How many people, if they were given the power to instantly have anything they wanted, would quickly self-destruct? I believe it is the vast majority.

It’s no coincidence that so many of our celebrities overdose, contract STDs, become alcoholics, get involved in weird sex cults, and are constantly enrolling in rehab programs of various kinds. Even among those who, on the surface, remain functioning adults, many are often found to be involved in all manner of weird and perverted shit: Weinstein’s harems, Epstein’s “island resorts,” Congresswoman Hill’s “throuples,” Bill Clinton’s internship programs, and so on.

People with unlimited resources, unless they are very diligent, will simply implode. Money and opportunity represent freedom in a society governed by materialism and nothing else. But “freedom” for many is simply the ability to indulge in one’s passions and bodily desires without restraint or limitation.

The fatal problem with this is even if you are a materialist yourself, things which are finite cannot, by definition, satiate desires which are ever-present parts of the human condition, instincts and desires which will always be there, no matter how many times you scratch them. Like any addiction, you will either build up a tolerance which takes more and more extreme measures to satisfy, or you will overdose.

The wise men of antiquity all recognized temperance as a key to true, lasting happiness. But they had an advantage that many moderns do not: they had something to live for. If you are born in modern America, and don’t have the benefit of family, community, or religious connections, you will live and die as a fat, bloated, stupid, consumer, living to satisfy your bodily desires at any particular moment without ever seriously reflecting on anything. You will be turned out of public school thinking that the natural life of a human being is nothing but a series of limiting social constructs, put in place by slave masters looking to exploit you, to demand you live for something more than fast food, plastic products, instant gratification, and YouTube ads. As I walked back from the coffee shop, this all seemed crystal clear to me.


I honestly wasn’t going to continue this story. Stories, even impactful ones, that go on and on have a tendency to beat their morals to death, leaving the reader cold to their message. For a long time, I was going to leave this alone, thinking that I could end it on a relative high-note, with my favorite Tolkien quote for the reader to think over. But life seldom works that way, with one chapter wrapped up smoothly before the next begins. The world would honestly be boring if it did so. But some of Terror House’s recent publications, first and foremost Ian McDonald’s “Self-Reflections of a Zoomer” and Whisky Smokes’ “The Genie,” have made me want to gather my unused notes and continue this story, at least for a little while.

For several hours after the events of “The Sins We Remember Fondly,” I simply sat on the bench outside my apartment and watched the world go by. It wasn’t so much that I was sad, disappointed, frustrated, or even angry…I was just tired. I was the kind of exhausted that sleep cannot help, a draining of far more than normal waking energy. I couldn’t even summon the strength to sit before more electronic, blue-light distractions and numb myself. In a way, it felt good.

The fact that I no longer (or, at least not in that moment) felt any desire to indulge in old habits was, in retrospect, a major victory. A breakthrough of sorts. In some ways, I have clearly gained ground, though in others, I remain in a spiral that never seems to end. We all tend to think very highly of ourselves when we reach a new milestone, with our egos ever-so-subtly stroking our narcissism. Fortunately, stress and suffering, properly used, help us to remain humble. And these resources are found in abundance in modern life.


I am, ironically, writing this is a coffeeshop. Several weeks have passed since the previous episodes and I’ve found myself working more and more in a different part of town. This new place is a pleasant one, with a lot more natural lighting and more places to sit. I’ve tried to be diligent about writing more and actually concentrating during the process, but I constantly find myself people-watching instead.

It’s actually amazing—when you stop to think about it—how each and every person you pass by has a life-long story of their own. Each and every one has dreams, aspirations, stresses, problems, and (hopefully) people they care about and people who care about them in turn. Books could be written on every single person’s life, which, with the right narrator, could be interesting reads.

To the right of me, a couple in their late 20’s or early 30’s is having breakfast with their little one. To the left of them, a woman with one of those professional-looking cameras is warming up, presumably from taking photos around town on this cold autumn morning. Across the room from me, a thirtysomething man in a suit appears to be flirting, unsuccessfully, with the barista (something I also might do later). I am sitting in the corner by the window, in an almost defensive position, from which I can observe without myself attracting too much attention.

As I watch everyone’s interactions, I become more and more convinced that everyone is simply looking for a sense of belonging, for purpose in life in the midst of those around them. I’ve made this observation before in this series, but it’s really striking me anew as I sit here. The couple with the young child seems to have found it, seeming to have a very real sense of contentment over which the stresses of their life are merely clutter. The woman with the camera was out beholding nature or historic architecture, looking for belonging amid the physical beauty of the area.

The man in the suit, so far as I can tell, has sought meaning in the white-collar world, and is now looking for physical companionship to help fill the void which his monetary success still leaves inside him. I, meanwhile, am looking to find meaning in writing and reflection, and perhaps deep down to be recognized for my efforts. My use of a pseudonym hopefully hedges against this kind of unconscious pride, the cause of so much trouble. To be brief, I think we are all looking for meaning within creation, rather than from the Creator. And this is why we keep coming up empty.


I don’t want to bombard you with religious talking points. The American landscape is littered with self-important preachers, who push their (perhaps unwittingly) counterfeit Christianity to all corners of society.

If something is cut off from its source, it will inevitably wither and become decrepit. A plant cannot live without its roots for long, even if it is kept in a watering pot with access to sunlight. To be perfectly honest, this is what I think happened with both Catholicism and Protestantism (and all the countless sub-derivations from these). Christianity is not a series of legalistic notions, holier-than-thou commandments, and cheap slogans (just accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and you shall be saved). In reality, it is the hospital in and through which our human condition is gradually—and with great struggle—healed. That is the way it has always been viewed in Orthodoxy, in both the east and the pre-Schism west.

I personally hate it when people on the street attempt to proselytize to me, so I’ll spare you all that. I will only say, if you truly want to know why so many people in our corner of the internet are embracing Orthodoxy with such enthusiasm, you just need to visit. But give it a little time; you won’t have a St. Paul road-to-Damascus experience. Give it a little time, and you will gradually find yourself changing. There aren’t clever slogans, easy promises, or witty arguments here. Truth is true regardless of what any of us think about it, and thus we don’t have the underlying insecurity and need for over-compensation that you find among Christians elsewhere.

I would like to say all this to those in the coffeeshop with me, but social restrictions prevent me from doing so. That, and my own cowardice, but I’ve already discussed that problem. I wish I could just explain, calmly, that treatment custom-made for our human condition has been handed down to us from the endless ages, but I cannot. I don’t want that freedom, regardless of what I may tell myself at other times.


In a few minutes I’ll likely close my laptop and walk out the door with too many things left unsaid. Being aware of my struggles may be the first step in solving them, but it doesn’t mean the road ahead will be easy. As I said, life would be too boring if it that were the case. I just hope I don’t let too many people down between now and whenever I get my shit (more or less) together.


For all installments of “The Sins We Remember Fondly,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4