Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Month: January, 2016

Gender Fluid Confusion

LGBT

I think future generations will look back on this strange obsession with the fine gradations as gender identity the way we look at weird 19th century nonsense like mesmerism or phrenology.

It’s silly, faddish, irrelevant, and founded on nothing but a desire to belong in a world where identity and belonging are undermined by global capitalism. But it’s a worrying sign nevertheless.

There’s so much confusion about these things. Men don’t know how to be men, women don’t know how to be women – never mind about learning to be gentlemanly or ladylike. Traditional role models have disappeared along with traditional roles. The family, which is supposed to be a source of mutual love, help, security, character formation, burden-sharing and risk-pooling, is breaking down – in part – because of it. The destruction of the family leads to more loneliness, depression and hardship.

Gender politics isn’t solely to blame, of course – it is also attributable to economic policies that, for example, require people to move away from extended family networks in search of work. But gender politics nevertheless has a corrosive influence, not least because by emasculating men and defeminising women it breaks down the sexual dynamic that should be at the heart of marriage.

But so chilling is the effect of the gender-politics ideology that some people will think I am being an oppressive reactionary bigot just for writing this. They think people who think this way should have their freedom of expression removed, that we should be ‘no platformed’ so as to deny any voice that does not conform to their gender-political view of the world.

This is not, I should add, an attempt to limit anyone’s freedom, or to suggest that homosexuality should be criminalised, or anything like that. It is simply to recognise the primacy of the man-woman family unit, and the extended family around that, as the basis for a happy, healthy society. But I am somewhat concerned by the way that the fetishisation of gender identity (with its flags and badges, and its coded language, in-crowds and hierarchies of coolness) is leading us down a blind alley – it’s leading us away from God’s plan for human sexuality and for human flourishing.

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Bernie vs Hillary (Episode II)

The difference between the candidates is that Bernie wants is a principled social democrat who wants to engage in the great struggle of ordinary people against the power of concentrated capital. He wants to end the era of robber barons and bring in a new Progressive Era, a new New Deal – starting with increasing wages, shifting tax burdens, and making healthcare and education available to all. He has the potential makings of an FDR II, and the ideological orientation to move things in a more ‘New Deal II’ direction. Ok, so the real world being what it is, he might not be able to run it all the way down to the endzone, but at least he’s going to push the drive forwards and make some yardage, so to speak.

 

Clinton is an ‘Obama II’, but without Obama’s genuineness and personal integrity. Some tweaks here and there. Some nice little gestures maybe. But essentially business as usual and nothing that’s going to upset either the neo-liberal assumptions of policy nor the raw power of the oligarchs. That’s fine, if you think things are basically ok, and that more of the same is an adequate answer to the problems facing the USA and the world.

 

I’ll be honest here, my only interest in this election, as a Scottish person living in the Netherlands (and therefore as someone who is not a citizen or resident of the USA), is that having Sanders in the White House would make life easier for social democrats in Europe to get things done. The reason I care about that is because I don’t think things are basically ok, and I don’t think more of the same is an adequate answer. We in European need a new New Deal, we need a rebirth of social democracy for the 21st century, and Bernie Sanders is the first leader yet to appear on the world stage, from a major and influential country, who seems to be able to offer that. I don’t just want Bernie Sanders to be president of the United States, I want him to be a figurehead and inspiration to people across the world who are sick of neo-liberal oligarchy and want to try, for the first time in about 80 years, to confront it.

 

I just wish Hillary supporters would be honest. Their concern is not that Bernie cannot do what he says, but that he might, indeed, do it – and they don’t like it, because it’s too left-wing for them. With the Republicans way out there in crazyland, Hillary is the candidate of moderate, centrist, conservatism, of comfortable, business-as-usual elite-driven politics. If her supporters would just have an argument on policies and ideologies, then there would be, at least, a sensible debate. Instead it’s all, ‘Oh, Bernie’s a dreamer – nice ideas, but it can never happen’.

When we all get together what a wonderful day that will be

The elites who run and ruin the world have lots of money – huge, unimaginably vast piles of money. And one of the tricks of that elite, as a way of perpetuating its own wealth and power, has been to drive a wedge between the middle class and the working class.

