Welcome to the Abbey
‘No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crises of a society; on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid the folly and live his life in order.’
- Eric Voegelin
Everything has changed, and there is no going back.
The 2020s have seen us staggering, masked and muted, into a new time. We can all sense the craziness in the air, the feeling of our moorings being cut one by one. It feels hard sometimes just to stay upright. The powers of the world are merging: corporate power, state power, institutional power, ideological power, the power of the oligarchs who built and control the Internet, the power of the network itself.
We have entered the age of the Machine.
The Machine makes us - is designed to make us - homeless. It rips up our roots in nature, in real cultures connected to time and place, in our connection to the divine centre. In their stead we are offered an anti-culture, an endless consumer present: planned, monitored, controlled, Smart, borderless, profitable and soul-dead, increasingly detached from messy reality, directed by who-even-knows, mediated through monitored screens.
Where do we go from here?
What I do here
‘The truth is that Irreligion is the opium of the people. Wherever the people do not believe in something beyond the world, they will worship the world. But, above all, they will worship the strongest thing in the world.’
- G. K. Chesterton
I launched this Substack in early 2021, to publish a series of essays analysing what I call ‘the Machine’: to get the heart of it, and to understand how to live with it. I finished this work in mid-2023. A summary of that project can be found here.
Over those two years, I wrote myself into an explicitly spiritual understanding of our place and time. I came to see that our culture’s problems - problems I had been obsessively digging into for decades - were not economic, political or technological, and neither were they to be ‘solved’ by intellectuals or scientists or activists. I came to believe that our society is spiritually wounded, and barely even knows it. A spiritual wound requires a spiritual poultice. Medicine, now, is what I write about here.
A few years back, much to my own astonishment, I became an Orthodox Christian. You can read that story here. As anyone who has been on this journey knows, it has a tendency to take you over, as it should. After all, either God is real or he isn’t. If he isn’t, then you’re wasting your time even thinking about him. If he is, then understanding him - and being changed by him - should be the work of your life. If he is, then any culture that is to survive has to be cored around this great mystery.
Here, you will find writing about the spiritual chaos of the times and the healing waters, from an Orthodox Christian perspective. I follow my intuitions about what the new faith of the Machine age is going to be, and I write about a wild Christian response. What does that mean? I have tried to explain it here.
I don’t only write for Christians. My readership contains many Christians of differing backgrounds, but it also contains Buddhists, Sufis, pagans, atheists, Jews and doubtless plenty of people without spiritual labels. If this writing speaks to you, you are welcome to follow along and see where it goes. We’ll head off into the desert, and see what watering holes we encounter. Or perhaps we’ll enter the forest in search of dragons.
Why an Abbey?
'Ideas create idols. Only wonder leads to knowing.'
- St Gregory of Nyssa
Abbeys of Misrule arose in late medieval France, set up by irreverent locals to mock the powers of the day. They were places of chaos, in which the world was turned upside down. Black was white and wrong was right. Perhaps this sounds familiar.
Misrule is the norm in the West today. The ground is shifting everywhere. A new religion is rising - the religion of the Machine. It may be that all the old structures - cultural structures, Christian structures, all the familiar things - need to fall away in order that we can see beyond them to what is really going on. These days, I think we need a few Abbeys in which we can re-establish some semblance of sanity: in which we can look to real truths, and think about how to re-seed them in a strange new world.
Should you subscribe?
‘All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.’
— C. S. Lewis
Take out a paid subscription, and you will receive everything I publish here: stories of wild saints, pilgrimages to holy wells, essays about the new theology of the age, and plenty more. You will also have a monthly opportunity to engage in open conversation with other readers on topics of your choosing. You’ll be able to join in the conversation under each piece I publish, and I hope that often you will educate me. You’ll also be supporting my work, by providing me with an income from my writing so that I can support my family, and retain my independence as a writer and thinker in a time when that is increasingly necessary.
Every new essay will go directly to your inbox, and you’ll also be able to read them all in perpetuity here. If you can’t afford a subscription, or don’t want one, you can sign up for free to receive some of my work.
To find out more about me and my work, you can visit my website.
The illustrations on this website were produced by the artist Ewan Craig. You can find out more about him here.