Calling All Evangels: Battle Stations!

So here’s a question, quite serious: have you been feeling unusually depressed in 2020? Have you been feeling more and more depressed, over the course of the year? Have your feelings of depression been far more intense than any you have ever experienced?

The question arises from my recent correspondence with an orthospherean friend of many years – of many more years than there has been such a thing as The Orthosphere (most of you would recognize her name) – in which I learned that she, like me, has been thinking about death a lot over the last few months. I learned from her also of the recent suicide of a prominent pastor. That got me thinking.

My own spiritual dullness of late has been profound, and horrible. I wake often at 3:00 AM in a state of intense misery, feeling as though the best thing would probably be to die soon, and telling God that would be OK with me. I drag myself through each day, forcing myself to do some things I must do.  This, despite my manifold outward reasons to rejoice; despite the many blessings of my life, which I continue to relish. I still laugh at comedy, chuckle at the antics of the dog, rejoice in the innocent inadvertent penetrating insights of the grandchildren, partake the peace of the garden and of the sky, wonder at the day’s anamnetic discoveries and revelations of philosophy and theology, lose myself ecstatically in sublime music, and so forth. Nevertheless am I beset, hour by hour, with the deepest melancholy of my life.

I feel rather ashamed about this. It seems to me clearly a case of radical acedia, which is sinful. But so demoralized am I, that I have, not just any oomph to do anything about it, but no oomph even to understand what I must do about it.

I do of course already understand what I must do about it. I must pray. But I am having the hardest time doing so. So much so, that I recoil even from the recognition that I must pray. Which is to say, at this point in my spiritual progress, that I recoil even from *myself.*

Thus my diagnosis of acedia. I had never felt it before this year.

Now, here’s the thing. I had been taking my acedia as strictly due to my own spiritual defects. Obviously they are indeed huge factors! But the news that others in the same general business of Christian apologetics and evangelism had been feeling the same way made me wonder.

It made me wonder this: if, as seems evident, the assault in 2020 from all sides on every institution and organ of Christendom is demonically coordinated and intensified, and has been approaching some sort of climax, then is it not likely that many devout Christians – especially those of us who, like all orthosphereans, are *publicly* devout, and so act as evangelists, missionaries, or apologists – are suffering particularly acute demonic oppression?

So: are you feeling peculiarly glum these days? Do you feel enervated, stupid, pointless, and so forth? It would be interesting to find out if my intuition is correct. Are forthright Christians particularly prone these days to demoralization?

We are after all engaged in spiritual warfare. This must never be forgotten. The dire events now unfolding in the West are but the merest scum on the surface of a titanic battle proceeding along many dimensions, most of which are not even aspects of our cosmos. I do not deploy the word “titanic” blithely. The battle is a true titanomachy: a war of demi-gods. On one side are the angels loyal to YHWH their King, and on the other are those who rebel against him, and are fallen. On the one side, the evangels – Greek for good angels – and on the other the dysangels, the demons.

Christians are all called to be (among other things) evangels. If you are engaged in evangelistic activity *of any sort,* you are in the midst of this battle, witly or not. You are a target of particular value to the other side. So you are likelier than the average schmoe to find yourself the object of particular demonic attention.

It is worth remembering also on this Christmas Eve that the first to hear the news of the Incarnation from the evangels were shepherds. In ancient Israel, angels were understood to be the shepherds of men; in parables, the shepherd then is an angel, the sheep his human flock. This is why we call our presbyters “pastors.”

Have you heard the news of the Incarnation? Lo, then: you are a shepherd; a member of the evangelic order a little lower than the angels; the highest choir among the humans. Not a commissioned officer of Sabaoth, perhaps; but, certainly, an enlisted officer.

That’s why the Church on Earth is called the Church Militant. It’s a division of Sabaoth.

And we know who really keeps the Service running, right?

It’s the officers who are the high value targets. And because the divine commissioned officers of Sabaoth cannot be killed or swayed from their missions, guess who merits the most Enemy fire?

That’s right: us human evangelists. If you find yourself these days under heavy fire, it is because you are precious. You are a fell warrior, especially deadly, in this spiritual war. Who knew, right?

