Tag Archives: Dear

On Farewells and Fresh Starts

Dear Father,

It has been ages since we last spoke. Depressed by the continued absence of Fatherly epiphanies, and hitting wall after wall in my search for meaning in your grand design, I resorted to silence.

It wasn’t initially a conscious choice. The time between my letters had already been growing due to my increasing responsibilities, and it seemed at the start that the pause was simply more of the same, albeit longer. The more the time grew, however, the easier it became to just remain quiet, as mere thoughts of addressing you served only to remind me of past failures and of the apparent impossibility of any real future within your House. There was no point I thought, for as long as the reasons behind my departure remained unchanged, reconciliation would forever be impossible.

I understand Father that this fear is very similar to what wayward children, guilty of much greater crimes than a crisis of faith, feel after having left the fold for too long. Many an elder in your House, through sermon and scripture, has spoken at length of how misplaced these fears are. Our Father, they say, is most gracious; there is no sin is too great for his boundless forgiveness. It was after all to buy this very forgiveness that the Brother-Saviour gave his life.

But how does one forgive a lack of faith? How does one forgive a sin whose very core is the question of whether forgiveness is possible, whether it is even necessary? As the space between my letters grew wider, and as the hopelessness of satisfactorily concluding my quest grew greater, this question became of increasing importance to me. Would you, dearest Father, accept a wayward son back into your home? One who, while filled with a burning desire to return, was yet to reconcile the many questions that had drove him away to begin with? Would such a return to the House even mean anything? Could I truly call myself a child of the Cross if at every service, in every prayer, my once little friend was still able to ask his pernicious questions? If whenever called to exalt your name, or give solace to my brethren, or stand resolute in the face of temptation, I found myself thinking instead of whether or not the very foundations of our household were real? What good would such a return do?

Unfortunately, roaming aimlessly with these thoughts in my head had a very unintended consequence Father. It brought me to the realisation that fulfilment in spite of all this, despite the lack of your approval and forgiveness, is a real and attainable goal.

In this letterless stretch I met a lot of people, many of whom were like me: prodigal children long separated from their Houses. There were differences of course; some had left not because they feared they had no parents, but because they felt they had wrong homes. Some had left because they had discovered in their Houses corners so dark and vile they shattered the illusions of perfection they had come to believe were real. Some simply believed there was no true House, no one Father, that these structures were but the flawed efforts of children desperate to satisfy an inexplicable yearning they all found within themselves.

Regardless of their stripe Father, their presence and the manner in which they carried themselves revealed that a life without a House is not the thing I once feared it was. From within your gates we hear all kinds of things about the wayward children beyond the wall. They live lives of sin, empty and unfulfilled. They are cruel and selfish, blind and hateful, and the few with good hearts are ultimately misguided, doomed and damned by virtue of their pride and ignorance. Only you, through the Brother-Saviour, can save all men. Only you can bring us joy.

Seeing these wayward souls, living among them, banished all of those thoughts dearest Father. Here were people that were just as content as those I had seen back home, and in many ways even more so. Here were people that had found, in your earth, its people, its institutions, and even in their own existence, a fulfilment and calm that had eluded me for years.

To be fair these people weren’t new. I have been bumping into different kinds of your children from the day I set foot outside the House. There was however something about interacting with them, free from the impetus to judge their acts against your standard, that impressed on me the ease of their existence. Even Doubt, ever ready to throw a wrench in the works and derail my progress, seemed quieter when I was with them, less rash and more indulgent. Once I stopped trying to judge ideas against some sort of fixed, Crossian dogma, his questions lost their bite. In their presence he transformed from bane to boon, his probes helping all of us reach new levels of discovery instead of holding me back with the weight of his uncertainty.

And perhaps nothing could have sealed my fate more than that final realisation, dearest Father. My once little friend has been with me from the start of my quest, and rare were the occasions on which I managed to quiet him. To see his vindictive ruthlessness cooled by the acceptance of the children Outside, to glimpse a future in which I didn’t have to worry that every thought, every action had to be weighed against his incessant questions, a future where the truth was something to be sought and not something to be fought… I believe even you Father can understand why a weak child like myself would be seduced by that.

