Distancing ourselves from each other

One of the great comments I missed was this one from danlyke on Things need to change:

It seems like that “incarnate understanding of poverty” is what most people go out of their way to avoid, and it’s only by treating charity as something we roll up our sleeves and actively do that we not only get the larger good effects, but we get the closer to home notion of what it is we’re actually working towards, and a better understanding of the sort of change in the world necessary to really bring that shift about.

Neil Postman hinted at the problem in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death and the introduction of Longing for God uses this formula (that I’m sure danlyke isn’t going to automatically agree with):

Godly passion has been reduced to lust, just as our thirst for knowledge has degenerated into a need for amusement. Our most passionate quest, in fact, is for entertainment: to be distracted and amused by computer games, Internet pornography, sports events or “must see” TV. [emphasis mine]

This, I think, is the core of the problem: We seek out banal diversions instead of actively engaging our neighors. As Dan says, we “go out of our way” to avoid engaging people when, in fact, working to engage people is exactly what we should be doing… it is going to bring us the most satisfaction than another episode of our favorite TV show. I see my own failure here. I’m certainly not in a position to tell others to do what I haven’t yet accomplished, but I know from past experience how refreshingly authentic an “incarnate understanding of poverty” is. My struggle is to stop being distracted and to start making time to engage those I can help.

4 thoughts on “Distancing ourselves from each other”

  1. Re: I don’t automatically agree, however…

    Godly passion

    Heh, actually, the Orthodox seek to rid themselves of passions. Dispassionate living. Yes, they use the word “passion” slightly differently, but still…

    we seek banal diversions because they’re easier, they require no risk, we don’t have to put ourselves out there to other people, to depend on them, to have them depend on us, to interact with them, but I think the lesson from training infantry is that tackling those challenges is what we’re hardwired to find joy in.

    Exactly. This is another one of those counter-intuitive things about people. Kind of like how I’m scared to run because I’m afraid I’ll destroy my knees. But it has been shown that cyclists actually lose more bone mass.

    I’m not at all interested in joining the military, but I totally understand why people do it. It seems that until September 2001, Americans had an unhealthy sense of individualism — one I have been deeply infected with. And since September 2001, Americans have developed an unhealthy sense of subservience to the State. Both extremes avoid the most valuble thing: working to help others.

    I really do appreciate the way you look at things. At the core, I think we’re both looking for something very similar: not what is easiest to do, but what is the most fulfilling.

    1. Re: I don’t automatically agree, however…

      If you feel like expanding on “… the Orthodox seek to rid themselves of passions…” at some point, I’d read it. Or if you have and want to point me to it, I’d re-read it.

      Because that’s part of what drove me away from Objectivism (and there’s a topic I can’t immediately bring up on Flutterby in conjunction with Christianity of any branch [grin]): The notion of living a reasoned life is all well and good, but if I have to do that through the suppression of my passions, that seems doomed to, at the very least, unhappiness.

      And maybe there we mean different things by passion; there’s a difference between “a moment of passion” and something that I pursue passionately.

      Perhaps the core of that is that, to heck with John 17:14 and similar sentiments, I’m striving to be both in the world and of it, because I grew up amongst the other and I didn’t feel it served me (and there’s a phrase rife with meaning).

      In the motivation for serving in the military: I never served either, back when I was of that age I was still very much pulled to the path of individuality, but as my personal philosophy has evolved I now understand much more deeply.

      And, yeah, I appreciate your views on this because I know there’s depth and meaning to a religious perspective that you express well that, especially since I’ve moved to California, I’ve failed to find in most people’s practice of their faiths.

      1. Re: I don’t automatically agree, however…

        It would take a bit more explaining than what I feel really capable of at the moment to explain what the Orthodox mean by “passion” but I’ll try to give a brief summary.

        I think you’re familiar with the concept of Original Sin, right? The West (starting with Augustine) really glommed onto this idea, while the East was uncomfortable with the “inheritability” of sin. Your sin is your own and you don’t inherit someone else’s guilt. The West, by contrast, said Adam sinned and we’re all guilty as a result.

        By contrast, the Orthodox believe all are born innocent and free of any guilt. We are born into a less-than-perfect world, to be sure, and we pick up a lot of bad habits, but, at our core, we are all “good people”.

        The passions are outside influence that we can choose to participate in or not. We are all created in the image of God and we retain that image — we are all, in a sense, God-like — and our most basic desires are aimed at empowering our inner (for lack of a better term) god.

        (This leads to all sorts of interesting differences in theology — substitutionary atonment isn’t needed, for example — but I’ll refrain for now.)

        “In this world but not of it” is a constant struggle within the Church. Even the Orthodox have applied it differently at different times. This is especially because the Eastern Church was much more closely allied with the government and much more imbued in the culture. See, for example, this Christian Science Monitor article for an interesting take on how that affects current Europe.

        So, yes, there has been a lot of respect for monasticism, but not everyone is monastic. The Anabaptists (Mennonites, et al) tried to make monasticism the norm for everyone and, while I have a lot of respect for them and the way they hope to live, at some point people have to be “in” the world.

        The whole subject of “in but not of” is fraught with problems. Does it mean Christians are supposed to produce chintzy “Contemporary Christian” music? Does it mean that we go Amish?

        Again, I prefer the Orthodox approach that doesn’t magnify the importance of that verse over all the other bits of Scripture.

        In fact, over-emphasis on that “in but not of” has led to the artificial distinction between the secular and the sacred. There is no distinction since all of creation is blessed. This is why I value Tolkein’s LOTR over Lewis’ Narnia — Tolkein’s work feels deeper because he didn’t feel the need to go alegorical to make a point. What he wrote was influenced by his worldview, but he didn’t feel the need to make it a specially sacred act.

        I suspect that we’re still suffering from the effects of the protestant reformation and that both of us are trying to find a ways to escape the puritanical straight-jackets.

        (As for military service, I am selfish, but I’ve never felt especially attached to U.S. foreign policy — and I’ve got a lot of Anabaptist pacifism in me, still.)

  2. Re: I don’t automatically agree, however…

    rituals of forgiveness

    I’ve found that confession is amazing. Giving voice to your failure really does have a healing effect.

    I’m not sure how much of what I struggle against is the protestant reformation

    Well, I am good at projecting my own struggles onto other people. I wouldn’t say that I’m struggling with the reformation, per se, just the effects of it.

    Perhaps I’m just fighting with modernity. Who knows. Whatever this thing is that allows us to think we can be objective about God, ourselves, others, etc. … that is what I’m struggling with. I haven’t yet got a grasp on who I am and much of what I have been told doesn’t align with my experience. Hrm, maybe I’m struggling against sureness.

    I am interested in any thoughts you may eventually have, though. I won’t claim that anything I’ve said is going to make a secular humanist happy, but I’m curious what you think 😉

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