Minor Update

This old Hollow Fields review has been updated to include the last book.

No No, Nietzche…

“Whoever has seen the learned egotist flies at his approach. History in his hands is a demonstration of his philosophy. Science is a quarry of proofs for his hobbies. If we do not agree with him we are not merely mistaken (every philosopher tells us that), but we are false to ourselves and ignorant of our ideal significance. His ego gives us our place in the world. He informs us of what we mean, whatever we may say; and he raises our opinions, as he might his food, to a higher unity in his own person. He is priest in every temple. He approaches a picture-gallery or a foreign religion in a dictatorial spirit, with his a priori categories ready on his lips; pedantry and vanity speak in his every gesture, and the lesson of nothing can reach his heart.”

–George Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy (1915)

More overdue beatdowns of Friedrich Nietzsche available here.

On Sin, Pleasure, and Sexuality

“And therefore while so many think it the only valour to command and master others, study thou the Dominion of thy self, and quiet thine own Commotions. … They who are merely carried on by the Wheel of such Inclinations, without the Hand and Guidance of Sovereign Reason, are but the Automatous part of mankind, rather lived than living, or at least underliving themselves.”

–Thomas Browne, Christian Morals (1716)

I wish I would have published this a few days ago, on the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, because one of the most potent images of the spirit and flesh combined is focused around a vision she experienced. When a graduate class I was in was once presented with an image of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s imposing sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, a fellow student of mine snickeringly remarked that Teresa “looks like she’s having an orgasm,” with the requisite leering about the room (the student, not the room… was leering… never mind).

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After all, it’s common knowledge that cenobites are incapable of orgasm and the flesh and spirit never mingle, correct?

Before you censure me for building a straw man argument, 1 I’ll remind you that it is a common assumption that being a sexual creature and a Christian are essentially incompatible.2 Want proof? Just search “Christian erotic,” or, God forbid, “Christian pornography” in Google and see what you come up with (don’t do it now while you’re reading the article). Before you hit Christian screeds, you’ll find snarky bloggers and such reminding the Internets public once again that Christianity and sex just don’t mix.3

First, I think it’s important to understand that healthy sexuality isn’t sinful if it’s truly good. I mention this specifically because there seems to be an odd complex in most Western cultures that identifies “the naughty” (which once meant “wicked”) with the pleasing and healthful (i.e., sex). If I flip open to the murky back pages of my local alternative weekly, I find clubs whose names are designed to be mockeries of ecclesiastical terms for impurity and failure, like “Iniquity,” “Vice” and the like. If what we’re enjoying there is so good, why not call it good instead of bywords for evil?

Conversely, true sinfulness is really neither sexy nor desirable if we see our moral failings for what they are. If Christians at any point call that which is good a sin, then we have a definite semantics problem that must be corrected–sin in and of itself is at its core baleful ignorance, twisted goodness, and imprisonment in one’s self. If indeed sin is darkness, then, like its namesake shadow, it has no real substance of its own. Unfortunately, this can oftentimes apply to how people deal with each other sexually or with their own pleasure privately, thus necessitating the need for our term “lust.”

However, any Christian, no matter how pious, should be at a loss to explain away the naturally sensual qualities of those good things God gives us. Asceticism is only a means to the end of enjoying God more fully, not the Christian’s ultimate mission in life.

Though some more charismatic types may disagree with me, I also believe that simple moderation and balance are form one of the key planks of the Christian life. The Greeks knew this, the Romans knew this, the Buddha knew this, surely Lao Tzu knew this… like the Golden Rule, this seems like a principle basic to our common morality.

I also agree with the fine folks over here that Christ’s famous injunction against lust was not directed against admirers of the female form, but those who were scouting out an opportunity to homewreck, or worse. If admiration increases our faith in our Creator without trampling on any other virtues, I find it difficult to see the sin in rejoicing in our God-given sexual attributes (including the imagination). I know this seems quite vague, but that is the nature of trying to moralize on such a deep and wide aspect of our existence that is so frequently frowned upon or minimized.

