When you love someone you love them not only despite their fragility but also, because of it.  They wouldn’t be who they were if they weren’t fragile and limited in their particular way.

When you have a sick kid it’s like, oh my God how can the world be constituted so that a child can unfairly suffer in this manner? You can’t have them being vulnerable and cute and interesting and small and needing care but striving to develop and grow without them also being prone to pain and destruction and vulnerability.  And then what do you do?

Teach them to be strong.  That’s what you do. You don’t get rid of the vulnerability. You teach them to be strong.

You don’t protect your children. In fact, you do the opposite. You expose them to the world as much as you possibly can. You make them strong. That’s the best antidote to their vulnerability.

The first noble truth of Buddhism, life is suffering. This is true. And it’s worse than that because it’s suffering contaminated by malevolence.

So that’s very pessimistic, but the optimistic part is that you are so damn tough you could actually not only deal with that, you can improve it. It’s like, “Oh, well that’s a horrible situation, but it turns out I’m armed for the task.” Well that’s a great thing for people to know.

I think the fact that we’re armed for the task is even more true than the fact that life is catastrophe contaminated by malevolence. We’re stronger than these things are terrible. And I do believe it’s the case because I’ve watched people do very difficult things. Like people who worked in palliative care wards, so all they’re ever dealing with is pain and death. And they can do it. They get up in the morning, they go to work, and they take care of those people. They lose people on a weekly basis and yet they can do it and what that shows is that if you turn around and you confront the suffering voluntarily you find out that you are way tougher than you think.

It’s not that life is better than you think. Life is as harsh as you think. It might even be worse. But you are way tougher than you think. If you turn around and confront it. It’s a very good thing to know and it’s not naive optimism. It’s a very different thing. It’s like, no, things are terrible. They’re brutal.

And you are so damn tough, you can’t believe it.

Life is catastrophe contaminated by malevolence and we are damn tough.

In recent days I saw this video.  It is promoting a way of describing life that was profoundly unsettling to me. The speaker in the video (Jordan Peterson) actually said that life was “catastrophe contaminated by malevolence”. I guess the speaker has been some sort of champion in recent days for a particular political point of view. I wouldn’t know. I just only recently heard of him, from that same video. At any rate, I don’t care who he is, I just care that his view seemingly runs completely counter to (Orthodox) Christian ways of seeing the world (well, maybe it’s OK if you are a Calvinist and believe in total depravity and all).
 
Orthodoxy sees life as the reverse of malevolence-infused catastrophe: life is a 1) a gift from God and as such is good; 2) essentially beautiful and bent towards praise of God.  This last one can be divided into humanity and creation as follows:
  • 2a) humanity is made in the image of God, has free will, and in this free will has the capacity to strive for and perhaps even achieve theosis. But having free will humanity can also set up idols and turn away from God.  And so we fell, though through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ death has been overcome, our estrangement from God has been overcome and our sadness has been transformed into joy.
  • 2b) creation fell when humanity fell. That means it is subject to the same corruption that humanity has (a definite beginning, a definite end, and a tendency towards chaos, or disorder, which we can call entropy).  But even still it is from God, and it still has the capacity to tell of the glory of God.  And ultimately it will be restored just as humanity will be restored.

So Peterson speaks of “life” being malevolent catastrophe.  Where in the world did he get that idea?  Well, I would argue it has less to do with Jerusalem (or Cappadocia) than it does with Prussia.  The whole narrative sounds more like Nietzsche and his idea of the Übermensch.  Think about it: The world is turbulent, even hostile.  Yet you are STRONG.  You are DAMN TOUGH.  This is right out of Nietzsche’s play-book: Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  So let me be clear: this is about as Orthodox as Jerry Falwell, Jr. or Reinhold Niebuhr.

The concern, for why Peterson’s video is so important to some people, is that we are raising a nation of “wimpy” men.  Peterson’s narrative will surely help to inspire something counter to that.  But is it the right message?  I don’t think so.  The right message would keep as its foundation the core beliefs that the world is not malevolently catastrophic yet it is subject to corruption.  (“Fairness” is not an issue because it’s not like some aspects of creation are perfect and others are not – all are subject to the same conditions.)  Second, it is absolutely essential to bear in mind that in the Incarnation, strength was shown in weakness, and more importantly, life was manifest in death.  These beliefs are not wimpy, cowardly or pathetic (as Nietzsche would assert that they were).  In fact, the will to power, the eagerness to express control through violence (the subtext of Nietzsche’s program) is more a sign of weakness than the Christian way of strength through submission.  It is far tougher to turn the other cheek or walk an extra mile than it is to take an eye for an eye taken.

One more note: In Christianity there is something else, something despised when thinking of these “tough” qualities: empathy or compassion.  In empathy you develop an awareness of the struggles of the people around you so that at times you actually become co-sufferers.  In compassion you desire to help and heal those around you.  These qualities, in the Nietzschean model, are weaknesses.  In Christ and in the Christian life they are virtues.  Toughness in the Christian sense often means being willing to sacrifice your desires, your will, sometimes even your life (see the life of Saint Maria Skobtsova, for example) to understand and to help the other.

In Christianity you are indeed tough.  It is that very toughness, I would argue, that enables you to see that the world, in fact, catastrophe contaminated with malevolence, but is rather the creation that still – even in its entropic, “fallen” state – declares the glory of God.  Christians would do well to find inspiration from places other than Nietzsche and his modern interpreters.