They have divided the rest of us – the 99% – into ‘blue collar’ and ‘white collar’; into those who couldn’t get a good education and those who can’t get a house because they are still paying back the costs of their education; into people who get their sense of worth, meaning and perspective from singing ‘Power in the Blood’ on Sunday mornings and those who get it watching obscure Scandinavian Noir art house movies on Saturday night; into people who make 1/400th of what the CEO does and people who make 1/200th of what the CEO does; into people who push a mop and people who push numbers around a computer screen; into people who are forced to wear stupid paper hats and people who are forced to wear stupid polyester ties. And then what the elite does is turn the lower against the middle and the middle against the lower, using cultural, lifestyle markers.

 

[I’ll keep my hypothetical examples American, since this trend is most clearly evident and pronounced there, and I was inspired to write it after feedback on the Trump/Hillary post I wrote a few days ago. But similarities can be found in the UK, Europe, and elsewhere.]

 

On the one hand, we have Bubba-Joe living in a trailer and driving a forklift in a lumberyard in Dumbville, Alabama who hates “them godless baby-killin’ college-educated long haired tree-huggin’ city-dwellin’ latte-sipping hippie folks”.

 

On the other hand, we have, “Ms” Charlie Ponsalski, a transwoman with a BA in Sociology and MSc in Gender Theory, doing an unpaid internship at ‘Safe Space’ (a charity challenging the marginalisaiton of LBGTQIXYZ astronauts and promoting their right to marry on the International Space Station) while living in a single rented room and working as a ‘server’ (“the word waitress is so gender-exclusive and pigeonholing, and it totally triggers my sexual identity issues”) in a chain restaurant. She really hates ‘those evil racist god-bothering homophobic transphobic bigoted rednecks’ like Bubba-Joe.

 

But despite all their differences of values, lifestyle, culture and religion, these two are on the same side of the class divide. Economically, their interests are closely aligned. They are both working long hours, for low wages, without union protection, on at-will contracts, barely able to get by, with no economic autonomy or security. They are both getting shafted by an oligarchic state that provides tax loopholes and financial bailouts for the very rich, but only debts, taxes and private prisons for the poor.

Unfortunately, neither Bubba-Joe nor Ms Charlie realise this – but the rich elite do, and they’d very much like to keep it that way. And that’s where the two cheeks of the same oligarchic arse come in. Trump (or it might, in a UK context, be UKIP) makes sure Bubba-Joe’s anger is focused on Ms Charlie – whom he falsely denounces as ‘elitist’. Hillary (or it might, in a UK context, be The Guardian) makes sure Ms Charlie’s anger is focused on Bubba-Joe, whom she falsely denounces as a ‘redneck’.

 

Then MultiCorp Amalgamated Holdings Inc., whose subsidiaries own both the lumber yard where Bubba-Joe works and the chain restaurant where Ms Charlie works, can continue making obscene amounts of money off both of their labours.

 

And that’s how oligarchy works.

The solution is for the Bubba-Joes and the Charlies of the world to come together. They don’t have to be friends. They don’t have to share the same values or outlook. They don’t have to listen to the same music or wear the same clothes. They don’t have to have the same religion. But they do have to recognise that they have fundamental class interests in common, and work together – overlooking where necessary, with mutual tolerance, their other, cultural and lifestyle differences – to protect and to advance those class interests. Both would benefit, in different ways, from publicly funded tuition, from universal healthcare, from union rights, higher minimum wages, protection against arbitrary dismissal, guaranteed sick days and vacation days, better unemployment insurance, and a lifting of the regressive tax burden that falls disproportionately on the working poor.

Head for the Hills!

I read an article today about ‘Climate Change Depression’, which apparently is suffered by some climate scientists. They see the data. They do the maths. They know that, basically, the planet is screwed beyond repair. 250 years of industrial civilisation, and we ruined it. They also know that the fall-out, in terms of human lives, is going to be overwhelmingly massive.

And this knowledge is too much for them. They cannot handle the distress of it. They cannot function in daily life, because they know we are quite literally standing on thin ice, and that pretty soon it’s all going to get much, much worse.

Well, that’s the feeling I have about democracy, free societies, human rights, economic justice, and all the other good stuff. Because what will happen, as the earth dies, is that the rich and powerful will horde more and more of the world’s shrinking resources and diminishing wealth in their own hands, and will take more and more desperate measures to exclude, weaken, destroy, enslave and subjugate the rest of us. I see the evidence. I trace the patterns. I peer into the dark and bottomless void.