So there’s my QED. For the Christian, life matters, and is thus to be lived circumspectly. And, despite what our culture may bellow around us, sex matters as one of the most powerful aspects of human experience. The crux of the problem for most secular erotic literature is its treatment of human sexuality as something random and inconsequential, yet incredibly powerful. It can change the protagonists’ lives entirely, and yet we’re asked to believe that our fleeting hope for two of them to stay together is a mere vestige of an antiquated belief system. In any case, if we believe our pains and pleasures have both been hallowed by Christ, then much of the rest of it falls into place.

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If you’ll notice, Bernini’s work is part of an altarpiece. Some may cry Catholic syncretism or pagan resurgence or some nonsense, but I see a little bit of God-made humanity showing its redemptive colors. We are sexual beings who must relate to both humanity and a loving God, not misbegotten creatures of either primordial filth or mawkish sexlessness.

Edited on: 25.02.10.

Before I go, one last word of prudence:

“. . . The carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw.”

–G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (1905)

1Unfortunately, I appear to have just made a straw man with my last smug sentence. Oh well, the event in question did actually happen.

2The legendary breeding capabilities of Roman Catholics and Mormons are assumed to not matter due to how horribly unenlightened and un-postmodern they are. (Their enemies’ imaginary words, not mine.)

3Again, don’t think about Catholics and Mormons.

On Escapism

Edited on: 13.10.09.

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Upon returning to this here blog, I discovered a link I had put in an otherwise blank draft post entitled “On Escapism.” (The link was to the curious essay “The Rabbit Hole: Anime and Escapism” from the on-hiatus or defunct Tachikomatic Days.) It was apparently part of an ongoing discussion, one which I intend to extricate from solely anime-watching and assorted nerdery.

No, what I wish to discuss today is the concept I call “cocooning,” or the deliberate and repeated self-withdrawal into private worlds of either one’s own or someone else’s devising.1 I’m no stranger to it, and I doubt you are either. In our current postmodern cultural climate, where everything seems to be subject to change and pop culture rewards us with endless variations on the same themes, cocooning could be considered an almost sensible response. But I digress…

As both a Christian and a person who cares about what’s real and what’s not, the brief but profound isolation from reality that is escapism causes at least titters of worry on my part. At one point, I maintained a full-blown obsession about it, if you can believe that. In any case, we all have our little cocoons of ephemera to amuse us and belief to sustain us, so in one way it’s unavoidable. Part of it, I suppose, is the old dividing line between what makes a hobby a hobby and an obsession an obsession. Like food or drink, it might be up to us to use such things responsibly. I’ve seen some even suggest that, especially among consumers of more creative cultural products, the obsession in question may provide a good mirror of their own lives and conduct and a worthy tool of reflection. I for one have always used concepts, the written word, and other inanimate personages to learn more about myself.

I suppose I’m saying all this because I maintain a healthy (in size, not in actual health) cocoon around myself these days. I feel more aware of those around me than I used to, however.

God willing, we won’t end up as the dessicated husks with a telepresence depicted in every major sci-fi dystopia from The Matrix to Surrogates.

Gentle reader, I yield the floor to you: what’s your opinion on this matter?

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1Good gracious, that’s a convoluted definition. What am I, Samuel Johnson?

On Mary

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Matir Theou.It’s difficult to find something that hasn’t already been said, pondered, or pontificated upon regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary, so I doubt it behooves me much to try. Just about everyone knows that the BVM is the earthly mother of the Christians’ savior, Jesus. Of course, to what extent her early influence continues on Christendom at large is hotly disputed. As I heard a very Anglo-Catholic priest say once, though: “She was His mom, you know.” It does stand to reason that she would, as the medievals say, have Jesus’ ear…
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I suppose what I and allegedly many other folks would object to is the exaltation of this all-too-human woman to the status of deity. I’ll even admit that, whatever the saints’ relation to our lives, she is indeed the first of the Christian era, and possibly the greatest. But does she work miracles, like Christ? Does she act as an advocate in our distress, like Christ? Did she ascend into the heavens or was sinlessly conceived, like Christ?

