by David Armstrong
Roland in Moonlight is an apocalypse; at least, as someone who spent so much time in his graduate career thinking, reading, and writing about apocalypses, it is easily identifiable to me as such. The dominant criteria for a literary apocalypse in the field today, as outlined by scholars like John J. Collins and Christopher Rowland, is a text in which a human seer or visionary is the patient of an unveiling of divine, celestial, or cosmic information, usually through a superhuman intermediary (an angel, a saint, a god, etc.), and often though not necessarily inclusive of information concerning the world’s aeonic transition or consummation. While contemporary scholars of apocalypticism are mostly interested in the phenomenon as it occurs in Jewish and Christian literature, with a burgeoning interest in early Islamic apocalypticism and an arguably receding interest in Persian (though this only because, on the whole, it seems antiquities disciplines are dying across the board), literary apocalypses can be found throughout the ancient world. I, for instance, once wrote a paper for a seminar on Theravada Buddhism on the generic apocalypticism of the Nimi Jataka. In part of that paper, I openly wondered where South Asians at the time of the composition and compilation of the jatakas were getting their apocalypses from, only to open my (until then) fairly limited understanding of the vast network of land and sea trading interconnections that bound the Mediterranean and East Asia to the realization that centuries of exposure to Persian, Greek, and Roman influence could easily have produced a Buddhist apocalypse. But I remember backtracking, too, to note that while, perhaps, some filtration of the genre occurred through Aramaic and Greek-speaking cultural contacts, South Asia need not have imported the apocalyptic interpretation of experience. What we collectively call Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism had independently traded in notions of altered states of consciousness and deeper significance of higher experiential awareness in their own streams of discourse for several centuries if not millennia before the particular bonds of first Persian and then Macedonian imperial aspirations brought them into contact with the West. And so, certainly, the manifestly apocalyptic ending of the Mahabharata may well evidence some familiarity with other Western apocalypses, as may King Nimi’s chariot ride through the various hells and heavens; but it may just as well be that the literary tropes and the experiences they are meant to imply are simply universal.
Anyway, as I was saying, Roland in Moonlight should be read as an apocalypse. Roland himself strikes a fairly handsome angelus interpretans, guiding Hart in the form of dialogues—not so much Platonic as Plutarchic, reminding one more of the Moralia or the Convivium Septum Sapientium than the Symposium or the Phaedo for their wide-ranging, circuitous character—towards ever firmer convictions and sometimes luminous visions concerning the ultimate coherence of reality. It seems to me that Hart practically wags (pun intended) this role in front of the reader when the two of them discuss Ydisthira’s dog and discontentedly acknowledge that he was, in fact, simply the god Yama in disguise, though this discontentment seems somewhat insincere given Hart’s later epiphany that Roland is in fact a high-ranking buddha. As an apocalypse, Roland presents the same binary ambiguity that confronts the readers of every other apocalypse: that is, whether there stands legitimate visionary experience behind the literary piece qua literature.
For most of the history of contemporary biblical scholarship on apocalyptic literature in the Jewish and Christian worlds, the dominant answer to this question has been no. For one thing, most of the apocalypses are pseudonymous, claiming the authorship of biblical figures of either mythical or such antique vintage as to throw into question what personal experience could be meaningfully abstracted from these texts. What personal information can be gleaned from someone who adopts an entirely fictive literary persona (putting to the side whether the persona adopted is based on a person who may have had some historical existence)? Quite a lot, for the record: as Roland notes at considerable length, we not infrequently don identities and relations in visionary and dreamlike states—the principal setting for Roland and Hart’s dialogues—that match nothing of our “waking” self, but then again, our “waking” self is often a socially convenient mask that itself shifts over and over again dependent on who stands before it and which hides an infinity of worlds and persons beneath it. So the notion that an apocalypticist, by identifying with a biblical character of sufficient fame as to merit attention, can therefore not really have had any particular mystical experience worthy of literary immortalization seems to me a simple misunderstanding of the fluidity of personal identity in altered states of consciousness, and a particularly unforgiveable one given how frequently so many of us undergo exactly such a state in our dreams. Another thing, though, often trotted out against the notion of visionary experience playing some kind of role in apocalypses is the fact that apocalypses are actually quite carefully scripturalized pieces of literature. That is, the creative use of mythological and biblical material in, say, the Book of Daniel or the Apocalypse of St. John reflects an intentionality that has seemed to rule out, for many biblical scholars, the notion that the authors of the book are genuinely “seeing” anything other than with the mind’s discursive eye. But this, too, is easily disproven through any cursory glance at the reports of higher experiential awareness from antiquity to the present: when people experience consciousness in a different mode from our everyday life, they see what they are intellectually, culturally, philosophically, religiously, literarily, and temperamentally conditioned to see. This is, again, as obvious to anyone who has kept a record of their dreams as it is to researchers of the impact of psychedelics on conscious experience. And the entire conversation as I have here constructed it ignores, of course, the ever present possibility that—dare I say it—the literary process itself might have some revelatory value on its own.
Hart has the advantage of writing as himself, or at least as his remembered self, and so can avoid the first complaint of the guild; and certainly Roland itself, it seems to me, dispenses with the notion that a co-created experience is for that reason any less genuinely real. I have no idea if Roland represents “real” conversations with its eponymous hero in this or any other phenomenal realm, but I am also not quite ready to accept the proposition that in the event that it does not, this means that the conversations are any less real and that Roland the angelus interpretans is simply a literary device for Hart to think out loud in literary form, as though taking place in Hart’s mind should undermine the revelatory quality of the book’s content.
Roland‘s structure is best considered, I think, under the visual rubric of three concentric circles. At the outermost circle is Hart’s memoir about his family and professional life as they progressed from his time in Charlottesville through St. Louis to South Bend, Indiana, from the time of Roland’s addition (completion?) of Hart’s family nearly up to the present day (at least, the start of the coronavirus pandemic). The interior of this circle is one encompassing the selenic conversations that take place with Roland in the “twilight consciousness” between Hart’s waking and sleeping states and which progress over the course of the book from something quite clearly opened up by the mental toll of his physical illness to something of a real development of his own conscious awareness of the world by the end. I emphasize the lunar quality of these conversations, since Hart, rather obviously, signals what C.S. Lewis would have called the “kappa element” of his work in the book’s title itself: this is Roland in Moonlight, Roland as perceived by the mind once the mind has been freed by Luna’s ministrations from the ordinary strictures of its modernist impoverishment to be open enough to receive Roland’s oracular pedagogy. The innermost circle is also the most fictive narrative element in the book, namely the life and literary corpus of Hart’s “Great Uncle Aloysius,” an ardent pagan convert and poet whose literary merits increase, one feels, as the book moves towards its end.
The common center of these circles is Hart’s particular take on the problem of “disenchantment.” I found myself often thinking of Lewis while reading this book—whether Hart would take that as a compliment I am not sure, though I intend it as such—since this was also, arguably, the unifying idea of his corpus. Lewis, as Michael Ward famously pointed out in Planet Narnia, also saw the world of the early 20th century as a hopelessly “Saturnine” age, desperately in need of Jove and the counterbalancing influence of the rest of the pre-Copernican cosmos, which he undertook to accomplish through the “donegality” of assigning each planet to each of the Narnian Chronicles. Hart, in a similar way, recognizes that late modernity continues to languish under the imperium of Saturn, though his response is, appropriately, quite different from Lewis’, as indeed it logically must be, coming a century later when human alienation from what Lewis referred to as the Tao has advanced in ways Lewis himself could never have envisioned (and to be clear, I do not necessarily mean to align myself with everything that Lewis understood by the Tao, nor with everything he understood to be entailed by aligning with the Tao). For Hart the problem is, as it is for “Aloysius,” the problem of a silent world, a world that does not “speak” or at least that humans are too spiritually deaf to hear. In Lewis’ terms, Tellus has become Thulcandra, the “silent planet,” cut off from cosmic communion not only with heaven but between humanity and the terrestrial creation, or the “weight of glory” that crushes us not merely by its magnitude but by its seeming indifference to our admiration for it.
