Plus a nod to the future
New here but really appreciating what you have shared here. I wish you a delightful summer holiday and look forward to whatever new ideas you will unfold further along.
Enjoy a well-earned rest, sir.
Did anyone else find that this week was a great opportunity to internally say, "absolutely no, Satan?" I've seen things coming out from Apple and their new blinding pro...whoops.. I mean.... "Vision" Pro device. It feels as if the moment was given to us as an opportunity to practically opt-out. Is this where we begin to say no more?
For those of you without a phone, you've already done this bit. But for some of us new luddite-ish folks, this feels like a great moment to stand firm and just say... "I'm out." Or am I making too much of this?
And this morning this came to me . . . https://open.substack.com/pub/dsimpson/p/reasons-to-be-cheerful?r=3ezew&utm_medium=ios&utm_campaign=post
I have recently discovered your work and am interested in reading the series in order. Is there a list of titles and publication dates I may reference to plan my reading?
It has been warm and sunny for days here too - in Essex, UK - "the land of eternal sunshine" (or at least that's how I jokingly refer to my home county).
Recently in preparation for a reading group I host on my substack, I read Wendell Berry's essay, The Making of a Marginal Farm. What struck me was his observation that hillsides were inhospitable (unsuitable) places for tractors and thus horse-drawn tools had to be used. Thus in marginal areas, old traditional ways prosper and modern machines often struggle to get a foothold. In lowlands/more productive areas, these traditional practices have to fight against modern tech and machines' efficiencies and competitive advantage (and corporate advertising) - and by and large, lose the battle and become relics.
So my working theory is that marginal lands and places can become "refuges from the machine" and I am currently working this into an essay. I am interested to hear others' thoughts on this. And if one has the time, I thoroughly recommend Berry's essay - it will pay dividends to read it.
For some reason the accompanying photo and your statement, “Here is a cow in the Burren enjoying the impacts of man-made climate change,” brought tears… we human beings are so short sighted. Thank you for your writings on the Machine and inspiring so many to change tact. Blessings to you and all your readers.
Well we are all very much looking forward to the next essay. Now I have one question that is pretty frivolous but here it goes. Have you (or any other readers here) seen the movie "Wild Mountain Thyme" ? It is set in Ireland, with apparently terrible accents, but they sound passable to my Canadian ear. I found it charming, and upon repeated viewing, rather moving. Here is one of my favorite lines:
“There’s these green fields… and the animals living off them. And over that there’s us… living off the animals. And over that there’s that which tends to us… and lives off us maybe. Whatever that is… it holds me here.“
And another exchange:
“Do you still hear the voice in the fields?” she asks.
“I don’t know," he replies.
“It’s not a modern idea,” she says.
“I’m not a modern man.”
Whatever this movie is, and I'm no movie critic, it feels refreshingly out of step with everything else Hollywood produces, and full of the truly human stuff.
I started a little poem, inspired, or maybe instigated, by your last essay, Paul, and it goes like this:
So long to the West:
Having come together in a Göbekli Tepe
Of the mind—“the view from nowhere”
Let's begin our ancient wandering afresh:
Let's wander as the flowers do—every day
Closer and closer to the sun, but not by much,
Every day drinking from the Earth...
(Hope you get some good summer rest)
Was fortunate enough to attend the June 3, Dublin 'Christ, Creation, and the Cave: Seeking the Bush Soul of Christianity' event featuring Paul, Martin Shaw and Jonathan Pageau. I've yet to sort through the handful of photos I took, but you can at least see one, of the three speakers together, in my latest essay:
Quick impressions from a non-Christian: three guys who've seen *something*, had a brush with the divine, and are trying to carry word of the spirit of that experience back to a prosaic and increasingly indifferent (when not openly hostile) culture. Unsurprisingly, all appear in the flesh just as they do in many a video or photo, though Paul is this lanky beanpole of a guy, taller than one expects, and looks like nothing so much as a farmer from a Norman Rockwell painting, though I am not sure Rockwell ever painted any English guys.
There was a really nice spirit to the gathering, on a stunningly beautiful day in Dublin, and a sense that this little space was for the moment the centre of the turning world; that you wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Pageau was often deferred to as resident expert on the scripture by Christian rookies Kingsnorth and Shaw. Martin Shaw has a way of captivating a room that's hard to describe. It was like being in the presence of Whitman or something. You just want to listen to him riff all day. There was also a strange sadness or weariness to him, or at least that's how it struck me.