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See? That’s pretty scary, isn’t it?

It’s this rather limited type of Mary that I envision taking the time out of her busy schedule to pester children about their rosaries or inform us of future tourist traps.

Unfortunately, my quick fix to this perennial “goddess problem” was to isolate the incomprehensible God into the “paternal” Father, “maternal” Spirit and “filial” Son, following in the footsteps of a few others that shall remain nameless (or should they?). Blech… perhaps the best lesson to take from all this is to simply let God be God instead of confine Him/Her to simple gender binaries.

So can Mary give us any amont of help or solace whatsoever? Let’s just say the jury is out for the nonce. One thing I know for sure, though–Mary herself, in whatever capacity she still operates, must have been far less passive, milquetoast, and Caucasoid in her own time than how various churchmen have dutifully portrayed her at sundry times and places. And as long as she directs us continually to God, I don’t see why her lovingly looming presence should be considered that much of a problem for the mature Christian.

 And the angel came in unto her, and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. . . . For with God nothing shall be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:28-30 and 37-38

On Coming Out Episcopalian

National Cathedral

How fitting that, on the feast day of St. C. S. Lewis, I post to this here blog. Now for you liturgy wonks out there, you know that acknowledging a saint’s day for someone as modern as Mr. Lewis here means only one thing: I’m a blinkin’ Anglican (or rather, Episcopalian). Or almost, anyway… I’ve attended several services and am quite excited about attending a more traditional one when I come home for the holidays.

As I previously considered myself somewhere in the galaxy of the Churches of Christ, or at the very least in the Restoration Movement that seeks (insofar as it is possible) to reconstruct the original first-century Church. Unfortunately, this has been tragically reduced to mean no imagery, ornamentation, or elaboration of any kind on the Christianity which we see a glimpse of in the New Testament. Even the witness of mere decades after the Church was founded apparently details apostasy only, with no light. Thus, we have no stained glass, no musical instruments, no choirs, no chancels, no liturgy, no prayer books, no healings, no speaking in tongues, no candles, no crosses, no pastoral guidance from anyone beyond your congregation, and no ladies in positions of authority. Granted, some of this may even be violating Biblical implications if we ever overstep our bounds!

Needless to say, the Episcopal Church is a huge jump to make from this, but as I grew up, I realized I was ready to make it. Perhaps it’s just a late-in-youth rebellion and a desire to extricate myself from my rocky last semester at my conservative college, but in the Episcopal Church I see a lot of what I hoped the Church of Christ would grow to become: a church that takes advantage of its founders’ desire for Christian unity and the “ancient ways” to open up new vistas of beautiful worship services, time-hallowed words, and ample room for disagreement. Ironically, I find that most of the things that concern me the most about the Episcopalians (nobody’s perfect, and I haven’t been confirmed yet either) are those that are least covered by their detractors, like infant baptism and the authority of the episcopate. And what their detractors love to harp on, I barely notice.

Consider:

Objection 1: THEY HAVE GAYS!!!

Note: There are gay people in your church, too. In fact, I guarantee it. I guess my ambivalence on this is based on my indecision on the precise moral status of homosexuality–nature or nurture? Does it really impede Christian service, regardless of whether they’re proud of it or not (a lot of Bible majors at my school actually admit to struggling with addictions like pornography and alcohol) ?

Objection 2: Women can’t be priests. And I should know, I’m a Baptist.