Of course none of this would have mattered had I made steady progress in my quest to find you. But being the all-knowing Father that you are, I suppose you always knew how this journey was going to end. The letter that launched my silence was not one of hope, and in the absence of any new discoveries to counter the despondent conclusions I reached prior to sending it, was there ever really much chance that my questions would find resolution?

And so here I am Father, ending my journey much like I started it: outside your gates and longing for your voice, my immense sadness at the futility of my quest tempered only by the renewed promise of finding peace amongst my prodigal brethren. Alas I will not be privy to that greatest of feasts thrown when one of your children return to the fold. I cannot in good faith take that final step through the gilded gates, for I still cannot accept that your House is my home. My doubts are too deep, your silence too deafening.

I can only hope that if you really are there, if you did receive any of the letters I sent on this saddest of quests, that somewhere in your heart lies the capacity to forgive even those of us that turn our backs to you.  We want to love you Father, to know you, but in a world such as this an invisible, intangible, and inconstant parent makes that leap just a little too large.

So fare thee well dearest Father. May your grief at the loss of yet another child not dull the joy from those that choose to remain, resolute and steadfast, in your presence.

Forever with love,

Your Prodigal Son.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

On the Worst of All Possible Worlds

Dear Father,

A common point often brought up when faced with the contradiction of your benevolence and our evil is that this world, this cruel and harsh earth we inhabit, is the best of all possible worlds. The reasoning often goes that you, in your boundless and infinite wisdom, considered all the worlds, all the possible outcomes of all the possible actions, and chose to create this world because it was the one in which the most good was found. We are told that this has to be the case because you are good. Any evil we see in a world such as ours exists in spite of your benevolence and not because of any hidden malice, for had you been less than perfectly good our lives would be much, much worse than they are now.

As with nearly all explanations that come from your House and your children this one is quite circular. It doesn’t actually prove your goodness; one must assume your benevolence as incontrovertible truth in order to reach a conclusion such as this. There are, however, more interesting implications to this line of thought than its basic circular nature.

Consider first dear Father the process of imagining all the other worlds. When a being of your stature brings to bear his imagination, one can expect it would not be quite as vague and imprecise as those of your children. When we imagine things our minds gloss over tiny details. We look at the big picture so to speak, only getting into the specifics when we have determined a certain course to be desirable and wish to flesh it out. For you Father one would expect the opposite to be true. When you imagine, everything, from the smallest detail to its largest effect, would at once be laid bare before you. You would know intimately the details of your imagination, because an intellect as all-encompassing as yours would simply be unable to gloss over anything.

I’m sure you would agree that such intricate imagination is fundamentally indistinguishable from actual creation. There would be no new discoveries to make when making your imaginations real. There would be no quirks, no bugs, no tiny little idiosyncrasies born from the “specifics” of your implementation. In fact because even the very concept of “real” is something that would be created by you, simply imagining a world would be tantamount to making it. Many House elders and lovers of Sophia have posited that the universe exists entirely in your mind and it is easy to see why. Even if it didn’t, even if there was a tangible qualitative difference between your mind and reality, the things themselves in both these cases would be indistinguishable. An observer moving from mind to reality would be unable to tell that he has changed environments as all observable entities would be exactly the same.

What this means Father is that your defenders have not escaped the problem of evil by stating that our world is the best. They have in fact made it worse. By considering all possible worlds you have essentially created all possible worlds, including those where life is as bad as it can possibly be. And because we do not know how bad life can be, it is entirely possible that this world is the worst of all possible worlds.

Of course one would be hard pressed to argue that our world is the worst that could ever be. There is, admittedly, quite a bit of happiness attached to our existence and we can certainly imagine things being worse than even the horrors we witness and hear about today. But we can also imagine things being so much better than they are now, making the argument that our world is best specious by the very same standards.

