The Spirit and the Flesh: Adversarial Allies

If a man asks you for food, take him to a sandwich shop and sit with him to eat.  Don’t give him a wad of bills or a card to draw infinitely upon the food bank.  You do not serve the man in him with such charity—you stifle his humanity by making your sacrifice at the altar of the Stomach.  You proclaim that the end of life is to stay alive.  You heard the word “hungry”, but you did not hear the man who said he was hungry.

If a man tells you that his child is sick and needs medicine, take him and his child to a doctor, and buy what medicine is needed.  But do not give the man’s family endless draws upon your account to buy whatever medicine they may need at any time in the future.  Charity without a setting or boundaries is an unlimited worship of the god Health; and in serving that god, you declare that life is about nothing but health, always health.  If the child is cured for no other reason than to stay cured, then he might as well grow on a stem in a garden, like a vegetable.

And if a man comes to you saying that he is so tired of life that he yearns to end it, do not give him a free pass to an amusement park or introduce him to a wild leaf that sends the bored mind into ecstasy.  The god of Escape can keep bodies alive as well as food and medicine sometimes—but what lives is only a body.  Try your best, rather, to show the man what weariness of life teaches about life: that it ends in nothing if one sets one’s goals within its boundaries.

Charity is not about feeding the hungry, but about removing hunger as an obstacle to a higher mission.  Sickness is another obstacle—and the purpose of life is not to avoid being sick, any more than it is to avoid boredom.

We always teeter on the brink of getting this wrong, because lavishing people with food or medicine or amusement is a deed, a measurable behavior… but the spirit has no measure.  The spirit is a negative presence, we might say.  We cannot bestow it as we would a sandwich of a Z-pack.  We can only remove obstacles to it.  Saving a person from death only gives him the opportunity to live; we cannot know if he will use his opportunity well.  Refusing to fuel a lie only gives the truth an opportunity to prevail; we cannot know if that truth will bring most people to insight or despair.

Health, happiness, prosperity… they all end when life ends.  And if life ends tomorrow, then it might as well end today—at least if it is to hold nothing for us but animal satisfactions won from a body that declines to torture us.  But for a person who has found purpose in life, even bodily tortures—sickness, tedium, poverty—are a small price to pay if they are a means of the spirit’s reaching its end.  A father will live on one meal a day to feed his child.  An artist will take the money that might have kept wood in his fireplace if it will buy paint and canvas.

What kind of person are we producing in our world today—a plump vegetable immobilized in a garden, or a visionary who happily suffers privation for the sake of a higher end?  I think we all know.



A Professor’s Life at a “Christian” College: Assume Nothing!

Once again, very pressed for time, I’ve decided to excerpt from the introduction I’ve just written to some of my past scribbles collected into an anthology.  Will try to be more original next time!

The Greeks called the period of life when a man reached his thirties the acme, or peak. Perhaps I continued to be a late bloomer. In retrospect, it certainly seems to me that I might have awakened to a few unpleasant facts of existence a little sooner.

Foremost among these would have been the truth about the professorial lifestyle. At the beginning of these “acme” years, my unstable professional situation had put my small family into something near survival mode.  I resigned the last tenure-track position that I would ever occupy for numerous reasons, some having to do with how far scattered our extended families had become as I dragged my wife about in search of employment “with a future”; but the ignition point of my resignation, as I’ve never denied to myself or anyone else, was a boss who constantly laid traps for me after carefully removing her fingerprints from the set-up. This went on from Day One, for five years. I had been hired against her will, and her “beef” had soon become pretty obvious. She had to her credit neither a Ph.D. nor a single “significant publication” (as it’s known in the biz). Ever hoping that I would stumble into one of her finely crafted snares, therefore, and have to depart in disgrace, trailing behind me my offensive résumé of publications, she didn’t so much transform life into hell as sabotage my moments of enjoyment with perpetual anxiety about where my front foot was about to fall.

Our first son was born as this period began—the happiest day of my life; and, if the reader will pardon me for taxing credibility, it was only after the general display of interest in and congratulation to my newly expanded family roused her tireless envy that the Boss decided she, too, must have a child. Any eclipse of her place in full sunlight was intolerable. Her own son was duly born (almost as if on command) within a couple of years, she collected her laurels and applause… and then she consigned the child’s rearing to her milquetoast husband and returned to addressing higher rungs of the career ladder. After my departure, I’m told that she addressed them very successfully.