Let us all then, fellow sergeants and corporals, and privates first class, remember the first words of the angels to the first evangelists at Bethlehem: Be not afraid!

Tell it out then, in all the world, and in all her corners, boldly: Merry Christmas!

26 thoughts on “Calling All Evangels: Battle Stations!

  1. God recently helped me a lot with recurring depression. No space here to explain but reading of the cross and then the resurrection appearance at Emmaus brought me to tears. Some verses helpful: Romans 8:26 for removing the obligation to feel I haven’t prayed; if all I can do is groan, God hears that just as well. And Romans 8:1 – no condemnation. Also Matthew 6:7-13. The Lords Prayer is enough.
    I can certainly say that I and quite a few Christian friends have been experiencing what you are talking about recently. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

  2. Pingback: Calling All Evangels: Battle Stations! | Reaction Times

  3. @Kristor – This stimulated me to write a post today, on how things *might* have been in 2020; in which case I am sure you would surely have felt and been functioning much better:

    I think a significant element for you must be the disappointment of a recent convert who knows that the RCC has all the necessary theological resources, traditions and structures to have responded to 2020 in a properly Christian way; but it has done almost the opposite.

    That takes some coming to terms with; and it is not immediately clear how an RCC layman should react to this unprecedented situation. But that is your task, I think.

  4. Thanks for writing this. I have suffered a worsening malaise for for the past few years, and the rate of worsening accelerated markedly over the course of this past year. I am periodically struck by a psychosomatic pain that resembles a toothache pulsating through my body. There are breaks in the gloom, and even passages of real joy, but these breaks grow shorter and these passages less frequent.

    Just recently there has been a new and disquieting development. My inner voice has turned nasty, spiteful and mocking. For most of my life this inner voice was my friend, my ally in what psychologists call ego defense. When the outside world seemed nasty, spiteful and mocking, my inner voice rallied round with wisecracks about the manifest ridiculousness of the world. That is changing. My inner voice has become a turncoat and amplifies the denunciations of the world. My response has been to withdraw more deeply into myself and generate/discover/tune in to an even more inner voice. This doesn’t seem healthy, but part of the malaise is a conviction that there is no remedy apart from stoical endurance.

    Several mundane factors have contributed to this, most of which can be subsumed under the heading of age. I am fit, active and healthy, and I continue to find life interesting, but my middle-age identity has come apart like a gimcrack house in a hurricane. As that nasty inner voice now daily points out, it seems I have bungled everything I have ever undertaken, and that everyone (including my inner voice) has been watching the fiasco with derision or contempt. As I say, I expect a great many men go through something like this when they reach my age, and I expect most of them must deal with it alone and with stoical endurance.

    What you describe here is the force multiplier of social and spiritual martyrdom. Every man must one day wrestle with the question whether his life has been nothing but a sordid joke, but only a blessed few get to do this while suffering social ostracism and demonic torments. Espousal of unpopular opinions is obviously the royal road to unpopularity, and it makes no difference if you express those unpopular opinions with wit, intelligence, and effusive admissions that you may be wrong. It is extremely hard to remain cheerful under prolonged ostracism.

    As you see, I have the modern habit of giving natural explanations to everything that can be explained naturally, and then seeing if there is an unexplained remainder that requires supernatural explanation. I note that my faith has helped me very little with this malaise, and the Church not at all. Like you, I fancy myself a very minor sort of evangelist, but feel I have been fighting alone in the hills, and without supplies or messages from headquarters. To develop this metaphor, I sometimes wonder if I’m not like one of those Japanese soldiers who went on waging a solitary war on a jungle island, unaware that headquarters had surrendered and was now in perfect agreement with the other side.

    We often hear that despair is a sin, but I wonder if this can be true. Despair is not something you can refrain from doing by an act of will. It comes over one, like the shadow of a passing cloud, and it seems absurd to say that it is sinful to stand in the shadow of a cloud. I suppose what one can do is seek a cloudless country, but that is a country I have yet to find.

