universe, governed by Laws, irreducibly complex in both space and nature, not to mention time itself? Does not the fact that we have, every one of us, a distinct personality, soul, and body, show the depth of God's creation and creativity? Does the fact that, despite the necessity of evolution and progress, we still hold among our most cherished characteristics love, mercy, compassion, pity, and virtue? The much-lauded Theory of Evolution (which I distinguish from the Fact of Adaptation) would say that it is inevitable that we shed these antiquated and obsolete structures and mindsets to further our own perfection, and yet, after millions of years of "evolution" we still retain them.
I cannot, even to this day, conceive why someone would not want to live within God's love and promise, fulfilled in the Incarnate Christ. Here's my question to those who search for meaning in their lives: do they know God as I and millions of others know Him? Do they ponder the Higher Virtues and seek to live a life that is good, clean, and decent? Why do they revel in their sin?
It is because they have never truly known Him. And thus the only alternative (for them) is to live in the temporal world, which is distinct from the eternal world, as Paul points out in 2nd Corinthians. But they deceive themselves: there is no alternative to God, save damnation. Without God, there would only be damnation. God IS the alternative: He is the way to escape, to rescue, to life. Paul writes that if Jesus died to raise the dead, then we must all have been dead before.
I plead with those who deny God's love: do not make that mistake. Do not! I have been there: for nearly four years of my life I was governed not by God and His undying love but by my own darkness: hate, rage, bitterness, and an inconsolable sorrow that made my life hollow. What a shock, what a horror, it was for me to realize my own damnation! Without God, I was the Hollow Man: soulless, lifeless, unfulfilled by the answers of this age, and all by my own hand! I chose the darkness, and it took the realization of utter Hell to snap me out of it. It wasn't just Hell, though: it was the reintroduction of the Light into my life. I thank God every day for bringing me out of my Cocytus and into the Empyrean Glory. But God cannot forcefully put you back on the Path: it must be your choice, and the Deceiver knows this, too. Honestly, what need does the Devil have for demon legions, when all he has to do is manipulate the human heart into choosing its own annihilation? The modern argument against God is the embodiment of such.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Observations from Russia

I honestly didn't intend to go this deep on my first blog, but I honestly feel that what I have to say is important and applicable not only to my situation (such as it is), but also has application to the real world and to the spirit and memory of those who came before. And so, here goes.

Currently I am in Petrozavodsk, Karelia, Russian Federation. I am here to improve my Russian language skills and to try and understand a little better this nation, this people, that Winston Churchill once famously described as "a riddle, wrapped up in a mystery, inside an enigma." It certainly has struck me that this is not entirely true, but has bits of truth wrapped up inside of it. My time here so far has...honestly not been that much different than if I was in a metropolis in the USA or small, albeit aged, city in Europe. It is a city of roughly 270 thousand people, situated along the second largest lake in Europe, Lake Onega. If the observations made here are generally true in all of Russia itself, then I fear for the Russian people.

After spending over two weeks here already, I can say with assurance that Russia is one of the most depressing and kill-joy nations I have ever visited. There is little humor to be had here, and the humor that is found is altogether depressing, fatalistic, and cynical. Smiles are few and far between, even among the young people. This is a nation that is caught in-between two extremes: the brutal legacy of empire (both Tsarist and Communist) and the materialist energy of the post-modern West. In terms of fashion, the men are still stuck in the 1990s, and the women try too hard to be like "the West", and by that I mean the more sheer the shirt, the shorter the dress, the more make-up that can be applied, the better. It really presents a contrast when to see a more conservative-dressing woman and a "modern" woman walking by each other.
Dilapidated buildings, crumbling sidewalks, gardens and parks overgrown with weeds and dandelions...this is the prevailing sight in Petro. It is a byproduct of a carry-over from the Soviet days: the government spends billions on massive construction products and initiatives while the common people pull long hours to make ends meet. This has been Russia's curse since it's inception: it has never known a democratic form of government, nor do the Russians think they shall ever truly experience one. That is not to say that a democratic government would be preferable in any case, as we can see the effects of "democratic" government in the European Union that is now threatening to crumble any day.
The people are suspicious, serious, pessimistic, and cynical. That doesn't apply to everyone (the young people have an improving, though still grim, mindset), but it is what I have noticed. As an American I can notice the distinct difference even in the way that I walk compared with Russians.
There is a fatalism here, a kind of pervading hopelessness that slowly drowns and embeds itself, like a slow flood or lingering virus, into everything. Perhaps I am exaggerating, but even the Russians who I talk with don't disagree with me on every observation. I firmly believe that this kind of cultural stagnation is a direct result of the long night of socialism and it's logical conclusion, communism.
Today I saw a little old lady standing on the corner across from the apartment where I am staying. Old as she is, she is still there, trying to sell flowers, even as the modern Russian masses walk past. It breaks my heart and I want to just break down and weep. To be utterly honest, I want to give her a hug, but I don't think she'd accept it even if I tried.
Is this the kind of Russia that Pushkin and Chekhov wrote of? Is this the Russia that could produce a reincarnation of such great figures as Dostoevsky, Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Chayanov, Tchaikovsky, or Gogol? Is this the Russia that produced the Kremlin, St. Basil's, Peter and Paul, Christ on the Blood, the Hermitage, and even the great city Saint Petersburg itself? What happened to that vibrant culture? And will we ever see its like again in the country of its birth?
Such questions are unanswerable at the present, because modern Russia is living in what can only be called a  kind of Soviet twilight. It's the same spirit with different faces.
Modern Russia is an example of the consequences of the misuse of that great and noble but infinitely corrupt-able idea of "freedom". Edmund Burke once remarked that freedom itself leads to excess and misuse. What he meant by that is the pervasive idea of "unlimited" freedom, which is the watch-word of the radical and progressive, will ultimately lead to the undoing of freedom itself. If we, as rational beings, reason that we have license to do as we please, which is the argument of a Sadist, then ultimately there will be those who will attempt to manifest their will and impress it upon others. The only other logical conclusion to this idea is utter and unspeakable chaos: anarchy, in the truest sense of the word.
The socialist idea of utopia, of complete "freedom", has been shown to do the exact opposite of what it intended: it enslaved almost half the world and led to the untold slaughter and murder of millions. Even Fascism, Socialism's sibling, cannot make such a claim. But that is not, perhaps, the greatest crime of socialism. No, the greatest crime of socialism is that it kills the soul, not only of the individual, but also of the people and nation, and ultimately of civilization. It is the most abhorrent of barbarisms, and yet it still holds many in thrall of its supposed benefits and good intentions.
The saying "the end justifies the means" can be true, but only when "the means are worthy of the end". If we are to use this rubric of thought, then logically socialism and its associates don't fit the bill. The end (worker's utopia and "complete" freedom) may be worthy, I suppose, but the means to attain it (murder, terror, state control and the loss of freedoms, the death of faith and culture) are certainly not. Time and time again people try to establish a Marxist utopia, and the end result is always the same. If anyone doubts me, they need only to see what it has done to Mother Russia.
I hope that those who read this will consider it carefully, and will draw helpful and thoughtful conclusions from it. More to come in the future.