Maybe that was a cheap shot… but seriously, Mr. Non-Denominational shouldn’t stick his nose into the Roman Catholics’ business. We already know they disagree. I note that in the Bible, deacons, presbyters (“priests”) and bishops are described in male terms (I Tim. 3), although deaconesses obviously exist and are greatly lauded by St. Paul (Rom. 16:1-2). So could this distinction possibly be extended to include “presbyteresses” and “bishopesses” as well?!

Objection 3: They’re all a bunch of liberals.

Have you ever disagreed with anyone in your church hierarchy? If you’re from a non-hierarchical church, have you ever disagreed with anyone in your church? Also, remember this is usually coming from groups for whom everything is too liberal–even sundry opinions.

Objection 4: Their numbers are dwindling. Therefore, they must be wrong.

If I went by that assessment, I would have left the Churches of Christ before I had any disagreements with them whatsoever.

Objection 5: There’s too much variety in thought and doctrine! Somebody tell me what to believe!

*phew* Thank God.

Edited on: 19.05.10.

For a discussion of the Anglican churches’ much-contested place in the “Catholic vs. Protestant” dichotomy, click here. My vote is “Independent Catholic,” since your average “Protestant” would not suffer apostolic succession, smells ‘n’ bells and appeals to the ancients gladly. To my knowledge, the only things that really distinguish us in a Protestant manner are our fierce independence and devotion to Scripture (and really, who would take pride in their “ignorance of Scripture,” anyway?). I agree with this commenter, who notes: “The prayer book never asks us to believe in protestantism but it does require that we, individually and collectively, believe in the Catholic Church. That alone should settle the matter.”

The Verdict: Rozen Maiden (Vols. 1-3)

“Your mischief has gone far enough, Lil’ Strawberry…”

–Doll Shakedown in Rozen Maiden

Manga >> Peach-Pit’s Rozen Maiden (Vols. 1-3)

I decided to take a trip in the Wayback Machine to a series that I have almost finished at this point (due to my avarice in gobbling up each installment): Peach-Pit’s Rozen Maiden. With the creators’ suggestive-sounding nom de plume, a rather shojo feel throughout and a downright creepy Gothicism, you think that I would despise it. But all things considered, Rozen Maiden is an intriguing little work. The blurb on the back advertises it as a “metaphysical comedy,” and it definitely does not disappoint.

The beginning of this series is where its strength lies–enter Jun Sakurada, an obstinate, oversensitive, emo lad who for some reason or another has chosen to withdraw from school, his friends, and his loving sister Nori. To give the audience some idea of how utterly petty Jun is, we find him doing the only thing he loves nowadays: buying cheap crap over the Intarwebs, then hastily returning it before the “risk-free trial period” expires. Yeah, he rolls like that.

In his computer desk one day, a note appears with the question of to wind or not to wind. He chooses “wind.” By “wind,” they mean “wind up a doll,” and by “wind up a doll,” they mean “bring said doll magically to life.” Over time, all seven of the dolls are expected to accumulate in his home, eventually destined by their creator, the Dutchman (?) Rozen, to battle for supremacy. Even… to the death?

Against all odds, this is all carried out with almost saccharine sweetness at times. From the tough-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold Shinku (who makes Jun her “manservant”) to the precious Hinaichigo (“Lil’ Strawberry”), all main characters are fully explored and given backstories in “the N-Field” (apparently synonymous with Jung’s collective unconscious!). Jungian references are my big weakness, sorry.

As always, the fragility of the various dolls and the deadliness of their capabilities are frequently drawn upon for dramatic irony and cognitive dissonance. The rather hallucinatory design of most of the work can get under your skin if it weren’t for the (sometimes forced) comedic relief segments. And for those who think it looks creepy, I have to say… that’s the idea. It’s not just Gothic, it’s Gothity-Goth-Goth Goth.

And that says nothing of the series’ broken villainess, Suigintoh. We don’t much about her this point, save that she’s bad news. Oh, and she’ll tear your arm right out of its socket. (Read and see…)

So pick up a copy of Rozen Maiden… get in touch with your effete feminine side today!

Final Grade: A-.