Letter #12: Look to the East?
Om Shantih Shanith, or something. Maybe.
One part of our cunning plan in setting up this here substack, besides all the world domination stuff, is that no week ever truly needs to be Klavan-less. As I mentioned last time, I’m off for a week’s vacation in Cambodia, and I’m leaving all these lovely people in your capable hands. Lovely people: don’t be too hard on dad while I’m away. He’s old. Dad: please try to save any heart-stoppingly brilliant insights until I’m back and can administer defibrillation.
I joked that I was leaving you to plummet into wastage and devastation while I ascended into yogic bliss. Joking aside, though, I am actually going to visit an epicenter of Buddhist and Hindu worship, the temple city of Angkor Wat. There’s a certain strain of Christian thought that would admonish me against learning too much or looking too deeply into the many gods and myths carved in relief on the shrines there. What hath Athens—let alone Siem Reap—to do with Jerusalem? Tertullian might have asked, before popping his little head back into his shell and using his little flippers to drag himself back to sea.
But there’s another strain of thought, represented by fellas like Justin Martyr and Augustine, which might suggest otherwise. The whole world is Christ’s, they might say, and “without him not one thing was made that was made” (John 1:3). So though the pagans and the eastern mystics were in error on ultimate questions, they were not altogether deceived. Less deceived, certainly, than the fools who count themselves wise, convincing themselves with over-clever sophisms and illicit substances that God is an illusion and the world is a hunk of debris. Better a man who knows half-truths about the soul than a man so arrogant and nonsensical that he thinks it’s not there.
It’s also interested me lately that some of the wisest journeymen through the wreckage of the modern world have looked with cautious respect toward the East. I laughingly said I would be chanting Shantih Shantih—I won’t, but one person who did was T.S. Eliot, who let that be the final word of surrender in his masterpiece, “The Waste Land.” Eliot left atheism behind for good, but not Sanskrit literature, which he studied deeply at the graduate level. Is it possible that the West, exhausted and aged as it is, caught up in the maniacal intricacies of its own self-destruction, could look for simplicity to the East, where the sun always rises anew? Could it be the God with whom we think we’re too familiar has been working incognito there, a stranger in disguise?
I don’t know, but a week or so by the pool should be enough to figure all that out, right? Don’t have too much fun until I get back. I’ll send pictures.
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