Is it any wonder that these days I cannot sleep at night, and cannot get up in the morning? That I look at all I have done and, like St Francis, regard it all as ‘straw’?

Maybe we should be looking now beyond the Great Collapse. Maybe we should be trying, like the monks of the dark ages, not to influence imperial policy that has already spun far out of the people’s reach, but instead to salvage and preserve that which was valuable in their civilisation, while laying the foundations for a new civilisation – in small, self-sufficient, peripheral communities – that would one day restore some hope to humanity.

And yet, is there really no answer but to give it all up as lost and start again?

To argue for a moment against my own despair, isn’t the world just slightly better for having, decent politicians and sensible policies. Doesn’t it at least help a bit, say, that Justin Trudeau rather than Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada? It probably does to the Syrian refugees now being settled there. Or one could look to the USA say that Obama had been very far from perfect, but much of what he has done has at least been a step in the right direction, and has resulted in the world being a better place than it would have been if a right-wing Republicans had won in 2008. Maybe small changes and incremental victories are what keeps the world sane.

And maybe sometimes the victories are not that small. Pharaoh’s army, so we are told, got drowned. Didn’t the Berlin wall come down, even when most thought the situation seemed hopeless? George Orwell wrote of the totalitarian jackboot standing on the face of humanity forever, and yet that totalitarianism was overthrown by absurdist playwrights and hymn-singing candle-carriers.

In light of these occasional victories, can we cling to just enough hope to continue to work in and through the world as it is, with all its many problems? Can we do this – not necessarily expecting easy success, but somehow confident that has been, is being and one day will be redeemed, and that even though it seems as if the odds against us are overwhelming our part in that redemption will not be entirely in vain?

Why I am not (quite) a Socialist

Many of my blog posts are left wing diatribes against the evils of neo-liberal capitalism. This occasionally leads some people to assume that I am a socialist. And that’s not quite true.

What I oppose is the corrupt, oligarchic neo-liberal version of capitalism that is currently dominant.

I oppose its fetishisation of ‘free trade’ and indifference to local production for local use.

I oppose its callous disregard of the human and environmental consequences of its doctrinaire mantra of ‘cut, privatise, deregulate, commodify’.

More than that, I oppose the narrowly materialist, consumerist and individualist values that lie behind neo-liberalism, the way in which economics is shorn of ethics, and the way in which these amoral economic assumptions leech out into the wider society, such that market mechanisms are applied to areas of life – such as healthcare and education – where they do not properly belong.

In place of all of this, I seek to move towards a more genuinely social-democratic economy, rooted in a more civic society. I’d like to see a mixed, balanced, social-market economy that works for the 99%. An economy where labour and society are able to restrain the excesses of capitalism, where the benefits of profit are more equitably shared between capital, labour and society, and where economic decisions are bound within an stronger ethical framework that protects the rights and dignity of workers, consumers, communities and the environment.

But, even so, I’d prefer to stop a little way short of ‘full socialism’, if by full socialism one means a society in which the private ownership of productive capital is abolished and neither the price mechanism nor the profit motive exist.  Admittedly, this is a rather extreme and purist view of what socialism is, but nevertheless it is the one that ardent socialists adhere to, and it is one with good historical and theoretical pedigree.

 On the basis of that definition, I am not a socialist because – despite all my desire to change, reform and restrain the market economy- I can still see legitimate room for private initiative, choice, competition, a price mechanism and a profit motive as a major part of how the economy should work. Without these things, I fear that we would end up not only with a very poor, dysfunctional economy, but also with a rather dull, monochrome, lifeless society. 

In other words, unlike neo-liberals I assert that the economy should be subject to the common good, but unlike socialists I also believe that a well-regulated market economy (to a point, in its place) is essential to the common good.

The centrality of the common good hints at the fact that the economic principles I proclaim owe as much to Christian Democracy as to Social Democracy. In the same way, just because I support greater democracy, the protection of human rights, reducing economic inequalities, ending poverity and austerity, strengthening unions and the rights of workers, restraining capital, and a peaceful and ethical foreign policy, doesn’t mean I have to support most of what is protrayed as ‘Left Wing’ (whether in its Guardian or Socialist Worker varieties). I have absolutely no time for most of the secular New Left, with its cultural Marxism, extreme gender theory, identity politics, ‘no platforming’, ‘politically correct’ nonsense – much of which I consider to be deeply corrosive and antithetical to the common good.