Hart experiences this alienation, likewise, in his own personal exile from the “Eden” of his mountain home, the poisoned health and personal loss this brings, and the depression with which he struggles throughout the book. Taken together, these sufferings constitute the primal scream that initiate or necessitate the bulk of the literary apocalypse of the Roland dialogues, taking place in the distinctly dreamlike and hence lunar state of Hart’s in-between consciousness. The first conversations—several of which were published by Hart in First Things before his divorce from the publication—take place in the time of the decline of his father’s health, and from there they are often interspersed between Hart’s recounted experiences, activities, or commentaries on interstitial mundane life. Hart’s sense of existential dissonance from the world as he knows it in its deepest truth and the world as actually experienced—paradoxically, even in its beauty—is perhaps the most relatable part of the book. Critics of Hart’s public literary persona as callous or smug will find ample reason to repent in coming to know something of him in these pages. I recall, for example, reacting to a piece of his in Public Orthodoxy on the superiority of leisure to work, released some years ago at a time when I was working doggedly in the most mundane and soul-crushing labor to prepare for my upcoming marriage and second round of graduate school, as sure evidence that his academic life was the product of privilege that rendered him incapable of understanding the struggles that were mentally exhausting me at the time. Hart’s raw pathos in Roland rendered such reactions vividly puerile and silly. Here, clearly, is a man of many sorrows, not least of which is the seeming transience and intractability of the otherwise alluring and enchanting universe. (As a St. Louis native, I rather wish I had known Hart when he was here: I might have shown him some more agreeable parts of the area, though I have no illusions about being able to cure his distaste for the city.)
The Roland dialogues—suttas?—bridge and, to a large extent, medicate both Hart’s and Aloysius’ respective turmoil. It would seem hasty to propose a logical order to the discourses, which seem to me to have more the character of a gradualist revelation whose core elements are not put into order of best effect by mere chronology, rather like the surahs of the Quran. Clocking in at 366 pages, the book includes far too many such interactions to exhaustively detail, and at any rate, that would exceed the utility of a review. I will rather focus on three such conversations: Hart and Roland’s dialogue on panpsychism, on the many-worlds theory, and on the intrinsic unity of religions. In the first, Roland articulates a theory that the (remember, younger) Hart seems at first to find mildly problematic, namely the notion that consciousness is the ubiquitous, universal ground of being itself in which all physical and natural realities participate. Roland and Hart are both careful to distinguish this view from a physicalist panpsychism, that is, the notion that consciousness is a quality or property of matter and particular material relationships, which they think is absurd, and it is for this very reason that Roland admits he does not like the term panpsychism at all. It is not that he disputes its claim that everything is full of psyche, animation or life—recurrent throughout the book is Roland’s incessant insistence to Hart that this is precisely the case—but rather that he would go further than this to suggest both that everything is full of pneuma, “spirit,” and nous, “mind,” as well, on the one hand, and that this is predictable on the basis of a metaphysics which understands God in the classically theistic mode as an infinite act of being and consciousness.
The interchangeability of being and consciousness, and the clear function of imagination and poetry as ties that bind the two across our perceptual infelicities, naturally raise the dialogue found much later in the book about the question of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Roland clarifies for us that there are but two ultimate metaphysical poles: God as infinite actuality and the nothingness of infinite potency. The phenomenal, perceptible world exists between the two, and is constantly ensouled by the intelligible order, itself the divine awareness of creaturely reality as constructed in part by creaturely acts of consciousness. But if God, as infinite actuality, is also infinite being and consciousness, then it stands to reason that there are both no limits on what God may be the Creator of, as well as the necessity, by virtue of his infinite actuality, that God realize all that which he is capable of realizing. And so for God, all possible worlds exist, though they may not meaningfully exist for us other than in our acts of co- or sub-creation in which we imagine them; Hart and Roland hint at but do not, I think, fully expound on the possibilities here, which are both electrifying in their breadth and terrifying in the significance they invest in each imaginative act. It would have been intriguing to hear Roland’s take on the long intellectual history of multiversal and plurisingular cosmic theories, as, for example, detailed at length by Mary Jane Rubenstein in Worlds Without End: for that author, as for Hart, created infinity naturally raises questions of pantheistic and panentheistic character, as demonstrated in her follow-up Pantheologies. Roland is not, of course, a work of scholarship, really, and I am by no means faulting Hart for not engaging with material on the topic, just pointing out that it would have been interesting to know where Hart stands on, say, the singular and finite kosmoi of Plato and Aristotle or the infinite kosmoi of Epicurus and Lucretius or the finite but infinitely repeated kosmos of the Stoics, replaced later by Origen with an infinite succession of kosmoi of varying characters and still later by someone like Nicholas of Cusa with a singular but infinite kosmos, etc. These are, after all, the intellectual past lives of contemporary many-worlds theories, the philosophical debates about the limits of reality that we cannot seem to stop talking about in our cosmological disciplines. I suspect that the liminal existence of the world elucidated by Roland between the absolute being of God and the absolute nothingness of pure chaotic potency is a kind of finite infinity, a quantitative endlessness rather than a qualitative, such that the only beginning and end there are to the world are God and not any particular creature that can lay special claim to have been first or that will be able to announce that it is the last, in which case his view has more in common with Lucretius and Cusanus than with Plato and Aristotle (and, for that matter, Plotinus, though Plotinus is the spectral conversation partner in this dialogue).
Finally, an infinite kosmos renders exclusivist religion hopelessly parochial. Roland’s apocalyptic mishlei to Hart about the intrinsic unity of religions towards the book’s end—unique insofar as it consists largely of Roland telling Hart what he already knows or believes, by his own words—are some of the most sublime in the entire monograph. Here, Roland’s dharma is clear: organize your belief in word religions according to the hierarchy most appropriate to your own conscience and intellectual vision, of course; but if one’s religion is not broad enough to take seriously the truth, goodness, and beauty intrinsic in every world religious, philosophical, and poetic tradition—and, really, every form of human knowledge—then one has not really attained to gnosis. The nonduality which Roland and Hart approach throughout the book logically begins with an increasingly nondualist synthesis in the collective wisdom of the world. Hart at one point questions Roland—no doubt in the part of a potentical critic—about whether or not his syncretism is perhaps a bit out of hand; Roland replies that he certainly hopes so.
There are of course ambigua; this is, after all, an apocalypse. One ambiguum, I am sure easily dismissed by Hart, is the discussion that Roland and Hart have over the possibility of consciousness for technological creations. Here my lifetime of comic book, science fiction, and fantasy ingestion betray me; but I cannot quite make out Hart’s logic for why it is logically impossible for, say, an android to ever achieve consciousness. If consciousness is explicitly not a product of the organic nuts and bolts of our psychosomatic nervous systems, but it is the ubiquitous ground of existence for all material reality, then I am not quite sure what prevents, say, a well-produced homunculus from being imbued with consciousness, if not by some sort of advanced computational network in its metallic brain, then at least by some other means of contracting consciousness in and as the robotic corpus. Mind, I recognize that in the best such literature and cinema, the golem receives its soul from some additional bit of magic beyond the purely mechanical or alchemical means of his production. In many productions, for example Frankenstein’s monster is animated by lightning, as is Vision by Thor and the Mind Stone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it is the magic hat that brings Frosty to life, not any particular set of relations in the molecules that constitute the snow, etc. But still: if we want to be idealist panpsychists—and I certainly agree with Roland that we ought to be, even if he would not use that terminology—then I wonder if it is not prejudicial to preclude the possibility of the thinking, feeling machine. In any event, I welcome Hart’s correction of my intellectual vice in this respect.