All of this took place in the context of a “Christian” school.  If I devote what may seem an inordinate amount of space to such events, it’s because I would have you accept that they took a very heavy toll on my morale. I probably should have laughed them off… but the priceless endowment of a forgetful, dismissive heart was left out of the package that holds my character traits. There were less shocking incidents, of course—and a lot of them: for instance, the dean who seriously proposed to me that I could fight “grade inflation” in my classes by giving A’s all semester long (thus ensuring good student-evaluations) and then bring the inverted numerical pyramid crashing down at the last moment with a killer final exam worth half the term’s total. Those words were really spoken… and many others in the same genre, always behind closed doors. The fraudulent masks of piety and prayer that covered daily business, month in, month out, made of my life away from home an unending transit through a haunted house.  I’m not entirely ashamed that I couldn’t endure a diet of rotten meat served with honey for twenty years, as did a few genuinely decent people around me in this institution; yet something in me, I’ll admit, wishes that I had owned a stronger stomach.

True, I had a devoted wife—and now a child—to stabilize the weaving hallucinations beyond our doorstep. That should have been enough, some would say. Traditionally, that was supposed to be enough (though I never actually saw it work for anyone in my father’s generation). I’m afraid that the reverse may be true: that the lies you live when you exit your driveway will come slithering through your energy-efficient windows to infect the whole household….

Depression: Part Two

Looking back on my youth, I realize that I frequently fought through bouts of what would now be designated depression.  There were times when I wanted my life to end; and there were one of two times when I wanted it very much not to end, but was almost terrified that I would be unable to keep myself from pulling the plug.  I never asked for anyone’s help at any such moment, partly due to pride, to shame… perhaps mostly that.  But I also think I was aware that any meaningful, durable solution would have to come from my own wrestling with the invisible tormentor.  No one could wage that battle for me.

Of course, we now know (italics of irony) that depression has no ratiocinative component: it’s just a hormonal imbalance. Silly me! Thinking never causes anything or resolves anything. We’re just bags of DNA and enzymes.

Not too long ago, I was treated to a round of contemptuous hoots from several coeds when I made an off-hand, jocular reference to suicide in class.  One would have thought that I had drawn an obscene cartoon about Muhammad on the wall of a mosque while worship was in progress.  Today’s young souls “in jeopardy”, from where I stand, are indeed rather wimpy in their approach to the subject.  Above all, I should say that they want to be noticed.  They want their issues of depression and suicide to be taken very, very, VERY seriously… because when they feel down, it’s a result of their being non-entities among their peer group—and the world’s appropriate response must be instantly and utterly to stop everything else and notice their crisis, thus remedying the potentially fatal attack of negligence.

I can’t help harboring a certain callousness here.  By the grace of God, I managed to crawl through Hell and back when I was the same age as these drama queens, and my isolation was several exponents more intense than theirs.  No one cried for me, and I sought no one’s tears.  In fact, being noticed in such a state would have disgusted me—with myself most of all, but perhaps a little with the Good Samaritan who offered consolation.  I’m not saying that my sentiments were healthy ones; I’m saying that I cannot recognize the youth that I was then in the young people I see today.

Something else I might note along the same lines: my distress was fundamentally rooted in the collapse of every traditional value—courage, honor, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility—that I observed proceeding apace all around me.  Romantic love and torrid sexual adventures were indistinguishable; attention to personal grooming lest one inflict discomfort on one’s neighbors was considered a sell-out to bourgeois hypocrisy; plangent insistence that one’s selfish needs be served did not seem to stir any accompanying sense of shame.  I could see no open path to being a young man of honor and principle in the era of Woodstock, reefers, and shack-ups.

In contrast, I see today’s vulnerable youth as hitting rock-bottom when they fail to catch onto the coattails of some bypassing trend.  For a while, having too few friends on Facebook—or getting lit up by one of them in a posted comment—was clear grounds for hara kiri.  Maybe it still is… but my hunch is that the angst has largely shifted to “social media” venues like Instagram about which I know nothing.  The problem now isn’t that there are no more Mohicans and the ways of a past you worshiped are all desecrated; it’s that you can’t acquire enough feathers in time to join the latest tribe.

Suicide is suicide: no wanton waste of a life is ever trivial.  But at least the battle I fought was one to exist as an honest, adult human in an evolving world of counterfeit, vulgarity, and even bestiality.  I don’t see these distressed kids around me as being in the least concerned about claiming an identity in God as the toxic swill of the world soils their shoes: they simply seem to want to be Bubble Number 89 in the malodorous froth.