If this were only about me, it would just be another pointless rant. But when I see Tories using jeers like ‘Stalinist’ against politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, or accusing Nicola Sturgeon of wanting to lead a ‘Maoist-style land-grab’, I think it’s time to set the record straight. It’s not good enough to dismiss all critics and opponents of neo-liberalism as ‘commies’, because we are most assuredly not.

Really, we are trying to reclaim a position that was firmly in the moderate centre-left of twentieth century European politics.

Forget Stalin and Castro, Lenin, Trotsky and Mao. What we have in mind owes much to to the likes of Willem Drees, Tage Erlander, Franklin Roosevelt and William Beveridge.

 

 

Meet Trump, Hillary’s Best Friend

It has become increasingly apparent to me over the years that we are in the midst of a great struggle – a struggle to reclaim democracy, humanity, community and ecology from the ravenous destructive beast of neoliberal oligarchy.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in the forthcoming US presidential election, are on different sides of this struggle.

Viewing from afar, I cannot help put think that Hillary’s best ally (who belongs to a different party, but is essentially on the same side), is Donald Trump. The plutocrats and the oligarchs are terrified – absolutely terrified – of Bernie Sanders. So they get one of their own shitebags (someone loudmouthed and just clever enough to pull it off convincingly) to run on a ‘so tragically right wing and crazy that its almost comical but not really’ ticket.

This does two things. Firstly, it might get some of the ‘redneck vote’ that would otherwise, on economic grounds, be tempted by a lot of what Sanders has to offer. But that’s a minor issue, because Sanders’ considerable and growing working class support comes from high-information voters, tired of the ‘culture wars’ and motivated by economic concerns. Trump, in contrast, targets low-information voters motived motivated by race, American nationalism and anti-Islamic prejudice.

Secondly, and much more importantly, Trump’s presence  encourages moderate Republicans, the broad centre of American politics, to put their weight behind Clinton.

Look at the Republican field. There’s no one good, strong or capable. And in part that’s because the plutocrats and oligarchs don’t give a flying flip about abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, ‘Mooslim Mosks’, or anything else that mobilises the Republican base. All they care about is not rocking the boat for the corporate and financial interests.

And that means doing whatever they can to make sure that Clinton, not Sanders, wins the Democratic Primary; because, with the Republican field being so bad, it is in the Democratic Primary, not in the general election, that the next President of the United States will really be chosen. Trump’s real job is to encourage moderate Republican voters and supporters to turn away from the Republican party and to vote for, and donate to, Hillary instead.

The choice of a US President is, of course, a choice that only Americans can make. But it matters to us because the whole world – and especially Europe – will feel the repercussions of that choice.

Moreover, the same struggle is going on in every demcratic country. The names vary, but the same question is on the lips of many people across Europe and the world: are we going to be governed by corporate shills who will manage the interests of the rich, like Hillary, or by faithful champions of the people who will try to win a square deal for ordinary people, like Bernie?

The idea that Trump is a prop for Hillary and the oligarchs against Bernie and the people is, of course, nothing more than a  half-baked, unsubstantiated, conspiracy theory. Nevertheless, it is not implausible. In many countries we see a similar array of rich, well-connected, right-wing faux-populists whose real function seems to be to court the votes of the dispirited economic underclass. These dangerous jesters turn the anger of ordinary people away from the bankers and the financiers who wrecked the world, distract them from the evils of neo-liberal oligarchy and endless war, and focus their ire on those even weaker than themselves, such as the disabled, the sick, the refugees and the outcasts.

(Any resemblance to Nigel Flange is purely coincidental.)

 

 

Book Review: Hipster Christianity

‘Hipster Christianity’ by Brett McCracken was a late addition to my reading list last year. I thoroughly recommend it if you are interested in any way in the relationship between christianity and contemporary culture.

Don’t let the title put you off. It’s funny and irreverent in places, but it offers a serious, scholarly sociological and theological discussion of how christianity and the concept of ‘cool’ have related since the middle of the twentieth century.