Even if our world isn’t the worst possible world it means that the worst possible world has existed at some point, perhaps exists right now (some in your House believe you to be timeless, meaning that all things happen at once from your perspective). It means that somewhere, in your mind or otherwise, there exist children of yours that are undergoing as much suffering as is conceivably possible simply because you thought it. What justifications for their torture exist in their world I wonder? How do those faithful to you even there come to terms with their suffering? How do they manage to praise your supposed benevolence?

Of course it can easily be countered that you needn’t have imagined all worlds with a level of intricacy that makes them indistinguishable from reality. Ignoring the fact that such a statement places a needless limit on the breadth of your intellect, it still does not absolve you of the suffering in our world; it indicts you even more. How can you be sure there aren’t better worlds if you didn’t uncover every stone, consider every possibility? If your imagination is as limited and as vague as ours, how do you guarantee to yourself that the earth you picked is in fact the best? How do you square it against your standard of being good if you cannot stand before your children and tell them there are truly no better worlds because you checked?

And in the event that this is in fact, by some as yet unknown justification, the best of all possible worlds, does that not fill you with sadness Father? That you, with all your might and power and wisdom, could create no better a world than one where your children still starve to death every day, are tortured mercilessly, and inhabit an existence so bleak some of them choose to end their own lives? I know those within your House felt they had come up with an excellent point when they posited that this world was the best you could do, but as with most explanations from that hallowed institution it just leaves me even sadder. For if this is the best you can do, dearest Father, how can you ask us to believe in your perfection?

With a heavy heart,

Your Prodigal Son

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

On Good Places and No Places

Dear Father,

It was not too long ago that I concluded Platocrates’ Republic, that wonderful treatise on the perfect city, the home of truth and justice. With the melancholy of Augustine’s final words hanging over my head, I have spent the past few weeks in search of something uplifting, something that could take my mind away from the apparent futility of my quest. Imagine my joy when I stumbled across yet another book on perfect cities, this one by famed Elder of the House Thomas More. Recalling the glee with which I had received Platocrates’ dialogues I sat to read More’s Utopia, hoping that perhaps I would find not only a reprieve from the sadness that plagued me, but a more achievable vision of perfection than the unattainable ideals contained in Plato’s Republic.

The differences in their approach showed right from the start. Unlike Platocrates, who made it clear that he was fabricating a city in order to find the true meaning of justice, More makes play that Utopia is a real place. He is brought news of this fantastical island by one Raphael Hythloday, a man that claims to have been to the isle and to have seen first-hand how much better their system of governance is than those of the leading nations in More’s Europe. More was struck by the simplicity of Raphael, by his unwillingness to apply his wisdom in pursuit of personal gain, and by his superlative knowledge of states and governance, knowledge he claimed to have obtained by living among the Utopians. It was this impression that led More to listen to Hythloday’s account of the island, and – if we are to go along with the fiction – to put it before us in the form of a book.

In keeping with the realism of his republic, More (or rather Hythloday) paints Utopia as a land that could actually exist. Their government is a democracy, with its basic unit in the family. The families choose philarchs (or magistrates), the philarchs choose their archphilarchs, and the archphilarchs choose the island’s prince. There are checks to ensure that the prince does not abuse his power, and checks to ensure that no one can sway the vote for prince in his/her favour. The archphilarchs debate on the pressing issues of the land, and the greatest care is taken to ensure that the people have a direct hand in the decisions taken by their princes and magistrates.

Unlike Plato’s Republic, where each man has a duty he performs to the best of his capacity, the central duty of all people in Utopia is agriculture. The people all share an intimate knowledge of the land and how to till it, but are also allowed to practice whatever art they feel an affinity to.

There is no property in Utopia, and no money to speak of. Houses are shared, with smaller families given smaller homes and larger families given larger ones. The produce of each city is brought to a central market where all are allowed to take as they please. No one hoards, as there is no need to; all are certain that they would be provided for.

All men live in full view of the others, and this is done in order to ensure that they perform their tasks and employ themselves properly in their spare time. The people are encouraged to be ever busy, with the day split into segments that allow for leisure, education, hobbies and work. The fathers teach their sons their trades, and if they have sons that do not take a liking to their arts the sons are moved to a family where their talents are appreciated.