And, yeah, that gets me depressed, to this very day and hour.  If you can’t even have the dignity and sense to feel blue about something worth worrying about, then you’re not evidence of a social trajectory that would inspire optimism in a thoughtful person.


Depression: Part One

I do this sometimes: i get busy on a project and then decide to paste some of it into a blog instead of writing a new column.  Below is a bit from the intro I’ve been reworking for a collection including every poem I’ve published over the past forty years.  It becomes a kind of commentary on depression.  I’ll try to pursue that particular topic further next time.

The Coelacanth poems may have been partially composed, in some cases, when I was still a teenager.  Certainly I was in my mid-twenties when I pulled everything together to publish through a “vanity press”—having very correctly concluded that no “respectable” organ of the Muse at that time (the Seventies and Eighties) would let the leprous hand of such work touch its celestial hem.  Let me explain.

I had a “very young youth”, in that I didn’t reach maturity for years—or at all—in the fashion common among my peer group, especially those who went on to “elite” universities.  Everyone was experimenting in those days, early and often: experimenting with sex, with drugs, with haircuts and haberdashery.  I had already staked my claim to oddballism well before high school.  My family’s means were limited; many of my classmates had streets and museums named after their clan.  I was quiet and given to daydreaming; these were the years of spilling your guts in “sensitivity groups” and “letting it all hang out”.  High school and then college brought all of my environment’s unreconciled vectors into open collision.  I became an incredibly unworldly lad adrift in the most worldly generation, perhaps, yet known to man (if “worldliness” may be understood as liberation from the traditional and from a default-value restraint once called “decency”).

Most peculiar of all, this unenviable position made me extraordinarily mature in strangely isolated, incoherent ways.  I acquired a sense of wry irony that wouldn’t quit.  How could I not have?  The “liberated revolutionaries” all around me swept up the vast majority of college students my age into a lockstep march toward counter-conformist conformity.  If one did not revolt in just their fashion, one was tarred as “the other” and shunned as fatally infectious.  Some of the shunning, to be sure, was more on the order of benign condescension or amused pity. I recall being confronted now and then by a more affable footsoldier of The Movement about the poverty of a life such as mine, so sadly lacking in a “rich diversity of experiences”; and I further recall answering (or thinking the answer—for I was usually too shy to speak it), “To be twenty-one and not jaded by dead-end experiences is not only an experience unknown to you, but one from which you have now sealed yourself forever.”  That, had it been said, would have been well said.

What I could not or would not speak found its way straight into my writing. A fierce spirit of independence (perhaps the fiercer for its self-suppression in social circumstances) is not difficult to make out in these poems of my twenties—that and, again, the wry misanthropy of the wounded young soul who doesn’t look for things to get any better.  What has shocked me occasionally as I have transcribed the dozen Coelacanth scribbles (for we hadn’t so much as the first floppy disk back then) is the undercurrent of real despair: sometimes a complete tergiversation on the brotherhood of man (as in “The Tiger”), sometimes a religious mysticism that longs only for deserts (“The Prophet”).  The somewhat melodramatic prose introductions to each section seem to me a rear-guard action intended to generalize and elevate some of the panic into a calm, even serene moralism… but a wild scent lingers between those lines, as in the verses. Young people, we should always remember, are dynamos of energy without clear direction. If offered no wise guidance by their elders (and never did Elder Authority abrogate its shepherding duties more shamefully than in the Seventies), they are highly susceptible to self-destruction.

Fortunately, the Gospel of Matthew became a literary sun that I orbited (the rest of the Bible much less so—for it is in Matthew that the drama of persecuted innocence shines through with the greatest fervor).   I managed to stay away from the cults that often consumed castaways in my situation.  To this day, I clearly remember a very simpatica young woman with whom I conversed lengthily as denimed, tee-shirted undergraduate drones trooped past us on Austin’s teeming campus (at the foot of the building from which Charles Whitman had gunned down two dozen people in his lunacy).  She left me a pamphlet.  A friend later sniffed it over and announced with a smirk, “She’s a Moonie!”  I must have had that look of “potential charismatic recruit” about me… for some chanting Hare Krishnas also made a gift to me in an airport (perhaps during that very year) of a lavish volume whose Sanskrit I have just begun translating in this, my silver twilight.  No, I didn’t fall into step with any of them… but I hope that God has touched them gently and led them to a safe haven.


Christmas: Merry If Possible—Better Yet, Meaningful

One more try at free speech.  Is this the lump of coal in your stocking? I hope not! Perhaps that depends on who’s pulling off the wrapper.

