Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Orthodoxy as apostasy: when Evangelical Pharisees attack

The following is an April 19, 2017 email to Jeff Maples, Editor at Pen & Pulpit. For better or worse, the views expressed here are entirely my own.

April 20 note: I have softened at least two passages in this post, as I felt after the fact that I was being unfair (and perhaps snide) towards Evangelicals in general (rather than Evangelicals who are intolerant of Orthodoxy specifically), and as such I reserve the right to revise said wording to reflect what I really meant but without being disrespectful. My apologies to any open-minded and unassuming Evangelical Christians who were offended, as my original wording was not reflective of how welcoming my Church is to outsiders of all backgrounds.

Dear Mr. Maples,

It is far too obvious that your recent post on Pulpit & Pen (Visiting Hank Hanegraaff's New Greek Orthodox Church) was never intended to be anything other than an anti-Orthodox hit piece, and that your visit to Mr. Hanegraaff's home parish was merely for the purpose of lending some color and description to your uninformed invective.

In the opening paragraph you claim that your visit to St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church was for the sake of "research", and yet nowhere in your article is there any sign of you trying to rise above some of the surface impressions common to those of the Evangelical persuasion, even one with Roman Catholic experience such as you. Of course our services may seem long to you and other newcomers, particularly as they're somewhat akin to an extended group prayer session, rather than the style of service that Evangelicals would otherwise be used to. And of course you'd notice the smell of incense, though I think your claim that it was "noxious" was for the sake of providing an extra layer of anti-Orthodox negativity, as if to infer there is something "noxious" about Orthodoxy itself.

Further to your choice of the word "noxious" to describe incense, your post is chock full of wording choices that are clearly designed to steer the reader to your point of view regarding Orthodoxy, rather than convey or at least search for some sort of objective truth about Orthodoxy, good or bad. I'd list said wording choices here but it be would at the risk of simply retyping your post.

No, your visit to the church in question had nothing to do with "research" - it was simply a narrative gimmick upon which you could hang the same old tiresome misconceptions regarding Orthodoxy, thus reinforcing them.

Rather than just drop in to perform a journalistic drive-by shooting, I would recommend that you do some actual research. For starters, there is no shortage of books out there that explain Orthodox Christianity to the uninitiated - some of them are even written by Protestant scholars and Evangelical converts. Better yet, why don't you attend a Divine Liturgy on a Sunday morning and then the coffee hour/potluck lunch afterwards and engage yourself in conversations with real live Orthodox Christians. I'm sure even the priest or deacons would be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

But let's be honest - asking questions (or otherwise searching for answers) was never your mission. Your interest was in simply propagandizing your readers, rather than educating them. If your readers enjoy being treated like children, then that's their business. Where I have a problem is in how you make statements about Orthodox Christianity and its adherents with such certainty (i.e. we're all "apostates", we've all turned away from the Christian faith, our services are somehow "witchcraft"), and yet you display such a lack of journalistic curiosity as well as an unstinting loyalty to a theological agenda. (I guess you can’t keep a good Evangelical Pharisee down.)

There is much I could say about Evangelicalism, particularly as I gave it (and Protestantism in general) almost a lifetime of consideration before exploring Orthodoxy. If I really wanted to go tit-for-tat, I could write a parallel Evangelicalism hit piece in which I base my written conclusions on surface impressions – and believe me, there are elements of some Evangelical denominations that would strike many outsiders as rather unusual at first. But at the end of the day, I believe that God wants to use all Christians for His higher purposes, even Evangelicals (separated by at least three or more schisms from Orthodoxy though they may be), and that grace also exists outside of my particular faith and outside of Christianity itself.

If your own faith brings you closer to Jesus, then I have nothing to say about it except “Praise be to God!”. However, please make a more sincere effort to properly inform yourself before publicly spreading misinformation about a faith that has withstood the test of time in circumstances that should have wiped it out. If Orthodox Christianity has survived severe persecution and repression all through the ages, and continues to do so today in various parts of the world, I am quite confident it will easily survive the poison pens at Pen & Pulpit.


James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada

Blessed St. Xenia of Petersburg Cathedral

I snapped these pictures yesterday of Blessed St. Xenia of Petersburg Cathedral (Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) in Kanata, Ontario while waiting for the bus. This is definitely an old-school Russian church, as it has no pews in the sanctuary (though there are benches along the back wall for those who need to sit), and services are mostly in Russian.

Construction began in 1996, with the inaugural service being held in February 1997.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


I recently posted an art video on YouTube entitled Denial, which is a visual meditation on the Armenian Genocide in particular, as well as religious persecution and unacknowledged genocides in general.

All work on this video was done in OpenBSD 6.0 using Blender, GIMP and Audacity.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Social Justice Warriors

Lately I've been coming across the term "SJW" online, and for awhile was willing to not really know what it meant beyond being a putdown of some kind or another. Finally, however, curiosity got the best of me and I consulted Wikipedia:

"Social justice warrior" (commonly abbreviated SJW) is a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism, and identity politics. The accusation of being an SJW carries implications of pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and being engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise personal reputation, also known as virtue signalling.

And so in case you didn't get the memo, the term "do-gooder" is now enjoying a sunny retirement in Ormond Beach, Florida and has passed the torch of bourgeouis contempt for those who actually want to effect change and (God forbid!) make the world a better and more just place to the term "SJW". The thing to understand, however, is that like any putdown, the term (and the assumptions that go with it) says more about the person using it than the one to whom it is directed.

From where I'm sitting, it would seem the kind of person who hurls "SJW" as an insult is someone who doesn't want change, or at least any disruption of a society or system that is treating them just right. Furthermore, they probably object to talk of class struggle, systemic racism or human rights - after all, such talk may expose the fact that they have it pretty good through no merit of their own compared to those who have it much worse through no fault of their own. It's hard enough being a member of the dominator culture without these other human insects buzzing at the perimeter of their own self-importance.

On the other hand, have a look at those throughout history who would have had "SJW" spat at them had the term existed in their time...

Take, for example, those who took part in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, a time when doing so meant serious risk of bodily injury or worse. They locked arms and stood their ground, regardless of what anyone else had to say or do about it. Because of those SJW's, nobody can be discriminated against on the basis of race or religion, and thanks to their successors in more recent years, the same also holds true for discrimination on the basis of physical disabilties or sexual orientation. (Caveat: the civil rights movement didn't make discrimination go away - what it did do is establish legal or legislative frameworks for protecting and expanding those rights and freedoms, thus helping the consitution live up to its full potential.)

Similarly, if you enjoy having an eight-hour workday, weekends off, some degree of health benefits, maternity leave, and wages that are decent compared to less fortunate parts of the world, then you can thank the SJW's of the previous century's labor movement who had the courage to endure state violence at the hands of police and hired goons. (A particularly egregious example of this is the incident where "officers of the peace" and others beat women and children with clubs during the "Bread and Roses" strike of 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts.) Industry didn't suddenly just decide to improve working conditions and wages out of the goodness of its own heart. It took relentless agitation from below. Call these SJWs of yesteryear "reds" or "commies" if you like - just realize that you have grown up feasting on the fruits of their sacrifice.

And finally, self-described Christians who would mock people with the term "SJW" or at least roll their eyes at the mention of "social justice" should probably take a closer look at the red-lettered passages in their family bibles. As a man of the Christian faith, however flawed an example I may be, I consider "social justice" to be just a natual byproduct of living the spiritual life with any sort of integrity. Furthermore, in His time Jesus would have been called an "SJW" by those not wanting to see their own good lives disrupted by having to live for something other than their immediate personal gain.

(While I offer no apologies for bringing Jesus into this, that last example isn't for the sake of proselytization but merely as a rebuke to fellow Christians whose first instinct is to sneer from the sidelines at others who are trying to improve this world. I also realize that Christianity doesn't have the monopoly on "social justice" - we can thank Judaism for providing the mindset that has made our contemporary notions of social justice possible, not to mention Christianity in and of itself. For more information, see Thomas Cahill's The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.)

Like I said, a putdown says more about the person saying it than the person on the receiving end, and so the next time you feel tempted to "call out" someone as an "SJW", try opening your mind and heart to what it is the person is trying to tell you, and ask yourself why their message is such a threat, and whether you are just trying to circumvent the issue at hand with a thought-terminating cliché.

As Max Hill writes in his essay, In defence of 'social justice warriors':

But what’s really going on is that those who do dominate the conversation are reacting with fear and confusion to the shifting tides of cultural acceptance and values. Female, non-white, LGBTQ, non-binary, disabled, low income, and other formerly silent voices are slowly gaining a foothold in our society, and those who openly express support are vilified and deprecated for their “hypocrisy” and “shallowness.”

As for me, at times I blog about issues that are important to me, and on occasion I fire off a letter to the editor, or an email to a public official to protest this or that. And last February, I nearly froze my feet off while egaging in minority unionism by participating in a picket line in front of a workplace that wasn't my own. Don't be taken in by such deeds, however, as they are mere dabbling. I don't blog enough, I don't raise hell enough, and I certainly don't pray enough.

In short, don't call me a "Social Justice Warrior", as I haven't done nearly enough yet to deserve that honor.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Openindiana Hipster 2016.10: Field notes from a fresh install

The past month or so has seen me flit back and forth between OpenBSD 6.0 and OpenIndiana Hipster 2016.10 since getting my hands on a refurbished Dell Inspiron 1525 for next-to-nothing from a computer repair shop. (The invoice didn't include any line items on the software end, but for such a wickedly awesome low price I am quite confident I evaded the Microsoft Tax on the Windows 7 installation, whose hours were bound to be so severely numbered once in my possession.)

I probably would have hung in there with OI Hipster on a more continuous basis if it weren't for some irritants, including:

  • The inability to exit MATE to console mode. I have no problem with MATE itself, and am eager to get to know this Gnome 2 successor fork better. However, sometimes I just have to get in some quality time with the command line, or enjoy the utilitarian beauty of twm. Unfortunately, when I entered the command to do so (# pfexec svcadm disable lightdm), the system would exit out of MATE and then hang, leaving me with a grey cursor blinking in the top left corner of a black screen. No fun. No fun at all.

  • Rolling upgrades that would make a butcher wince. The first three or four reinstalls of 2016.10 saw rolling upgrades (via # pfexec pkg refresh --full followed by # pfexec pkg image-update -v) resulting in a newly-upgraded boot environment (openindiana-1) that was unbootable. While I can't remember the messages on the screen, I had to reboot with Ctrl-Alt-Delete, whereupon I was able to select openindiana from FreeBSD Loader and get back to the out-of-the-box BE. (Despite the aggravation of a botched upgrade, being able to simply turn back the clock in such a situation illustrates the inspired thinking and innovation exemplifed by the engineering talent at Sun Microsystems back in the day. To those people, wherever they have ended up, thank you.)

I had it in mind to submit a bug report or two - initially for the botched upgrade and then a subsequent one for the MATE exit hang, assuming such a problem would have persisted post-upgrade. But with the OpenBSD 6.0 DVD iso looking at me seductively after a prolonged absence from that spartan (by which I mean beautiful) system, my energies were thus spent elsewhere.

I'll be blogging about OpenBSD 6.0 sometime soon, but for now let me say that it is easily the most polished system I have used. Ever. While it doesn't come off-the-rack with many of the bells and whistles of its more GUI-centric rivals, everything it does have just works. Beautifully. I'll save any further gushing for some other time, when I can offer up screenshots or even a screencast or two.

In any case, whatever annoyances I had with OpenIndiana Hipster 2016.10 were drastically outweighed by my interest in seeing it succeed on this machine. And so, just yesterday, I resolved to reinstall it and then proceed with whatever bug reports were needed to help make it live up to its potential. I had decided that my first post-install tasks would be to load it up with whatever apps and extras I could think of, including the build of LibreOffice. (Any such apps installed prior to upgrading are carried over into the new BE, and so if the next upgrade is to prove disastrous, at least you can roll back to the previous BE without having to waste time reinstalling anything.)

Assuming I had my bug reporting cut out for me, I completed the upgrade from 2016.10 to the December 9, 2016 snapshot only to find (much to my delight) that it then booted into openindiana-1 with no difficulties whatsoever. Then, with a bit of trepidation, I opened a terminal window and issued # pfexec svcadm disable lightdm and felt euphoric at suddenly finding myself at a text-only login screen.


With all of that resolved I decided to throw my brain at finding a solution for a more trivial matter, which is getting the audio cranked much higher than the current OI Hipster build of MATE will allow. Although the GUI tools for controlling the volume remains decidedly meek as of this writing, I came across a command line workaround in the OI Hipster bug tracking portal, as suggested in Nikola M.'s initial bug report, as follows:

# audioctl set-control -d /dev/sound/audiohd:0mixer volume 100

# audioctl set-control -d /dev/sound/audiohd:0mixer headphones 100:100

# audioctl set-control -d /dev/sound/audiohd:0mixer speaker 100:100

While the above works like a charm, it is nevertheless a ton of typing just to turn up the volume. This being UNIX, however, means that any series of commands can be saved in a text file for ease of use. In this case, I saved the above three commands in a file called crank (as in "crank up the volume") in my personal export path (/home/jed/bin in this case), and so since executing # chmod +x crank I now have a one-word command that can run either in MATE or other desktop environments/window managers lacking volume control tools of their own. Therein lies the beauty of text-based solutions in UNIX - a workaround for a problem in one environment (MATE) can serve as a great solution in other environments (such as twm).

(It should be noted here that while my crank script works just fine in twm, the sound isn't as much of a joyously eardrum-shredding experience as it is in MATE.)

If I'm going to have a script for turning up the volume, I thought, then why not have one for turning it back down? And so I copied the contents of crank into a new file called ucrank, for "uncrank", but rendered as a nod to umount, a UNIX typo that quite endearingly has been around since the very beginning, and as such can't really be considered a typo. For ucrank I simply replaced each instance of "100" with the default level of "75". what?

The only remaining pebble in my shoe as far as OI Hipster goes is what appears to be a lack of support for my wifi card, a Broadcom BCM4315 (according to the OpenBSD 6.0 /var/run/dmesg.boot file). In fairness to the OI team, it appears that support for BCM4315 is a futhermucker outside the Windows walled garden. If/when I find a way to make wifi work on this laptop, I'll document the solution in a future post. Also to be discussed in a future post will be how this system handles video playback from my digital camera's SD card.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

UNIX news roundup, with apologies to Tic Tacs

Here is a brief selection of UNIX and Unix-like headlines that have caught my eye, along with some commentary (or fanboy smarm passing itself off as 'commentary'):

  • Now that the U.S. election season has reached its painful conclusion (and like the proverbial gift that keeps giving, there is sure to be residual pain to come), Computerworld's Sandra Henry-Stocker provides what could be a novel alternative the next time around in her latest opinion piece, Why scripts are better than politicians. As you work your way down her 20-point list, you'll notice the central proposition becoming less and less absurd. If I had to add my two cents to the list, and because I'm simply not wired to resist the temptation, I'd say scripts are better than politicians because you have nothing to fear if and when they reach for your Tic Tacs. (Audience groans, comedian apologizes.)

  • The PC-BSD project has rebranded itself TrueOS (TrueOS Succeeds PC-BSD Desktop-Friendly Unix OS). While I've read additional material from other sources (including the project's home page), I have yet to come across an explanation for the reasoning behind the name change; my own inkling is that while hardly concealing the system's FreeBSD base, there may nevertheless be a desire for the project to present itself as something much more than just another distro. If you've ever gone with a vanilla install of FreeBSD and tried to make it more desktop-friendly from there, and then taken PC-BSD for a spin, you'll have no problem agreeing that it is indeed more than just FreeBSD with some extra goodies thrown in. Personally, I think the name change is befitting a project that works so hard at making FreeBSD so user-friendly that even your grandmother would find it intuitive. It is a complete operating system in its own right in the same way as Mac OS X, which also just happens to be powered under the hood by BSD. Beyond the fresh moniker, it should also be noted that the project now follows a rolling release model. Kudos to Kris Moore and the rest of the team.

  • The OpenIndiana 2016.10 "Hipster" release has now been unleashed (OpenIndiana 2016.10 Unix OS Migrates to FreeBSD Loader, Adds MATE 1.14 Desktop), which I hope to try out as soon as absolutely possible. While I've been aware for some time of the switch from the Gnome 2 desktop to its successor fork, MATE 1.14, I was happily surprised to learn of GRUB being replaced by the FreeBSD Loader. Yes, my UNIX bias is showing - the use of GRUB by Solaris and most of the OpenSolaris descendant forks has always left me feeling like those systems were trying to come across as Linux-like, as if replacing CDE with Gnome 2 wasn't self-debasing enough. (Ah, let the flame war begin...)