There are some very good insights on music, art, counter-culturalism, consumerism, and the ’emergent’ scene. It also gives lots of track listings for music etc.

Corbyn 1 – Labour 0

Labour politicians opposed to Jeremy Corbyn often claim that the only way to succeed in getting the Labour party elected is to ‘move to the centre’ – that is, to abandon any sort of residual commitment to social democracy, reducing economic inequalities, restraining the excesses of capitalism, and building a more just and solidaristic society, and instead to embrace the rhetoric of the right wing, with its neo-liberal economics, paranoid authoritarianism, and weird imperialist hangover.

But is getting the Labour party elected the correct aim? Or is the correct aim to contribute is some practical way to the building a more just and equal society? There may well be an overlap between these two things (the assumption being, of course, that the only way to a just and equal society being to have a Labour government). But we know that achieving a more just and equal society is not dependent on having the Labour party in office (after all, the foundations of the welfare state were laid by the Liberals even before Labour’s 1945 landslide). Equally, we know that having the Labour party in office doesn’t necessarily lead to a more just and equal society (Blair’s record, was, at best, rather mixed). It seems that the key question is, “What shall it profit a party, if it wins every election but loses its own soul?”

I am one of those who has never really trusted the Labour party. If nothing else, they are just not my ‘kind of people’. It sounds terrible, I know, but my abiding image of Labour is of a corrupt, sleazy, and rather stupid party – a party of third-rate Glasgow councillors who become MPs when they reach a certain level of arrogance. It appears as a party that has no real principles, no vision, no imagination, no moral centre. So I generally see the Labour party as an obstacle to, rather than as a vehicle for, effective change.

I don’t blame Blair for this; the rot had set in by the 1960s, and all Blair did was push the rotten tree down. Also, this is not to deny some of the achievements of Labour in office (Blair did, for all his many faults, help to reduce child poverty, introduce the minimum wage, and sign up for the Social Chapter that protected maternity and paid vacation rights). But Labour have always been a party of the establishment, whose function – to the establishment, and as part of the establishment – is to triangulate demands for change while always lowering public expectations.

I have always been attracted to the other strands of the left: the Liberal Democrats (pre-Clegg), the Greens, and of course the SNP. Jeremy Corbyn represented a brief ray of hope, a possibility of a Labour party that might at long last actually offer something bold and positive to replace the stark hegemony of austerity, neo-liberalism, neo-imperialism and apathetic, unprincipled politics.

However, the destrutive behaviour of the rest of the Labour party, and their attempts to undermine of his leadership, just confirms my assumption that (while Corbyn might be one of the good ones) the Labour party as a whole is part of the problem not part of the solution. I find that tragic.

But I am also increasingly of the opinion that who is in government matters much less than the intellectual, moral and policy climate in which governments have to operate. Political leadership might be less to do with holding office, and more to do with setting the terms and boundaries of debate within which the office-holders have to work. I don’t care whether Corbyn becomes Prime Minister or not; I just hope that whoever the next Prime Minister is, they inherit a country that has moved some way to the left, and that if they are a Tory they will be forced, as a consequence, to moderate their positions, and that if they are Labour they will be emboldened to go a little further to the left than they otherwise would. If Corbyn can do that, if he can break the consensus forged by Thatcher and Blair, then he will have done a very good – and very necessary – job.

Book Report of the Week

Antipodes

This week’s reading has an antipodean theme. I ordered these two books as a complementary pair. Although there is some difference of emphasis they each: (i) provide a descriptive account of the existing constitutional system in the country; (ii) engage in a critical analysis of its strengths and shortcomings; (iii) discuss options for reform, and (iv) culminate in a proposed new constitutional text. In other words, right up my street.

The book on New Zealand (Palmer, G. & Palmer, M. Unbridled Power (4th ed), Oxford University Press, 2004) is probably, by a slight margin, the better written of the two. It has a deeper descriptive study of how the existing institutions and processes work. However, its proposals for constitutional reform are rather conservative, very parochial, and a bit thin. Sadly, there’s almost no engagement with wider Commonwealth constitutional developments, and that means that many beneficial reforms that are tried and tested elsewhere are dismissed out of hand.