  5. I have felt great all year. All my biases are being confirmed. It’s almost a dopamine overload.

    People are depressed because they are trapped in the hyperreal illusion that they have
    A country
    A terrestrial church that is in any way Christian
    A comfortable future

    Western civilization and Western culture is over. This is the decline and fall. Dismemberment of such a large corpse takes time. The Ruler of this world won. All according to God’s plan. Because, you see, the so-called “dark ages” were a very good time for most people to be alive, and were filled with spiritual comforts and increased devotion for all of Christendom. The coming dark age will again be very, very good for the faithful.

    Be of good cheer, for the meek will inherit the earth.

  6. Please allow me to make an expression of honest compassion for folks who are suffering, whatever our political, philosophical, cognitive, aesthetic, and even moral differences.

    Even if we find ourselves on different sides in the Great War! The armies of the Western Front managed to carve out a Christmastime ceasefire in the midst of WWI; so rather than call my troops to battle I’m taking it easy for a few days. I’d suggest you all do the same instead of working yourself up about the dark times. It’s the solstice, you don’t have to be Christian to appreciate the significance of the season, when the sun itself reverses its descent into darkness.

  7. @JMS – “We often hear that despair is a sin, but I wonder if this can be true.”

    My understanding is that despair is indeed a sin, but Jesus did not expect us to cease from sinning but to repent our sins. In this case it would amount to maintaining the recognition that despair is indeed a sin, and that one would not suffer despair if one had trust and faith in God; so that needs to be repented too!

    Repentance seems to me more like knowledge than an action – it is knowing, recognising, affirming what Is sin, what one ought Not to do, Not to think and feel. And that – apparently – is enough!

  8. Kristor,

    If you had just said that we are feeling depressed, I wouldn’t have thought that remarkable. Losers tend to experience sadness, frustration, and a sense of futility, and we’ve been losing even worse, and the Church collapsing even faster, than usual. However, “enervated, stupid, pointless” is precisely how I’ve felt the last year, uncannily accurate. “Stupid” both in the sense of “sluggish” and “unintelligent”. Without energy, unable to concentrate. A growing sense that calamity is coming to us soon and that it will catch me more or less as I am now, a mediocrity whom it would not be costly to purge, if anything an embarrassment to my own side, unprepared to give a proper defense of my case. These times require great men if we are at least to go down in a way to be proud of, and I’m afraid I will be a great disappointment to myself, not at all how I liked to imagine it would be. This feeling of stupidity, though, of inability to think, is really intolerable.

  9. Kristor, this post of yours had the paradoxical effect of encouraging me. I am a Bible and theology teacher in a small “Christian” school down South. I’ve been doing this for a LONG while, I am 55 years old, and I’ve got a long way to go before I can retire. So much of the time my lessons are produced entirely by act of will; there is very little “charity” in what I do. I want it to be different, but I don’t know how to get there.
    However, after reading this article (and the comments above) I am reminded that I’m not alone. I can keep going. Perhaps this common sense of ennui is an ironic indication that God is going to publicly and unequivocally act in order to show his hand to the world. We are not strong enough to capture the world’s attention. The Lord has done it before. Is he about to do it again?

  10. My dear friends in Christ, reading your comments I find myself in tears. This, despite my feeling better and stronger than in many months, due to having (at last!) been to Mass at Christmas Eve vigil this afternoon.

    We are not alone. We are in this together.

    I discussed these topics with my spiritual director this morning. His message in response was simple. *Of course* we are under especial attack. That attack will increase in intensity throughout our approach to Christ. It shall *never* stop, never, ever, until we die. At no point in our mundane lives will the Enemy stop attacking us. The Enemy wants us to give up, to despair.

    This is why Jesus told us to pray, “deliver us from evil.”

    We must not despair. We must keep on. Consider Blessed Mother Teresa, who endured *decades* of the very sort of acedia I describe above. We *must* keep on.

    We do not – we cannot – yet understand the strategy of our angelic commanding officers. We are grunts, all of us, even we non commissioned officers of Sabaoth. All we need to do is keep grinding out our own little corner of the battle, from one day to the next.

    Merry Christmas, all. Now, lock and load.

    • In an interesting reversal of a common cliche, my priest told me once that “on this rock i build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” is not a defensive posture–the cliche is used as a “we’re safe in the church” aspiration.

