Saturday, June 14, 2014

On Karl Popper’s Views of Marxism

Karl Popper, best known as a philosopher and professor at the London School of Economics, had just turned 12 years old when his home country of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, marking the beginning of World War I. At the time, opposed to the mainstream desire for national glory, he hoped only for a quick peace [p.14*]. By age 17, in the months following the war, Popper had acquainted himself with members of the Communist Party in Austria, but soon astutely recognized contradictions within the values that party members claimed. Popper re-evaluated his attitude toward Marxism, and concluded he must leave the Party.

Popper summarizes Marxism as consisting of the following three arguments [p.19]:
1. revolution, not reform
2. conditions will get worse for workers
3. Capitalists cannot be individually blamed

Popper says this third point of Marx’s is usually, in his experience, ignored by Marxists, because it is subsumed by the first point. Political goals take precedence over theoretical distinctions. “Vulgar Marxism” is adopted, because it’s easier to explain and advances the immediate goal of building the party’s numbers.

Popper describes this contradiction as the “Marxist ideological mousetrap.” Those who adopt Marxism will inevitably dumb-down Marx’s theoretical distinctions, in order to make it simpler for others to adopt, thus advancing the immediate goal of revolution. I would counter that a proper organizational structure would have measures in place to avoid the trap.

A key takeaway from Popper’s analysis is that Marxists should avoid demonizing individuals for capitalist business practices. [War criminals are a whole other story--they can be demonized ad infinitum.] But critically demonizing people, such as the Koch brothers, for their economic/political behavior ultimately plays into neoliberal reformism, because it blames the individual instead of blaming the machinery of capitalism.

Popper ultimately sided against communism, because in his words, “[Marx] believed the economy was all-important, and this is certainly a mistake” [p.21]. This is where I would disagree. Popper died in 1994, right before the Internet made obvious the influence of global capitalist markets. I agree with Wolfgang Giegerich’s claim that globalization is simply monotheism applied to the economic sphere: “Profit maximization is the sun around which we humans today have been assigned to revolve. … It is our real God.”

Popper remained interested in the question “Communism, yes or no?” up until the end of his life [p.15], and, had he lived another decade, I find it probable that he would have started to lean more towards “yes.”

*All page references are from the book The Lesson of This Century: Karl Popper Interviewed by Giancarlo Bosetti

Monday, May 26, 2014

College Reflection on Education

This reflection was written for Educational Technology, first semester of my senior year. This is the only full class where I received an "F", but at the time, it really did not affect me, which signaled to myself I had finally overcome the emotional attachment to grades I had developed growing up. (Although it did not affect my attitude at the time, the fact that my graduating GPA ended up being below 2.50, 2.44 to be exact, would prove to significantly impact my teaching career.)
Tom Burwell Reflection about Education
Think about the difference between volunteer work and having a job within a corporate system. If you’re the cashier at Walmart, the more machine-like you are, the better. The important thing is to check items out quickly and accurately, to “complete your duties efficiently.” Your attitude toward customers is not the primary priority. But if you’re volunteering at, say, feeding the homeless, interaction with people is the important thing. (Unless, they are starving are something, which is very rare in America.) A machine-like volunteer would bring no joy to the lives of those you are serving, and thus misses the entire point of volunteer work, of public service. Corporate work benefits from a machine-like approach; public service benefits from a human-like approach.

In his book How to Survive in Your Native Land, recounting his experiences teaching in a public middle school, James Herndon provides a powerful illustration of the difference between truly internally motivated student activities, and what teachers assume to be internally motivated participation. He describes how kids in his regular class enjoyed the creative tasks he came up for them to do: the “uproar when twenty kids rushed to the board to put up their symbols” when the class was creating a Hieroglyphics-like language, getting information about how the Peace Corps operates and then writing “imaginary journals of stays in Africa and South America.” Then, once, he and a colleague started a new class, without grades, and in which students were issued “permanent hall passes,” making attendance completely optional. They soon found that students didn’t want to participate in these creative tasks. “We had to face the fact that all the stuff we thought the kids were dying to do (if they only had time away from the stupefying lessons of other teachers) was in fact stuff that we wanted them to do, that we invented. … And not only things to be doing—it was things for them, the kids, to be doing. … We wanted to see what symbols the kids would invent for English words; we didn’t have much curiosity about the symbols we ourselves would invent. We didn’t write fake Peace Corps journals ourselves; we only told the kids to do it.”

Herndon then describes the successful activity of that class. He and his colleague decided to make a film, but one that they wanted to make. “We didn’t want to find out what the kids’ notions of films were. We didn’t want to see what they would do with the film. We didn’t want to inspect their creativity.”

“If … the role of teacher as giver of orders didn’t work out, it was also true that the other role (the one Frank and I had imagined)—the teacher as Provider Of Things To Do, the teacher as Entertainer—didn’t work our either. For wasn’t that just what the kids had been telling us all year in their oblique, exasperating way? What did all that Nothing To Do In Here mean, if not that the kids didn’t want entertainers, wouldn’t accept them if they didn't have to, wanted the teachers to be something else entirely?

“Wanted them to be what? What was the difference between all the grand things we’d thought up for the kids to do and The Hawk? Why, merely that we didn’t want to do any of the former ourselves and we did want to do the latter.”…
“Wanted them to be human.”

Later, Herndon spells out his central message to teachers:
“Resist every day all the apparatus of the school which was created in order to enable you to manage and evaluate a group, since it is just that management which destroyed the kids you have in your class.
“You must examine your authority for what it is, and abandon that part of it which is official, board-appointed, credentialed and dead. Then you must accept the natural authority you have as an adult, belonging to a community of adults which includes the kid’s parents and relatives.”

So Herndon tells us to resist “all the apparatus of the school which was created in order to enable you to manage and evaluate a group.” But be aware that the apparatus serves a useful function. For bad teachers, and we should admit there are bad teachers, the apparatus is a necessary “safety net” that gives at least some sort of direction to the class. But that’s all it is: a safety net! If we’re trying to teach students to do more than crawl, we must “resist the apparatus”, rise above the safety net, and use only the “natural authority you have as an adult.” So don’t use grades to get behavior out of students, (but I do believe grades have a useful function of allocating scholarship opportunities to those who most want them), and don’t give out praise to students just for doing what’s expected of them (how weird would it be if we treated our friends that way? “Good job coming to dinner with me tonight, Steve!”). Resist that artificial authority; only use it as a safety net when you feel overwhelmed from being the only adult in a class full of kids.

This is such an important idea for teachers to understand: Authority from being a teacher is a good safety net, but should be resisted. Our authority from being an adult is in fact much more real, and much more powerful.

So which approach should a teacher take? Should teaching be approached like any other corporate job? Or should it be approached more like a public service? From what I can tell, the education department here favors the corporate model of teaching. We’re encouraged to use rubrics, “behavioral objectives”, and grades to get students to efficiently carry out the assignments we give them.

I love the idea of teaching; I want to teach, at least on and off, many years down the road from now. But I’m not satisfied with the experience I have had in this department. This is now my senior year, and it’s not at all been what I hoped it would be. To me, teaching is about more than getting students to understand the content of a subject. To me, teaching is about impacting the lives of students, about initiating them into society, about teaching them to be good members of a community. When I think of a good teacher, I have always thought of Socrates, Jesus or the Buddha. It seems to me, though, in this department we’re not learning how to be teachers. We’re learning how to train corporate workers. …to get students to carry out their tasks accurately and efficiently. I believe in public education. If I teach, I want to teach in public schools. I understand the value of everything we have covered in this class, and appreciate being made aware about all of it, but I don’t agree with being required to fill out all these lesson plans and content assessment projects. Don’t all the physics classes I have taken test whether I know the content or not? To properly teach physics in high school isn’t so much about getting students to understand specific concepts; most of them won’t become physicists anyway. Rather it’s about explaining the role physics has in our society, and about initiating them somewhat into that culture of physics, so that students will be able to decide whether or not they are interested in pursuing the subject as a possible career.

 I don’t think being able to fill out a unit plan reflects my ability to be a high school physics teacher. Being a high school teacher should focus primarily on building a strong sense of classroom community, initiating students into the cultures of different career paths, and only then, on having successful lesson plans that give students every opportunity to succeed on that path if their interest leads them there. For me at least, putting the primary focus on producing excellent lesson plans for all students, whether they are really interested in the subject or not, deadens what the idea of teaching is all about. Rather than impacting the lives and choices of students, teaching is reduced to either giving students orders or an entertaining them--either training corporate workers or simply providing students with things to do.   

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Peter Chopelas -- Highlights from the Articles "Heaven and Hell in the Afterlife" and "The Uncreated Energies: The Light and Fire of God"

Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife, According to the Bible [link to full article]

Sheol is one word sometimes translated as "Hell" in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, this word is a proper noun, that is a name or title, so properly it should not have been translated but simply transliterated, as is done with other names. The literal meaning of this Hebrew word is simply "subterranean retreat". Sheol was not understood as a physical place since it exists in the spirit world, but it is a spiritual "place" associated with dead people. It was understood that when a person dies, their body is buried, and their soul goes to reside in Sheol. That is the fate for all people who die, both the righteous and the wicked. According to Hebrew scholars, anything more detailed is conjecture and speculation.

Sheol was translated as "hell" in a number of places where it was indicating a place for the wicked, which is consistent with western thought. But it was also translated as "grave" and as "pit" in a number of other places where it was clearly not a place of the wicked. Yet there are other Hebrew words for grave and pit, so why did it not occur to the translators that if the author wanted to mean pit or grave they would have used them? It can been seen that where Sheol fit the translators' idea of hell as a place of torment, they interpreted it one way, as hell, and simply used the word another way if it did not, confusing those who are trying to understand the Scriptures in translation.

In historic Jewish understanding, it is the perception of the individual in Sheol that makes the difference. This same "place" called Sheol is experienced by the righteous as "gen eiden", the Garden of Eden or Paradise, i.e. "heaven". Moreover, Sheol is experienced by the wicked as the "fires of gehennom", i.e. punishment or "hell".

Consider Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who refused to worship the idol in Babylon (Daniel 3). They were thrown by King Nebuchadnezzer into the "fiery furnace" which was heated "seven times more". The significance of "seven" is a number symbolic of the "furnace" of Heaven, the place where God dwells. The three Jews were unharmed by the fire where one "like the Son of God" was among them. However, the same flames of fire killed the king's "most mighty" soldiers. This is an analogy to how the presence of God is light and warmth to those who love him, and pain and destruction to those who oppose him, yet it is the same "fire."

...

It is interesting to examine the Greek word for "divine", it is from the Greek "theion", which could also mean "divine being", but also means "sulfur', or in Old English "brimstone" [lit. 'burning stone']. As strange as that sounds to us, it is because of the ancient understanding of the cosmic order of the nature of all things. … When the heavenly fire, lighting, would hit a living tree and burn the "life" out of it, anyone could see that the heat from the tree would go back to heaven in the fire, and the ash that remained would go down into the ground. But there was this mysterious yellowish earth substance that behaved very differently, when placed in a fire it burn so brightly that your eyes could not bear to look at it. As it burned, it would release the heavenly substance that was trapped inside and it would rise back to heaven. Clearly, this "burning stone" was a divine substance, and as such, it was simply called "divinity. It was burned within a new temple to "purify" it before consecration, presumably when this burning stone released it's divinity, it causes all evil things to flee from the temple, and thus was the temple readied for worship.

Yet the word 'theion' is translated as "brimstone" or "sulfur" in Luke 17:29, Rev. 9:17, 14:10, 20:10, 21:8, which is where 'fire and brimstone' comes out of heaven, but it is equally interchange with the words "divine fire". Since this did not fit the translators' preconceived ideas, it is rendered always as brimstone in this context.

Elsewhere in Revelation it states that the "heat comes out of heaven" and burns the enemies of God, yet does not harm the ones with God's seal on their foreheads. So the same heat, the heat that is the very life and light that comes from God, burns the sinners, and does not harm the ones that love God.

Again, in many places God's presence and appearance is described as fire in the New Testament as well as in the Old. Examine for example, Matt 31:10-12, 25:41, Mark 9:49, Luke 12:49, Act 7:30, 1Cor 3:15, Heb 1:7, 12:29, Rev 3:18 and in numerous other places.

Typical is the verse where John the Baptist says "I baptize you with water, but the One that comes after me will baptize you with fire". The author of Hebrews writes that God is a consuming fire. Paul also writes that God is like the jeweler who burns gold in the fire to purify it. Jesus Himself states the he brings "fire" to the earth. That is, "divine fire".

Everywhere in the New Testament when humans come face to face with the Transfigured Jesus they cannot look at Him: Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor, Paul on the road to Damascus-- humans hid their face and fell down in fear and trembling when confronted with the revelation of Jesus as Almighty God. Old Testament figures did the same, but now, in the New Testament, it is revealed that this "holy" fire is present when Jesus reveals his nature. This is because Jesus is the incarnate God of the Old Testament.


Translating 2 Thess 1:7-8 from the Greek literally, St. Paul tells the persecuted Thessalonians that they will "get relief at the revelation of the Lord Jesus coming out from heaven with His powerful angels in flames of fire". Yet this same presence of Jesus causes the ones persecuting them to "…be punished with everlasting destruction BECAUSE OF [Gr. "apo"] the presence of the Lord, and BECAUSE OF his mighty glory" (2 Thess 1:9). ...

Unfortunately many English translations insert a word that is not there in the Greek in verse 1:9, adding the idea that the wicked will be "separated" or "cut off" from the Lord's presence. This is a totally different meaning, and if Paul had wanted to say this he would have used the word "schizo," which is where we get the word for "scissors" and "schizophrenia" [lit. divided-mind]. The Greek word "apo" that Paul uses here is a preposition that indicates cause or direction: "because of," "out of," "caused by," "from," etc. The word "apo" appears 442 times in the New Testament, and it is NEVER used to indicate separation, location or position. For example "Apostles" in Greek "apo-stolon" literally means "those sent out from the fleet." The word "Apocalypse" literally means "out from cover," i.e. to reveal, hence the Book of Revelation. Also interesting is the word "apostate" which in Greek literally means "out from standing". If you where once in a condition to stand in God's presence, then "fell" away, you would not be able to stand any longer; you would be "out from standing," cowering and trying to hide from His presence.

The history of the English word "hell" is also revealing. The Old English word from which hell is derived is "helan", which means to hide or cover, and is a verb. So at one time the English church understood that to be judged a sinner meant one would cower and want to hide in fear when in God's presence. Unfortunately, because of the political expedience of controlling an often rebellious population, corrupt rules in the West, in collusion with corrupt clergy, and adopting ideas from non-Biblical yet popular fantasy novels such as Dante's Inferno, corrupted the use of this word during the middle ages. Eventually turning a verb into a noun by popular usage, even if theologically insupportable from the Bible.


According to St Gregory the Theologian, God Himself is Paradise and punishment for man, since each man tastes God's "energies" (His perceptible presence) according to the condition of his soul. St. Gregory further advises the next life will be "light for those whose mind is purified... in proportion to their degree of purity" and darkness "to those who have blinded their ruling organ [meaning the "mind"]...in proportion to their blindness..."

...

...nowhere in the original language of the Bible does the Calvinistic idea occur of a place of "hellfire" torment, created especially by God so He can punish those he judges for eternity. Why would a God who loves us unconditionally torment us for eternity, because of an equally unbiblical notion of Divine Justice? In fact nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly state that it is God that punishes the sinners. If you put your hand in the fireplace, is it the fire's intention to punish you? Or is the torment you experience caused by your own foolish action? It is merely the nature of the fire to burn your unprotected skin.

...

The understanding of heaven and "punishment" [hell] in historic Christianity is inextricably linked to the biblical concept of the Uncreated Light of God. The Uncreated Energies (or "Light" the purest form of energy) are understood by the Orthodox to be the Energies of God. This Energy is the "consuming fire", the Shechinah glory, the fire that burns gold to purify it, as St. Paul writes. It is the fire that burns the weeds left in the field, the fire that burns the pruned branches, it is the lake of divine fire, and the thirst and burning that torments the Rich Man is this same Uncreated Energy. Yet, the same fire that torments the impure gives warmth and comfort to the pure of heart.

...

This is at the root of difference between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, this biblical concept of the Uncreated Energies of God. In the west, the mystery of the Divine Energies was abandoned because it could not be understood outside of the metaphysical perspective, and therefore juridical socialistic rationalism was adopted. The west continues to flounder in darkness and is unarmed against the influence of the enemies of God, and therefore continues to innovate false theologies.

Tragically, in the west a few centuries after the Great Schism (1054 AD) an innovation (i.e. heresy) developed as a result of an attempt to rationalize God's purifying fires. Latin theologians surmised that God created a place called purgatory with purging fires to "purify" those that die with imperfect atonement, and they further rationalized that paying indulgences could buy your loved ones out of these painful purging fires faster. This rationalization also helped keep the church prosperous and coffers full.

...

The western ideas had its roots in Augustinian theology (who was influenced by the Greek pagan philosophers). Unfortunately Augustine could not read Greek and had to devise his own theology from imperfect Latin translations. Late in his life he recanted much of his earlier writings, an act which was ignored in the West. Both Luther and Calvin developed their own theologies from Augustine's erroneous writings, and ignoring Augustine's later retraction. This is how the pagan notion of a God that both punishes and rewards made its way into western Christian theologies. Another major influence was the 13th century fantasy novelist Dante, who's political satire known as the Inferno borrowed heavily from pagan mythology and bears little resemblance to Biblical eschatology.



The Uncreated Energies: The Light and Fire of God [link to full article]


The Greek word “energeia”, and it’s various forms, appears over 30 times in the New Testament, yet it is not translated as “energy” even once in most popular English translations!  It is variously rendered as: operation, strong, do, in-working, effectual, be mighty in, shew forth self, and even simply dropped out of the sentence; everything except what it means.  Yet, this word was well established in the Greek language in the first century.  It was first known to have been used by Aristotle, some three centuries before Christ, as a noun "energy" in the metaphysical sense...

Translating directly from the Greek, Saint Paul writes “For it is God who is energizing in you, according to His will and to energize for the sake of His being well-pleased.”  (Philippians 2:13). The NKJV translates it as, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure". Note how much clearer the translation is when the word “energon” is translated as "energize" rather than as "works".

...


St. Paul further writes “[Christ] who will change the appearance of our humble bodies to take on the form of the body of His Glory, through the energization of His Power, and to put into submission all things to Him” [Philippians 3:21]. And to the Ephesians in verse 1:19-20 Paul writes “and what exceeding greatness of His power, in us who believe, through the energization of His mighty strength, energized in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him in the right hand of Him in the heavens”.  This energy “in us” is the same Energy that will change the bodies of the saved to be glorified resurrected bodies. It is the same Divine Energy that raised Christ from the dead.  This Energy is in fact, the Grace of God. As St. Paul writes “… I became a minister according to the gift of the Grace of God given to me by the energization of His Power”. (Ephesians 3:7).  The NKJV- incorrectly uses the words “effective working” for energization in this verse.

This Energy has the power to heal, as St. James writes “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. Prayers energized by a righteous one are very powerful”. [James 5:16]. The word “energized” is the correct meaning, rather then the typically “fervent” or “earnest” (both adjectives) used in most English translations. The Greek word means “given energy to” hence, ‘energize’.

Receiving this Divine Energy is the results of faith in the true God, as St. Paul says"…[you received]…according to the truth, God’s Word, which also energizes in you who believe" (1 Thess.2:13). You do not receive this Energy by works, but by faith, “[isn’t it] in vain, if the One who provides you the Spirit and the powerful Energies in you, were by works of the law, or by hearing in faith?” (Galatians 3:4,5).  In fact, freedom from the law comes through the energizing of love “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any strength, but rather faith energizing through love” [Gal 5:6].  This energy is the Grace of God, in Eph 3:7 St. Paul writes “That I was made an attendant through the gift of the Grace of God, granted to me by the
energization of his power”.

This same energy also restrains evil  “for already the mysterious lawless one is only restrained now by His Energies, until he come out of the midst of it” [2 Thess 2:7].  So again we see that these Energies are both Grace to us, but also a restrainer of evil. Notice that in comparing all of the above verses with typical English translations, it would be difficult to discern this Biblical concept of Divine Energy.  Demonstrating that the very heart of the means of salvation is simply missing from most English translations.

...

Augustine could not read Greek and had to devise his own theology from imperfect Latin translations. Late in his life he recanted much of his earlier writings, an act which was ignored in the West. Thomas Aquinas, Luther and Calvin all developed their own theologies from Augustine's erroneous writings, and ignored Augustine’s later retraction.  This is how the pagan notion of a God that both punishes and rewards made its way into western Christian theologies.  Another major influence was the 13th century fantasy novelist Dante, who’s political satire known as the "Inferno" borrowed heavily from pagan mythology and bears little resemblance to Biblical eschatology. Some Orthodox would contend that the western view of God as He who both claims to love us, but also would condemn us to eternal punishment, is a schizophrenic view of God.  It is reminiscent of the abusive groom who claims to love his bride but can not stop punishing her.
Clearly this is not the nature of a loving God, a God that pours his energizing love out on everyone unconditionally. There is no "place" of torment, or even a "place" apart from God, because there is in a sense no "place" at all in the after life; being outside of time and space.  The “place” is actually a condition of either punishment – “hell” or of great joy -- paradise, depending on how one experiences the presence of God and His Uncreated Energies. This Energy is also what "separates” the saved from those that are lost. It is also what restrains evil and sin when “caught” in the Energy of God.
For a person who hates God, and has done nothing but pursued his own self-centered desires all his life, it would be far more terrifying and painful to spend eternity in the fiery embrace of God’s almighty and Divine Love with no escape, than it would be to be far from Him in a place where He is not present (which is not possible).  For there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God even if we wanted it!  “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 8:39]

This is why Christianity is the religion of Love. Experiencing God’s loving Presence and His in-filling transforming Energies in glory or in torment, as Paradise or as punishment, is the Heaven and “hell” of the Bible.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Uncreated Energies By Peter Chopelas

I am reposting an essay that used to be located here, but unfortunately the domain ran out:

The Orthodox Christian understanding of heaven and “punishment” (called ‘hell’ in the west) is inextricably linked to the Biblical concept of the Uncreated Light of God. In fact, it is impossible to understand the process of salvation outside of the energy/divine light context. The Uncreated Energies or Light are understood by the Orthodox to be the Divine Uncreated Energies of God.  This Energy is the "consuming fire", also called the Shkhinah Glory in Hebrew, the spiritual fire that is "like a refiners fire…refiner and purifier of silver” [Mal 3:2-3].  It is the fire that burns the weeds left in the field, the fire that burns the pruned branches, it is the Lake of Divine Fire of the Book of Revelation, and the thirst and burning that torments the Rich Man in Hades. Yet, the same fire that torments the impure gives warmth, healing, life and comfort to the pure of heart.
The tern “uncreated” was first used by St. Gregory Palamas in the 16th century in order to distinguish these energies from created energies.  This concept was not new with St. Gregory, it was only a clarification that he made of what was already understood by the Orthodox.  St. Gregory was engaged in debates with some Italian theologians who were advocating the Roman Catholic heresy of created “purgatorial fires” with which God “purges” imperfectly atoned Christians in the after life before they can enter heaven.  Unfortunately they could not properly understand the Greek of the New Testament and the west had invented this concept to explain their misunderstanding.
The Greek word “energeia”, and it’s various forms, appears over 30 times in the New Testament, yet it is not translated as “energy” even once in most popular English translations!  It is variously rendered as: operation, strong, do, in-working, effectual, be mighty in, shew forth self, and even simply dropped out of the sentence; everything except what it means.  Yet, this word was well established in the Greek language in the first century.  It was first known to have been used by Aristotle, some three centuries before Christ, as a noun "energy" in the metaphysical sense, and has been borrowed in recent years in English and used as an engineering term.  Notice that a noun is a “thing”, yet it is typically rendered in English as a verb or an adjective, which violates basic grammar rules.
When we are fully and perfectly energized by the Divine Energies, we radiate the pure Light of God.  Translating directly from the Greek, Saint Paul writes “For it is God who is energizing in you, according to His will and to energize for the sake of His being well-pleased.”  (Philippians 2:13). The NKJV translates it as, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure". Note how much clearer the translation is when the word “energon” is translated as "energize" rather than as "works".
St. Paul further writes “[Christ] who will change the appearance of our humble bodies to take on the form of the body of His Glory, through the energization of His Power, and to put into submission all things to Him” [Philippians 3:21]. And to the Ephesians in verse 1:19-20 Paul writes “and what exceeding greatness of His power, in us who believe, through the energization of His mighty strength, energized in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him in the right hand of Him in the heavens”.  This energy “in us” is the same Energy that will change the bodies of the saved to be glorified resurrected bodies. It is the same Divine Energy that raised Christ from the dead.  This Energy is in fact, the Grace of God. As St. Paul writes “… I became a minister according to the gift of the Grace of God given to me by the energization of His Power”. (Ephesians 3:7).  The NKJV- incorrectly uses the words “effective working” for energization in this verse.
This Energy has the power to heal, as St. James writes “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. Prayers energized by a righteous one are very powerful”. [James 5:16]. The word “energized” is the correct meaning, rather then the typically “fervent” or “earnest” (both adjectives) used in most English translations. The Greek word means “given energy to” hence, ‘energize’.
Receiving this Divine Energy is the results of faith in the true God, as St. Paul says"…[you received]…according to the truth, God’s Word, which also energizes in you who believe" (1 Thess.2:13). You do not receive this Energy by works, but by faith, “[isn’t it] in vain, if the One who provides you the Spirit and the powerful Energies in you, were by works of the law, or by hearing in faith?” (Galatians 3:4,5).  In fact, freedom from the law comes through the energizing of love “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any strength, but rather faith energizing through love” [Gal 5:6].  This energy is the Grace of God, in Eph 3:7 St. Paul writes “That I was made an attendant through the gift of the Grace of God, granted to me by the energization of his power”.
This same energy also restrains evil  “for already the mysterious lawless one is only restrained now by His Energies, until he come out of the midst of it” [2 Thess 2:7].  So again we see that these Energies are both Grace to us, but also a restrainer of evil. Notice that in comparing all of the above verses with typical English translations, it would be difficult to discern this Biblical concept of Divine Energy.  Demonstrating that the very heart of the means of salvation is simply missing from most English translations.
There are many stories, both ancient and relatively modern, that tells of saints radiating light when they pray.  For example St. Mary of Egypt, St. Sava, St. Mathew of Ethiopia, and many others, all are reported to have radiated this divine light.  The Light that Christ radiated on Mt. Tabor during the Transfiguration is this Uncreated Light, seen in Christ revealing his Divine Nature to his disciples. The Orthodox Hymn for this Feast Day says "inasmuch as they could bear it".  The halos in icons are not rings or crowns (as often wrongly represented in western religious art) but rather a sphere of light, like the sphere of light around a candle in a dark room.  This light that Christ, his mother the Theotokos, the angels and the saints are depicted as radiating in the halos shown in icons is this Uncreated Light of God. This is the Transforming Light that “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The Energy is Uncreated because it existed before creation, it is the Light and Truth and Grace and Love and Life that IS God.  When we have that Truth, Grace, Love and Life of God, than we become transformed, and too will radiate this Divine Light.  
Salvation in Orthodox Christianity, as taught in the Holy Scriptures, begins with being forgiven, and then ultimately "getting to" heaven, but the process is much more than that.  It means being healed, purified, illumined and transformed by God by His Divine Energy into a similitude of God [Jas 4:9], which will bring us into union with Him. It is the process in which humans are completed or “perfected” [see Heb 10:14 among others], “divinizing” us, making us “Christ-like” or more accurately “assimilated to God”, through the Energization of His Power.  When we are in perfect harmony with God [in the Gr. “synergy”--1Cor 3:9 ‘for we are God’s synergisers’], the Holy Spirit energizes within us, transforming us, and then we too radiate this Uncreated Light.  Just as the saints radiate this Light of Christ; “All our faces were unveiled, and we beheld in a mirror the same image [Gr. “ikon”], transformed by the glory into glory, the glory of the Lord” [2 Cor 3:18].  “And having put on the new, getting renewed into full knowledge, into an image [or ‘icon’] of the One that created him” [Col 3:10].  Which is why we make icons of the saints radiating this “glory of the Lord”. 
Interestingly, in properly rendered icons none of the Apostles have halos until after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out into the Church. Pentecost is when the Apostles were “assimilated” into divination (that is “made similar” to divinity), transforming them [literally in the Greek “metamorphoses”] into holy beings, into “non-earthy ones” (lit. meaning of the Greek word for “holy”), and when the Holy Church had begun.  Human similitude with God was lost by Adam and Eve [see the Septuagint Gen 1:26 “in the image and similitude of God”], and only became available again to us at Pentecost.
The ancients understood that light was the purest form of energy.  This is why there are so many Biblical allusions to the sun as an example of what God is.  The sun was the source of “pure” light, life and heat, and this created light was likened to the Uncreated Light of God, the source of Everlasting “Zoe” and “Zesty”, spiritual “life” and “heat” or more properly “vitality”—as in energy.  This is why the term “illuminated” is used to describe the saints who saw these “divinizing” Visions in Heaven.  In fact, it is impossible to properly understand the role of Light in the Bible if one does not understand it from the Light-Energy Transfiguration perspective.
Yet, Saint Paul also cautions the Romans about this Energy; “…for when we were in the flesh, passionate for sins according to the law, the Energy in our members brings forth the fruit of death“ (Romans 7:5).  And likewise he warns the Corinthians “For this reason it energizes death in us, though it is Life in you” (II Cor 4:12). In Hebrews 4:12 there is another sober warning “For the living Logos of God, and [the living] Energies, also sharper than a two edge sword, passing through, dividing both the soul and spirit, joints from marrow, judging the thought and intents of the heart”.  In this verse, in English Bibles the word “energies” is just dropped from the text. The implication in the Greek is that the “logos” is one edge, and the “energy” is the other edge of the sword, implying that without this Energy, one is not fully armed.
When we come face to face with this powerful Uncreated Light in an impure, sinful and unregenerated condition, we cower in fear and pain, for our impurities are revealed and "burned" by this Illuminating Energy.  Yet those who love God and want nothing but to be in constant communion with God, will strive towards purity and will bask in glory in this same Light.  The same Energy that causes eternal death in the sinful, purifies and strengthens the faithful. A prayer of St. Simeon the Translator states:  “...Thou who art a fire consuming the unworthy, consume me not, O my Creator, but rather pass through all my body parts, into all my joints, my reins, my heart.  Burn Thou the thorns of all my transgressions. Cleanse my soul and hallow Thou my thoughts ...that from me… every evil deed and every passion may flee as from fire”. (The Liturgikon, Antakya Press, Prayers of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion, p.328).
In the day of Judgment, as we stand naked before God, the penetrating Divine Light of God’s Presence will open the “books”. His Light will reveal what is in these books – the books of our hearts. And it will be shown that the heart is either drawn to God or repulsed by Him, to be either in heaven or in hell. St. Symeon the New Theologian (10th century) says that it is not so much what we do but what we are that will determine our future state. He says, “In the future life the Christian is not examined if he renounced the whole world for Christ’s love, or if he has distributed his riches to the poor or if he fasted or kept vigil or prayed, or if he wept and lamented for his sins, or if he has done any other good in this life, but he is examined attentively if he has any similitude with Christ, as a son does with his father”.
St. Ignatious of Antioch, (late first and early second century) describe God as the furnace that a craftsman uses to temper a sword.  When a properly prepared sword is placed within the fire, it makes it stronger and the sword takes on the properties of the fire, it gives off heat and light.  However, this same fire will melt and destroy a sword that was not properly prepared. This is a metaphor of how those that desire God and His Life are energized and transformed by that Life and Light and how those that don't, experience destruction.
This Biblical concept of the Uncreated Energies of God is at the root of difference between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic. In the west, the mystery of the Divine Energies was abandoned because it can only be understood within the metaphysical mystiric perspective, which was rejected in the west in favor of the juridical rationalist perspective. Tragically, in the west a few centuries after the Great Schism (1054 AD) this innovation (i.e. heresy) developed as a result of an attempt to rationalize God’s purifying fires.  Latin theologians surmised that God created a place called purgatory with created purging fires (as opposed to uncreated) to "purify" those that die with imperfect atonement. They further rationalized that paying indulgences could buy our loved ones out of these painful purging fires faster.  This rationalization also helped keep the church prosperous and coffers full.
The western ideas had its roots in Augustinian theology (who was heavily influenced by the Greek pagan philosophers).  Unfortunately Augustine could not read Greek and had to devise his own theology from imperfect Latin translations.  Late in his life he recanted much of his earlier writings, an act which was ignored in the West. Thomas Aquinas, Luther and Calvin all developed their own theologies from Augustine's erroneous writings, and ignored Augustine’s later retraction.  This is how the pagan notion of a God that both punishes and rewards made its way into western Christian theologies.  Another major influence was the 13th century fantasy novelist Dante, who’s political satire known as the "Inferno" borrowed heavily from pagan mythology and bears little resemblance to Biblical eschatology. Some Orthodox would contend that the western view of God as He who both claims to love us, but also would condemn us to eternal punishment, is a schizophrenic view of God.  It is reminiscent of the abusive groom who claims to love his bride but can not stop punishing her.
   Clearly this is not the nature of a loving God, a God that pours his energizing love out on everyone unconditionally. There is no "place" of torment, or even a "place" apart from God, because there is in a sense no "place" at all in the after life; being outside of time and space.  The “place” is actually a condition of either punishment – “hell” or of great joy -- paradise, depending on how one experiences the presence of God and His Uncreated Energies. This Energy is also what "separates” the saved from those that are lost. It is also what restrains evil and sin when “caught” in the Energy of God.
For a person who hates God, and has done nothing but pursued his own self-centered desires all his life, it would be far more terrifying and painful to spend eternity in the fiery embrace of God’s almighty and Divine Love with no escape, than it would be to be far from Him in a place where He is not present (which is not possible).  For there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God even if we wanted it!  “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 8:39]
This is why Christianity is the religion of Love. Experiencing God’s loving Presence and His in-filling transforming Energies in glory or in torment, as Paradise or as punishment, is the Heaven and “hell” of the Bible.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Wolfgang Giegerich, Joss Whedon, and the Soul