In keeping with their lack of property the people of Utopia do not value gold and silver, preferring instead to adorn their children with these metals and to use them in the basest of manners, such as in making toys and chamber pots. They sell whatever surplus food they have to neighbouring nations, trading their food for whatever raw materials they need. In the event that they want for nothing they trade for gold, which they keep not for themselves but for necessity, such as the need to pay nations that wish to collect money and not bartered goods.

Utopians do not engage in war, preferring instead to employ mercenaries with their devalued gold, and even then they fight only in self-defence, or when they wish to help their neighbours depose a tyrannous leader, or when war is completely unavoidable.

Of course, unlike Plato’s Republic More’s Utopia is not composed entirely of perfect men. While their laws are few and far between there are those that break them, and these people are entered into slavery as punishment for their crimes. The slaves perform all the tasks that the law-abiding citizens consider beneath them, such as the killing of beasts and washing away of filth. A lot of Utopia’s labour comes from slaves, be they lawbreakers, prisoners of war, or people sentenced to death in other lands whom the Utopians have bought, that their lives be spared. In so doing they put even the undesirables to good use, preferring to use all hands to the good of their society instead of killing wantonly simply to “set an example”.

I must admit Father that Utopia, as described, is certainly a much better state than many you would find on your earth today. Where Plato’s city sprung up only as a side-effect of his quest for justice, Utopia appears to have been conceived for equality. There is no nobility, save for those naturally arising in the men that achieve great things. There is no property, no money. Nobody, from the prince himself to the most depraved slave wants for food or home; no sick man goes unattended; no child goes uneducated. All in More’s Utopia are treated equally, and all are happy and at peace. In his Utopia it seems More has constructed what he believes a real, ideal society should be, accounting for even the miscreants, people that could not exist in the perfection of Platocrates’ Republic.

I cannot help but feel, however, that even with his exactitudes More’s Utopia is just as unattainable as Platocrates’. For all his exposition on the minutiae of Utopian life, with the great pains he takes to ensure that his people are not selfish or greedy, that all have freedom of religion, that equality is guaranteed through a lack of property, and that war is avoided due to the island’s isolation, More makes an underlying assumption, one that the histories of many a nation on this earth have shown to be completely and entirely unfounded. More, much like Plato, assumed that the very people in his Utopia were “good”.

Their princes and philarchs, regardless of the power they wield, are rarely (if ever) cruel. Their slaves, even the ones brought from strange lands with different customs, never attempt a successful revolution. Their knowledge of agriculture is so perfect their markets are always full, unhindered by the fluctuations of the seasons. Their children are very amenable, always given to one useful art or another, never rebellious or lazy. Their people possess great intellects, able to know all the laws of the land to such an extent that they can argue cases for themselves. Somehow even the basest of human emotions, things that we know exist in us not because of our societies or the circumstances of our births but simply because we are human, these emotions are non-existent among the Utopians. More (through Hythloday) seemed to believe that the ills found in his country and others across Europe were as a result of bad starts, that if one could begin society anew, with no property and no money and a willingness to ensure equality for all, a place like Utopia would emerge. And looking upon your children Father, with our laundry list of faults endemic to our existence, looking upon even the First Brother and his fall from what was a land more perfect than Plato’s Republic or More’s Utopia, it is quite evident that that belief holds no water.

It is certainly possible that More suspected this. The name of this perfect isle, Utopia, comes from Greek and means “No place” or “Not a place”. Perhaps More, like Plato, was describing a state of mind, and not a particular location, though the level of detail with which he describes the lives of the Utopians and his lack of an explicit ulterior motive make this unlikely. Perhaps he simply knew that while he could dream of what the perfect land could be, as long as your children remain the way they are made, crude and blind and ignorant, such a place would never be possible. Perhaps the entire book was simply a long-winded way of saying that there are in fact no good places. An interesting thought, dearest Father, when one considers that as a son of the Cross More must have believed in the perfection of the Great Upstairs. If we are doomed to forever be flawed beings, if all good places are no places, how then do you plan to fill the halls Upstairs? How can you ensure that none of the children that make it there would ever fall, ever again? Those in the House today still fall prey to the whisperings of You-Know-Who. What makes their presence in the Great Upstairs any different?