The book on Australia (Harris, B. A New Constitution for Australia, Routledge, 2002) is less detailed on the workings of the existing constitutional system. but much more radical and innovative in its proposals for reform. In part, this is because it discusses the broader sweep of modern Commonwealth constitutionalism and isn’t afraid to seek solutions to Australian constitutional problems by borrowing and adapting from elsewhere.

I’d give the Australia book 7/10 and the New Zealand book 8/10, but the former I would recommend to a much wider readership – it’s useful to anyone who is interested in constitutional reform in a comparative way, even if they are not very interested in the specifics of the Australian case, whilst the latter I would really only recommend to people who want to learn more about the intricate details of New Zealand.

The Orthodox Plot

This podcast {click here} is a very interesting critical account of the Radical Reformation by an Orthodox priest. My own theological background is very much steeped in the traditions and the assumptions of the Radical Reformation: the right of private judgment in religious matters, believer’s baptism, democratic congregationalism, anti-clericalism, anti-sacramentalism, and an intense focus on personal (and social) ethics, has always been integral to my understanding of ‘true christianity’.

This podcast argues that all of this is – consciously or subconsciously – rooted in the idea of the ‘great apostacy’. This is the claim, made by the Radical Reformers, that the historical church deviated from the teachings of Jesus at the end of the apostolic age, and that we have to go back to the bible – and in particular to the gospels and to Acts – for a pattern of christian life in community, rather than looking to the traditions of the church of late antiquity and the middle ages or patristic writings.

I find the Orthodox perspective very challenging because it goes against so much of what I have always stood for. But I also find elements of it quite appealing. From what I can see as an outsider, the Orthodox position on salvation and sanctification makes much more sense, both ethically and in terms of Jesus’ teaching, than the weird blood-sacrifice magic trick of evangelical theology. Likewise, the Orthodox approach to the bible – recgonising that the bible is not ‘the Word of God’, but merely a witness to the Word – makes sense to me. After all, the Word was ‘made Flesh’, not ‘made Book’. The rich, timeless, symbolic liturgical worship is also attractive, at least aethetically, and certainly better than the chat-guitar-lecture-guitar-coffee structure of my own non-conformist background.

But I am, perhaps, too much rooted in the Radical Reformation – too much of an individualist, an egalitarian and a rationalist – to accept the ecclesiological premises of Orthodoxy. At the bottom of it all, I still think that half a dozen people meeting in a living room with a much-debated bible, bread rolls and a bottle of merlot is as glorious, in its own way, as all the golden finery of the Hagia Sofia.

And I’m too much of an ‘activist’, with too much of that non-conformist social gospel conscience, to get concerned about the sort of things – liturgy and hierarchy, doctrine and tradition – that the Orthodox church seems to value. I still think that healing the sick, comforting the afflicted, reparing the world, building peace, establishing justice, doing mercy, and all that good stuff, is much closer to the heart of Jesus’ teaching than anything to do with creedal trinitarianism or getting the finer points of priestly apparel right. I guess there’s more emphasis in my tradition on orthopraxy – in terms of practical christian ethics – than orthodoxy.

Yet, even so, I am intrigued. I want to learn more. I’m not shutting myself off to these things, just because they are alien or challenging. In fact, I’ve been throwing myself into it. For the last few weeks I’ve been not only listening to the podcast linked above, but also watching every youtube video I can find on Orthodoxy, and browsing the Orthodox wiki.

On the Ship of Fools website, which I used to frequent, they joked about the Orthodox ‘Plot’, a sort of hiden conspiracy of Orthodoxen who would draw folks in to the One True Church – a reference, I think, to the fact that many high Anglicans are increasingly drawn to the Bosphorus rather than the Tiber. I guess all I am saying is that I can certainly see the appeal. I really can.

So I have resolved, partly for the sake of curiosity, and partly for the purposes of spiritual edification (because it’s not good to be prideful in the notion that one’s own views are necessarily correct, or to imagine that we cannot benefit from something difficult to hear) to visit an Orthodox church. I will go with an open mind, just to see and listen, even though I might not understand. I will keep my mouth closed and my heart open. Let’s see where, if anywhere, this leads. I do not expect that it will lead to a conversion to Orthodoxy, but it might at least lead to a deeper appreciation and respect for the Orthodox way, and perhaps to some maturation and further development of my own idiosyncratic faith.