Archives For anxiety

Having been buried in the topics of theology, specifically Christian history and political theology. I haven’t yet had the chance to fully engage with a lot of conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton’s work.

I’m indebted to an internet friend for posting this video on his blog otherwise I’d have completely missed it. Scruton is interviewed for an hour and half by Dutch journalist, Wim Kayzer as part of a series called ‘Of Beauty and Consolation‘.

The whole interview is worth watching. Since it is quite lengthy, my purpose here will be to share some of the more stand out points.

What this interview serves to show, among other things, is that, unlike modern liberalism and its cult-like followers, conservatives (and they’re allies) cannot be truly pinned down. Sure, extremes exist and there is [slash] are basic, tried and true, propositions by which conservatives work.

Conservatives,however, and in a lot of ways, those aligned with them, cannot be placed into a neat little box, then pushed aside under a plethora of reckless labeling that often comes their way. The freedom of religion, speech and conscience allows for the freedom of thought and the challenge of ideas.

Of everything discussed, the content between 53:00-58:00 is, to me, among the most significant.

Here Scruton states:

“Hysteria dominates modern politics … I think it’s no accident that the loss of faith in our century [20th Cent.] immediately was accompanied by the rise of totalitarian government. Communism; Nazism; Fascism. All of which are atheistic creeds growing out of superstitions [& hysteria]; growing out of a loss of the God-head”

This is the high point from which the documentary takes flight. The interview, from this point, spreads out in a range of answers to questions about society, theology, politics, philosophy and marriage.

Overall the interview follows its own organic course. The only thing planned were the questions. Outside those, Scruton leads the conversation the entire time.

Other points worth mentioning include: His response in 1:03/49 is very Barthian, and second, Scruton’s statement that marriage was a “creative endeavor”:

“Marriage is a creative endeavor that lifts us out of the animal realm and inscribes us into the eternal”

Scruton is candid, having no issue with opening up about his battle with social anxiety and how learning to overcome it has informed his philosophy; his search for truth. This is also evidenced by his thoughts on where modern (post-Christian) society is at.

“The problem with the modern world, in my view, is that people no longer dwell on the earth. They move as nomads around it. In search of something they know not what, and never finding it. Moving from person to person, place to place.”

The pandemics of “panic”, meaninglessness and emptiness which now plague the world are largely driven by anxiety avoidance and a “lack of awareness about its own state of unhappiness – it is the panic of the isolated individual“.

“People are totally [lost] at sea without the religious sense/awareness of that which exists beyond ourselves;that God feeling. With the loss of moral equilibrium that is provided by the Divine, and their detachment from where this is made real, people become prey to superstition of the most appalling kind.”

The interview is centered on the human concepts of experience, beauty and consolation. The conversation which follows is casually worked out from there. Ending with a return to Scruton’s comments about meeting his wife during a hunting trip.

The topic of consolation is the centerpiece of most responses. One stand out part is the distinction he makes between fake consolation and authentic consolation.

“False consolation, like finding refuge in wine or alcohol, does not involve over-coming. Consolation comes from having confronted trouble and elicited  from the heart of trouble the resolution of it.”

This lengthy interview caught me by surprise. I was not expecting to hear anything about Scruton’s battle with anxiety, his troubled home life as a child or his views on modern politics. Another surprise was learning that Scruton was a musician.

As was pointed out to me, Scruton’s theology is ‘not as refined’ as some might like. His theology does slide away at some points. Scruton struggles to find the right words. To his credit, when this happens he moves to assert that he is not a theologian, and even though he is discussing theology, “he [therefore] can’t answer those questions with the same acuity”.

I wasn’t a fan of the tone given out by the interviewer, but given the differences between Europe and Australia. Perhaps this can be graciously put down to being a kind of cultural tone I’m not used to hearing. Nevertheless, I sat through the entire interview and devoured it.


(RL2017)

H/T: Kevin Davis, Of Beauty and Consolation  sourced 12th May 2017 from After Existentialism, Light.

Belonging Rom8_15_GVL_RL2013

This time of year is particularly difficult for those with family who are absent or who feel as though they don’t belong. Christmas can be seen as unfair, an unwelcome reminder of too much disappointment. The dreaded time of year when more salt is added to already aggravated, yet-to-heal wounds. When Christmas eve is spent ringing sometimes hostile and estranged family members to at least, albeit at a safe distance, meet and greet them in the hope that this year wounds will heal as prayers are answered.