With a questioning heart,

Your Prodigal Son

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Fathers and Their Children

Dear Father,

I was locked in an interesting discussion the other day with a friend back at home. Having recently discovered that I had left the House completely and was not, as I’d let most of my friends and family believe, simply checking out another wing in the vast domicile, she had taken to evangelising to my wayward soul. Where our conversations were normally about our mundane and carefree lives they quickly became about you and the Brother-Saviour, about coming back home and giving my life back to best Father in the universe. Very many times she failed to understand the depth of my doubt, often telling me that I was simply being difficult, that I would believe if I really wanted to. She is not the first person I have heard this from. Many of your children, it seems, genuinely do not understand how some of us could fail to believe. They think it is simply a matter of choice, that our lack of faith comes from a purposeful effort to undermine you, and not a genuine position of ignorance and confusion. Perhaps this is why many of the people I have spoken to about my predicament have failed to turn me back to you. There appears to be a fundamental disconnect between all of us, a wall that stops believers from truly empathising with those of us that have gone beyond the golden gates.

Our conversation on that day was about freedom and its consequences. As you know one of the central issues that drove me from home is the presence of evil in the world you have made. My friend had just finished extolling the beauties of nature, the magnanimity of our Father, a being that loved the world so much he suffered and died for it. And I asked her – much as I ask myself on many occasions, and as Doubt asks me on the days I am feeling more amenable towards you – I asked her about the people currently suffering through famine in the continent of my ancestors. There are children there, who despite the best efforts of their brethren (some of whom neither know you, nor care about you) will be born, only to die shortly after from disease and starvation. There are those who have known only pain and poverty their entire lives, with nary an inkling of joy. I asked about the war-torn regions in the Middle East, where the children of the Star and the Crescent are locked in what appears to be constant war; where extremists, marching in the name of someone that bears a striking resemblance to you, are murdering people by the thousands, intent that all on this earth bow to their holy vision. I asked about these things and she said, almost nonplussed, “Did Father do any of those?”

In her mind, as in the minds of almost all the children in the House, you have given us free will and so are absolved of all responsibility for the actions perpetrated under this freedom. I was wrong, she said emphatically, to blame you for the deeds of your children.

Ignoring my trials (and failures) at grasping the true meaning of free will, her question brought me to an almost stunning realisation. None of your children would treat their children the way you have treated us. Think for a moment Father, on how parents (the good ones, at any rate) raise their children. An earthly father does not see his two infant sons fighting, with one in real danger of killing the other, and shrug it off, claiming that they possess the freedom to do as they please. An earthly mother does not see her baby waddling towards a burning flame and allow it, claiming that the baby has chosen the fire and so she will respect its choices. Even if the child had already burned itself and still sought to approach the fire no parent would justify leaving it to the flames; no parent would say that because the child really wanted to burn they would let it.

The way we treat our children is centred around circumventing their freedoms, because we see quite clearly that their minds cannot use these freedoms properly. We make our homes childproof; we mash their food into tiny little bits; we swaddle them with the softest clothing. They are young and foolish and fragile, and that is how we, in our love for them, treat them.

But they are children, came my friend’s swift reply. We can distinguish between right and wrong; we know what’s good for us; we are not children. But once again I could not agree with her. Of course when compared with our children we are not children. But when compared to you we are even less than children. The differential between your intellect and ours is far, far greater than that between ours and our kids. And in spite of the fact that the children we birth eventually make it to maturity, we never stop trying to prevent the harm they cause. In my musings on justice I made the point that in its idealisation the justice of your children would aim to prevent harm, using punishment only as a deterrent and not as a tool of vengeance. When our police hear of a potential murder they do not shrug it off and claim that the participants are free. No; they do everything in their power to stop that murder from happening.

And yet it seems our Father in heaven, who loves us far more than we can ever know, refuses to afford us the same courtesy. You know, Father, that we are weak. You know that even when we have the best intentions we still fail. You know that some of us, for whatever reason, do not even have the best intentions. And yet you have not stopped the dictators from murdering millions, the warlords from grabbing children from their homes and shoving guns into their arms. The free will excuse seems immensely shallow because no loving Father, in full knowledge of the limitations of his children, would allow them to destroy themselves so wantonly, especially when the countless threats of the fiery pit down below have done little to quell their bloodlust and violence.

As expected my friend refused to see my point, insisting that the freedom you have given us trumps all else, that somehow, even though we are less than children before your awesome eyes, we are still to blame for the terrible things we foolishly do to one another. Perhaps she is right. Perhaps fathers everywhere would do well to follow in the example of the greatest Father of them all. I suspect the recent holiday commemorating fathers would have taken on a very different tone if this were the case, however. I doubt any one of us, burned and scarred by the flames, could find it in our hearts to celebrate such fathers.

With love,

Your Prodigal Son

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

On the Choices of My Father

Dear Father,

The words Doubt spoke to me the last time I wrote have refused to leave my mind, and as the days have passed my head has been filled with even more terrors concerning your title as Great Arbiter. I am afraid his attempt to explain away the paradox of our freedom has backfired, for if I sounded lost and confused at the end of my last letter, I am far more lost now, and much more afraid.

You see Father, your power means that you are capable of anything. If you say that up is down, up becomes down. If you say that left is right, left becomes right. Faced with such power one realises that you can truly do whatever you want; there are no bounds or limits on the extent of your abilities. Before you existence is a blank slate, putty to be moulded in whatever shape your desire.

This means that you could have created any number of worlds where things were slightly different from this one, where, for example, the First Brother did not partake of the forbidden fruit, thus ensuring that he and his children remained in paradise for all eternity. But you did not. You could have made a world where even after his blatant disregard for your commands he was immediately forgiven and allowed to remain in the garden, but you did not. You could have created a world where nothing he ever did could have violated your will, where it was not his destiny to fall out of your favour and your paradise. But you did not. Faced with all these choices, all these universes, all these possibilities, you chose instead to make the First Brother in such a manner as to guarantee his failure. You chose not to forgive him for his transgressions but to cast him out. You chose not to allow his offspring, guilty of nothing but being born, to return to paradise. You chose to allow disease to flourish, to allow wars and famine and pain to exist for millennia before finally sending the Brother-Saviour, and even then you chose to take him away. You chose to make a universe in which the Brother-Saviour’s sacrifice did not immediately mean salvation, but one where we would have to wait two millennia (and counting) for another, final judgement, when you would cast all the children you damned before they were even born into the fiery pit made ready for them. These horrors are the things you chose.

Even more alarming is the fact that your status as the Great Arbiter is ongoing. You still have the power to speak things into being, to make something from nothing. You can still eradicate all disease with a wave of your hand, reform all sinners, end all wars. You can return as the Brother-Saviour tomorrow and establish a paradise for all men. These things are not out of reach; they are certainly not beyond your ability. All you need do is will them be and they will be. And yet the world around me remains the very same way it has always been. The people starving as I write these words will continue to starve. Those dying will continue to die. Those suffering will continue to suffer.

These are frightening thoughts, dearest Father, for they mean that you are actively choosing to be bring suffering to your children, to watch while they struggle in the harsh world you have given them. This is manifest cruelty, for not only did you make the world as it is, you are refusing to change it. You are allowing the very evil you created to grow and spread, to fester and flourish.

Our independence may be questionable Father, but yours is without doubt; you will not be our Father without it. And if this world, an existence free of freedom and mired in suffering, is what you have chosen for your children, how can we call you good? How can we look to you for guidance? How can we think on your image and rejoice? Yours is not a face of love, but a face of brutality, and thinking on the kind of mind that could do all this and call it good, I am filled with a fear most visceral…

My once little friend is silent, Father; even he has no counter to this.

With fear and trembling,

Your Prodigal Son

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: