Apparently NASA scientists have discovered Californian microbes made with arsenic instead of phosphorus, which they say is unexpected and cool. I know nothing about this stuff, but given the source, this news is no doubt sparking the interest and delight of people who want there to be life on other planets. Still, pretty cool.
First Things has two good On the Square articles today. The first is by David B Hart, Orthodox theologian and full-time contrarian. He is even contrary when saying something really sweet, or praising someone or something he finds to be spectacularly good — by hyperbole in the case of baseball, or by simple contrariness, as in the case of politics (he’s an anarchist/monarchist) and the existence of fairies. He continues the habit in Atheist Delusions, where he recounts the fantastic drama of Christian history by explaining why the “new atheists” are wrong even in their historical facts. In today’s essay, The Abbot and Aunt Susie, he continues this trend by using his disagreement with the abbot of St Anthony’s Monastery to recount a saintly and beloved house cleaner he knew as a child. When the abbot told another interviewer that, no, holiness could not be found outside the Orthodox Church, I — and Hart admits most Orthodox — would tend to suppose that I don’t quite understand what he means, just as I don’t quite understand what Protestants mean when they talk on similar subjects, usually concerning total depravity. Hart, on the other hand, used it as an opportunity to describe a holy woman who wasn’t Orthodox, and to assert that he simply disagrees with the abbot. It’s worth reading, not so much for the disagreement (like I said, I don’t know that I understand what the abbot meant), but for the lovely defense Hart makes of “Aunt Susie.”
Fire of Love by Peter J Leithart is also quite good, about the sacrificial nature of love, both humanly and theologically.
Another class shares my room at school every day for homeroom/literacy. They usually read something aloud in class; they just finished To Kill a Mockingbird, and have started The Giver. I haven’t ever read the latter, though I listened to some 40 minutes of it read aloud in class today, and, while my full attention wasn’t on it, it sounded quite good. So I went and looked it up, and it still sounded quite enjoyable; if I had a copy I would probably read it, so as to not be lost when I’m in there with the literacy class. It’s a book of the dystopian variety, and told from a child’s point of view (hence its popularity among adolescents), The main character, Jonas, grows up in a neat, orderly, and rather creepy society, the creators of which apparently took Plato’s Republic rather too literally. They really do give children out at birth so that their biological mothers never get to know them, for instance. Life really is all orderly philosophy, and tragic poets really are banned. Even Socrates allows that the scandalous tales of the gods may be told in his republic to the most wise, in a closed ceremony, so that memory be preserved. At his coming of age “ceremony of 12,” Jonas is given the task of being his community’s Receiver of Memories. But things don’t go as planned, and Jonas would rather have Athens, for all its flaws, than be a philosopher-king in training. So much the synopsis discloses. This is, of course, the great difficulty of freedom, so brilliantly portrayed in The Grand Inquisitor. We were created to be free and to love, which are both very difficult, even terrifying, callings. Meanwhile, we want to be safe and not to face death if we can help it — but must in order to have freedom and love.
I’ve also been perusing Orthodox theology. The thing is, dystopian world where people have mostly lost some of the more brilliant and excellent senses given us at creation — that’s not just the world of futuristic novels. In some ways, that’s the world we actually live in. That’s something sin does in the world: blinds our noetic sense, leaving us dull and apathetic. Not just morally, but noetically; in all matters involving spiritual perception. So, then, the material world, which should in some way be transparent to this spiritual perception, becomes instead opaque, as in afflictions where people lose their ability to see what things are, while still being able to literally see (this is a real neurological affliction); or their ability to understand writing, or speech. The universe should be transparent to immaterial glory and uncreated light, but is not, on account of sin. Christian writers often speak of this, especially “mystics” — but I can’t yet. Unlike the people in The Giver, however, Plato recognized that even with poets and freedom and all the thoughts and feelings we have by nature, we are still “in the cave,” and that the world as we see it is not transparent to the symbolic, Formal, or, Christians would add, sacramental nature of reality at its more real.
Perhaps there’s an essay here. But essays are so much work.