Even in this reflection, I find that my longing to fit in where I think I belong is confronted by a new belonging, if it isn’t replaced by it completely. In the midst of this encounter I am reminded that I cannot remain absent in places where I have been given an invitation to be present.

This is because belonging when you don’t belong is a unique attribute of a Christian gathering, particularly pertinent at Christmas.

This idea lingers in the storylines of movies which narrate to us the wisdom that says our worth and identity exist outside of our possessions, work and social status. The music at this time of year reminds us of a homecoming even if the house or the family in it are not, or were not originally ours.

The gift of the gathering is to be recognised by those of us who encounter more sorrow than merriment during Christmas. Presuming that the gathering is an authentic gathering, we will discover, if we care to admit it, something special – unique. The bitter disappointment that enters your entire being; the taste of fallen Christmas’ past are slowly eroded by the loving merriment of those who were once strangers. An emptiness filled over time by people who consider your presence the most important present of all.

As time goes by, the echo of this response leaves memories that are generally filled with more Merry than “Meh-rry”. It is untidy at times and not perfect, but it is healthy, joyful and genuine.

Something, or rather someone who grasps us, even as we are gasping, trying to smile and not entertain thoughts about where ones own side of the extended family are this time of year.

Your heart may feel like it is being squeezed into your throat, but thankfully the sensation passes, even if the questions and contrasts increase the sense of inferiority and displacement. The pain of isolation and abandonment is not cancelled out or discounted by this strange, new belonging; rather it is answered by it.

This discovery uncovers lives grounded upon the reconciliation between God and humanity. We find ourselves in a different, strange and unique place of acceptance, a place where we belong even if we don’t truly think we do.

Out of the gathering we are reminded of the theological position that states, in Jesus the Christ we understand that our reconciliation with God happens through his movement towards us  – the answer to the paradox that we belong even though we don’t belong is exemplified by Paul Tillich’s imperative to ‘accept that you are accepted[i]’.

It may be only once a year, but in the gathering the melancholic and the introvert finds the gift of acceptance, the gift of being present, of being around people he or she doesn’t feel they even belong being around. It is then up to the melancholic and the introvert to respond. To accept that they are accepted if it is safe enough to do so.

This kind of gathering is a gift. The wonderful knowledge that being present is itself received as a gift.

This kind of belonging is driven by the acceptance of, and invitation to, those who don’t belong by those that do.

Men and women who may fail to understand the significance of your reticent manner, but still acknowledge that you’re being present is a worthwhile gift; a selfless offering made in spite of the pain, the brokenness and sorrow. In spite of the emptiness and the clear absence of anyone directly related to you.

This encounter with a new belonging cannot be purchased; neither does its impact dissolve into the atmosphere once the event has come to a close.

During Christmas and New Year, busyness and distraction are temptations too easily agreed to. However, agreeing to these only enable negative patterns of anxiety avoidance.

Alternatively accepting the invitation to gather lovingly confronts a soul-filled with sorrow by the gentle reminder that you will find less solace in the solitude of a glass of wine, than in a Christ led crowd of forty plus people who are genuinely pleased that you made the effort to show up. Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus as saying: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:20, ESV)

Perhaps this might coincide with Paul’s reminder to the Church in Rome, as a potential reminder to us that we:

‘did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, as sons (and daughters) by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Paul, Rom.8:15, ESV)


[i] Tillich, P. 1952 The Courage To Be Yale University Press p.164
[ii] Video: [Official] Linkin Park, Somewhere I Belong from the album Meteora available @ itunes

I have been mulling over these words from Marguerite Shuster:

 ‘those who Jesus confronted most directly were as likely to want to kill him as to follow him. He seemed to not have the slightest inclination to make hearing and following him pleasant and easy…Truthfulness, in other words, is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’

(‘The truth and truthfulness’, 2008)

For Christians, Shuster’s words express the very essence of what it means to be a ‘good [faithful/trustworthy] Christian’ instead of a ‘nice Christian’ (Paul Coughlin, 2005).As a consequence, the misappropriation of these words  becomes one of the causes of the double mindedness, which drives our anxiety fuelled obsession with people pleasing.

My developing thesis is that in todays post-modern society we seem accustomed to using the words ‘nice’ and ‘good [faithful/trustworthy]’ interchangeably. For example:  western society tends to value appearance and reputation, over truth and substance of character. In other words, those who appear to be nice are also good. Therefore the assumption is that appearance surrounding a persons reputation negates the need for a reasoned assessment of their character .