      No, my priest says that its offensive. The gates of hell were built to keep the Truth of Christ *out*–and they will not prevail at keeping the Church from sacking the city of evil and bringing refreshing Truth to its inhabitants. We’ve already won!

      God bless you and yours, Kristor, and God bless the Orthosphere.

  11. I would like to wish my Wessi friends a merry Christmas. May you and yours benefit from the feast. It’s beautiful here in Cincinnati — a light snowfall — enough to decorate the landscape but not enough to cause any traffic issues. The sky is dark but it feels so light because the clouds reflect the Christmas lights on the houses, defiant as always of the cold darkness. How we find such scenes so warm, so happy, even in the misery of winter. Shouldn’t we apply the same age-old wisdom to our current situation . . . our current, rather bleak midwinter?

    This year, I have felt far more anxious than usual . . . wondering when/how/if the madness would end. Bonald states it well above, “a growing sense that calamity is coming to us soon.” I think that such must accompany revolutionary times when everything seems liable to change or destruction. Since my teenage years, I’ve thought that we were on a path to destruction, but I didn’t think that it was a very steep route. The angle of descent has changed — or at least been revealed. I appreciate how Dr. Charlton approached a review of this year: “How much of 2020 was wholesale corruption into evil, and how much was merely a vast unmasking of already-present evil?” I lean toward unmasking . . . we’ve finally taken a good look at the termite-infested lumber after some storm damage had removed the siding. It’s not pretty . . . but we cannot begin treatment until we know the extent of the problem, and, as such, this year has been a blessing.

    I’ve noticed something else — the rather strong return of religion in public (or quasi-public) life. Yes, most Christian organizations readily folded under government pressure this year, but there has also been, it appears, a renewed awareness of spiritual matters among many — perhaps even most people. Crises have a tendency to make people think about the most important things. And the lockdowns/shutdowns certainly had positive effects in addition to the terrible ones. Far more people got outdoors more often this year. Park use, camping, gardening — these wholesome activities increased. For people who live with their families, this year had to have provided an occasion for strengthening familial bonds — whether people embraced it or rejected it (and turned to alcohol, drugs, online distractions, etc.). Perhaps, the lockdowns opened more eyes about the dangers of “virtual” life . . . and the need for real community. Maybe the excesses of this year will cure many souls of their perverse attachments to their smartphones and devices.

    If today is when you celebrate our Lord’s nativity, may you delight in the feast and grow in its light.

    • I can tell a synchronistic story about return of religion to public life. At about the same time you were posting that comment, I was out walking the dog. We met a nice Korean lady and her doodle. The dogs greeted each other, and so did we, cheerfully. Such exchanges are one of the chief delights of walking the dog. That, and looking at the sky, and remembering.

      We took our leave of each other after a few moments, and the nice Korean lady said to me, “Happy Holidays!” Then, looking a bit confused, and breaking into a big smile, she corrected herself: “Merry Christmas!” I responded likewise.

      That has never happened to me before. One swallow does not of course suffice to the spring. But still. The single swallow does show that there shall indeed be spring. It shows that Aslan is on the move.

  12. Merry Christmas to all. Two observations. Bizarrely (Providentially??) my own very real struggles with virtue – and by that I mean the ability to present myself to holy communion without the need for prior confession – has caused so much of the Current Year and its dread to fade into white noise. I literally have no idea what the latest scandal in the Church is or whatever – which is perhaps miraculous itself given how much I involved myself with that just a year ago. I’m not encouraging anyone to “sin boldly,” but just observing that the commenters here are light years ahead of me in personal virtue. And perhaps it is that very virtue which has led to the dismay – many saints have commented upon this phenomena.

    Also – and I apologize if this sounds reductive; I don’t mean it so – I highly encourage everyone to pray to Mother Mary. The practice of one Hail Mary a day dragged me out of a terrible slough once. I ask her everyday to perfect my intentions of terrible, selfish prayer. She does. Merry Christmas to all.

