Tag Archives: Father

On Prophets, Priests, and Prodigies

Dearest Father,

I was occupied with a particularly difficult problem a few weeks back. This was not one of the many philosophical and abstract issues that have plagued me for years now, but a mundane, earthly problem, one that concerned my chosen profession. I sat for hours puzzling over the issue, and after consulting with fellows in my trade I came to a hackish but working solution. Of course this was not the first difficult problem I have faced, and the only way it would be the last would be if my death were but a few days away. However, my struggle over this one issue drew my attention to something I appear to have overlooked in letters past.

I mentioned while writing you about free will that one of the many handicaps your children enjoy is our lack of perfect knowledge. At the time I used the point to illustrate how we are slaves to our ignorant, porous minds, minds that render whatever little freedom we possess rather pointless. After all why bother granting us free will when the very tool you’ve given us for making decisions is so easily distracted and cannot retain the things of utmost importance to our survival and salvation?

My recent brush with intellectual difficulty highlighted this in a manner most stark, as the “hackish” solution I came up with was simply a variation of one that a friend had described, hurriedly put together in order to preserve academic integrity. My problem wasn’t the first of its kind I’d seen, but that did not stop it from holding me hostage for hours. And yet this friend of mine, with little thought and even fewer words, managed to describe a solution that seemed so obvious in hindsight I felt a little foolish.

There are many of your children like this, people who can easily see things that millions of us go years if not lifetimes without even suspecting. In the more earthly circles these people are called prodigies, gifted fellows with minds that can see through the logical and mathematical and physical quandaries of our time and give us insights into the tangible nature of our universe. In Fatherly circles, however, we have priests and prophets, people you have chosen to reveal your truth to the huddled, ignorant masses. Of course while prodigies are universally acclaimed in their fields and arts, your prophets and priests are often only loved in select circles, circles that usually grow into compounds and compounds that often transform into Houses.

If one were to assume our earth was a cold uncaring rock that breathed life into our ancestors eons ago, it would not be too difficult to come to terms with the concept of prodigies. A universe that doesn’t care about us would hardly care that only a few of us could parse her secrets. One could even assume that the prophets and priests that act as voices for non-existent Fathers and Mothers were simply prodigies driven mad by whatever realisation had dawned on them, or devious manipulative people preying on the weakness and gullibility of their brethren.

But as all things are when faced with the fact that we have a loving omnipotent Father, the system of prodigies, priests, and prophets seems completely counterproductive. These brilliant people are essentially gatekeepers of knowledge and wisdom, guardians and visionaries without whom our people would still be hiding in caves, scared of their own shadows and worshipping the sun that cast them.  If our Father loved all of us and wanted us to come to him, why would he place this completely unnecessary bottleneck between himself and his children? Why would he limit revelations of his true nature to a very, very tiny segment of our population, tasking all to go through them if they are to truly know his will?

Ironically there are many in the House of the Cross that actually agree with this; they just happen to believe you have already solved the problem. They cite the verses in your Book that mention that your laws are written in our hearts as proof that we all know your will. They point to the very existence of the Book itself as proof that no man need act as gatekeeper to your kingdom; all can read it and see for themselves what you truly want from your people.

The problem with both these statements is readily apparent. If your will was truly written in all our hearts why do we need the Book at all? Why have a Book state what we all know when we could all just feel in our hearts that these things are true? And even more damning, the existence of the Book and the grand theory of liberation championed by its adherents have not led to fewer gatekeepers; they have led to more. These days any one of your children can pick up your Book, read a line of text that has been read by millions before him and claim to have seen something new within it. Such a person would shout from the rooftops that you have spoken to him and made him your prophet, and thousands would flock to him seeking to hear the new truths that they should already know. Of course with such a scenario it is little wonder your House has grown increasingly divided as the centuries have gone by; without authority vested in a chosen few your children have seen fit to disagree on the finer points of every single line in your Book, erecting fresh wings in the House the moment one man’s “truth” counters their own.

Quite evidently your truths are not inscribed in our hearts, or there would be no need for Houses or the prophets that build them. And quite clearly the system of prophets and priests and prodigies is by design, not by mistake. So ingrained is the nature of this system in the world around us that Platocrates and More did not bother to refute it when describing their utopias. Instead they built their cities around it, creating special classes for these priests and granting them stewardship over the perfect worlds they had constructed.

Left with all this one once again has to wonder how it all meshes with your love, Father. What grand plan could you possibly have that can only be served if but a select few know what you want? What great purpose could you have for the child from whom you have withheld both yourself and the capacity to find you? It is becoming increasingly more difficult to even pay lip-service to the concept of your love, dearest Father. When the majority of your children face such terrible odds for salvation, is it little wonder that so many have grown disillusioned with you?

 

With a deficient mind,

Your Prodigal Son

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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

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On the Confessions of St. Augustine

Dearest Father,

The last time I wrote you about the Numidian it was on his recent conversion, an act sparked by the death of a very dear friend. While I was dubious at the time that a similar situation would be the catalyst that brought me back to you, I was undeterred in my desire to finish the Numidian’s long letter, hopeful that at its end I would have come to a deeper understanding of what it means to have strayed and returned to the fold. I have at long last concluded his Confessions, but I must confess Father that no such understanding has come over me.

We left Augustine with his decision to become a catechumen and it appears that after this decision he was blessed with meeting the most favourable people, from his friend in conversion Alypius to the wonderful and eloquent Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Such men helped our Numidian in his early days post-conversion, assisting him in weathering the storms of doubt, fear, pain and sorrow, and enabling him to rise above these calamities and finally see you with a clarity he had never before experienced. He studied very closely your scriptures, questioned the very nature of good and evil, and finally came to what can only be described as a breathless joy at being in your embrace. His words reveal an immense appreciation for his trials, and he even began to look fondly upon his past, saying that the joy of his conversion was made sweeter by the tribulations that preceded it.

Having fully returned to the House in heart as well as in body, and filled with what I suppose must have been a burning desire to know you intimately, he turned his mind to you and your creation, contemplating your grace and beauty, the power contained in your works, and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of describing such wonderful things in terms that simple mortal minds could comprehend.

And in this, his sudden acquiescence to all the doctrines and dogmas of the House, lies my problem Father. Like Augustine I have asked very many questions on very many topics. I have pondered the effects of your creation, the paradoxes inherent in your sacrifice. I have struggled with the whispers of Doubt. But unlike the great Numidian, I have no easy recourse to emotion. I have no friends whose deaths would cause me to seek you out, whose losses would make me crave the steady comfort of the House’s teachings. Unlike him I understand fundamentally that life is fleeting and that pain is real; ironically it is for this reason that I left the House and began my journey in the first place. Where he sought answers to calm the turbulent emotions in his heart, I seek answers to quiet the numerous questions in my head. Too quickly did he brush aside the very contradictions he raised, willing to overlook all inconsistencies before your might, whilst tearing down even the smallest errors in the teachings of the heretics.

Perhaps it was my mistake, reading his Confessions and hoping to be swayed in your favour. The heresy of my day lies not in some twisted interpretation of the works of your son, but in the very nature and existence of you, dearest Father, something our Numidian had already taken for granted.

But what is most troubling about his Confessions is not that they failed to move me, Father; it is the manner in which he concluded them. After waxing poetic on the wonders contained in your being, Augustine ended his missive with this:

“And what man can teach man to understand this? or what Angel, an Angel? or what Angel, a man? Let it be asked of Thee, sought in Thee, knocked for at Thee; so, so shall it be received, so shall it be found, so shall it be opened. Amen.”

Once again I am told that the answers I seek will not come to me from any man, or angel, or book, but from you Father, and once again I am compelled to ask when you will answer me. When will you put my mind to rest?

With disappointment and longing,

Your Prodigal Son

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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 crossed 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 hundreds, 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 anyone of us, burned and scarred by the flames, would have found it in our hearts to celebrate such fathers.

With love,

Your Prodigal Son

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On Doubt and Faith

Dearest Father,

I must apologise for my immensely long silence. Unfortunately the duties of your son grow with each passing day, leaving me little time to sit and ponder our relationship, less still to scribble a missive in your name. I am sorry I missed the important days of the past season. I did not write you on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, or even Easter Sunday. I had much to say on each of those days, questions to ask as always, and feelings to express. But my duties (and, I must admit, a smidgen of human laziness) kept me from putting pen to paper. I did pray on the Day of Resurrection, however, not one of the many perfunctory prayers we Universals learn in the Catechism and from the Simple Prayer Book, but a deep and heartfelt prayer for my soul and my doubt and the pain in the world around me. I hope my ephemeral words reached your ears. I have seen no improvement in any of the situations I mentioned in my prayer, but we are told that you work in mysterious ways. When the letters I have been writing for over a year have received nary a response from you, I cannot feign surprise that you haven’t answered my less permanent whispers.

A lot has changed in the weeks past, and a lot has remained the same. My journey and my thoughts have carried me further still from you. Much like I did before my long break I feel that the likelihood of my return diminishes with each step I take. However, unlike the last two times I wrote you I find myself filled with less guilt and less anger. The guilt is gone because I did decide to sacrifice food as well as meat for this year’s Season of Preparation (the first time in ages I have been able to afford the latter), and the anger is gone because I’ve found it very difficult to keep negative emotions on my mind. My earthly duties have taken focus away from the House and the inscrutable machinations of my Father, and with that focus went my horror and anger on my many discoveries on free will and justice. As I write you today I feel calm and at peace. I have no brazen questions, no incredulous inquiries. I am simply writing. I do, however, have something I wish to share with you Father, and it concerns my only constant companion on this journey: Doubt.

The other day, at one of the House outposts I frequent when I wish to feel closer to home, the elder administering the ceremony gave a little homily on doubt, or more accurately, faith. You see Father in my young, binary mind I had always viewed the two things as stark opposites, separate sides of the same coin. One could not doubt if he had faith; one could not have faith if he doubted. The elder, however, brought to mind something I suspect I have known all my life but failed to consider, and that is that we are all possessed, at various points in our lives, with various levels of doubt and faith. For some, he said, faith is easy. They have little to no questions. They simply need to hear the words from your lips, or from lips they consider to be a good enough surrogate to yours, and they accept. Such people have trusting hearts and believing minds. Such people perhaps have the blind faith that has inspired churches and hymns across the history of the House. Others are rigid sceptics, requiring proofs and reassurances and works of wonder before they commit their hearts to a cause. There have been a few of these mentioned in your Book, ranging from the judge that required some fleece to both be soaked and dry at sunrise, to the famous Thomas that wished to see and touch the wounds of the Brother-Saviour before believing in his return. And instead of castigating the sceptics and admonishing them to try harder to adhere to the perfect ideal of unquestioning trust, the elder applauded their doubt, congratulated their willingness to believe. Doubt, he said, was as much a part of the human spirit as faith, and when used wisely, properly, could cause one’s faith to blossom and grow into a thing worthy to behold. We all stumble, he assured, smiling at those seated before him. To expect pure and unshakeable faith is to expect failure, and our all-knowing Father in heaven does not expect failure.

Going further on this train of compatibility the elder proclaimed that our doubts and the faiths they nurtured were products of our communities. Surround ourselves with encouraging believers, not the harsh ones that scold us for not believing, or the smug ones that spurn us for asking questions, and our faiths were sure to grow. Surround ourselves with inquisitive minds, with people that refuse to be led by the neck to whatever cause the elder of the day seemed to be championing, and our faiths would be made even more resilient to the tests and trails the future held. Our doubts don’t just depend on us, he said. They depend on our friends.

His words were comforting Father, perhaps because that was his intent. They gave me hope, hope that if I were to stumble on just the right pack of people, with just the right mix of childlike wonder and justified scepticism my companion would shrink to the manageable heights of long ago. I would be remiss if I did not say that on that day Doubt tried to counter all the elder’s assertions. I would also be remiss if I did not say that I nodded in agreement to some of his points. But as is always the case when I take a break from writing you Father I have returned with hope anew. For now I wish to believe that all I need is the right community, the right companions, to set me on the right path back to your arms, and I will allow myself to hope that your eternal silence has simply been because you have been preparing such a group for my arrival. After all, what good Father would ignore his son for so long?

With faith,

Your Prodigal Son

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