The following story illustrates the point that ‘good nature may be a great misfortune if we do not mix prudence with it’ (Charles Spurgeon):

”An old man and his young son were driving a donkey before them to the next market to sell. ‘Why have you no more wit’, says one to the man upon the way, ‘than you and your son trudge it on foot, and let the donkey go light?’

So the old man set his son upon the donkey and continued himself on foot. ‘Why, sir’, says another after this, to the boy, ‘you lazy rogue, must you ride, and let you old father go on foot?’

The old man upon this took down his son, and got up himself. ‘Do you see,’ says a third, ‘how lazy old knave rides himself, and the poor young fellow has much ado to creep after him?’

The father, upon hearing this, took up his son behind him. The next person they met asked the old man whether the donkey was his own or not. He said, ‘yes’. ‘There’s a little sign on it’, says another, ‘by loading him thus.’

‘Well,’ says the old man himself, ‘and what am I to do now? For I am laughed at, if either the donkey be empty, or if one of us rides, or both;’ and so he came to the conclusion to bind the donkey’s legs together with a cord, and they tried to carry him to market with a pole upon each of their shoulders.

This was sport to everybody that saw it, inasmuch that the old man in great wrath threw down the donkey into a river, and so went his way home again. The good man, in fine , was willing to please anybody, and lost his donkey in the process” (Spurgeon, ‘The complete John Ploughman’)

IMG_20130711_110610_20130711111046627After sharing this short story Spurgeon notes:

‘The way of pleasing man is hard, but blessed are they who please God.Put your hand quickly to your hat, for that is courtesy; but don’t bow your head at every man or woman’s bidding, for that is slavery…A person is not free if they are afraid to think for themselves, for if our thoughts are in bonds we are not free…‘.

We are left with this reminder: ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach…but let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind…a double-minded person is unstable in all their ways’ (James 1:8)

In some respects the father’s blind acquiescence (neo-tolerance) and his son’s inability to challenge the father’s lack of restraint in pleasing people, led both of them away from questioning the wisdom behind what they were accepting. As a result they entertained the opinions of others and negated the very purpose of their journey.

Appearing to be nice or good does not equate to the actuality of being faithful and trustworthy. Accommodation (blind tolerance), lack of restraint and making decisions just to keep people happy informs part of Jean Bethke Elshstain’s politically charged statement:

‘I read the palpable despair and violence as dark signs of the times, warnings that democracy may not be up to the task of satisfying the yearnings it unleashes for freedom and fairness, and equality’.

What Elshtain and Spurgeon are alluding to is the absence of the dialectical qualifier. One which says to the current state of Western democracy: that equality, fairness and freedom cannot exist in a truly democratic society when the people give unquestioning loyalty to the state, or the fashionable ideology provoked by academia, which promises much and delivers little.

Hedonism cannot be the deciding factor in political policy. A people pleasing plebiscite that caves in to the demands for unrestrained freedom, does not understand either slavery nor freedom. By it democracy falls and quickly becomes ‘mob rule’. Like the donkey in a ditch it will lay dormant, denied, despairing and desperate for rescue. Those who choose to people please, pledge allegiance to an empty ideology advanced by a lost and wandering activism. An activism which clings to historically destructive theories which say that humanity will be free when it can liberate itself from the life-giving source of our freedom.

As gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1978 said:

‘When we don’t apply a moral criteria to politics, we mix good and evil, right and wrong. Therefore we make space for the triumph of absolute evil in the world’ (Harvard address)

The result is a persecution of those who respond in a thinking and faithful way to the free God. They are limited and are placed into bondage to a regime that is far from a reasoned, mature democratically elected representative of the people . This consequence is threefold. Firstly, in seeking equality, the lost and wandering activism creates inequality. Secondly, in seeking fairness they subject people to their disorientated view of tolerance. Lastly, by arguing that true freedom means to allow, and act on such a view, is to forget that any freedom absent of self-restraint takes for granted the source of human freedom and ignores it’s ‘commanded orientation’ (Karl Barth).

446px-The_Torment_of_Saint_Anthony_(Michelangelo)

Source: Michelangelo, Torment of Saint Anthony

Sources:

Elshtain, J.B Democracy on Re-trial
Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are we? critical reflections and hopeful possibilities (particularly chapter three) Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Grand Rapids Michigan U.S.A
Shuster, M. 2008 Truth and truthfulness in Performance in preaching Childers & Schmidt, Baker Academic
Solzhenitsyn, A. 1978 A world split apart Harvard sourced from Columbia.edu
Spurgeon, C.H.  2007 The complete John Ploughman Christian Focus publications