Another ambiguum of increasing importance throughout the book, I think, is how seriously Roland and Hart intend to suggest some theory of death and rebirth other than resurrection in a specifically Jewish or Christian mode. If I were a different reviewer and dissented from Hart’s eclecticism or love of Asian religions, this might constitute a dubium or an anathema, but in fact what I awaited throughout the book and was somewhat disappointed not to receive was a coherent statement on what precisely rebirth is and how Hart, as an Orthodox Christian, is able to have an integrated anthropology admitting of what seems to be an otherwise universal and ubiquitous human intuition that we undergo lives as multiple beings. Roland’s first serious revelation to Hart is recounting his past life as a god in the Tushita heaven and his brother Addison as his pet monkey T’ing T’ing; far later in the book, almost but not quite towards the end, Roland discourses about the distinction between atman and jiva, on the one hand, and the various levels of the soul—nefesh, ruach, neshamah—in Qabbalah on the other, only one of which suffers actual rebirth. The suggestion that the true spiritual self which is the ultimate reality—atman that is brahman, what St. Maximos identified as the logos inherent at the center of our metaphysical identity, what Bulgakov would have called the hypostatic spirit underlying the psychocorporeal complex of the human person—may find itself attached to a number of such psychic and sarkic existences seems to me, at least, a possibility opened up by the distinction of spirit and soul. But it is unclear to me in that scenario exactly what “undergoes” rebirth, or if rebirth is a purely metaphorical way of speaking about the karmic succession that unites different beings in a wider web of consciousness. Knowing Hart’s affinity for St. Gregory Nyssen’s anthropology, whereby there is really one human being that only exists as diachronically and synchronically instantiated in the multiplicity of human hypostases, such that no one person can be saved apart from the salvation of all persons, I can easily see how each human consciousness is essentially connected to every other and to the collective human consciousness that is more than the sum of its parts; and if this is extended upward to include angels and gods and outward (Roland would turn his nose up at the suggestion that it is “downward”) to include animal (and plant?) persons, then I can see a path forward. “Rebirth” does not describe, on that Nyssenian view, the idea that a soul literally transmigrates from one embodiment to another, which seems to undermine the notion of what a soul is, but rather the notion that certain strands in the loom of being and consciousness can be identified that connect me—what it is to be me, David, a human being living in the 21st century, which is not interchangeable with any other being or finite act of consciousness or person—to what it is to be a finite act of consciousness in another time or place. There is, mysteriously, a kind of radical identity available between myself and all other human persons in that confession of our different contractions of infinite being and consciousness into our personal finitude. But is that what Hart means to get at? It is unclear.
Another ambiguum, and one I find somewhat thematic in Hart’s work in recent years—from his Church Life Journal article on the pneumatic resurrection to That All Shall Be Saved—is how, exactly, Hart receives and interprets New Testament and Early Christian language about the aeon to come. It may well be that Hart has no dogmatic attachment to any particular eschatology other than the affirmation that for God to be God as Christianity understands God, it must be the case that God successfully reconciles all creation. To use Paul Griffiths’ language, this is the only novissimum Hart seems to care about in depth. But Hart seems to touch on more genuinely eschatological (in the sense of belonging to more immediate horizons) issues from time to time, like the resurrection, and in his work on the New Testament, he successfully recognizes the first-century Jewish context of the earliest Christian hope. Hart has no qualms about the fact that Jesus—and, if his recent introduction to Gabriele Boccaccini’s Paul’s Three Paths to Salvation is any indication, the apostles and Paul as well—were fully ensconced in first-century Judaism and that the New Testament does not abandon what one might consider a uniquely “Jewish” eschatology in favor of a supposedly “universalist” eschatology, as though Early Judaism, in envisioning a future for Israel in particular, somehow failed to think creatively or constructively about the future for the other nations or the kosmos at large. That is to say, Jesus’ first-century followers clearly hoped that the parousia of Jesus would bring about the restoration not only of Israel, as envisioned by the prophets and interpreted by the Second Temple pseudepigraphers and apocalypticists, but also the restoration of the world, too. But almost immediately, the problem of the Parousia’s delay, it seems to me, raises questions for Hart’s eschatology, just as it does for Christian eschatology more broadly. Does Hart take the view, popular among some early Christian authors, that the pneumatic resurrection follows immediately upon death (this seems, as far as I can tell, to be Origen’s attitude in De Principiis 2.11)? Does Hart have an expectation of or a use for a historical Parousia—a coming of Christ at the conclusion of a historical process? That is, is there any event of further revelatory value in this world that Christians should patiently await, or is the Kingdom a purely internal event in this world, only to be accessed beyond the veil? Does the veil ever, finally, tear? If I am understanding Hart correctly, his vision strikes me as not dissimilar to that of Aslan’s Kingdom at the end of The Last Battle, the eternal “true” world of which all other realms are mere satellites, shadows, and echoes. This is effectively a “No” to the questions offered above. I have nothing against a “No,” in theory, but I do wish to see more direct engagement with the antinomy here. For Christians, the lack of a historical Parousia minimally seems to falsify the explicit hopes of Jesus and his earliest generations of followers for the radical inbreaking of the Kingdom into this world. For reasons less to do with apologetics (and still less evangelism) than with the internal consistency of our own tradition, we should face the problem bluntly.
Something more should be said about the figure of Aloysius. It is, first, unclear who Aloysius is supposed to be. Hart admits in a prescript that he is a fictive creation, and this led me to the most immediate conclusion, throughout the book, that he is simply an extra persona for Hart’s own mixed relationship with paganism and Christianity. But not knowing Hart personally, I cannot say with any certainty. It was famously remarked by a close friend of Lewis’ that his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, ought to have been called Suppressed by Jack, but that is the sort of critique that only someone genuinely close to a writer can offer. My affinity for Hart’s training—I, too, went through a graduate education in secular Religious Studies and Classics, which involved wide engagement with comparative world religions while focusing on Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian literatures, and I, too, have mostly employed these disciplines as ancillary to my overarching interests in philosophy and theology, somewhat to the chagrin of my professors and cohorts over the years—does not constitute a real such knowledge. But whoever he is supposed to be, I found Aloysius an intensely relatable figure. He certainly strikes a more respectable figure of pagan longing, of alienation from modernity, and of wistful classical nostalgia than many of the alternatives one can find in contemporary literature, if for no other reason than Aloysius, like Hart, understands the fundamental truth that the past is irrecoverable. Here, again, it is impossible not to think of the Inklings, who get a mention in the form of Owen Barfield, but with whom, it is clear, Hart is hesitant to identify, probably at least in part because of the general demographic that the guild of Inklings studies and interest tends to draw (overwhelmingly conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics—quite interesting, given that the personal temperament of figures like Williams, Lewis, and Tolkien would have found these American “traditionalists” distinctively distasteful). For them, too, the great literary need of the early 20th century was the reenchantment of the present through engagement with the imagined past of myth and folklore, though they only truly succeeded in fantasizing from within European cultural resources; Aloysius and Hart both, though their interests skew classical Greek and Roman, have a much wider range of mythological interest. Hart’s European fairies are sometimes resisters, sometimes collaborators in colonialism and imperialism; it is the fairies of African and Native American patrimony that earn Hart’s greater respect.