  13. It’s not surprising we all (me too) feel terrible because the darkness is closing in. This affects us outwardly, of course, but I also feel that any inner spiritual sensibility or connection I might have had is drying up. This is surely some kind of examination, though. We are thrown back on ourselves with no support, outer or inner. We just have to hold the line and keep on regardless. Walking straight into the darkness. Not wishing to sound blasphemous but this is a sort of crucifixion. At least we do know how that eventually turned out.

  14. Xmas is a good time to reflect on religion. Allow me to share some of my musings, please. Like Max Weber, I have always been “amusical to religion”, I guess because of my tendency to take everything too literally and “not getting the joke”.

    Buddhism helped, helped even in understanding Christianity better, because it is sort of a practical “gym for the psyche”, no belief is required, and the idea is just to practice exercises. I guess it helped that the version I got into was Westernized AND not the usual leftist way, Ole Nydahl has always been hated by other Western Buddhist for being non-PC and generally masculine.

    Nassim Taleb wrote once that antifragility is often the eliminative method, of removing the bad instead of trying to add something you think is good, so his way of being healthy is not eating anything his Greek ancestors did not, so the opposite of the additive method of Ray Kurzweil who is taking really a lot of food supplements.

    The idea that if you remove the bad then what is left is good and that is enough, well, does not always work, but neither does trying to put good things in without first eliminating the bad. You just have to know when do you need to remove and when do you need to add.

    Christianity at the first glance seems additive. God is yet another object you are required to believe in, at least until you get the ground-of-being, not-an-object thing. You gotta add prayer etc. to your life.

    The philosophy and actually the most well known practices of Buddhism are eliminative. The philosophy calls for getting rid of illusions, the practices like Zazen are often very minimalist. The whole attitude is based on the idea that if you remove the bad from your mind, what is left is perfect. Buddha-nature. So there is nothing to add.

    Yet, the red-hat Tibetans are of the view that the way of elimination is slow. It is like trying to destroy a rock by rubbing it with a silk cloth. They are doing additive practices, like meditating on and even praying to something that looks a lot like an Indian deity, it is blue or red and has a large number of arms etc. Yet, it is explained that it is not really a deity even though the Sanskrit name used for them, deva, is a cognate to deus (or Devil, for that matter), but it represents an aspect of your own mind, one of its inborn, inherently enlightened qualities, so instead of rubbing off the accumulated dirt from ones mind the practice is supposed to mean getting into contact with that stuff that is under the dirt. It’s a shortcut to that. And it is also explained, that the prayer is really a wish, a way to train your mind to really want something, praying “give your blessing so that I can benefit all beings” is just a way to telling yourself you really want to be more compassionate, which helps you, because it breaks the attachment to the self and instead of feeling like having problems you will feel like you have tasks, which are better to have than problems. At they also say that the best meditation is meditating on ones own teacher, called guru yoga, connection with the teacher, thankfully not Ole, he has a good sense to not start a cult of personality, but one of the Karmapas who are safely dead, number 1 to 16. It is considered even more of a shortcut, your enlightened mind under the dirt covering it is the same as the teachers mind.

    So having this kind of background, a lot of Christianity actually does make sense, except in a different way than usually explained. The primary practice of Christianity, Imitatio Christi, is a guru yoga. A shortcut. It is actually very logical, that God the Father is hard for humans to understand, so you have the Son, who is fully Man and fully God, as a bridge, as the Way, you get in contact with his man side, which you can, it sort of connects you with his God side as well, which is a Way to God the Father. But talking about God still sounds like a different thing than your own mind’s enlightened nature. Yet, the practice is familiar. The Lord’s Prayer, specifically the “let your will be done”, sounds like training your own mind. It sounds like “I want to accept that it is NOT my will that will be done.”

    There certainly are people who interpret one or another aspect of Christianity in an eliminative way. Like telling you it is really only your own stubborn pride standing in the way. Eliminate it, and you will sort of automatically have God fill you, because He was always therefore you, you just refused Him out of stubborn pride.

    The difference is maybe not that big. There are strains of Christian thought, like the Via Negativa, telling you cannot really understand God, cannot really understand what He is, only what He is not. And Buddhists have always emphasized that the enlightened level of looking at things is beyond words, beyond description.