There is a soul dimension to everything we do. It’s not eternal. It is an attitude, found in between the practical “what’s in it for me?” selfishness and the dogmatic altruism of the religious or political martyr. Those who can appreciate it know a boundless source of hope, even in times of sadness and suffering. [paraphrase of Wolfgang Giegerich, What is Soul?]

Joss Whedon's television series Angel (the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) talks explicitly about the soul more than any other TV drama. Although in Angel, the soul is hypostatized as a separate essence of a person that continues on after death as with the traditional Christian narrative, there are other elements of the show that imply that the issues of the soul is about this life, and not the Orthodox Christian vision of the after-life:
  1. Angel cannot die naturally, so why plan for something that might not ever happen?
  2. Multiple episodes depict human souls stuck somewhere as ghosts, brought back from the dead, or trapped within various artifacts, implying a more complex narrative than the black-and-white, either-Heaven-or-Hell version preached in traditional Christianity.
  3. Heaven or Hell are presented as places that you have chosen for yourself, not as places you are assigned to by the dictates of some “jealous God” as in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Cordelia's time as a higher being is a parody of the Orthodox Christian idea of Heaven. The first line she speaks during her brief stint in the "higher realms" is, "God, I am so bored."  In season 5 of Angel when Lindsay is being held in Hell by Wolfram and Hart. Angel, Spike and Gunn are surprised to find that this layer of Hell is actually a suburban neighborhood where everyone lives the same cookie-cutter day over and over again, condemned by their own choice to conform instead of developing and applying their personal values.
So what does it mean in the context of Angel if we view his soul as being more about attitude than about anything else?

I think Angel has a lot to teach us about achieving a healthy balance between everyday human priorities and soul-level priorities. "Psychology" is derived from the Greek "psyche" for soul and "logos" for science, so in other words, the whole series of Angel can be read as an exploration of social psychology within capitalist society.

In coming posts I will use this lens to explore some of the series’ recurring themes.