The year that my wife and I got engaged, I held my childhood dog, Gracie, as she was put down in her old age and constant pain. I bawled for about thirty minutes. I had trouble explaining the despair that I felt at the time to my wife or to my parents. My wife had not had a dog that was a real companion to her through youth, while my parents had seen many pets come and go and were likely numb to it. But I did not feel silly for my tears, and would not. Those who know and love animals are inconsolable over their deaths, and rightly so, for something unique and beautiful has been lost, if not forever and not in every world, then at least to this one. It is perhaps appropriate to close by simply giving thanks to Roland for permitting his disciple to share his wisdom with us and to Hart for having the decency to write it up.
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David Armstrong is a Byzantine Catholic. He has an MA in Religious Studies from Missouri State University and an MA in Classics from Washington University in St. Louis. His proudest accomplishment is being married to Bethany. His puppy, Daisy, is something more of an Epicurean than Roland.
Thank you for this richly articulated review and associated reflections, David. I share your view of the singular irreplaceability of animals; it is true, most likely, of all of creation. It is only our complacency, hard heartedness, and lack of attentiveness that prevent awareness. I think Hart’s upcoming book You Are Gods may further clarify Hart’s allegiances where Nyssa and Cusa are significant elements. I am unsure precisely how to situate Hart’s complex vision of tradition within a Christian perspective. Bulgakov is an important voice. In his christology, Bulgakov asserts that “Man bears within himself the coming Christ; and prior to Christ’s coming, man does not have the power to become himself (i.e., true man) or to realize in himself the new spiritual birth that is not of flesh and blood, but of God.” It is necessary to recognize our porosity to all of being across time and space, I call this the “hallow ways,” but the question I come back to is whether the mission of Christ is uniquely an ontological advance separate from other spiritual intuitions and realizations? Is the Body of Christ eucharistically the making new of all things or not? It seems to me if one believes so, one is properly a Christian universalist. Otherwise, one might as well say that there is something authentic, but parochial in the Christian tradition that is ultimately subsumed under a different conception of universalist striving and ultimate arrival.
Hey Brian, thanks for this. I think you’re right (if I understand you rightly) that the fundamental question vis-a-vis the Parousia is whether or not the “inbreaking” of the Kingdom that the historical Jesus seems to have expected is something that the Christian Tradition can affirm in an epistemologically universalist or perennialist way. I think it can, but one of the things that I tried to do in the review was to identify possibilities without conflating those possibilities with the concrete options that Hart takes, if any.
Sorry, especially on this site, I take it as axiomatic that the gospel is universalist in scope. I was actually trying to address the paragraph that begins “Another ambiguum of increasing importance throughout the book, I think, is how seriously Roland and Hart intend to suggest some theory of death and rebirth other than resurrection in a specifically Jewish or Christian mode.” Hart’s generosity towards other traditions and his trenchant criticism of Christian fundamentalism are understandable. I was trying to indicate where I think one has to make a distinction if one wishes to remain in any significant sense a Christian as interpreted by Ecclesia through the centuries (granted the nature of that tradition is itself somewhat ambiguous and disputed.)
I’m still only part-way through Roland, but something in your review here resonates with me, as does Hart’s book, itself. You mentioned your Gracie. One weekend home from college I arrived to discover my Rowdy, in his favorite shady spot, passed on. I had the distinct privilege of burying him in his favorite part of the yard, with my father presiding with the declaration, “He was a good dog.”
While not as intellectual as Hart’s conversations, I recall many a night sitting under my dog’s teachings. He fulfilled his purposes, many only I just now understand. Thank you for the reflection that many of us recognize, and which encarnates a very unique and meaningful relationship.
DBH, if you are reading this, thank you for such a personal glimpse into your life. It is powerful for me, and I appreciate the risks taken to do so. This may sound silly but to learn that you, too, are human places a clarity on your other works that ties them together as a cohesive whole. I love this book, maybe more than TASBS.
Seriously, thank you both.
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Thank you for this review. I was going to skip this in favour of his next one but, how could I now?
Thanks so much for the review, and especially for its thoughtfulness. It’s always pleasing to be read intelligently. Admittedly, I would have preferred a review written in heroic couplets, in honor of my sainted great uncle, but that might be a lot to ask.
One correction, if you don’t mind: Charlottesville, not Charlestown.
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Being eminently agreeable, for the most part, I’ll happily take the correction: I must have immediately elided that, and quite by accident, with Charlestown, MO, where my grandmother is buried. In any event, I’ll ask Al to change it.
As for heroic couplets, I’d be too embarrassed to risk trying and failing at iambic pentameter in front of you, though a hexametrical μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀλοισοῖο came to mind when I saw this, as did Cheiron’s wife holding forth the infant Achilles “on the arm” (ἐπωλένιον) like Hermes’ lyre as the Argonauts sail away in Apollonios, both of which, if I understand your uncle rightly, I feel would have pleased him.
Especially the opening lines to the Iliad, which he intoned incessantly whenever he was suffering from insomnia. At least, I’ve just now decided that that’s another feature of his biography. He also loved Baltimore Rainwater Madeira in his youth and never reconciled himself to its discontinuation.
You understand, I hope, that the animadversions on St. Louis are a symbolic metonymy for my view of all of modern urban life.
One to which I was wholly sympathetic, to be clear. The ghosts of what St. Louis perhaps once could have been are everywhere in city and county, but it is a wasteland of industrial brutalism, throwaway architecture, and dead things. I also find that its conservational efforts as regards the environment tend to favor ecologies that are deprived of everything that might make them beautiful, but then, that’s classic Missourian reductionism for you.
I was born and largely raised in West County, but as a socioeconomic interloper from the lower classes among the suburban interstices of endless strip malls and McMansions. But when my parents divorced, when I was young, my father and I lived for a time in Potosi, MO, in the rural countryside, with our own land on the side of what Missourians cutely think of as mountains. Culturally speaking, I cannot really say that the life I knew there was much morally superior to the city life I’ve known since–there are, proverbially, only so many things to do in rural America–but I did know the joy of stars at night, and of plants and animals, and some systole of freedom to roam and explore that I have not had since. I particularly related to your use of “Eden” to speak of your mountain home, which reminded me very much of my own.
I, like you, was exiled back to St. Louis, though in my case through the closure of the Ford plant which lost my father his job, and forced us to return to the area so he could find new work as an electrician. Together, we lived in the some of the ugliest portions of the greater metropolitan area that any soul can be misfortunate enough to merit. We lived for a time in an extended stay in Wentzville, a small house in O’Fallon (where I met friends I still have today), and a motel off of Highway 70 that I often quietly pass, before returning to the county, where we took up, among other places, final residence across the street from the large, wealthy Southern Baptist Church I grew up going to (and where I met my wife, its singular goodness) in a run-down tenement with local immigrant families. On the one hand, looking back, my life knew a singular aesthetic oppression then that has been difficult to convey in my journey through academic life, and that I did not have language to articulate at the time, but on the other hand, the suffering my father and I endured together forged our uniquely close and affectionate bond together.
Anyway, I didn’t really find St. Louis anything worth mentioning until, after being in college at Missouri State in Springfield for five years, I realized that if Missouri is an aesthetic hell, it minimally admits of several circles. It helped that when I returned, my wife and I were married in the loveliest Greek Orthodox church in the area, and I got to attend Wash U, which is sort of like visiting a different planet after going to MSU (for which I have affection, but which is, like much of Springfield, almost brutalist in its architecture at times). I, like you, discovered the Botanical Garden over this period of time, and also started to make much more use of Art Hill and Forest Park. These days I live across the (Missouri) River in St. Peters, in a house which my wife has beatified. She’s really my aesthetic therapy, psychically and otherwise.