    The big difference is basically in what the word “personal” means. Christians say God is personal, because He loves you, and love is something personal. This is why at the same time God being the ground-of-being and thus not a thing, He is still a thing, because He is a person. Or rather three persons. The Buddhists think love is not personal. You just remove separation between the self and other, and you get love and compassion automatically. You remove separation between self and other things, and you get wisdom, you know those things intuitively. And so on.

    It is only in the personal sense it is meaningful to ask whether there is God or there is no God. Not in the ground of being sense. Of course being has a ground. Every serious philosophy understands that. For example, some Buddhists schools belived in atomism – that’s where the Greeks borrowed the idea from – others believed that everything hot comes from the collective anger of beings, everything solid comes from their collective pride and so on. Of course being has a ground.

    It is only God-as-person(s) it is meaningful to ask whether God really is nor isn’t.

    We the NRx were talking about religion as social technology. Let me tell you something: Buddhism has absolutely FAILED at being as social technology. It is something Ole Nydahl talks about that a lot. Primarily because it was never intended to be a mass religion, but the intent was to be a very elite little heterodox school inside Hinduism. Let the Hindus deal with telling the average dude why being a robber is bad karma, while the Buddhist just have their elite monasteries and universities where they can work on the finer points of rubbing the dirt off their minds. The Buddha said “I have came to those who have only a little dust in their eyes.” Turn that into a mass religion and it absolutely fails. The peasants in Tibet did not have priests to administer to them. They paid taxes to monasteries and the best they could hope for was that one of their kids could become a monk or a nun.

    Ole talks about it, because he wants to emphasize that when other forces wanted to eliminate Buddhism, the peasants felt no real reason to defend it. Too much ivory tower stuff. So Muslims killed it dead in India, Commies in China, and materialism like “selling your daughter, or the grandma, to tourists” in Thailand.

    Christianity meanwhile absolutely WON as a social technology. As PM Jozsef Antall was fond of saying, in the West even atheists are Christians. Everything, from the scientific method to the idea of the dignity or liberty of the individual that made the West West, is Christian, with of course a heavy borrowing from Pagan thinking, but Christianized.

    Maybe, to work like that, one needs the additive method. Addition is more understandable to most than elimination. Yet, I think what really works under the additive method is elimination. You find a way to get the stubborn pride out of the way, and then something fills you. Something very obviously good.

    • Christianity meanwhile absolutely WON as a social technology. As PM Jozsef Antall was fond of saying, in the West even atheists are Christians. Everything, from the scientific method to the idea of the dignity or liberty of the individual that made the West West, is Christian, with of course a heavy borrowing from Pagan thinking, but Christianized.

      Let’s say the above is true, and that atheistic liberal modernism owes its key elements to Christianity. Since these forces are also poised to destroy Christianity, doesn’t this mean that in fact Christianity is *not* a very good social technology, since it leads to its own destruction?
      Admittedly we don’t know yet whether Christianity will be destroyed by its offspring of modernism and liberalism, or will eventually triumph over them. As Chou En-lai said when asked about the impact of the French Revolution, it’s too soon to tell. But the prevailing mood around here is pretty doomy.

      • I agree and think Dividualist overlooks the organic quality of a belief system. When a belief system is decomposed into elements, those elements do not retain the properties of the organic system. So the idea of individualism may have developed within the Christian belief system, but it is not a “Christian” belief when it is removed from that system. We can recognize that it was originally Christian, but that it is now functionally atheist.

        The indestructible belief system you imply would be sort of like a body with no liability to cancer. Christianity recognized the danger of rogue elements in its system unbalancing the system. This was the Christian definition of heresy: overemphasis or underemphasis of a Christian doctrine. Heretical or rogue elements were analogous to cancer because the element prospered to the detriment of the system.

        In addition to the organic quality of a belief system, we must ask which elements are essential to its being identified as that belief system. Christians have often violently disagreed over which elements are essential, but they have never said that no element is essential.

      • Do you mean something along the lines of this Chesterton quote? “The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.”

      • Exactly. As I understand it, that is the proper definition of a heresy. Heresy is a distortion of the Christian system, whereas infidelity is another system altogether.

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