Have I said that I consider the honoring of free speech to be a holy obligation, not a mere civil right?  Let me say so now, and attempt a better, fuller explanation.

I wrote earlier that we shouldn’t view keeping open the channels of communication as an extended opportunity to convince the misguided. Are all of us “free speech” advocates, then, taking for granted that we’re right, and that the freedom we seek is the chance to make the whole world admit it? That attitude reeks of the obnoxious conceit inherent in progressive and reactionary ideologues alike—the ones whose clenching argument that you have the wrong opinion is a firing squad or a burning stake.  If re-education camp or a public recanting before the Inquisition doesn’t work, a bullet in the head always gets those jumbled ideas sorted out… and what better way to “open” a new channel?

I also wrote that free exchange forces one to think through one’s own position more meticulously, even if nobody else is persuaded by it.  But the wording there bothers me inasmuch as it implies that we might absolutely nail the truth if we just keep refining our conceptions.  It sounds rather like scientific method, which isn’t what I’m after. Approximating the truth is a worthy goal, to be sure… but also a notion fraught with such potential danger that my intended meaning, ultimately, lies in the opposite direction.

How perverse! In what way would I wish to veer down the path opposite to drawing near the truth? Wouldn’t that require me to draw away from the truth? Obviously, I do not wish to celebrate error. What I mean to say is on the order of this, if I may be allowed to stumble through a mathematical analogy. The arc of a parabola always approaches an axis—but to suppose that it intersects the axis at any eventual point is false.

Or let me return to my earlier terms. I wrote of the “mystery of presence”: there I should have lingered.  Usually when one shuts down exchanges with others, one does so because a “reachable” answer has, in fact, been reached, whether those other parties acknowledge it or not.  Sometimes, too, we turn and walk away because the others “have the answer” (they claim) and aren’t listening to us.  Further exchange is useless.  If the truth is in our court, we arrive at a point where we have no more patience with folly… and we go on about our business.

This is a good thing, and even a necessary thing, in “business” of a practical turn.  A straight line cuts an axis at a given point—and life does indeed have many straight lines. You can’t confer infinitely with others about whether your car needs an oil change or your store needs to move to a less heavily taxed venue.  Even though there may be irreducible vagueness in some such material matters, we must eventually go with the best evidence. We cannot operate two stores at once to find out which does the better business.

The spiritual danger of cutting short our discussions appears when controversy leaves the realm of nuts and bolts and enters that of value judgments.  Once again, I will instantly and vigorously deflect the charge of being a relativist. I am no such thing. I am certain that human sacrifice is wrong; I am so precisely because the practice removes a being like myself permanently from earthly exchanges—from participation in negotiating our shared uncertainty.  I am certain that child abuse is wrong; I am so precisely because traumatizing a being like myself at a stage when he or she may never be able to reason freely, as a result, is an assault on our common humanity.

The certainty I mean—the certainty that dangerously shuts down the exchange—treats issues of value as though they were mechanical questions or budgetary decisions: as though they could be arbitrated by scientific method.  What is good for a human being?  Easy, says the politician: a full belly, full pockets, free trips to the doctor, a thousand stations on the TV’s menu.  But all of these “blessings” can rot the soul if they completely remove anguish, striving, and learning from the human condition.  Their one great asset is their “thingness”—their quiddity.  They allow discussions to end on the same note as our determination about an oil change.  We may not agree with the collective verdict, but time will surely tell if it was correct.  The number of starved bodies lying dead in the streets can be counted.  Cases of influenza can be logged and graphed.  The availability of ESPN2 is a fairly objective determinant for frivolous amusement’s “abundance” threshold.

Is the discussion now truly finished about liberated sexual practices, for instance, just because sex feels good and modern medicine can make its unwanted consequences disappear?  Was it all always just a question of moving merchandise from A to B? I will never endorse gay marriage or homosexuality, because I believe that such practices subordinate higher objectives to lower objectives.  As in hedonistic heterosexual practices, the pattern here drives child-bearing and rearing from center-stage to leave sexual satisfaction the star of the show. Sensual gratification then becomes a dominant element in defining our personhood—a mere appetite, something that defies the rule of reason, wanes with the coming of old age, and can leave us completely with sickness or accident.  Yet I would not have the other side commanded to be silent, under threat of being stoned to death: I merely protest against treating the issue as an algebra problem where X has been definitively found.