I can never seem to avoid word repetition in a first draft and never fail to miss such a repetition in a second, so forgive my clunky prose; I’m trying to type my reply before making my escape from work.
I’m afraid that all our Edens and demi-Edens and Edenic echoes always fade. Baltimore is in a far more dilapidated condition than even St Louis–not quite as bad as Detroit, but getting there–but even in my youth is was still genuinely a charming city, an urban small town almost, with all sorts of engaging local ritual features. In my father’s day, it was even a culinary rival to New York (Mencken wrote beautifully about this). And Howard County, where I grew up–adjacent to Baltimore County–was something of a rural Arcadia. Now the city is in constant decline and Howard County has been developed into shopping malls and rambling Yuppy-hutches and the great “corridor” between Baltimore and DC.
So it goes.
Unless, of course, one is lucky enough to be Tityrus. For him only does Eden, or at least the wilds round about it replete with shepherdesses and she-goats, remain.
So is there any reason to still visit Baltimore? I had always planned to, since it’s where my grandfather, George Armstrong hailed from before moving to Virginia. Sometime before him my more distant ancestor, George Washington Armstrong, had moved down from Maine. (I like to joke, to nobody’s pleasure, that he, too, crossed the Delaware, just a little later.)
Baltimore is in a far more dilapidated condition than even St Louis–not quite as bad as Detroit, but getting there–but even in my youth is was still genuinely a charming city, an urban small town almost, with all sorts of engaging local ritual features.
I currently live in Saint Joseph, Missouri. I was born and raised in the metropolitan Detroit area. Of the two, Saint Joseph or Detroit, I would prefer to be back in the Detroit area. Although I was introduced to the works of DBH here in Saint Joseph, thanks to pastor of a local church, here, so perhaps blessing and grace can occur in the most unlikely of places.
Thanks for this review! The conceit of viewing it as an apocalypse is not something I would have considered without your assessment, and so thank you especially for that. I really enjoyed the book as well, and the three conversations you highlighted are the ones that stood out in my mind the most. However, my favorite parts of the book were all the little asides about dog culture–the Great Danes making progress in the philosophy of mind, the dachshunds as pragmatists, the great canine epic poem of the wolf condescending to become a dog in order to make the moral tutelage of humanity possible.
I found myself genuinely moved by the sections towards the end where Hart has to reckon with Roland’s aging, especially when he says he doesn’t know how he’ll go on without him. My wife and are I feeling this same emotional pressure with our dog Garrus, who is now 12 and is slowing down quite a bit. Roland’s short explanation of how time is experienced differently, and more slowly, by dogs due in part to the intensity of their sensory experiences (particularly smell) caused me to reflect on how our dog has perceived his time with us. He is an altogether noble beast whose being is certainly inexplicable under a materialist conception of reality. Unlike Roland, he is not a philosopher, but rather fancies himself a performance artist. *Like* Roland, however, he has expressed distaste for Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver, but instead of waxing eloquently about the psychological motives behind their histories, he instead prefers to find a bush outside, micturate upon it, and then look me in the eye while saying, “ideas have consequences.” I believe this to be a commentary on Weaver’s historical methodology, but I’m not exactly well-versed in canine performance art.
I cannot hide my disappointment, however, that Roland never discussed baseball and how it might relate to a metaphysics of fetch. While he has justified skepticism about human culture and whether we are “sapiens,” surely he would see the appeal in a game that revolves around swinging sticks and chasing a tiny ball around the grass. I imagine he would have strong feelings on this. Perhaps a postscript one day?
I picked up one of Weaver’s books once but quickly put it down after he explained why jazz music is literally the music of the sexually demonic. I’m sure he has some good things to say but this jazz fusion and progressive rock and metal fanboy couldn’t get past it. Still mourning Chick’s death.
I’m not much of a musician but his treatment of jazz in IHC was one of the silliest things I’ve ever read. As though riffing (within a key!) is somehow the same thing as total anarchy, or syncopated rhythm is the breakdown of structure in society. He even called jazz musicians fifth columnists.
The splenetic reaction of conservative writers regarding contemporary music would make the basis for an interesting study. Allan Bloom attacking rock music in The Closing of the American Mind is another instance of the same thing Weaver was doing, in my view.
Weaver was a halfwit. Don’t let it bother you. Strutting about like a bantam cock on cocaine, pontificating on the “chivalry” of the slave-owning South, daubing infantile historical analyses in mental finger-paint, frothing at the mouth over any aspect of culture that didn’t fit into his fatuous ideal of orderly blandness and social hierarchy…really little more than a vulgar cartoon of an intellectual.
Needless to say, Jazz is arguably America’s greatest contribution to world culture. Well, until Roland in Moonlight appeared.
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Although they certainly differ on divine simplicity, there seems to me to be a lot of overlap between the thought of Hart and Keith Ward on several different issues. This piece by Ward brings together the Hinduism of Ramanuja and the Christianity of Gregory of Nyssa and argues that although Nyssen certainly would affirm an actual resurrection of our bodies at the Parousia, there is more continuity than we think between the Hindu notion of reincarnation and the Christian notion of resurrection:
“There is no idea that anyone is
condemned to Hell for ever, just because of their acts in one short earthly life, or that one
may go directly to the presence of God, without the need for any further spiritual progress.
Souls are bound to births involving suffering and loss, until, by their transcendence of the
egoistic self, they achieve conscious union with the Supreme Self. Then they can continue an
endless progress through infinite forms of knowledge and love. Such a view is virtually
identical with that of the Orthodox Christian theologian Gregory of Nyssa, and it undermines
any very radical opposition between the ideas of reincarnation and of resurrection.
If Christians follow the teaching of 1 Corinthians 15, they will look for resurrection in very
different bodily forms — glorious and incorruptible — and in a very different form of spacetime, where the laws of entropy have ceased to operate’. In that case, the resurrection
world will be a different realm of embodiment, virtually a form of rebirth. If, in that world,
there are places where unresolved human desires can work themselves out (a sort of
Purgatory or intermediate state), and if there is opportunity for growing in the knowledge
and love of God, one has a concept of many afterlife worlds in which human souls can learn
and progress which is not radically different from the Vedantic idea of forms of rebirth in
which one’s karma, the consequences of one’s acts in this life, can be worked out…The idea of just one life followed by a body rising
from the tomb, fixed for ever in a state of bliss or torment, is certainly different from the
idea of many embodied lives, with the possibility of progress towards God for all after death.
I am not trying to deny the possibility of disagreements. Yet the idea of resurrection as the
gaining of a glorified ‘spiritual’ body, after a time of purgation – which is the classical
Catholic view – is much nearer to a Vedantic idea of progress through many forms of being
to an enhanced spiritual state.”
Click to access RERC2-044-1.pdf
As far as the delay of the Parousia, I’ve personally found Christopher Hays’ proposed understanding of this topic fairly convincing. Curious what Hart and EO readers might think. Even Dale Allison sees a lot of promise in it, and he wrote the book on Jesus as the failed apocalyptic prophet. In short, it looks like we’ve been interpreting Jesus’ prophetic ministry ONLY in light of the Deuteronomic criteria of prophecy rather than Jeremiah’s criteria, which is strange, given that most scholars acknowledge that Jesus MODELED his prophetic ministry on Jeremiah’s. For Jeremiah, the fulfillment of prophecy is contingent upon human repentance or the lack thereof, just as in the book of Jonah. Orthodox scholars Brandon Gallaher and Julia Konstantinovsky also contribute chapters to the book.