Paul's turn at the mic saw him get right down to business, complete with set of slides. My impression is he's basically a guy operating at a rarefied level on both hemispheres of the right/left brain split. In a debate on any subject he's considered most would be hard-pressed to counter him. Unless you're operating somewhere near peak Hitchens-level I wouldn't advise trying it.
I haven't seen anyone post video or audio anywhere, but that doesn't mean it isn't out there somewhere. You can hear a bit about it here from an actual Christian:
As many of us strive to live more of our lives offline, I'm curious: do readers here have suggestions for print publications that speak to the topics we are used to reading here at the Abbey? I know many of us would be delighted to find Paul's newsletter in our mailboxes instead of our inboxes, but until that day...what periodicals or newsletters would you recommend? (I'll keep reading here too, of course!)
I recently re-read Solzhenitsyn's famous commencement address, and it made me think instantly of your fantastic recent essay. Here, with apologies for the length, is Solzhenitsyn at Harvard in 1978:
"How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present debility? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing steadily in accordance with its proclaimed social intentions, hand in hand with a dazzling progress in technology. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.
This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of Enlightenment. It became the basis for political and social doctrine and could be called rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and practiced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of all.
The turn introduced by the Renaissance was probably inevitable historically: The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, having become an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. But then we recoiled from the spirit and embraced all that is material, excessively and incommensurately. The humanistic way of thinking, which had proclaimed itself our guide, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any task higher than the attainment of happiness on earth. It started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshiping man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and the accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any higher meaning. Thus gaps were left open for evil, and its drafts blow freely today. Mere freedom per se does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and even adds a number of new ones.
And yet in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding one thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming ever more materialistic. The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century."
Is that not perfect? If only Harvard had listened...
full speech here:
Tangentially related, in the shameless self promotion department, please don't miss my piece on CS Lewis and rainbows at the Federalist today:
Thank you for all you do!
Enjoy the weather Paul. Here in New Jersey, we are in drought (never saw this in May) and under a thick haze of smoke from fires in Nova Scotia. Normally, temps are around 80 degrees F this time of year, but the smoke cover (non nuclear winter) has the midday temps below 60 F. Smoke smelled so bad I thought the house was on fire. Pray. we get rain, soon.
I have had the fortune to find a healthy, thriving church community in Portland Oregon, and through the work of the Holy Spirit I have been persuaded to join Christ and his church body through baptism. My baptism is scheduled to occur in the coming weeks.
However, my church follows the Reformed Baptist tradition, and its elders have expressed concern to me that Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have traditions that appear to be in conflict with the Holy Word or don't have a basis in the Word ("extra-biblical"). A common theme is a concern about holding too closely to particular practices, and believing that it's having one's heart turned toward Jesus that is most important. I'm a baby Christian in terms of theology, but my church elders appear to be well educated in church history and theology themselves.
While I currently feel comfortable with my church, I do feel tension in that Eastern Orthodoxy does appear to be a more holistic faith with its ancient traditions, the reverence of the Virgin Mary, the saints, and perhaps a greater openness to respecting and paying attention to the relationships of God's Creation. Solely relying on the Bible for spiritual truth has left me feeling conflicted in my animist beliefs.
I would be very interested in comparisons of Protestantism vs. Eastern Orthodoxy and why either one feels more persuasive as more faithfully following Jesus.
It is plausible that the Machine will figure out how to make us biologically immortal this century. Would you take that bargain? One possible take is that you would be giving up on heaven by choosing to be immortal in your current body, but I think scripture supports choosing biological immortality.
Why? Because one of the temptations of the Devil to Jesus was that he jump off the highest tower of the temple, because, as the Son of God, the angels would surely bear him up. Jesus rejected him quoting, 'Thou shalt not test the Lord', and indeed, choosing death when life is available is testing the Lord, is jumping off the tower. Thinking you should let yourself die because heaven surely awaits, surely the angels will lift your soul there, is testing the Lord.
So yeah, if that happens, pick life, even if it is the unnatural option. I think it's different if someone starts claiming mind uploads are possible, as they certainly are not, or if the immortality offered is that they take your brain and put it into a metal body, as that would be monstrous, but being forever 21 is a good bargain. It may also seem like falling into temptation, like turning down heaven, but again, choosing death when life is available really is testing the Lord, and I don't see a way around that.
Here in my corner of the states it's pleasantly cool, though the smoke from up north is giving us strange sunrises and occasional coughing spasms.
Blessing on your upcoming sabbatical Paul. I'm sorry I won't see any new work from you for a while, though I have plenty of older posts here to catch up on. I'm reading Savage Gods right now and I'll say it's forcing a few reckonings of my own. Thanks...I guess.