Socrates I

Thirteenth-century Turkish illustration of Socrates, or Sughrat

Three hundred ninety-one days ago—a year and some change—I traveled to Greece and met Socrates. Not the Socrates you know, the creation of Plato who annoyed his fellow Athenians with endless, meandering inquiries into the nature of reality, always shaving away at language and thought with ever-narrowing definitions of truth, love, justice, &c. No, that Socrates never actually existed. I met the real Socrates, the chubby stonemason and soldier who spent his days hanging around the agora quizzing local realtors on questions of ethics. The sociable (to a fault) philosopher who lived from 470 C.E. until his trial and execution in 399 C.E., after which point he entered the celestial plane, wandering back and forth across the world, offering wisdom to those receptive souls who encountered him, and generally having a good time. That, he told me, was the purpose of life: to have as much fun as possible. Not happiness, not eudaimonia (which was Aristotle’s highly qualified, agonizingly precise word of “happiness”), not righteousness, but fun. I cannot stress this enough. Have fun.

Recall a time when you had total, unabashed fun. Imagine a child in the throes of play. Fun is a radical, transformative force. It is a revitalizing force. But we don’t have fun merely in order to transform or revitalize. Fun is, like all the best and purest things, an end unto itself. It is simultaneously so much more than what it seems, yet is nothing more than exactly what it is.

And so Socrates and I sat together for a few hours, not discussing the nature or fun-ness of fun (as Plato would have us do), but having fun. We climbed a tree, we told bawdy jokes, we talked our childhoods and Star Wars and the structure of trilogies, concluding that Return of the Jedi, though not the best of the three films, was easily the most fun. We walked down to a beach and sat beside the sea. That’s where he left me when our time together was up, and I left Greece for Jamaica, where I was staying at the time.

I met Socrates during a period of spiritual discovery and renewal in my life. Although it was not totally clear to me when I met Socrates last year, I was in a state of between. I was (and am) between careers, between homes, and between cats. Most importantly for you, and for this blog, I am between religions. I have, in my life, had three faiths: naïve Pentecostalism, liberal Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity (I flirted with atheism in my early twenties, but it didn’t stick). This blog will provide an account of my journey from the former two faiths into the latter.

The nudge began the Christmas before I met Socrates, in 2018, when I received a copy of David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament. (Hart is a scholar and Orthodox Christian whose immense intellect and erudition is matched by a deep commitment to spiritual life.) In fact, the nudge began much earlier than that—perhaps as early as age 15, when I pulled a copy of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov down from the library shelf and was instantly transported to the mystical, almost magical, topsy-turvy world that Dostoevsky and his comical narrator create. Orthodoxy runs through that novel as blood runs through our bodies. I was being covertly converted by a nineteenth-century Russian. What did the religious historian Jaroslav Pelikan say about his own conversion to Orthodoxy at the age of 74? He recalled that “Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme discovered one day that he had been speaking prose all his life. I sort of discovered that I’d been speaking Orthodox all my life. And so I didn’t really convert. To convert is to change, and I didn’t change. I simply discovered the continuity that had been there all along.” That, I think, is true for me—I suppose it is true for every convert. Change and continuity are not mutually exclusive, after all.

I have, in my life, had three faiths: naïve Pentecostalism, liberal Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity … This blog will provide an account of my journey from the former two faiths into the latter.

At numerous points over the past year, that continuity began adding up to a substantial change in my life. I began hearing the voices of friends who had converted to Orthodoxy, began stumbling upon prominent religious figures who had migrated from American Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy, I began (sometimes unknowingly) reading books my Orthodox Christians. I began to look longingly at Orthodox icons. At first I did not notice this accumulation of Orthodoxy. Then, in the middle of summer 2019, as if all at once, I realized that I was already well down the path, that I had already become what Orthodox Christians call “an inquirer.” I resolved to convert.

One may not immediately think of Eastern Orthodoxy when one considers a lifetime resolution to have fun, to make fun the central organizing principle of one’s life. But the experiences that usually accompany fun—joy, bliss, &c.—are experiences that we seek and find within religious frameworks. Over the past year, I’ve come to learn that religious frameworks are sturdy and reliable. My attraction to Orthodoxy is motivated in part by its claim to have the oldest (and, on might infer, sturdiest and most reliable) framework within Christianity. In my life, the most striking spiritual or religious experiences are accompanied by an exulted feeling of happiness tinted with a sense of genuine play, of real fun. For me, there has been nothing dour about seeking after God, and one need not break from the strictures of tradition in order to have such an elevated religious experience. Those strictures can actually serve as a midwife to spiritual ecstasy. As G.K. Chesterton observed, “People have fallen into the habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There was never anything so perilous, so exciting as orthodoxy.”

This blog will provide details about my conversion as it happens, or (more accurately) as it is happening (because, as an Orthodox priest recently taught me, conversion is a life-long process). I won’t attempt to provide a chronological narrative. I will provide more details about my life and journey, of course, but I will also write about the topics and things that interest me through the prism of my Orthodox experience: literature, philosophy, history, movies, comparative religion. I will, on occasion, return to my afternoon with Socrates. I will describe how we met in greater detail. For now, it’s enough for you to have faith and believe that it happened. I met Socrates and he told me that the meaning of life was fun. And so, above all, this blog will exist for me to have fun, as a space where I will play with my ideas, my experiences, and my ongoing conversion.

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