There is also a book by a universalist endorsed by Parry, Talbot and Reiten, arguing for the contingency of prophecy. Haven’t read it, but it looks interesting. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007WVWHG0/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
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We have sure have some stupid dogs in our household. A reflection of their master no doubt.
Thank you David for this thoughtful review!
Fr Kimel personal question how would you respond to someone saying religion/spirituality is illogical and devoid of reason?
still can’t get over Paul Griffiths linking David to Lovecraft
Neither can I. Or Cthulhu.
I happen to regard HPL as perhaps the worst writer in the history of published English. So I am not entirely sure what to make of it. But Paul is a great man.
see i would of said the worst english writer is Amanda McKittrick Ros, but Lovecraft is probably tied with her
Amanda was a kind of genius. She was so bad she was good. Lovecraft was do bad he was horrible.
Here’s a game: get together with friends, read At the Mountains of Madness aloud, and everyone take a shot of vodka every time Lovecraft uses the word “cyclopean.” Whoever makes it to the end wins a free vacation at the Betty Ford Clinic.
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agreed he was terrible, an absolutely terrible prose writer, and of course a terrible human being. I feel like people just latch on to him because the Horror genre in general is not really known for being well written. only positive thing I will say about him is that he did have a cool cosmic horror mythology, other than that he’s nothing special
Curiously enough, I never found the cuttlefish from outer space especially terrifying. The prose, however, gave me nightmares. To see the English language subjected to that kind of brutality…
None of which alters or in any way qualifies the correct judgment regarding who or what he was in this life. A universalist is not obliged to be nice about Hitler. Evil is still evil, so long as it lasts.
Did either of you watch Lovecraft Country on HBO? The book it’s based on is a fairly strong critique of Lovecraft’s racism, set in the segregated world of the 1950s and involving monsters and magic.
Sorry, but this is a reply to a later comment, but I found no way to do that. Your moral revolt against evil (and you rightly classify lynching and genocide as such) and the unapologetic way you call it out are some of the things I love about you. It mirrors the rhetoric of Jesus himself, which was not always gentle or diplomatic. In this way I did not object to you calling Lovecraft a despicable piece of human sewage as such, Jesus might have called him much worse, but I would hesitate to call him an utterly despicable piece of human sewage. I do not believe that anyone is wholly devoid of God’s image or goodness. I think people such as him should in a real sense be pitied. This is not to be nice about Hitler, I certainly pity Hitler as well. Harry Potter pitied Voldemort. I am reminded of the closing lines of a TED-talk by a former Neo-Nazi who was changed by the unexpected compassion of an African American janitor he had wronged: “Every day, find someone you think is unworthy of your compassion and give it to them. Because I can promise you; they are the ones who need it the most.”
I can’t defend his writing, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say Lovecraft was a horrible person. He had a rough upbringing, was sexually repressed, and suffered from severe depression. His twisted worldview is no doubt a product of all that. I kinda feel bad for the guy…
He was also a fanatical racist who defended lynching and frequently advocated the genocide of non-white races. He was indeed an utterly despicable piece of human sewage, and his personal unhappiness excuses nothing.
If David’s words about Lovecraft shock yr Christian sensibilities, you oughta hear how John Brown talked about slaveholders. Or Thomas Müntzer about princes & feudal lords. A little backbone, gentlemen, if you please.
I didn’t know he advocated lynching and genocide. I stand corrected.
I find some of the works derived from Lovecraft rather interesting, but the man himself obviously had some deep flaws. But as Christians, and especially as Universalists, should we not also feel bad for the “utterly despicable piece of human sewage” of this world?
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Ever since he became popular again (for reasons I can’t quite grasp), that aspect of his character has gone curiously unremarked. So it’s not surprising that you would be unaware of it.
I agree with Oystien, his views on those issues and what he defended and advocated for are horrible and should have been more confronted at the time, and of course now (particularly if they are playing any influence alongside his mythos as it gains in popularity).
But as Christians we should have mercy and compassion for those twisted by such ideologies and ideas. Of course if with us that includes vigorous engagement and standing against such warped views (both to oppose and in part in the hope of reaching them), and to continue to oppose those ideas if they continue to weild influence after death.
But we must always see them as unique images of God in whom Christ is uniquely known and who will shine forth as a god beyond imagining. We can never not bless our enemies, pray for them and show love and hope for them. And while it’s true none of circumstances often excuses anything it does let us understand the context in which it arises (take infernalism for example). Perhaps we can try to make sure other people aren’t as easy prey for such ideologies in the future. For myself, my family opposed apartheid, marched were arrested, but what if I had been born to a Afrikaner family supporting Apartheid would I have supported it, I hope not but I don’t know. How we are brought up profoundly affects who we become as adults (it’s not decisive always and grace can bring changes, and will in the end). It doesn’t excuse anything, but it’s true nonetheless, repentance is required, but it is required of all of us. We are all sinners, all flawed, damaged and fallen, some more than others perhaps but the fact remains. At Paul was someone whom murdered and tortured people out of zealotry, but that isn’t where his story ended (and he saw how wrong he was).
So for Lovercraft where and who he is now will be quite different from where he was then. He will be seeing and knowing the Truth and it will be setting him free (maybe not easily I don’t know, but he is and will be)
And I say this as someone who doesn’t really like Lovercraft 🙂 .
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Thank you, Grant. There is a Christian philosopher who makes the same argument in support for universalism, but I can’t remember his name. Hmm . . .
Didn’t you say DBH that there are always mitigating factors? Sometimes its as if you are double-minded and argue against yourself.
Hardly. Mitigating circumstances mitigate full culpability, they do not abolish evil. I’m not sure that being called human sewage is worse than being called a whited sepulcher full of bones and putrescence. I’m quite sure, however, that enthusiasts of lynching and genocide are evil men and may be described as such, with considerable vehemence.
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I guess it’s just that I’m still murky on exactly where the culpability and the mitigation lie or how much of either to ascribe to anyone. I guess that is God’s job and not mine. All I know is that the accumulated wisdom that makes the most sense to me is to never judge another person. Not only do we have all that NT stuff from Jesus, but also like the quote from Abba Macarius the Great that’s on my avatar. In case it’s too small to read, here it is: “Christians should judge no one, neither an open harlot, nor sinners, but should look upon everyone with simplicity and a pure eye. Purity of heart consists in seeing a sinful and weak man and having compassion for him and being merciful.” There’s also the patristic spiritual reading of Noah’s drunken episode in the OT where they say we should look away from the nakedness and shame of others like Shem and Japheth. I also find inspiration from Shantideva in the Way of the Bodhisattva who finds that people are not intrinsically evil and even if they were it would still be as absurd to resent them as to resent fire for being hot. He sees the deeper truth that our enemies are themselves in the grips of defilements that arose out of prior causes and conditions, they didn’t arise spontaneously. If that is so, Shantideva asks “How can I be angry with them?” (6.101). Even Socrates counsels Crito to not be angry with or be too hard on the fools Euthydemus and Dionysodorus.
Calling people evil and despicable pieces of sewage seems to be far removed from the aforementioned attitude. Calling their ACTIONS evil is one thing, but calling the people themselves evil is another. Forgive me, but I feel the need to interject because I see this type of invective as not only useless, but harmful for the spiritual condition of souls. Maybe I’m wrong though. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Point taken, DBH. Fully agree. And a man who has the intelligence to write complex fiction has a high level of culpability for denying the full humanity of his fellow men because of their skin color.
Whose example is paramount for Christians? Christ’s? Jeremiah’s? Macarius’s? Paul’s? I’m afraid that the rule is not nearly so clear as you think. Jesus did not mince words about corrupt men who abused the poor.