For the link between body and spirit must always remain a mystery to me (and, I think, to you): I don’t see how any specific value for X can solve it. I do not and will never fully understand the connection between the spirit’s self-surpassing genius and our egocentric, carnal drives for sex, food, sleep, and the rest.  If the spirit is real, why was it encumbered in this manner? How is one side intended to be integrated with the other—what formula could make so irresistibly volatile an integration seem successful?

Such “discomfort” reminds me that my mind, as it is on this earth, cannot possibly occupy every room of God’s house.

They say that Artificial Intelligence will soon be able to pass for the human variety (the goal of the so-called Turing Test).  This will clearly be so if we continue to define our spiritual side downward, such that every moral quandary has a specific solution.  I am already risking my career to write what few words I have offered here against gay marriage; and were I to detail my views about extramarital adventures, I would face not so much instant expulsion as enduring derision.  We all know how our robot-compatriots will be programmed in those matters.  What coding, I wonder, will they receive with regard to a sunset or a misty valley?  “Good/pleasant”?  Why so?  Because the majority view would have it so?  What’s our theory on why we enjoy such scenes?  Probably something about our simian ancestors knowing that they’re safely on a tree limb or in a cave by day’s end… for the only reason you enjoy something is because you “get” something out of it. Right?

I love singer Giorgia Fumanti’s rendition of Espiritu.  Why?  Why do we love any work of art?  Because it relaxes us—we “get” relaxation out of it? So the right pill, then, would have the same effect?  Is Xanax the “art” drug? Do younger people actually love anything artistic any more?  Where do you see such open-ended discussions taking place?  Certainly not in college English departments, where works of literature are “great” because of the genitals or the pigmentation of their authors.  The same departments are rich in professors who want “offensive” speech banned from campus.

Am I coming any closer to expressing the holy obligation of free speech—to expressing why the end of free speech is asymptotic?  I doubt it; I have failed yet again!  In my mind, I keep orbiting that single word “mystery”.  We must speak to each other so that we may constantly fail to say quite what we mean to say.  We must be forever reminded that the inexpressible is a reality.  A robot doesn’t know that—cannot know that.  We seem to know it less and less ourselves as we concurrently shut down expression and reduce it to transmissible clichés.  And as free speech goes, so goes the fate of our souls.

A meaningful Christmas to you—the birthday of Him we crucify!


Chasing Truth: The Mystery of Spiritual Presence

In the wake of my last post, I’ve detected a certain nervous unease in one or two Christian readers.  They don’t like the construction, “We can never know the full truth in this life.”  On the contrary, they protest: we compelled by our faith to declare its truth with conviction. Am I joining our time’s relativists in echoing Pontius Pilate at every turn with an anemic, “What is truth?”

Of course I’m not. But part of our faith’s essential truth is precisely the obligation to remain humble in our ineradicable ignorance here on earth.  Take the biblical assertion from which much of this protest emanates: “Nobody comes to the Father except through the Son.”  What does that mean?  That you must be a member of an organized church?  Which church?  Do Catholics qualify?  Do Unitarians?  Mormons?  What if you live a hundred miles southwest of Nowhere, New Mexico, with no church of any denomination within a two hours’ drive?

Is it enough to say the right words on cue? Is faith, then, in a verbal formula? Are you purified if you recite, “I believe that we are saved by the blood of Christ, who died so that our sins might be forgiven”?  Forgiven by whom?  By God?  By the God who made us complicated and fragile?  And is He who created us, then, so shocked and angered by our infidelity that He requires our blood, like a Mayan sun god?  And His own son must volunteer for the chopping block before the blood may stop flowing?

How does God come to have a son in a way analogous to the human cycle of regeneration, anyway?  The Muslims call us polytheists.  How do we explain the Trinity to them?  How do we explain it to ourselves?  If the Father and the Son are ultimately the same, then why does our Johannine/Pauline formula insist upon comparing the Crucifixion to the earthly case of a father sacrificing his only begotten son?

Are these really the propositions in which you claim to see transparent truth, Christians?  To the extent that they are even comprehensible, they seem fearfully sanguinary and—I must say it—grotesquely impious in their identification of God with a vindictive fury, while also—yes—looking darned close to something a bit polytheistic.

But, naturally, I am too reductive.  There is much in these mysteries of faith that we don’t understand, whatever you may say.  That was my very point—that, and the necessity of committing ourselves to attempted explanation of the mysteries, which will likely always fall short but which can bring us a little nearer the truth.

