No Man – No Problem

Dear Reader, 

Have you ever pondered over the meaning of words? I don’t mean the obvious meaning, but rather the logic behind the obvious meaning. If we take for example the word religion, it means, roughly, re-connection – so have you thought about re-connection to what, and how come has the connection been severed, so as to require to be re-stored?

Or something else – in Bulgarian we say социално слаб, literally meaning socially weak, to denote a state elsewhere described as economically weak, or more euphemistically, as economically disadvantaged. Compare, socially against economically. Why? And what exactly does socially mean?

Poor and Money by Vincent Van Gogh.

The Bulgarian term was coined long before the age of political correctness, and Bulgarians are not great advocates of that anyway, so its meaning must lie deeper than that. 

I recently read an article by Bulgarian philosopher Kalin Yanakiev, explaining the Orthodox Christian context of the socially weak term, which was something I have never thought of, but which felt like a missing piece of the Bulgarian mentality jigsaw puzzle you know I have been trying to put together. The article had the additional merit of juxtaposing two extreme views of community, which, each in its own way, have been shaping history.

I really hope that you aren’t put off by so much Orthodoxy that has been pouring out of me lately. As I have spoken in some other blog entry, I am not exactly a champion of following the tradition(s), whose staunch upholders, or opponents for that matter, I believe to have, rather than anything else, issues with their attitude to authority.

Interior, Rumen Gasharov, 1966. Source: The Afternoon of an Ideology exhibition catalogue.

I am more after figuring out the fundamental (Orthodox) message, which for reasons I have alluded to in my previous post, is lying somewhere very deep in our consciousness, not being helped out by decades of communism and the current state of the world, oscillating between two diametrically opposed attitudes to religion fanning each other’s fire. 

Still, I think that to be able to understand culture and civilisation, one should understand religion too, as it is the environment that has given rise to customs and conventions, and has also moulded the political and social order and the development of secular thought and language. 

Like for instance, the modern idea of human rights has been influenced by Christianity’s notion of God having created humans in his image and likeness, meaning equally possessing free will to guide their choices and actions. Also, the word “company” roughly translates as “a community of people breaking bread together”, from com-panis in Latin. And you know which the archetypal situation of breaking bread together is. So religion has penetrated both language and society in numerous and mysterious ways. 

An icon of The Last Supper. Author: Tanya Kondova-Peneva. Source: Click here.

Back a nos moutons, a golden-standard notion Orthodoxy has for us, is the one of community.

Outside the Church, we may think of society as heterogeneous and comprising fully participating and law-abiding citizens, voluntary outcasts such as criminals, and involuntary outcasts such as the mentally infirm and the poor, the latter group forming what in Bulgarian is referred to as the socially weak

In the eyes of the Church, however, society is totally homogeneous, as all its members are part of the Kingdom of God, with those waging a war against it, like the criminals or the atheists, not being considered outcasts, but simply prodigal sons, who can always make a choice to come back and claim their share of the proverbial bread.

Source: Click here.

The Sunday liturgy, when the Eucharist is celebrated, is the height of the community life and a literal realisation of the Kingdom of God for the duration of the liturgy, because, as I wrote in my previous post, all laity – living, departed, present, absent, baptised or not – come together with the angels, the saints and the Holy Trinity, to share in the bread and wine that represent the metaphorical Body and Blood of Christ. By the way, this is the shortest answer as to why the Orthodox church is not as proactive as other churches in engaging people in activities outside the church, thereby winning them over – it prays for all during the liturgy and waits for the prodigal sons to return.

So according to Orthodoxy, and in line with Mark 14:7, the poor and other socially weak persons will always be part of society, on which sentence Kalin Yanakiev puts two different emphases. Compare: “The poor will always be part of society.” with “The poor will always be part of society.” Thus, the poor are us, a part of us, and the fault of society is not of having allowed the existence of the poor, but of neglecting to take care of their needs by sharing some of the abundance that they have been given. 

The Thankful Poor, 1894, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). Source: Wikimedia.

On the other hand, Yanakiev argues, the understanding that the poor are victims of society, which is guilty of having allowed socially weak members to exist among its ranks, is a Marxist idea that gives rise to a kind of malign compassion,  which hardens the heart and is based not on the idea of inclusion and giving, but rather on destruction and taking away from those who have, to give to those who have not, so that they become the ones who have.

On a side note, I fully realise the triteness and compromised state of the words inclusion and giving. But what I mean is this – if you have children, and one is more alert, able and intelligent, while the other is, say, more slow, or moody, or sickly, you still do love both, do give your time and energy to both and do wish that both are happy within their circumstances and abilities, don’t you? The problem is that people have found so many ways to be hypocritical about giving, or resentful of what they have been given, that they have repeatedly failed to actually find a form of giving that works.  

Comfort Those That Mourn. Graham Braddock. Source: Click here.

Fundamentally, Marxism does not consider society a community, but rather a grouping of antagonistic structures of privileged and deprived individuals, sharing a moment of hostile status quo, or lull before the insurgency of the deprived.

Such an understanding is very much alive today, in the existence for example, of leftist feminism defending the cause of underprivileged women against the privileged men, and animal rights activists, among others. Thus, the Marxist’s compassion for the underprivileged is more malice for those considered privileged and is, consequently, envy, rather than anything else.

Revolt Of The Poor, by Vladimir Feoktistov (b. 1947). Source: Click here.

After the establishment of the communist state (both in Bulgaria and elsewhere), however, the socially weak – meaning the poor, the sick, the lonely, the orphans, the drunkards, those that generally find life difficult – were not miraculously delivered from their predicaments and the regime, in a typical pattern widely recognised as inhumane today, chose to simply hide them from the view of society, in hospitals and far-off sanatoriums.

Those not qualifying for hospital treatment, like the sane-looking thinking, the moody, the sensitive and the introverts, were regarded with suspicion and hostility as potential saboteurs of this newly-founded heaven on Earth. There are no victims in the Marxist society of healthy and buoyant builders of communism. In line with this, outcasts are viewed either as criminals, i.e. voluntary outcasts, or simply as unfortunate misfits. In both cases, they disappear. No man – no problem. 

Interior of Poor People II, Lasar Segall (1891-1957). Source: Click here.

…So these are the outlines of the two ideological concepts, dear Reader. Neither has been applied to reality with much success, I’m afraid. Kalin Yanakiev has left his proposal for an adaptation of the Orthodox notion of community to the present-day challenges along the self/other binary in the face of the influx of economic migrants for another article. I am very curious to read what he’ll come up with.

Even before having read this I understood, more instinctively for the Orthodox part, and more consciously for the Marxist one, much of what he had written, but still, I am at a loss as to what to actually think, or do, in the face of an actual problem.  

I am leaving you now in the company of a very powerful and touching piece, arranged for cello and orchestra, and telling the story of war and destroyed communities.

Keep your heart unsullied by the Marxist plague and think,

By Italian-Jewish painter Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). Source: Pinterest

PS. Back in 1940, Bulgarian poet Nikola Vaptsarov wrote a poem called History, or История. Two lines, as translated by Peter Tempest:

The poets will be distracted with pamphlets, progress rates,
Our unrecorded suffering will roam alone in space.

Vaptsarov, as well as Penyo Penev, whom I have mentioned here, were of those idealist communists who fought for a social change alongside many half-literate opportunists, who used the political turmoil to recreate their biographies and claim dividends that are in some cases paying off even today. 

On a separate line, I think that substantial amounts of suffering have been recorded, but people are indeed too distracted, too arrogant or too lazy to actually stop and consider. There is simply too much going on. And the questions of what to do and what, or how, to think remain as relevant as ever.