A person is, as a psychological and empirical subject, what he does and believes. As a spiritual being, he is the image of God. Salvation is often the liberation of the latter from the former. And that is to a great degree a destructive process.
Which means that in this world there are evil men and women who may and should be called evil. How they became evil is a different matter, but as objects of natural cognition that is what they are. It is not a moral judgment but simply a statement of fact to note how despicable Nazis are, or how evil persons who think like them. And, just at this moment in our national history, I’m not disposed to think it a virtue to go easy on White supremacists. So, no retraction, no remorse.
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If David’s words about Lovecraft shock yr Christian sensibilities, you oughta hear how John Brown talked about slaveholders. Or Thomas Müntzer about princes & feudal lords. A little backbone, gentlemen, if you please.
(Posted in the wrong place earlier.)
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DBH, you remind me of George MacDonald sometimes, and believe me when I say that this is one of the greatest compliments I can give. He had a no-nonsense approach to these things as well. He did not mince words either when it came to calling out the selfish and the cruel. His words often offend my sensibilities as well. He could often seem judgemental, but I know that he was not devoid of charity because of it, and neither are you. Rather the opposite. He knew that we are all, at the core of our being, children of God, but in order to truly become what God made us to be, the wrath of God has to destroy what we call ourselves. Lovecraft will not be free until he himself turns with loathing from what he once was. I still enjoy the boardgames, though…
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This is more to Michael Robbins as Harry Callahan said, ‘a man’s got to know his limitations’ and mine include debating DBH 🙂 .
This is against the call for ‘more backbone’ since I’m one of the ‘gentleman’ you refer to here.
The first, yes Christ did use strong retorical language against those oppressing the poor, though not at all times, as others He engaged their (often disingenuous) queries. The problem is I’m not Christ, I don’t have the Lord’s clear vision of when it’s right to directly attack someone rather than just what they say and do, and when not to. And much the same as the other persons you mention, I don’t have that clarity of vision into their or my own heart, as I said I’m not Christ I’m only trying and failing to follow Him. I’m trying to remove the log from my own eye before looking to the speck (or even another log) in my brother or sister’s eye, so I can see to help them. As I said I’m not nearly like Christ, I’m too aware of my own hatreds, pettiness, greediness, desire to feel righteous or better than others, to exalt myself over everything and everyone, my own prejudice is always there, I’m often not a good person. So for me, since I’m nowhere near like Christ, I don’t have perfect judgement, nor even judgement like others have had. For me that (now often cringy phrase) hate the sin, love the sinner remains a guiding light, I’ll denounce what someone might do and what they might say, but not themselves. Doing otherwise I don’t see how I can faithfully love my enemies, bless them, forgive them, do good to them and hope for the best for them, to see them as brothers and sisters. To easily it would slid into hatred for them as persons, all the more implacable for my sense my hatred was just and righteous, to dehumanising them and viewing them as something less than human, something sub-human. And once that happens I certainly won’t be loving them but in some way or other wishing their destruction.
I’ve both seen it and observed it in others, they begin with righteous anger, one that’s even justified, but it twists them, and over time almost (if not actually anything) becomes justified to beat those evil monsters, and so violence, oppression, seeking to hurt them and end them. They become what they hatred, if not worse. It’s a dangerous road, one some do need to walk but still is perilous, and for those given the grace and vision to walk it. For me like St Michael I will rebuke the sin but not the being, like Bilbo I endeavour to feel pity rather than hatred for so twisted up.
If you can walk that road more power to you, and I certainly recognise some are, I have defended DBH polemical style and think it’s right and necessary, but it’s not for all of us, and it has real dangers (we mostly don’t have Christ’s clarity of vision). Also it can’t be where you leave it, in my home country if Nelson Mandela could not have moved to forgiveness and embrace from just righteous anger that had fuelled his earlier life and violent resistance and attempted bombing. Had he not found the grace to transcend that justified anger South Africa would have been bathed in blood and many more new cruelties and injustices would have happened. It’s still troubled now, with many problems and corrupt government to a point (though many Western governments have no place to talk) but I shudder to think what could have happened for everyone involved.
You can never just leave it there, at some point in obeying the command to love, bless and forgive your enemies you need to go beyond just righteous anger lest it twist you and others up and move to attempt reconciliation and healing as well as standing against evil. Sure it feels good to ‘give it to them’ whoever they are, for you US guys that could be Trumpists I guess, but just attacking alone often doesn’t change minds and hearts and bring repentance and reconciliation, it often places people in the defensive, often at times those not necessarily sold on the whole project to react in tribal manner (see recent culture wars for that effect in action) and intensifies hatred on all sides and paying attention to issues that can make people prey to more extreme beliefs and real despair and circumstances they are in and attempting to face why that is and what causes it (and what responsibility we have for that) so that only those talking demonic messages of hate seem to pay attention to them. Like a child starved of affection they will take what they can get. To heal you can’t just stop at denouncement. Just this last week or so pope Francis was in Mosul praying for both those who suffered and died and for Daesh murderers living and dead that they might repent and come into the light, facing evil and violence with love and reconciliation, Mosul is being reborn (follow Mosul Eye for details on Mosul).
While an equal danger can come from an unwillingness to speak out against evil and to retreat into a spiritual retreat I don’t think that is the issue here.
So, if you have the grace to do do with the vision to know when to denounce and attack the persons and not just their beliefs, actions and movements then again more power to you to walk that dangerous road, but it’s not something I can do, and that is not because I lack backbone. No, I’ve observed to often that hate twist people to the point the last thing they are doing is loving their enemies, nor forgiving them, nor even seeing them as human. It, together with march the extra mile, or turn the other cheek and give blessings for curse are after all where Christians most willfully and knowingly disobey Christ, and have done for centuries (relegating it to something for monastic orders, and then become later on shocked at the violence rank and file Christians become a part of).
Anyway, if you can do that’s good, but unwillingness of say myself to call Lovercraft human sewage will regarding his views and advocacy in those areas as disgusting and demonic and to be stood against, while pitying the man is not lacking backbone.
Conversely, Grant, if you’re not willing to tell people frankly what their evil has turned them into, then your forgiveness of their sins will as often as not make you feel good about yourself but never make them confront the truth about themselves. To say to a MAGA white supremacist, “I forgive you” is perhaps a good final step; but as a first step it is a mistake. First say, “You have now become someone contemptibly evil because of what you believe and do, so how can you hope to avoid the Gehenna?” (You may notice that I’m borrowing a phrase from an eminent source.) When that has sunk in, the foundation for not only forgiveness but transformation has been laid.
And don’t be afraid to imitate Christ in his prophetic fury as much as in his saving charity. The imitatio Christi is not an à la carte menu, but a complete tutelage in true moral intelligence.
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The problem with your analogy DBH is that you were obviously not trying to confront Lovecraft in order to change his heart and heal him. I’m fairly certain of this because he is dead and you weren’t addressing him personally. You seemed to be talking ill of the dead for whatever reason, part of which is because you rightly detest white supremacy. I still don’t back down from the fact I think this is a dangerous practice. If you confronted a living breathing white supremacist that would be more courageous. People are complex and I know you know that. Those of us like Grant and I do not lack backbone either Michael, that is offensive. I just prefer to follow what I see reflected in say St. Isaac’s merciful heart sermon and I do not back down confronting evil either, but there is nothing bold or courageous in ridiculing and gossiping about a dead man who cannot talk back. But I know enough to know when I’m fighting an uphill battle. Blessed Lent to you gentleman. BTW, I just bought your Roland book DBH and am eager to devour its contents. I greatly appreciate your writing. I will leave the last word to you. Apologies Fr. Aidan for going off topic.