God as Christ, Christ as a blood offering… does that not say, perhaps, that the true God willingly thrusts Himself so deeply into our human misery and confusion that He partakes of our suffering—that He bleeds?  Is He not the very opposite of the cruel, false gods that drink their victims’ life up insatiably: the god who gives us His blood rather than requiring ours?  Yet to identify God inflexibly with the Incarnation would show disrespect to His transcending majesty and inviolable serenity in accomplishing His purposes.  God suffers, but does not suffer.  As with any loving parent (only more so, by an infinite exponent), the anguish incurred by His children in their growing saddens Him, even as He rejoices that they grow.

I think of it this way.  When men serve false gods, they torture themselves in the hope that the totally Other will accept their hatred for what they are as a token allowing brief admission into a higher reality.  When the Living God touches men with His truth, they become more of what they were meant to be in Him.  The departure from bestiality leaves scrapes and bruises, for contact must be made through and in the flesh—but not in a delirium of slaughtering human flesh.  We recognize ourselves better in God: we do not acquire an alien identity that absorbs us into cultic mystery.

The mystery is the absence of mystery, relative to all the Dionysiac hocus-pocus that we humans try to import into our acts of worship.  God is here and now, and we are in Him when we respect the possibility of His operation through others’ lives.  A girl has an abortion?  Damn her, the murderess!  No, praise her for sacrificing at the altar of feminine independence.  No, neither: impress upon her the enormity of denying growth to a new life… but comfort her in her error and point her toward her higher being.

Not clear?  I’ll keep trying—and please keep pressing me and opposing me.  How else shall we make this climb?


The Practice of Free Speech Is a Spiritual Necessity

I almost began by writing that I’m sick of politically tinged topics and wish to dedicate a column to something spiritual… but this one lands me right to the heart of free speech.  Everything, alas, has grown political.

In my nightly meditation (it’s my variety of prayer), I pass a “station” where I ask myself if I have “reached out” that day, because I’m convinced that exchange of some sort has to be an essential part of why we’re here.  We are not finished products.  We cannot allow ourselves to be deposited in a curio cabinet (or deposit ourselves there), safe from dust and errant missiles.  That doesn’t mean that we have a holy obligation to throw our elbows about and shout around the water cooler; it simply means that we must find a way to register our “take” on the truth as events unfold around us in this accelerated, hyper-active, overly medicated e-world of our creation.  Not to speak up in some manner, unfortunately (for the meditative, to whom silence is golden), is these days equivalent to nodding quiet assent to the slanders and inanities that build a dizzy momentum on Twitter, Facebook, and the rest.  “Pushback” is required.

And it was ever so, to be honest.  Monastic seclusion is beneficial only to the extent that it allows the hermit to reflect.  As soon as it favors a suspension of thought and a mind-numbed retreat into daily routine, it shuts down the individual’s opportunity to grow further.  A cow is not the ultimate sage.

I write this as someone with very strong tendencies to flee to an island and sink the skiff that brought me there.  That’s why I have to hold myself to an accounting every evening.  Exchange is required, not just (or even primarily) for the benefit of one’s “benighted” neighbors: it prods one’s soul, as well, into probing questions deeper and framing answers better.

Hence my quoting the word “benighted” above—for we must not think of our intellectual participation as gracing the world with prophetic revelations or as hammering sinners for not falling in with the onward march of Christian (or socialist, or utopian) soldiers.  An exchange not only runs in two directions: it also, in a truly Christian context, must accept limitation and fallibility.  Beings such as we cannot fully grasp ultimate truth, let alone express it.  Though I may be closer to the mark than you, and though I may know well that you won’t accept my correction—however modestly offered—I still need the “exercise in futility” involved in making my case to you so that I may better guard against any straying off target from my side.  When I’m enhancing a digital photo, I always overshoot the point where the lighting or coloring is just right; for how will I know where “just right” is if I haven’t veered into “too much”?

Not that I deliberately go too far in my speech or writing… but I will never “nail” the full truth; and without the evidence of a day’s slight (or gaping) misses, how will I restrain myself from the pride of feeling that I—in my superior silence—understand everything while the others are mere puny mortals?

There, in a nutshell, lies the spiritual necessity of exchange.  And there, as well, lies the wickedness of shutting down exchanges in the interest of “what’s right”.  So you know exactly what’s right, do you?  How generous of God, to loan you His eyes and sit you upon His throne!  But, of course, the people who would shut down such discussion do not regard their perspective as on loan.  In a post-religious world, their vision has become the new god—and they are all his prophets.