One denounces evil as evil whether the perpetrator is there to hear it or not. The judgment is a general one as well, meant to chasten all of is. It would not be virtuous or charitable to moderate one’s judgment on Hitler because he’s dead. The same goes for Lovecraft.
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I don’t actually disagree with that (DBH that is) whether I would call them contemptible rather then their views, outlook and actions, but I suspect that is perhaps not much of s difference.
And sometimes I accept it needs to be driven home, both for them, and more so sometimes for others hearing. My issue where I am right now on following this is knowing when it is correct to use this hard confrontation (that is denouncing the person, such as being a brood of vipers) and when instead to dialogue with them as Christ also did (even if the results of that could also lead to events that confronted them).
I also think of say Daryl Davis who befriended KKK and neo-Nazis so they came to know someone they claimed to hate, not at first attempting to change their view. But as a result 12 directly left those organisations and views, not because he directly confronted them but instead enlarged their vision so they came to see how wrong and twisted it was. And through this both directly and through those who left themselves hundreds more have left.
Of course perhaps at times this is something only someone of the group that is hated could do (putting a real face and human relationship that itself reveals their prior ideas as false). Though that some of those changed became that for others is also I think important (and has at times been dangerous both for Daryl and those others).
My feeling looking at Christ is it’s not either or, but I think wisdom and perception is required to know when it’s correct to do direct attack, or a more general condemnation of their group/belief, or to engage, go to their house, attempt to enlarge their vision or change their understanding (like some of Christ use of parables and questions, or Davis risk of friendship and dialogue).
I guess I don’t feel I have that insight, and can feel a risk personally if I embarked on it I could easily fall prey to self-righteous judgementalism .
It’s something I will need to think over
so i am the faithless servant, the coward. i needed DBH’s clarification, but was too timid to ask, didn’t want to look stupid or seem gauche and pesky. I am 45 and a Christian all my life, but it is only in the last two years that the secret flame in my heart has been fed so that now the bonfire consumes me; the love of Jesus Christ will not be thwarted and my children, beloved , parents, siblings, neighbor and all conceived humans will know Beatitude. DBH has been a prophet a teacher for me, patiently, graciously, fiercely, confidently, and gently at times leading me to this truth; indeed the argument once seen cannot be unseen, and this blog has been a space where i come to understand the implications of this universalist truth ever more deeply, but i want to be a faithful evangelist and sometimes i have questions.
an anecdote for clarification. whilst on this journey i heard Fr Gregory Boyle speaking about radical kinship, a circle of compassion so wide it left out no one, and he “scandalously” included the degenerate orange dropsicle and Dylan Roof as people who had to be returned to themselves and included in this circle. Now i live in Charleston, and every time i take my brood to the aquarium or watch my son play in the Charleston Youth Symphony Orchestra, I encounter that sacred space, Mother Emanuel AME Church; in my job i have also encountered those whose beloved were killed there; what Dylan Roof did is not a distant reality for those of us who live here, but Fr Boyle’s words fit exactly with what DBH was teaching me, yet the lovecraft sewage description felt discordant; i trust you DBH, and i am NOT asking you to be nice, but i didn’t at first understand how to do what you were doing there with the same integrity you exhibited.
Surely i can’t be the only one who when speaking the truths i’ve learned here run into the infernalist position whereby the example of these morally monstrous people and others like them are used in a way that sounds like the description of Lovecraft as sewage, but the infernalists use it as a means for vindicating eternal hell; now i know DBH aint doing that, so i like a few others here, needed clarification on how they were distinct, that’s all. for what its worth i really like DBH’s answer, and while it may have been obvious to some ; it wasn’t obvious to me, and i needed the help, so thank you to those who asked the question, and thanks DBH for giving a very useful answer, and thanks Fr Kimel, for this space; I know Him so much better now and my delight in the ocean of His mercy and love has never been greater.
sorry, my preceding comment is way to obsequious and overwrought. if you’ll allow me, let me speak a little less like a victorian dandy. universalism, for me, and i’m sure for others, comes at a great cost. for 5 years my twin sister and i were traumatized by an older relative. he was a human piece of sewage. the truth of universalism meant i recognized that human piece of sewage was God’s delight and in heaven i would love this human piece of sewage and delight in him. In spite of this cost, DBH, you have convinced me; God is good, and i’m all in. The day i paid that price, i was set free, i didn’t realize this would happen, but it did, and my conscience no longer allows me to secretly hate this relative. The fact is that when you, DBH, called lovecraft sewage i didn’t know how to define this as something other than hate, but i was too proud to ask. I appreciate your response; your answer clarified it for me, but more importantly, thanks to those who were willing to ask the question, you did me a real favor. thanks.
David, I thoroughly enjoyed your review of a thoroughly enjoyable book. I have nothing to quibble with, only a small note about Owen Barfield and his relationship to the Inklings to add. Barfield is the least read and most misunderstood of all the Inklings; which is a great shame, since he is the one philosophical genius among them. Lewis and Tolkien had incredibly fertile imaginations, but much of what was best in their understanding of language and the mythic past came from Barfield. Tolkien reported to Lewis that reading Barfield’s Poetic Diction “changed my whole outlook.” Lewis called him “my wisest and best teacher.” At the same time, Barfield cannot be assimilated to their outlooks, which is why is not read by the conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics you mention.
Barfield’s understanding of man’s relationship to nature and the spiritual world is far more profound and challenging than anything you can find in Lewis’ theology (though you can find glimpses of a richer creative intuition in his fiction). And despite their more fertile mythopoieic talents, it was Barfield, not Lewis or Tolkien, who really understood the connection between imagination and knowledge. In this he went much farther down the path of towards a ‘constructive postmodernism’ than the other Inklings were able to travel. All this to say that a reference to Barfield in Roland in Moonlight can’t be taken as a reference to the Inklings as a group, inasmuch as his range of philosophical thought reaches far beyond the other members.
For anyone who wants to investigate further Barfield’s relationhip to Lewis and the Inklings, I would recommend the volume Owen Barfield on CS Lewis, in which he explores the contours of his friendship with Lewis while also registering criticism of some of Lewis’ fundamental ideas. Copious extracts from Barfield’s corpus are also available here: https://www.owenbarfield.org
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John Carr, how do you view Barfield’s attraction too Anthroposophy and the cult of Rudolf Steiner. One can view that as mainly esotericism and not really philosophy proper. Barfield’s major inspiration was Steiner as Tennyson said ” Barfield is to Steiner as Steiner was to Goethe”. Anthroposophy to me just seems like hogwash to me
Most of Barfield’s work can be understood without reference to Steiner. Before he encountered Steiner, Barfield had already formed his basic idea of the ‘evolution of consciousness,’ as you can see in his earliest book History in English Words, in which Steiner’s thought does not figure at all. Even afterward he argued his positions from evidence rather than Steiner’s authority except in a few cases. Judge Barfield’s work on its own merits to see whether you consider it corrupted by the association. It seems to me that it’s not, though I am no expert on anthroposophy or esotercism. If you want to pursue this further I would recommend his book Romanticism Comes of Age. In the foreword, he answers the how and why of his interest in Steiner.
DBH, this is kind of off topic here, but I know you said before that you are critical against Esotericism. What is your view on someone like Valentin Tomberg and his brand of Christian hermeticism (his tarot book) I ask, because i was reading through it the other day and saw that Balthasar did a foreword for his book and Michael Martin, a colleague of yours is fond of him as well. This question came to my mind just recently with my discussion with John about Steiner
Roland has a Facebook fan group in case you want that in your life: